Thursday, February 10, 2005

"Arrogant bitch" or just misguided?

"Paperback Writer," a blogger who apparently writes paperback novels under 5 different names no one’s ever heard of, hates reviewers. Loathes 'em. With a passion! (Thanks to Tod Goldberg for the link.)

She writes:

I accept that I am a public figure, subject to public opinion. Goes with the job. Certainly you reviewers are entitled to your opinions, and free speech -- something I dearly love -- protects your right to air them. Air them. But expect me to read it? Think I'm going to learn something from you? Based on what? Have you written sixty-two novels? I have. How many of yours are published? My #27 and #28 will be out next month. Let's put some credentials on the table here.

Right, forgot. You don't have any. You just have your opinion.

I'm not going to kiss your ass. I'm not afraid of you. Mostly I feel nothing but contempt for you.

She claims not to read reviews, but it sounds like she must -- and she must be reading some really negative ones of her work to be so pissed off.

As a reviewer, I've never expected any writer to be afraid of me, and certainly never wanted any of them to kiss my ass. (Have you seen my ass? Not pretty.) I also don't expect writers to read the reviews I write. I would understand if they preferred not to.

The belief, though, that an author couldn't learn anything from a review I write, though, seems shortsighted, at best.

I read a lot of crime fiction (over 100 books last year alone), and I do so with a knowledgeable and critical eye. I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to call myself an "expert" on the subject, but I certainly know a thing or two about it.

Over the years I've gotten a good grasp of what works and what doesn't. If my review says the pacing drags, or the plot is clichéd, or the characters are poorly developed, there's a damn good chance that I'm right. My comments would certainly be worth considering, even if ultimately they were discarded.

Paperback Writer claims to listen to what her editor has to say and benefit from her comments. What makes her editor worth listening to? I doubt she'd fit P.W.'s litmus test of having written 62 novels.

As far as that goes, I suppose, oh I don't know...Harper Lee, for example, would have nothing to teach P.W., since that dilettante only ever published one book.

(Interestingly, Paperback Writer claims to care what her fans think, presumably because they only ever offer praise. That seems to be the only feedback she's looking for.)

Sure, they're all judgment calls, but the judgment of a good reviewer is worth something. A conscientious reviewer (of which I am one) typically reads voraciously, critically and insightfully. That's the kind of reader whose feedback might mean something to a writer who is trying to improve her craft.

While it's true that many reviews might not be worth reading, and might not teach a writer anything, dismissing them all out of hand is myopic and petulant.

I can't help but think that if P.W. were more open to criticism, and more committed to improving her writing, she might break out of the pseudonymous paperback world and start writing something people actually want to read.

But what do I know...I'm just a reviewer.

[Note: the quote about "arrogant bitch" is from the blogger's original post: "Before everyone writes me off as an arrogant bitch..."]