Wednesday, October 12, 2011
... reading anonymous reviews of my writing is something new to me...
Ten years ago when I told my mother I was writing a novel, she scoffed. “Oh, please. You can’t write a novel. You haven’t read enough!” That was before she read the draft. When she finished reading it, her face was filled with shock and joy. Stunned, I suppose. She was saying: that was good, better than so-and-so, you can write, I take it back.
Having read all her life, she’s a good judge of what works and doesn’t work, but it’s my mother. All mothers, well, they lie. They give you that pleasant, warm smile and lie straight to your face. Unless they are particularly angry in the moment. Then you’re likely to hear a multitude of truths.
Not much help in gauging where I’m at as writer with this novel. I certainly couldn’t put that in a query letter. Guess what, dear agent, my mother loved it. Yawn. Burn the letter. Pass me the disinfectant.
From there, I allowed some friends and family to read the draft. All right, I promised free booze and a trip to the Bahamas if they’d read it, and they did. And they dutifully told me they liked it.
“James, it was great.”
“Best thing I’ve read in a long time.”
Did anyone of them point out a typo? Suggest a problem with subject-verb agreement? Nope. Not one. It was a work inspired by all the forces of the universe. I know why now they didn’t. The booze and the sunny weather in the Caribbean.
Okay. I have some reviews in and they’re brilliant. I can proceed. Let’s find an agent. Please, please, please, dear wise and all-knowing agent would you read my novel because I want to be a paperback writer. From there you know the drill. A few never replied. Many said, ah, sorry, I can smell you from here. And then bingo.
“Can you send me your manuscript?”
“I’m so-and-so from so-and-so in New York. I’d like to read your manuscript.”
“You want me to what?”
I didn’t say that last line. I was too stunned. My brain seized. Lack of oil or something.
That call lead to others. And another. I’m onto something here. At least I thought I was onto something. I had mailing-the-manuscript down. They received the package. Not sure about waiting for the ice age to pass.
It’s absolutely exciting when an agent says: send me your manuscript, I want to read it. And, after a mountain of ice melts, it’s absolutely deflating to read their one page reply.
The best cryptanalysts in the world can’t decipher these letters. You liked it but you’re not the right person to…or there’s… Hmm. There’s no subtext here. No reading between the lines. They are afraid to piss you off. They are afraid you’re computer-like memory will recall this slight and they’ll lose an opportunity in the future when you get it right. I suppose, but in the meantime I have nothing to work with except, well, nothing.
Unless an agent is your agent, you’re not going to get any critical advise on how to improve your manuscript. Miss Snark’s blog provided some advice while she was blogging. Others have followed. But, who is Miss Snark?
I know now what was wrong. Editing. I was too anxious. Too green to recognize and understand the time consuming process of editing—including copyediting.
So at this point, I’m not much farther ahead in getting an honest critique of my novel.
That changed in 2007 when I enrolled in Humber’s School for Writers. My mentor was the well-respected, multi-award winning author David Adams Richards. It was a coup to be accepted into the program and a coup to have him as my mentor. Then reality set in. He read the first couple of chapters of my literary novel My Dearborn. Let’s just say he was rather snarky, but I know he’s not behind the Miss Snark blog.
Ah, this is not good. This is so not good. He hates it. I delayed and wondered what to do. It will take too long to rewrite that novel. I’ll switch gears. I’ll send him my first novel. The one I mentioned above. The Protectors. I knew what sort of reply I’d get from this snooty, highbrow author. A big kick in the ass.
Boy was I wrong.
“It’s what? Did I hear you right?”
That line of dialogue continued week after week.
But I wrote a thriller. It’s genre fiction. There’s nothing highbrow or literary about it.
“Stop your whining. It’s good.”
Okay. It’s good. But you know writers. Doubt easily creeps in. Well, it does for this writer. Beside who the hell is David Adams Richards? You’ve never heard of him. And these writing schools are shams. Right? You can’t teach writing. Right?
Time passes and it’s October 2011. My novel was published on September 6th. Five weeks have gone by. The doubts linger. They oscillate. One minute I know precisely why I am a writer then a siren pierces the air. Who are you trying to kid? The vagaries of being a writer.
All the while, I see sales of my first novel, but no reviews. No comments. I try to put it out of my mind. I prepare myself for them even though I’m not sure I or anyone can. What will they say? How will they respond? I try to tell myself, it’s a good novel. It does what it’s supposed to do. Not everyone will love it or even like. Some will hate it. It happens.
Then on the 11th, yesterday, my first review. I first saw it on goodreads.com and it was also posted on amazon.com. I had become so used to not seeing a review I had to check my eyes. Eyes are you working? I think so. My first review from someone who bought my book and read it. A review from someone I’ve never met. Someone I don’t know. No ringer. No slight of hand. No bribes. No exchanges. An honest, independent review. Well, he could be duping me, but I doubt it and I sure hope not.
Here’s what he wrote:
I read several novels per month, and this ranks in my top 10 for this year. A thriller revolving around a former CIA agent, Baird Carr, now a security consultant, whose company assets simply disappear from his bank account. His company partner, a former Secret Service agent, disappears at the same time. Carr "follows the money," and discovers mysterious deaths linked to the same source. Then, he finds assassins on his own trail, and he must rely on his training to survive. The action is fast-paced and believable. The ending was a bit abrupt (the final chapters that closed out the story were far-less-detailed than the rest of the novel, which imposed an "abrupt" feeling to the book's ending), but otherwise a great story. I truly enjoyed reading this one.
Thanks to the reviewer for taking time to post his thoughts. It’s not an easy assignment. I encourage others to do likewise.
So will the next review throw me for a loop. You know the vagaries of being a writer. Probably. And what’s the condition of my skin? Gossamer thin or rhino tough? I guess I’ll find out.