Recently, I had a Facebook tantrum—the envy of any two-year-old. My fit was sparked by a reviewer whose words about my latest novel, Echo Moon, weren’t necessarily harsh, just a bland 3-star opinion. So what set me off? Why did this benign review dig like bamboo shoots under my nails? Amid the reviewer’s lackluster impressions was the conclusion that I’d “rushed through the writing of Echo Moon,” and that “the book could have benefited from a more aggressive editor.”
While I’m still pondering the job description for “aggressive editor,”—picturing a Fifty-Shades riding crop—the accusation of rushed writing triggered the sort of social media post I would normally scroll past while rolling my eyes. And it could be that you’re reading this, doing the same, “Seriously? Oversensitive creative sissy…”
It’s true that I do not read Spinella book reviews with regularity. For me, the creative process and its aftereffects are Earth and Neptune—a few worlds apart. And this is not me being overly enamored by my own prose; I am as uncomfortable reading fantastic praise as I am scathing criticism or, clearly, a mediocre review.
Do the Right Thing
Common sense, which I’m generally a proponent of, said to delete my post the second the tidal wave of indignation passed. Friends and readers sweetly flocked to my defense, and the post started to look like the thing it was not: a public cry for “Tell me I’m better than this!”
Well, no. If I’d wanted to do that, I would have posted a far more vicious review—like the lovely blogger, who for my official RITA review of Ghost Gifts, stamped it with a glaring D-, listing a myriad of asinine thoughts about why she “didn’t like the book.” The reviewer remained dumbfounded as to how the novel had amassed more than 3,000 positive reviews, earned a bunch of accolades, as well as a coveted RITA spot—a competition so fierce you’d have a better chance of landing a seat on the space shuttle.
I like to tell myself the reviewer was rooting for another book in the same category, or felt this grand stage was an opportunity to wield her keen literary instincts. If so, she may want to up her game by not beginning thoughts with “I don’t get how come…” But in fairness, and despite her elementary sentence structure, perhaps the girl simply did not like the book.
That Tepid Review and Subsequent Firestorm
Back to my current reviewer, whose thoughtless perceptions of time and effort set me off. Know I am writing this blog for those of us who approach our work with passion and as a job. With the evolution of Amazon, anyone—literally anyone—can publish a book. A couple of years ago, there was an online experiment. A professional book marketer published a fake book on Amazon titled Putting My Foot Down. By uploading a photo of his foot, and using proper keywords, he demonstrated the free-for-all, slippery slope of publishable content. Within hours, Putting My Foot Down, a fake book, received the baiting orange “Bestseller” banner.
The scam proved multiple points about the state of publishing. But the one I found most troubling was how low the bar for quality writing had sunk. In fact, the stunt, by way of the gatekeeper’s open-door policy, made a mockery of the craft of writing. Since then, Amazon has tightened self-publishing rules, making it slightly harder and less lucrative to publish a book. Books that, among other things, represent rushed writing.
I’ve Had the Pleasure…
Through various job opportunities, I’ve encountered these books. I know how they read. They are manuscripts edited by a best friend with a dusty degree in English, and proofread by the author’s eleventh-grade honor student. They contain wooden dialogue and plots so thin they’d make a house of cards appear concrete. They are penned by self-proclaimed authors, though the Catch-22 here (and part of the problem) is, aren’t we all?
Anyone Can Publish a Book
What everyone can’t do is write a book worth publishing. Sure—I understand the dreamy appeal, the idea of sharing your story with a rapt audience, hooking them on every word. There is my favorite, tight-smile party conversation, “When I retire, I’m going to write a book…” Mmm… and when I retire, I’m going to take up architecture.
But of course, you can if you like. A quick Amazon search produces more than 7,000 “how to” books on writing and publishing. An ever-growing wasteland of marketing gurus will gladly take your money to help aid your efforts. Reading is subjective, and so on…
When my first book published in 2011, I still worked for a newspaper, writing about local real estate. My realtor friends were thrilled for me, but one woman was particularly ecstatic. Inside her million-dollar listing, she’d backed me into a bidet, yammering on about how she’d always wanted to write a book. Now that I’d “made it,” we could sit down, and she could dictate her deep-seated, surefire ideas to me. “I swear it’d be a bestseller. I just need someone to write it down.”
In The End
For every real writer out there (and you know who you are), I’m aware of the hours logged, the frustration and struggle, the endless doubts, the social media memes about dead ends and dark funks we all snicker at because we’ve hit them, head on. And that’s just to write the damn book! So yes, when I am gently accused of rushing through my work, or that the editing was subpar, unless you spent the last past year leaning over my aching shoulders, take the most basic writing advice ever offered and do not write what you can’t possibly know.
Echo Moon, (a carefully written, well-edited novel) on sale now!