Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Big Bad: Reviews That Suck

Bad reviews are nothing new in the world of words. I've gotten my fair share. I've even written my fair share of bad reviews. The topic of writing reviews popped its head up recently in Canada with this fine conversation between two well-known and well-respected writers who also review: Robert J. Wiersema and Timothy Taylor. See the link below.

This reminded me why I no longer review books. Number 1, the opportunity doesn't arise anymore because the newspaper I used to review for doesn't do as much reviewing. I had a rule when I reviewed books. If the writer was local, relatively new, or someone that I knew or was connected with in some way (not just as a FB friend though), and I didn't like their book; I didn't review it. If the writer was established and someone I didn't know, and I didn't like their book: I would write the review. But I wouldn't get personal. I would only comment about the book. I also agree with Taylor's position; I'm really hard to please for books but I don't want to be seen as some kind of pretentious asshole. Some books I just don't like and others may.

But what about the other side: how should a writer react to a bad review. We've all heard about the infamous Alice Hoffman reaction. She got a bad review of one of her books so she tweeted about it, telling her followers to call the reviewer and complain. She even gave a phone number. That's a bad response and no doubt Hoffman realized that because her twitter feed shut down almost immediately.

There was another example that occured in Canada a year or so ago. I won't go into details, mention the writer, etc., but this writer was annoyed with a negative review. And felt that the reviewer had missed important aspects about the book and was even inaccurate in describing the book. So the writer wrote a blog piece that was shared on FB and linked to other sites and blogs. In short, it got plenty of play. A lot of the reaction to the blog post was positive, cheering the writer on for standing up for the book, etc. It also had many valid points.

Regardless of the validity of the post, I, on the other hand, didn't think the response was a good idea. And I said so in a comment section. I met the writer not too long ago, and we talked about the article and my comment. The writer thought I was a bit of an asshole for my comment. And maybe I was, but the writer sort of got my point. And I said I understood why the post was written. We parted friendly.

But I would not write such a post. Bad reviews happen but in my opinion, reaction to them should be kept private. Complain all you want to your loved ones, close friends and get all the cathartic reaction out. But don't go public. I know there is a desire to call the reviewer out, to point their mistakes or their lack of understanding of your book. Someone has insulted your baby, your child in a sense and there's a visceral desire to strike back. But don't.

The problem with striking back in public is that now you've given the bad review validity. You've also attracted more attention to it. If people haven't read the bad review, they will. And they might agree with it, especially if the reviewer is well-respected. And you might come off as thin-skinned, someone who can't hack it in the publishing world. Worse, if you've written reviews yourself, then you might be accused of double-standard attitudes - especially if some of your reviews have been negative.

So the key response to a bad review is to ignore it. Don't draw any attention to it and to the best of your abilities, move on.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Longlist At Long Last

The other day, I was at a literary event in Edmonton. I went for the company and the beer, which they serve at the Artery, the place they held this event. (Side note: The Artery is one of the greatest new arts spaces in Edmonton, developed by local musician and artsy type, Lori G.) Anyway, at the event, they announced the longlist for the Alberta Readers Choice Award. Even since its inception, I've been a critic about this award. I wasn't against the award per se, heck an award for Alberta is a great thing. But in its first two years, the award wasn't entirely for Alberta writers, even though the promotional material said it was designed to support Alberta writers and publishing. The original rules stated that books had to be published in Alberta, regardless of whether the author was Albertan or not. So what happened in the first two years of this award designed to promote Alberta writers is that writers from out of province (both from BC) won the award. And many great Alberta writers who had books published weren't even in the running because their publishers were not Albertan.

To give the organizers of this award, the Edmonton Public Library, their due, they realized that there was a problem and decided to fix it. Now the award is open to all Alberta writers who had a book published in one year, regardless of whether their publisher was Albertan or not. When the longlist (see below this paragraph) was announced two things happened: First, every single Alberta writer on the longlist, save for one (Brian Brennan's Leaving Dublin), was published outside the province. Alberta has some great publishers but unfortunately, they cannot publish only writers from Alberta. They, like Alberta writers, have to open to out-of-province opportunities.

The second thing that happened is that I and my book, Fall From Grace, was included on that longlist. It was nice to be included but it's still too early to celebrate. A longlist is just that, a longlist. To me, it's the shortlists that counts. I've got a bit of a problem with the frenzy over Canadian book awards, shortlists, longlists, etc. but I won't go into it. The article below explains it better.

But I do know that being on a longlist, especially for an award worth $10K, does help get books into stores, and then into the hands of readers, which is always a good thing.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Let it Begin, Let it Begin

The other day, the VP for Marketing of Raincoast Books, my Canadian distributor, contacted me. He wanted to set up a phone meeting with their publicity department to discuss creating pre-publication buzz for my next novel, A Killing Winter. I was pretty stoked about that because once again, I'm going to be selling a book. And selling a book is fun. There are media interviews, trips to other cities, readings, signings, a launch, cool stuff that makes being a writer fun. And this year will be even more fun because last year, my Canadian distributor went bankrupt and shut its doors less than six weeks prior to the release of my book. But with Raincoast on board, things are going to be different. I met with them while I was in Vancouver and not only do they like my work, they are keen to make things happen for me and the book.

I don't know for sure where and when I'll be heading out and doing stuff except for the fact I'll be at Left Coast Crime in Sacramento March 29 - April 1. I was at the previous LCC in Santa Fe and had a great time. Met some great authors and fans, and made an impact at my one and only panel. Maybe in Sacramento, I'll have more than one panel.

And since I'm in bookselling mode, I'll be blogging more. I'll comment about the ups and downs of promoting a book, and all that. But one thing I won't do: I won't be commenting about any bad reviews. I won't argue with them, won't complain about them or anything like that. I've seen a bunch of writers do that and while it may be cathartic to rant or call down a reviewer for writing a bad review, to me it just doesn't make sense. Why attract more attention to something that says your work is bad. The best thing to do with a bad review is ignore it and forget.

Anyway, my new book, A Killing Winter can be pre-order here

It comes out April 10, 2012. Let it begin, let it begin....