Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My Complex Relationship With Reviews...

Conventional wisdom is that when a writer gets a positive review, it's because they have earned it. When we get a negative review, it's because the reviewer is some sort of whackjob with an axe to grind, or just didn't 'get' the story. So feel the love from positive feedback, and let the negative ones just slide off your back.

The truth is that my relationship with reviews is a lot more complex than that. We always read the reviews. The writer who does not either has too many reviews to read, or they have antifreeze for blood. Either way, they are people to be feared and respected.

Everyone gets bad reviews. My best negative review is from Amazon, concerning "Captains of Industry" from Cthulhu's Dark Cults which says "'Captains of Industry' left me feeling like a few pages were missing. Lots of union rhetoric (all good), and a few 'who are these guys and what are they doing' issues, but nothing chilling. I was confused as to why this had been written, as it seemed to have no overall point or connection to the cthulhu concept. Yes, union busters and early industrialists were bad news at times, but this left me confused." And a part of me says "He didn't get it." Another part says "I should have made the connection to the Mythos more clear. And maybe there was a bit too much Socialist rhetoric for a horror story." But the story is out, and there's no way to revise it now.

On the other hand, Brian Keene praised the anthology and the story on his blog. I'll take Keene's praise over just about anyone else's. And certainly over most peoples' criticism. I've met the man, and he is a straight-talker. When he reviews his reading material, he is not thinking about whether I'm going to like (or, in this case, be over the moon) his review. He's thinking about what he read from the standpoint of someone who has read a HUGE amount. And writes a lot.

So I have two very different opinions of the same story. I can either tie myself up in knots by trying to reconcile the two, or I can think to myself "Hey, I pleased a reader whose opinion I respect, so I must be doing something right." And that's how I tend to look at positive reviews; I made a connection with someone who thought enough of the story to tell other people.

Part of the reason I bring this up is because I just received an enormously positive review of "Not an Ulcer" in the NEHW's Epitaphs Specifically, the reviewer likes my story more than anyone else's, and says so.

Now, I've read Epitaphs. It contains stories by Christopher Golden, Rick Hautula, and Peter Dunbar, all of whom are heavy hitters in the horror community. They're excellent, polished, professional writers, and their stories are, in every measurable way, better than mine.

I'm not just saying that because I respect them, or I've met them. I'm saying it because it's as true as a summer day is long. Their stories were better, and it would take someone like Stephen Hawking or Umberto Eco to sway my opinion. The chance I'm ever going to say to anyone "Hey, someone thought my story was better than Chris Golden's" is ZERO. Because his story was better than mine.

At the same time, the story clearly connected with the reader. It seems like I adequately conveyed my concept. And I'm glad they liked it.

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