John LeCarré said in a 1997 interview for The Paris Review, “I always argue that you should not accept the value of good reviews, because if you do you have to accept the bad ones.”
I must say I agree wholeheartedly with LeCarré’s assessment of critique and its debilitating influence upon creativity.
For myself, I tend not to read them much anymore since I don’t want any undue influence on my work. And I see it as a seductive, yet poisonous, trap. You read a rousing review of your work and you think, “Well, I better do that again.”
How horrifying that is.
I view it as horrifying because writers should never be in the business of pandering to reviewers. Hell, as far as that goes you shouldn’t be in the business of pandering to readers. That’s not writing, that’s whoring.
That is why I have argued from Day One you should never write for a market.* You should write for yourself first and let the market follow you.
Conversely, if you take good reviews to heart, should you not also accept the bad ones and change your writing to suit their worldview?
I can’t think of anything more enervating to the art of writing than going down this self-defeating path and thinking it will lead to artistic prosperity.
As someone who writes reviews and critiques, and will again in the future, I can fully attest they should never be taken as anything other than temporary place-markers to help guide readers into making qualified decisions. But they have no inherent worth in and of themselves, and I always have this in mind when I write them. I also subscribe to the view there is no such thing as a bad review, because there is no such thing as bad press.
When I was on Live Journal I started linking to reviews of a particular story of mine “Rubber Monkeys” in the anthology Destination Future published by Hadley Rille Books. The anthology got a lot of good reviews as did my story. Many people mentioned how much they liked “Rubber Monkeys” and how much it creeped them out.
But every time I linked to a review that mentioned my story it kind of creeped me out a little bit. I didn’t mind linking to the anthology as a whole and letting my friends know it was available, but what was I doing singling out my lone story in the collection?
What did I think I was doing? Who did I think I was fooling?
I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel fundamentally right to me in some ineffable way. Given my faddish view on things it was probably only me who felt that way. But now on Twitter and other social media I see writers linking review after review of their stories, even to the point of it becoming spam which ultimately gets them blocked by me, and all I can think is: What in the world are they doing?
No one is going to set higher goals and standards than myself when it comes to my own writing. Absolutely no one. So what do I care what a review says either about me or you? Either we believe in our work or we don’t. Either we are going to let other people set standards for us, or we won’t.
If I’m reading you and buying your stories and novels and I’m enjoying them, then what the hell do I care what some reviewer in Ballsuck, Arkansas has to say about your work?
If you have to link review after review on social media to the point of spamming everyone on your timeline, it reeks of desperation. It’s you jumping up and down, waving your arms and screaming, “Look at me. For God’s sake, someone look at me and pay attention.”
I find that behavior pathetic and I have little regard for professional writers who behave that way. I tend to give newbies more of a pass. They are still learning.
Professionals should know better.
So. Am I arguing you should never link reviews of your work? Of course not. Even I continue to do it from time to time. But if you do, you need to be aware of the pitfalls that may open up beneath you.
I think it’s a fine line which escapes a lot of people on my Twitter timeline. Writing is difficult enough, and getting people interested in your work is difficult enough without alienating them in the process.
I do wish more writers understood this. It’s not rocket science. It’s Writing 101.
Because, you know, otherwise I’m just going to block you and move on with my life.
*The only time you should write for a market is when you are invited to contribute to an anthology. But if a genre or topic is currently hot, I suggest you stay away from that and plow new, undeveloped ground. Following a trend only leads to the abattoir. Why would you follow the herd when you might be able to lead them in a new and interesting direction?