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Writers' insecurities

This morning's Washington Post has an essay in the Book World section by writer Chris Bohjalian about how and why he obsesses over reviews of his books on Amazon. The essay is part of The Writing life, a recurring feature of Book World that's often interesting because it's a forum for writers to talk about some aspect of being a writer.

This time it's about the compulsion to read reader-written reviews, a standard features on Amazon. The thing is, I've read reviews of books I absolutely loved, and out of 10 or so, there will invariably be one or two people who hated the book I thought was brilliant.

Bohjalian illustrates his essay with some examples (all full of incorrect spelling and often bad grammar and punctuation) of negative reviews of his books. Then he has a few paragraphs about his reaction to them:

"It only takes one thorn like that in a rosebush of 30 or 40 flowers to leave me bleeding and wounded and thinking to myself, "Wow. You really aren't very good, are you? You're certainly not good . . . enough." Am I thin-skinned?

Perhaps. Vulnerability and creativity don't always go hand-in-hand, but often they do."

Yes, but in order to get published, you have to risk total rejection. You have to let people read your work and say yes, they want to buy it or no they don't want it. It takes a lot of self-confidence to do that.

Bohjalian also notes, "I confess that I put more stock in the opinion of the novelist who questions whether an ending in one of my books is fully earned in a Washington Post or New York Times review than I do in "Bic Parker" at Amazon, who wrote about one of my novels, "Stoopid." And yet Bic Parker's vote counts. It affects both book sales and, yes, my self-esteem."

But, the "who" of it aside, a basic point is, there is almost nothing under the sun that someone doesn't like. I even know people who don't like chocolate. Tastes vary. You can't win 'em all, and if you think you can, then you've got bigger problems than a little insecurity.

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 18th, 2008 12:44 pm (UTC)
I strongly believe how we take critism determins how long, or what kind of a future we have in this business. I have yet to come across anyone who send me a nasty email over a review, but I'm sure it'll happen sooner or later.
Aug. 18th, 2008 12:49 pm (UTC)
I think folks who can't take the heat should avoid the kitchen. I don't mean they shouldn't write or publish, I mean they shouldn't read the reviews.

I have also heard of folks who get their friends to scan the reviews and send them only the good ones. Whatever works.
Aug. 18th, 2008 01:01 pm (UTC)
So what if there aren't any good ones? :D

As with everything in life, you need the good along with the bad.
Aug. 18th, 2008 01:08 pm (UTC)
I suppose if they're true friends, they'll write a good one and send it along! -)

It's true a little sugar goes a long way to dilute the vinegar of life.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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