Monday, November 10, 2008

And My Skin is Getting Thicker

One of the toughest things about writing a book and putting it out into the world is being totally defenseless to the reviews that come your way. I know, I know, should I really complain? I've been blessed with this great review coverage and so much good fortune with Time of My Life, but I'm telling ya, sometimes, it's TOUGH to put a book out there. You read these reviews (all authors read them, let's be honest), and even though you know that they're not direct reviews of YOU, personally, sometimes, it can be tough to make that distinction.

I got a very lovely review in a prominent newspaper this weekend. Let me be clear that it was lovely, and I am very appreciative of it. But the reviewer pointed out a very small mistake in the book (she is only the second person to notice it - at least notice it directly to me...and when the first person alerted me to it, I immediately asked my editor to amend it in the reprints), and as a result of this mistake, this reviewer called me "careless."

Weeeeellllll, that did not sit so well with me. NOT because her criticism wasn't valid: look, it was a teeny, tiny mistake but it was a mistake never the less, and I'll own up to that (even though, to be honest, I didn't even realize I had the incorrect information until this first person pointed it out to me, and it was so small that the copious copy editors and various other editors never noticed it either). But careless? Me? Really? Anyone who knows me knows that I am the opposite of careless (at least when it comes to my work): I am so freakin' anal that I'm sure I drive the folks I work with nuts.

But. Here's the thing. I can't defend myself. I can't write this reviewer a letter and say, "Hey, I'm sorry about that. It wasn't carelessness, it was something I truly wasn't aware of. Oh, and by the way, if you're going to critique me for a mistake, can you get the details of the book right in your review too? Shouldn't we be held to the same standard?" Nope, no can do. So I will be called careless in a huge review, and you know what? As a writer who put herself out in the public domain, I have to be okay with that. As my husband said to me when I was stewing over the comment yesterday morning, "Make your skin thicker."

And he's right. There's no other option. I've said this countless times on this blog, but I thought this example made it worth repeating. This is never, ever an easy job - even after you've landed the book deal and seen your name in figurative lights and gotten emails from people who will read any last thing you write, even if it's a poem on a piece of toilet paper. You put yourself out there, and you have to, HAVE TO, know that in doing so, you are eventually going to be called things that you wish you weren't. Such is life as a published writer. I have no beef with this reviewer. In fact, I'm appreciative of the lovely review she gave ToML, right up until her "careless" comment. (Though, of course, I wish she hadn't said it!) Really, this was just a reminder that this job is not for those with a weak stomach...the criticism never ends. Never. And that's okay. You just have to know this from the get-go...and thus, that's why I'm passing it on to you. Let my spilled blood at least count for something. :)

Anyone else out there gotten a review that really stung? Or a rejection? How do you steel yourself against them?


Sarah Layden said...

The very thing you discuss -- thicker skin and rejection -- inspired me to write a short piece called The Woman with No Skin, now up at

You're right about the criticism never ending, but the review's still excellent publicity! :)

Amie Stuart said...

Reviewers who pick up on tiny/petty stuff really irritate me only because I know how many sets of eyes see a book and how hard every set of eyes tries to get EVERY possible error and some people are really ridiculous about it *sigh*

All that said, I contested a LOT before I sold and got feedback like, "Your heroine's a slut," and "this is not a romance." So I have pretty thick skin. I also realize reviews aren't personal and that everything I write isn't going to work for everyone. Does that mean I'll take every review with a smile? No...but I think I'm well-equipped to handle things like that.

Anonymous said...

One of the more interesting reviews I received was from a woman who wrote to say that while she thought my book ARTHRITIS FOR DUMMIES was very informative, she was offended because I was calling people with arthritis dummies. I don’t think she quite understood the “Dummies” book concept.

Archaeolaw said...

This reminded me of two things.

First, my inventor friend did an interview for newspaper and the author wrote this piece of crap terrible first person deal where she commented on his balding hair blowing in the wind. (I kid you not --

Second, ten years ago, at the end of my second semester of art school, while at my review board, Professor Dan Wills ( told me that art really wasn't for me and that I should probably move back to "live with my parents and go to community college until [I] find something more suitable." I didn't do art for years after that, so ticked over what I perceived to be a philosophical dispute, and ultimately became a lawyer. Doing so, however, gave me the confidence to pick up art again and I had my first show last year.

Some people just want to beat you down, man. It's hard to rise above, but ya gots to, really. I'm the stewing kind, too.

Eileen said...

You can steel yourself? Do tell how that is done. I know logically that I shouldn't care and it is just one person's opinion blah blah blah- but they still bug me. I am not sure I will ever learn how to let it not bother me- but I am learning to let it bother me for a shorter period of time.

MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

Allison, you gotta believe the reviewer reads your blog and you've just defended yourself here!

Most of the time when a reviewer does something like this it's because they HAVE to find SOMETHING wrong. It's like when we have to fill out a questionnaire about something and you KNOW you can't give all 10s or someone won't take your answers seriously, or how in the Olympics there are so many 9.999999s and not very many perfect scores.

One rejection I received when I was querying 40 Weeks was from an agent who said, "As a woman who never plans to have children, this book doesn't interest me." She wouldn't even consider reading my novel because SHE NEVER WANTED TO HAVE KIDS.

I emailed her back, and nicely suggested that agents who represent murder fiction are interested in murdering people? Or something along those lines.

The funny thing is, the most hilarious thing ... she ended up getting pregnant and having a baby less than a year after she sent me that 'lovely' never-want-kids rejection.

Karma is a bitch. Don't worry so much. Thick skin is good. It keeps us warm! : ) And makes us try harder!

Allison Winn Scotch said...

LOL, you guys! Barry, that is particularly funny, and MM, I totally remember that story. Hee.

Anonymous said...

Hi Allison.
I was coming here today to tell you tht I finished your book last night, and I truly enjoyed it. I can see why Hollywood came knocking.

But I have to answer your question in today's blog entry. Here's how you steel yourself against the criticism: Be a blogger. Not in a loving place full of nice people like here. Put yourself out there on bigger sites where you have little control, and after you get a few comments telling you to "get a life" and an e-mail calling you a F*&K Trophy, you'll learn to let it go.

Don't get me wrong. I get tired of the anonymous flaming and rude comments. But I realize that the more "out there" and famous I become, the more I'm going to get flamed. So, I look at it as a sign that I'm moving up the writing food chain. Also, that a small percentage of people have taken it upon themselves to make their life meaning to be jerks. I'm only giving them purpose.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Rejection always stings. I guess it just gets more public as you get more famous. So that's a good thing, sort of.

My rejections are all form letters from agents and publishers. Actually, I did get one personalized rejection, and just the fact that it was personalized made me so happy even though it was, ultimately, a rejection!

I don't think you can ever be completely immune to the criticism. You still want to be a feeling person! But your skin will thicken, just like the soles of your feet, and it won't matter as much.

Anonymous said...

When I worked as an editor, one of the most talented writers I ever met would criticize restaurants in such a kind and constructive way that the owners were often thankful for her input. I wish all critics were like that. There was no need for this person to use the word "careless" because it isn't true!