One Writer’s Review of Reviews
By Karen Harrington, author Janeology
I’m just going to say it – From this author’s point of view, there’s no such thing as a bad book review. Oh, there are negative ones. There are reviews that point out the plot holes, wooden dialogue, meandering story-line or poor editing. In fact, I will often read a book precisely because it got a bad review to see if I agree with the reviewer. So for my money, there are no bad reviews. If a writer has gone to the trouble of writing a book, chances are, she wants someone to read it. And from this exchange, there will be an opinion. So isn’t it better to have been read and reviewed and gain an opinion that not to have been read at all?
Still, being reviewed can have discouraging or even confusing effects on the writer. I offer into evidence, two reviews of my debut novel that came out within ten days of each other. Read through them and see if you can tell why I was confused.
Booklist - Issue: February 15, 2008
Harrington, Karen (Author)
College professor Tom Nelson has it bad in the wake of a devastating tragedy: the death of his son at the hands of his own wife, Jane, who evaded punishment by being declared insane. Tom, on the other hand, might not get off so easy. The prosecutors, believing that Tom should have known his wife’s tendencies and shielded his children, are charging him with “failure to protect.” As Tom wallows in his misery, his mother hires him an attorney, Dave Frontella, who adopts some unusual defense strategies, arguing that Jane’s genealogy is to blame for her problems and that no husband could have predicted her actions. He even goes so far as to hire for his defense team a woman with "retrocognition," that is, the ability to use a person’s belongings to re-create their past. Although the psychic-powers element might turn skeptical readers off, Harrington begins with a fascinating premise and develops it fully. In addition, Tom and his wife emerge as compelling, complexly developed individuals. This debut novel is as much a character study as a legal thriller.
Publishers Weekly, 2/25/2008
Janeology Karen Harrington. Künati
Tom Nelson, a Texas academic, is devastated when his wife, Jane, drowns their two-year-old son and almost kills the boy's twin sister in Harrington's uneven debut. To Tom, Jane's violent act was inconceivable and impossible to predict, but after she's found not guilty by reason of insanity, he becomes the object of vilification and, eventually, criminal prosecution for child endangerment and neglect. The novel alternates between Tom's trial and flashbacks that include the efforts of Jane's clairvoyant relative, Mariah Hernandez, to recover the events in Jane's past and in her ancestors' lives that may have predisposed her to kill. Mariah's visions—flashbacks within flashbacks—distract from the main plot, while those interested in the legal issues may be put off by such amateurish mistakes as the prosecutor calling Tom to the stand in apparent ignorance of the Fifth Amendment. At her best in conveying Tom's despair, the author fails to do full justice to the complex and fraught subject of maternal filicide. (Apr.)
Okay, are you done? Great. Thanks for staying with me. As you can well read, these are two very different reviews. These were the first two reviews of my career, both from publications that can make or break an author’s debut. They are both highly sought after and less than 10% of all books published are reviewed in these journals each year. Still, even a "bad review" is tantamount to going home empty from the Academy Awards and thinking "Well, it was just nice to be nominated."
So I say, reviewers of the world, it was just nice to be reviewed.
I won’t say that the conflicting responses to my book didn’t give me pause. And of course, I started to give the negative review too much emphasis, as if this was a sign that I could not write and that the book shouldn’t be out in the world. I stewed over this until I remembered one very essential fact that I wish all authors who are bruised by reviews would remember: I was a reader (read: critic) before I was a writer and I haven’t liked every book I’ve ever read. The fact that I wrote a book in the first place gives me satisfaction. The fact that it was actually published and people have read it at all is a miracle of sweat and timing not unlike conception. And, if someone read it and didn’t like it, well, that’s fine, too. It was one opinion which may, or may not, turn out to be the majority. In fact, my advice to those with allergies to criticism (read: those who like to berate and argue with book reviewers) is to stay away from the whole writing business. The criticism will only make you like the artist who runs in front of his canvas and attempts to explain to the viewer what he should see. Who wants to be that guy? Instead, take the criticism – all of it – and go forward. It might even inspire you to do better. I know it has for this writer.
Karen Harrington is the author of Janeology, a psychological suspense about one man’s quest to understand the wife he thought he knew after she snaps and commits murder. Critique an excerpt of her novel at www.karenharringtonbooks.com – Visit her blog – www.scobberlotch.blogspot.com - All reviews heartily welcome.