There’s been a furor recently on the authorial internet about ‘aggressive critics’ (whatever that means) which I have found, as with most internet furors, to be a bit foolish. This one, however, is especially so, due, in my opinion, to a fundamental misunderstanding of a critic’s function. There are some authors who are apparently under the misapprehension that reviewers are reviewing books for them.
Which is, obviously, not the case. Nor are reviewers working with said authors. No, critics are serving the readers. Or potential readers. In theory, what a given critic writes about a given book isn’t meant for the author’s eyes at all. Who was it who said, ‘don’t read the reviews’?
Oh, yeah, that’s right…every writer ever. They also say, ‘don’t respond to reviews’, which is even better advice.
In my distinguished (stop laughing) career of three (four? No, five. Is it five?) years as a professional writer (seriously, stop laughing), I have received good reviews, bad reviews and mediocre reviews. I have been the sole member of an anthology’s table of contents not mentioned by a reviewer, because my story made so little impact. I have been singled out for praise, condemnation and non-committal nods of acknowledgement (‘yes, that certainly is a story’) by professional critics and Amazon reviewers alike. But never once have I considered those reviews meant for me.
Reviews are not personal, no matter how vitriolic (and boy howdy, can they be vitriolic–the best critics use skinning knives), because ‘personal’ implies a dialogue. And reviewers are not inviting a dialogue with the writer, insults or not. To think otherwise is naive at best and displays an astonishing lack of confidence and professionalism on the part of the writer at worst. In a review, negative language is just color commentary. It’s spice for the dish. Can you over-spice? Yeah, sure, but since the dish wasn’t meant for you (the writer), why are you complaining?
To sum up, (and to switch metaphors abruptly and for no reason other than to make the title of this post make sense) critics might occasionally be jabberwocks, but that doesn’t give you, as the writer, the right to get out the vorpal sword.