The Gawker blog recently ran a story about author Alice Hoffman going berserk on Twitter over a rather eh review of her book, going so far as to publish the reviewer’s phone number and email address on Twitter. Admittedly the neutral/”eh” reviews are by far more damning than ones of high praise or ones of low blows (which will always draw attention to the sourcework.) All the same, Hoffman’s behavior: NOT OK.
I live on both sides of the giving and receiving criticism, feedback and critique equation. I know that when you put your creations out there, you are putting yourself out there, and it’s a bit hurtful that everything you create isn’t received by strangers with the love and support that it is (or should be) by your nearest and dearest. If you don’t have time to read much further, take my advice with you: when you ask for critique while still creating, seriously consider what suggestions people proffer. After you’ve released your work into the wild, never ever read your reviews. Even if they’re good. All it does is get in your head and affect your work in a way that keeps creative material from coming from the same or the new place you need to be at the next time, and that happens whether it’s good or bad.
I write book reviews for the pagan community. I also write short pieces and I’m working on two books right now. I also design perfume. The give and take of criticism – and the inability to do anything about it – is very much part of my daily life. It’s impossible to make a universally loved perfume, and I’m not the person who’s going to write the Great American Wiccan Novel. I also do NOT expect to read it in my lifetime.
In my critical writing, I have hurt feelings but I certainly hope I have not stunted creation. I have called out bad jobs. I tend to pinpoint books without bibliographies, weak arguments and historical arguments so weak that I know off the top of my head they’re not accurate. Especially in the genre I review, which is roughly all areas of occult and neopagan religion, there is an unfortunate tendency to capitalize on a market without really understanding that particular demographic. Admittedly, neopagans are damned squirrely. And not all bad jobs come from a bad place: there are lovely, spiritual people who are not equipped with writing skills to match their spiritual skills, or who don’t know that revisions are what really makes a good book. Even if I know the author is lovely, if the book isn’t a useful or at least interesting read, I’m going to be forced to point that out.
Critics are a necessary part of the bookselling engine, and even if books as we know them disappear, someone will always want someone else’s opinion on your creative material. That’s just the nature of the beast. In the meantime, if you do decide to read your reviews, don’t go all Alice Hoffman over Twitter about it. People will see you.