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.”