I had a bit of an allergic reaction yesterday.
It wasn’t a bee sting or a spider bite. It did not require an EpiPen. But the response was sudden and inflamed, and, well, I’m only now in a position to talk about it. Thank God.
What was this terrible thing?
A fair question, reader. I thank you for asking (if even only half-heartedly because you’re trying to kill ten minutes before lunch by surfing on the internet, and you’ve already checked your email ten times in the last fifteen minutes), your concern is noted.
I don’t know if you’re going to believe this or not—but somebody said something on the internet, and I don’t think it’s true. I know, I know, “if it’s on the internet, it must be true,” we all know that. But, go with me for a second, what if, just possibly, that was not true? What if—and I’m not saying this is a fact or anything—but what if it turned out that there was no screening process and somebody snuck onto the internet and started spouting opinions as facts?
Back to yesterday.
I read something to the effect that authors, both aspiring and published, should not give negative reviews of other books anywhere on the internet, because...you might make the editor/agent mad and then those editors/agents won’t want to work with the author who wrote a negative review.
I find this position flawed on multiple levels. Here is a partial list.
(1) A reader owes nothing to anybody. He or she is not only free to enjoy or not enjoy a book, but is likewise free to express an opinion about the book. For the sake of this argument, I’m EXCLUDING reviews by people with personal axes to grind. There are, scientifically speaking, a million reasons to not like a book including not connecting with the story, bad editing, against personal sensibilities, etc. As long as those points are articulated—rage on, reviewer! Rage on.
(2) Publishing should never be mistaken for the Self Esteem Railroad to Confidenceville. It does not exist to make an author or a publisher or an agent feel better about him/herself. If an agent or editor decides not to work with an author because the author found legitimate things not to like about one of the agent’s or editor’s other projects, that’s...sad? Juvenille?
I hate to play into narratives that are not absolutes, but in the last few years there’s been an explosion of people accusing publishers and agents of being power hungry jerks. Many of those charges come from writers who, frankly, are not writing at a publishable level. I might venture out on a solid limb to assert all of the first reads from family and friends garnered universal praise and now the author is pissed because the “brilliance” isn’t appreciated by strangers with business interests.
But, my interactions with some agents and publishers at conferences or on the internetting have, in fact, provided evidence of a literary sociopathy—with agents and editors filling the shoes of the monsters they’ve been accused of being. Even publishers and agents that nobody has heard of and who haven’t had any appreciable success in the business like lording over other human beings.
My message to them?
This is not high school. You are no longer the cheerleader. Or, if that wasn’t your reality, now is not your time to take out your frustration on the star quarterback for the wrongdoings of youth. Readers (whether they are writers or not) are not present on your earth to kiss your ass and tell you how great you are. Sorry. They just aren’t. If that’s why you’re in the business, you’re part of the problem.
(3) I am one of those pretentious dudes who thinks that you can’t produce great art without struggle. Your toolbox as a human being needs to be full of experiences, many of which are probably unpleasant when living through them. Extraordinary people rise above the challenges put in front of them. They may fail a bunch, but they get back on the horse. (Christ, just how many clichés can I fit into this?) So you know what won’t help you be a better writer/agent/publisher? Indiscriminate clapping at your every breath. If your echo chamber only gives you the good news, you’re never going to see places for improvement. If you want your author to be the best he/she can be by protecting them from criticism, you should enroll them in a t-ball league where everybody wins a medal for trying. The publishing business isn’t safe for them.
And just so we’re clear—I’ve received bad reviews as a publisher. For whatever reason, some books that I really love and published, weren’t given gold stickers by everybody who read them. I take what I can from those reviews, and then move on. I have no Excel spreadsheet with the reviewers’ names. No Voodoo dolls with pins through the eyes. You could serve all of those bad reviews to me in a cocktail and I wouldn’t get the slightest bit tipsy. It’s part of the territory and I’ve got tolerance.
Anywho, back to the allergic reaction. I’ve figured out that I have at least two options. I can avoid the threat altogether by staying off the internet. Or I can take a little of the poison every now and again, and fight the fight. So here we are.
And here I go.
For more about life, America, writing, and other stuff, visit my website over at www.benjaminleroy.com