When I first blogged back in 2012 about “You’re Not a Real Writer Until You’ve Been Screwed” I thought it was a stand alone piece about the realities of the business-end of writing. Now that I’ve received my first one-star review on Amazon, I realize it’s a series. My latest hard-won truth is: “You’re Not a Real Writer Until You’ve been Trashed.”
It doesn’t matter what the reader (a verified Amazon purchaser) said about my book (HARD BITE). Everyone is entitled to an opinion and has the right to express it. Of course I disagree with the review, but that’s not what this column is about. It’s about coming to terms with reality—accepting slings and arrows right along with bouquets, and not getting too influenced by either. In my opinion, you’re not a real writer until you can handle it. At least in public. In private it’s okay to break plates and turn the air blue—along the lines of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
I write fiction that tends toward experimental. The potential for readers to “get it wrong” or dislike it is higher than traditional works of genre. But I’m not a writer that likes to play it safe. That’s not where I’m happy. When I get it “right” I hear words like, “fresh, different, unique” tossed around, and I get compared to some very cool people. Just the other day, over at the Dead End Follies blog, Benoit Lelievre wrote about one of my short stories: “I don’t think Philip K. Dick could have written this idea better, if he had been into crime fiction.” Before my head had the chance to swell up, a one-star review appeared on Amazon saying (among other choice nuggets),“… a pain in the butt to even read until 30% where I finally gave up and dumped the thing where it belongs. The dust.”
If I were a different kind of person, I could mash up these two opinions and bring down the experimental edge to my stuff while shoring up the easy-reading part. The end result might be solid 3-star material. Agents would probably like me better if I did. But that’s not who I am. Experimental writers have always been part of the pantheon of fiction—there’s a place for me in the world. I accept my slower career trajectory—first a digital deal with Blasted Heath, then a print deal with New Pulp Press. These are smaller, more cautious deals than, say, Hilary Davidson or Frank Bill got but I’m okay with it. I’m not mainstream. My quantity is unpredictable out in the broad marketplace, and we live in a time of extreme caution among publishers. They want to “wait and see.” So my books advance by increments into the world. As long as I get to write what I want, I’m okay with that, too.
One of the milestones of getting a book distributed to a broader reading public outside the polite sanctum of the crime- writing community is getting reviews from strangers who have no vested interest in saying something nice. The first time I hit #2 on Hardboiled Mysteries, Paid in January ’13, I got 4 and 5-star reviews. The second time I hit #2 on the same list in April, and #90 on the hotly contested Thrillers, Paid list, I got my first one-star review. There it was, bonafide proof I’d reached the wider spectrum, and when that happy day came it also arrived with the truth that you can’t please everybody.
I accept my one-star review and consider it a badge of honor because the truth is you’re not a real writer until you’ve been trashed. From Edgar Allan Poe to James M. Cain to Joyce Carol Oates, bad reviews are the hallmark of any and every writer who ever made a mark. (Not that I’m anywhere near that company but I aspire to be near that company.)
Now get out there and get yourself some bad reviews.