I could hardly wait until my first review appeared on amazon.com. But my excitement soon turned to rude shock. Ouch! As the author of nine books I was used to letters from readers who said nice things like, "Your book saved my life," or "Thank you for writing this." Nobody had prepared me for insults!
|Online wolves with nothing better to do with their time or frustrated wannabes?|
I'm not alone. No author can escape the malign of the amateur critics whose time has come. Before Amazon.com, those who didn't take a fancy to something you said didn't go to the trouble of tracking you down to tell you so.
The ease of firing off a sentence or two on the Web without having to put pen to paper or stamp to envelope has spawned a whole new species of vilipendious critics just itching to vent their spleen on the great American novel.
If you think junkyard dogs are mean, just go write yourself a book. Get yourself a literary agent, sell your book to a publisher, then sit yourself down at your computer and get ready for the abuse that's about to be poured upon your head – even if you've written a bestseller.
Tom Clancy's 168 reviews for Patriot Games fairly explode with enthusiasm: "One of Clancy's best," "An intense thrill ride," "This book will keep you at the edge of your seat." Then reviewer Mr. Druitt (Munfordville, Kentucky) weighed in: "I have never expected too much from Tom Clancy Patriot Games is surely the most ridiculous novel written in many years, but its unintended hilarity almost redeems the insipid dialogue and flat characters." Thank you for sharing, Mr. Druitt!
Thanks to Amazon.com, everybody sees themselves as bona fide literary critics. On a bad hair day, any one of them can now skewer your ten-year authorial effort in five seconds, whether they've read it or not. Here's P. Burke's review of my book, Depression Is A Choice: "First off, since I haven't read the book (I refuse to pay for something that I can't even stand the title to), my review may be off-base." You think?
I'm a board-certified cognitive behavioural therapist. I wrote the book to help people get out of depression without drugs. Okay, not the greatest title, I admit. It was my publishers' choice. For my six-figure advance I figured I owed them. My preferred title was The Woman Who Traded Her Mind For A Green Frog. "Green Frog" is the name of a mind exercise that short circuits the negative feedback loop of a depressive thought pattern.
Depression Is A Choice received rave reviews like "brilliant and insightful," "a great book on overcoming depression," " . . . forever indebted and grateful to the author," "life saving," and even, "This book is the culminating healer of my lifelong depression." It also got "rancid," "dangerously imbalanced," and "ignorant premise," which I tried not to take personally.
Actually, it became easier not to take bad reviews personally after I read Crystal Sparks review (from Oklahoma) of The Holy Bible: New International Version: "I hate to say it, but I was rather disappointed with the storyline of this book." Huh?
Even Pulitzer Prize winners get their fair share of grief. Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter had 227 reviews: "Exceptional book," "You will find yourself sitting on such a mental high as you cannot yet imagine," "You will come away with an understanding of the underlying principles of intelligence, beauty, craft, logic, and universal principles of creation."
Can there be a negative review on such greatness of thought? Yes: "A mishmash of unrelated ideas. A waste of time. I read this book about 15 years ago. just remembering makes me nauseous for the time and effort it took me. I was younger, more naive, and I got engaged, I confess that. I had the time back then, I guess. Suffice to say I was a nerd with a lot of time on my hands."
Since amazon.com also allows comments on the reviews, Patrick M. Cloud decided to score a point for author Hofstadter on the back of his negative reviewer: " 'A nerd with a lot of time on my hands,' and apparently precious little comprehension in his head."
Once I got over the initial shock I started warming up to the bad reviews on Amazon.com, even my own. Especially my own! It's actually fun to read them aloud to disbelieving friends. Positive reviews alone, unleavened by a little dissenting vitriol are really rather boring – like American Idol without Simon Cowell.
Most importantly, bad reviews help authors in a unique way. In my own case, incessant attacks on the idea of conquering depression without drugs just goes to prove the importance of my work. The very thing that turns a nay-sayer off is just the kind of help a lot of people are looking for, and the nay-sayer spotlights it.
Eagerly anticipating one's next bad review on Amazon.com may be an acquired taste. But I can hardly wait, because my new book, Brainswitch Out Of Depression has only good reviews so far. Bad reviews seem to be a necessary dynamic that make your book come alive.
With the range of bad reviews and good reviews, plus an occasional ludicrous one, you really can get a pretty good idea of what any book is like. Want to call me an idiot for developing a series of cognitive behaviour mind exercises that can get you out of depression without drugs? Go ahead. Make my day.
A. B. Curtiss is a cognitive behavioural therapist and author of the book Brainswitch Out Of Depression. She can be reached at http://www.abcurtiss.com