Sunday, November 7, 2010

RANTS, RAVES, AND REVIEWS by River Jordan


Recently I graciously received a starred review in Publishers Weekly for my most recent novel, The Miracle of Mercy Land. (To the anonymous reviewer – thank you! I am ever so grateful and pleased that the story spoke to you.) For some authors starred reviews seem to be a part of every release that they have, That hasn’t been my experience. And while I’ve been fortunate to garner a few critical kudos here and there, some novels seemed to have been flying in stelth mode going mostly unnoticed. Ah, balance grasshopper. It’s all about the balance.

And I imagine is that some readers who championed one novel will be curious why their favorite didn’t get a starred review or any notice but the latest one did. And granted, readers may love one novel that we’ve written and then not understand or embrace the next. It’s just the nature of storytelling. It happens to me all the time where I am breathessly in love with a particular book and can’t wait to get my hands on the writer’s next work only to feel a little let down. We bond that way with our stories, setting, and characters. And it’s OK!

Quick on the heels of my first Starred Review came a nice little One-star review on Amazon of same book (and that one-star not to be confused with the same as a Starred review. Much different. )Then I received another low grade reader review from a blogger. Sigh. Okay. So it was sent out to a whole lot of particular bloggers – about eighty, and a few didn’t care for it. I tried to visit them and write charming little notes that said, I get you. It’s ok. You don’t have to like everybody’s everything. And of course there are four and five star reviews and lovely comments to balance that out but here is the thing. What that Starred Review would have meant to me in my twenties is a far different cry than what it does today.

The wonderful Southern author, Terry Kay once told me, “Don’t read the reviews and don’t believe them. If you let the great ones affect you then you’ll have to let the bad ones do the same.” At the time I thought – what is he talking about???? But, Oh how right he was! The first nasty review (and yes, bless ‘em it was nasty) that I ever received on Amazon from a reader said something like - well, lots of stuff about me maybe writing the book on drugs instead of in seclusion as I “claimed” I had done. Excuse me? Do I know you? Have I brought calamity on your family? Has somehow reading something I labored over in love for hours, days, months, prayed over and wept over, ruined the rest of your life? OH -Nevermind, that this particular novel had received really nice reviews from everyone including Kirkus – that one mean and nasty review had me curled in the fetal position for awhile. But . . .

That was then. This is now. We all get them – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Rants, raves, and reviews. And then we get notes from readers who could care less about what any of the reviews said anywhere . They just appreciate the stories we write, and want us to know that. Our stories will sing to particular people – one novel to some people, another to a different tribe. We play out our words on the page and hope somebody finds them entertaining and good medicine to their souls.

Recently I’ve been reading Bookmarks Magazine. It’s a review magazine that summarizes many different recent releases and also promotes classics and some forgotten pieces. At a glance I can see that Nashville Chrome received four stars from the Dallas Times and two stars from – someone else and the source escapes me at the moment. I like the balance of this approach and it helps me see that everyone, the greatest and the least of these – can be cast in a glorious or disparaging light. Author and fellow Good Blog author Joshilyn Jackson does a great job highlighting this on one of her personal blogs, Faster than Kudzu. I encourage you to take a gander. She pulled some reader reviews for such books at Grapes of Wrath, To Kill A Mockingbird, and so on and beautifully illustrates that we might as well stay a little calm, a little peaceful, and just a tad untouchable where all those high and mighty or low and nasty reviews might come from.

And just in case a bad one gets under your skin and refuses to let go – may I recommend the wonderful book by Max Lucado – You Are Special. It’s a story about the Wemmicks who pass out stars to the bright and talented and dots to the misfits of their land. But one day a special girl learns not to let the stars stick to her anymore than the dots. In other words, not to be affected and defined by the opinions of others and in so doing to be soulfully warped in the process.

My starred review? I am thankful. For that one-star review from a reader who I think wished he could have made it no stars? Unruffled on my better days. If we embrace one we become bigger than we are and the other less than we were created to be. So I think I’ll keep Max Lucado’s little storybook at the handy. That and a personal favorite, Always We Begin Again – a great little book on humility and grace – and then just move on down the road. Writing all the way.

River Jordan is a critically acclaimed (and sometimes poorly reviewed) novelist. Her fourth novel, The Miracle of Mercy Land, a southern mystical work set in 1938 features a protagonist full of moxie and received a starred review from PW. Jordan’s first non-fiction narrative, Praying for Strangers, An Adventure of the Human Spirit arrives from Penguin/Berkley in Hardcover April 5, 2011. She speaks around the country on the “Power of Story,” and produces and hosts the radio program, Clearstory on 107.1 FM from Nashville, TN where she makes her home with her husband Owen Hicks, Titan the wonder dog, and Moses – a steely-eyed tabby and very, tough editor.

15 comments:

Sun Singer said...

Oddly, sometimes the one-star reviews on Amazon influence me to read a book when they pan styles and techniques I happen to like.

As for the other bad reviews, I like Terry Kay's attitude even though it's hard not to mention the best reviews we get on our blogs and Facebook updates.

We push the envelope sometimes. We know going in that some readers will look askance at that. Or we write about unpopular causes and pole fun about people's sacred cows. Without a bad review about such things, I wonder if those who claim they liked a book actually read it.

Malcolm

Kathi Appelt said...

Thanks for this, River. I loved Terry Kay's comment. And I loved your wise and measured response.

K. Harrington said...

What a wonderful post that all writers can take heart in. :)

xo

Nicole Seitz said...

River,
I've heard there's a book coming from you about praying for strangers. I think the best result/revenge/reward for one- and two-star reviewers would be to pray for them. Don't you agree? You had a message, a story, and it was missed on them. How sad. I, for one, love your work ;)
Blessings my friend.

Shellie Tomlinson said...

Truly great post, River. Count me in with Nicole. I love her take on it. "Bless their hearts, they missed the story..."

River Jordan said...

Oh to all: There was so much I realized I wanted to say and didn't. Was having a little trouble posting and linking. The fact is - the readers who don't like my story have their point although i don't think any ever need to be angry, ugly, nasty. I've read books by great authors I love only to have discovered after the fact they were panned horribly by major reviewers. It's an artform to critique something. And yes, I post those great reviews on my site and of course not the others but I remember them. And the greatest thing I can do is maybe not even feel those people are wrong - just have different tastes and that individuality is a great thing. And to humbly learn something from the rough ones and strive to write better, stronger, but will all the feedom of the wild wind - with no mind of reviews at that moment at all.

Peggy Webb said...

This is a wonderful post, River. We are not defined by our reviews.

Anna Michaels said...

This is a lovely, uplifting message that all of us should take to heart. I have enjoyed your books and have a hard time knowing why anyone would call them less than splendid.

Kathy L. Patrick said...

River, The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Club love you and everything you write. Most of the time a reviewer slams an author, I notice that the reviewer is not from where the author is from. That says a lot. You just keep on keeping on and know that we give your five diamonds in our TIARAS and CROWNS which is our highest honor. Write to please yourself and you are being true to your readership!

Mary Yetta said...

River--All I can say is I have read all your books and believe I have got It--that is the message. I have enjoyed all your works. Keep on keeping on. Because I for one will keep on buying your work. I love it.I give you many stars. And for those that don't get the message " Bless their Hearts"

River Jordan said...

Yes Mary Yetta, Kathy, Peggy and Anna - I think there is a story out there for everyone. We all write to the beat of a different drummer. The variety is splendid. I try to encourage those who don't like my writing for any reason to just find authors they love and to promote their work.

Jackie K Cooper said...

Just remember that any review is just ONE person's opinion.

River Jordan said...

Oh Jackie - And God Bless the Child whose Got His Own . . . :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks River for your honesty. It is difficult not to get pulled into the negativity of a "bad review." How many reviewers are writers? How many understand that the edited book is sometimes very different from the submitted MS? We've all read books with glowing reviews and thought, "what was the big deal?" I believe one must write with heart, and you do that well River.

JLC said...

This is enough to keep any writer going--coming from one who has made a success of it no matter how many stars. Thank you!