word craft




A recent online review of my lat­est book, Loy­al­ty, read: “…since most of [Avi’s] books are short sto­ries … I felt it was a lit­tle too long.” 

How am I to respond to such a state­ment? After all, I have more than eighty pub­li­ca­tions. Only five of them have been short-sto­ry collections. 

Did the read­er con­fuse me with some oth­er writer? 

Had the read­er only read those five short sto­ry collections? 

Is the read­er some­one who only reads short stories? 

What does “a lit­tle too long” mean? Ten pages? A hun­dred pages? A tad vague, no? 

Con­sid­er your own pro­fes­sion. Per­haps you are an insur­ance bro­ker. Or in sales. Or a teacher. Per­haps a librar­i­an. You’ve worked at your job for any num­ber of years. One day some­one (you have no idea who) from man­age­ment comes along, sits down, and for three or four hours watch­es you as you pur­sue your tasks. Then that per­son dash­es off an eval­u­a­tion of your work and pub­lish­es it online. 

What would be your reaction? 

We all know what’s hap­pened with inter­net com­mu­ni­ca­tions, how folks write what­ev­er comes to mind, what­ev­er they feel. It has become a major social prob­lem. Some sug­gest that anonymi­ty is a fac­tor in this phe­nom­e­non. What comes to mind is the notion, “You are enti­tled to your own opin­ions. You are not enti­tled to your own facts.” 

It’s also true that if one is a writer part of your world is to receive pub­lic crit­i­cism, pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive, and every­thing in between. It’s inher­ent in the nature of the work. You live with it. Hope­ful­ly, learn from it. 

There is a sto­ry I once heard—I don’t know if true, but I like it: Lau­rence Olivier—the famed Eng­lish stage actor—was work­ing with Charl­ton Heston—an equal­ly famed (most­ly screen) actor in a play. The pro­duc­tion must have got­ten mixed reviews. Hes­ton said, “Well, I guess we’ve just got to for­get the bad reviews.” To which Olivi­er is report­ed to have replied, “No, we’ve got to for­get the good ones.” 

Good reviews are sup­port­ive, mean­ing­ful, and help­ful to a writer. They can sug­gest what you have done well. They can keep you going. That said, if the same neg­a­tive crit­i­cism comes up, again and again, you need to pay atten­tion. Learn. But even as you need to learn from crit­i­cal reviews, you have to learn to ignore what are ill-informed responses. 

The truth is, there is no end to learn­ing the art of writ­ing. Reviews are part of that learning. 

One of the ques­tions kids often ask me—adults ask it too—is, “What book do you think is your best?” 

My sin­cere answer is, “I’m try­ing to write it now.” 

4 thoughts on “Evaluation”

  1. That is a great response on your behalf. But, the only thing to learn from this review is the the review­er is not famil­iar with your books. Keep writ­ing those great books!

  2. Your best book… That sounds like Tom Brady’s when asked about his favorite super bowl. He always answers “The next one.” 

    But lemme tell you, I had my 14YO daugh­ter for spring break this past week and I’m learn­ing all about teenage sto­ries first hand. Either way, we binge lis­tened to the two West­ern Sea books. Wow, what a tale!!! 

    You’ve writ­ten these char­ac­ters like the muf­fin man and the coat guy and now they kin­da match who you are these days. I love you so much Avi, ty for all the great stories.

    PS: How about a favorite nar­ra­tion of one of your books, eh? Rag­weed? Hear­ing John McDo­nough say “dude” a thou­sand times and the thing about the “total yard sale” had to make you smile.

  3. Avi, so true and indeed well said! When we put our­selves out there for the world to take in, eval­u­ate, and com­ment upon, the reviews come in lev­els. But regard­ing eval­u­a­tion, I real­ly like and appre­ci­ate a com­ment you’ve often made recent­ly, though not nec­es­sar­i­ly in these exact words, just my rephras­ing. You’ve men­tioned that when you receive less than pos­i­tive or even neg­a­tive reviews, take seri­ous the ones that come con­sis­tent­ly in patterns. 

    But in the mean­time, con­tin­ue to “try and write your best book now.” That is what chil­dren, young adults, and beyond from all over the world, want to read and noth­ing less. 🙂 Keep those eval­u­a­tions coming.

    Best regards,
    Sharon B.

  4. To date, the only one-star review a book of mine got says, “Not my kind of book after all. I am sure it’s a good book, just not my taste.” 😛
    This exem­pli­fies how callous/thoughtless some review­ers can be. Sim­i­lar to the non­sen­si­cal review you com­ment­ed on in this post, Avi. We must shrug our shoul­ders and move on.
    It’s also a reminder that reviews are not for the writer. The more thought­ful ones are for oth­er read­ers. Under no cir­cum­stances are writ­ers to respond to non-pro­fes­sion­al read­ers’ reviews.
    It may be a good pol­i­cy for writ­ers not to read these reviews. But it’s eas­i­er said than done, because we always want to know whether we reached others.


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