My view on critics
When I first started out as an author, I was told never to get into an argument with a critic. Just let them criticize you. If you try to defend or explain yourself it will only get worse. You will come across as a sore loser or this whiny little kid who just can’t stand it when he fails to get what he wants. You will lose readers. They will not like you anymore.
That may be true. And it may not.
If you work as a cleaning assistant and someone tells you that you did a lousy job – wouldn’t you want the opportunity to explain or defend yourself? Especially if you felt like you had cleaned the place up pretty good and then some asswipe with dirty shoes decided to step on your bright and shiny floor?
I remember one of the first reviews I got for Burned. It was a three stars out of six. The critic from a rather esteemed Norwegian newspaper wrote about a hundred words telling his readers that Burned was a rather dubious debut. Fair enough, people are entitled to their opinions. But what he failed to do, was explain what he meant by it. He just put it out there as a conclusion. He did tell us that there were far too many killings in the novel (total count of three. Oh my God), and it didn’t take a masters degree in deductive theory to realize that he actually hadn’t read the novel. He had just flipped through it between coffee breaks and written the review with his left hand. The message was: my debut novel that had been sold to a number of countries already was not worth the hype.
I was so angry I wanted to smash things. I wanted to invent a character in my next book with the same name as his so I could just kill him or hurt him in some way. I didn’t, of course, because I said to myself that the readers hopefully would see the same as I did, that this was just a really bad piece of work. In fact, it wasn’t even that. He clearly hadn’t gotten the story (because he hadn’t read it). He clearly didn’t like me in the first place.
But his words stung, and they still do. Not because it slowed me down or made a difference as to how successful my novel would eventually become, but it angers me that someone could write something so inprecise and disrespectful and actually call it work.
Being an author is a rather lonely profession. You seclude yourself for months, maybe even years, and when you’re finished you are strong in your belief that you have given it your best shot. The novel, the story, is as good as it can possibly get. You have banged your head against the wall (I’m speaking from personal experience here), you have lost nights worth of sleep, you have become this distant person that nobody really likes but have to endure living with, and before the novel is actually released upon the public, you are a nervous wreck, constantly paranoid. You want nothing more than success. You want confirmation that the story you had in your head came out good. In the end, you want the world to love you. Authors are human beings, too.
Nowadays everyone can have their say, and believe me when I say that I really, really love that. Readers with a passion for litterature can write a review on their own blog or in an online book shop. They can rate it. It creates a wider sense of the book’s quality. I have been very fortunate with my first two novels. Most reviewers seem to like my style, my characters. I haven’t received any one star reviews yet, but I know a few authors who have. And that’s what I don’t quite understand.
«Too bad it’s impossible to give this shit something with a minus in front of it.» My eight year old, who can barely write, could probably do it better.» «This is probably the worst book ever written.» «This author clearly can’t write.»
It is so easy nowadays, isn’t it, to say something spiteful when you have the luxury of hiding behind a computer. Personally, I don’t think any novel warrants a one star review. That means it sucks in ways that are unsuckable. There has to be something to it. Maybe I just don’t see it. I leave it at that, and I certainly don’t feel the need to tell everybody about it.
Some people say they hate crime novels, but they actually read them nevertheless and then give them bad reviews. Would you go to a restaurant and buy something you don’t like – just so you can tell the cook that you don’t like his food?
Actually, and this has really scared me, I just recently learned that some (not many) authors have assumed other identities on, say, Amazon and given themselves five star reviews. They have even found their competitors and written shitty one star reviews about their novels. Go find Jeremy Duns on Twitter and you will realize what I’m talking about. I mean, how low is it possible to sink?
And we, the authors, have to deal with these comments somehow. Of course we can just ignore them. Say that it’s just the voice of one – one – reader. But it is never the good stuff that sticks, is it, it is always the painful remarks that haunt you at night. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe this is a shitty novel. You take it personally. Of course you do.
I rarely say anything, at least not in public or in online forums, about any novel I have read – unless it’s good. For me it’s about respect. Of course I have read books I deemed bad or perhaps even awful. And don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying you shouldn’t write a bad review if you really don’t like a novel. Please do. But do it with respect. Do it with respect for the author and the profession. Here’s a good tip from Andrew Taylor if you don’t know how.
After the book has been printed, there is nothing more to do about it. You certainly can’t go back. It’s done. It’s out there. So we try to toughen up, I guess. Try to shelter and protect ourselves. For me, writing a series like I am now, with a few unanswered questions in every book, I know that I’m bound for some criticism. I even know more or less what they’re going to say. Naturally that makes it a lot easier to deal with.
Besides, my wife is my first reader and my harshest critic. She never tells me if anything’s good, she just hammers me with things that aren’t. So If I can deal with her, I guess I can deal with anything.