Michelle’s Monday post was a delightful reminder to take stock of all the writerly things we’re thankful for. I’m gonna push the envelope a little and bring up something she didn’t. Something I’m thankful for that at first brush may seem insane.
I’m thankful for reviews.
THE WICKED AND THE JUST is just under six months away from publication. In the debut world, this is the time when things start happening. You order postcards and bookmarks with your cover on them. Bloggers start emailing you, wondering if you’d like to do interviews and guest posts. Maybe your publicist drops you an email to introduce herself.
And sometimes, early reviews begin to pop up.
For a lot of writers, this is a major source of anxiety. For as long as you can remember, your book has been your own. The only people who’ve read it have been people on your side: writer colleagues in your critique group, your friends, your spouse, your kids, your agent, your editor. People who want to like your book because they like you, or because they believe strongly in the book and its potential contribution to children’s literature.
But once the ARCs go out, all bets are off.*
Denise Jaden, whose YA novel LOSING FAITH debuted in 2010, had a great post a while back in which she discussed the befores-and-afters of being a debut author. One of the things she discussed was reviews. The whole post is hilariously tongue-in-cheek and worth reading in its entirety, but I’ll summarize the review portion: before you get any reviews, you think you’re totally ready for anything anyone has to say about your book. Then you get reviews and realize you aren’t.
Full disclosure: I have not yet gotten any bad reviews. On the contrary, I’ve had some lovely, detailed and thoughtful reviews so I’m still in the honeymoon stage. But I know the bad ones are coming. There’s no getting around it, and every one is going to hurt.
Am I ready? I think I am, so I’m probably not. A mantra that helped me slog through years of querying was opinions of written work are always going to differ. There are many critically-acclaimed books that did not work for me, and I’ve loved more than a few books to bits whose reviews were all meh. The only difference is the reader.
One of the hardest parts of the debut process is making peace with the fact that at some point your book isn’t yours anymore. When it goes into the world it becomes its own thing, and every reader who approaches it brings her or his experiences and expectations. At some point, we have to let the book go and let it be part of something bigger. We have to give it to readers. That’s why it even exists in the first place.
Which brings me back to reviews, and why – when all is said and done – I’m thankful for them. I’d be lying if I said I’ll be thankful for good and bad reviews equally, but for every review of W/J that’s written – every one, good and bad – some person took time out of her or his life to read it.** She or he took the time to craft a response to it. A reader interfaced with the book and found something about it to praise, critique, object to, swoon over, pick apart, or admire – maybe all in the same review.
It’s one thing to be critiqued; another thing entirely to be ignored. And that’s why I’m thankful for reviews.
* For those unfamiliar with the term, ARCs are Advanced Reading Copies; early, non-finalized editions of the book sent out to reviewers in the months leading up to the book’s release. Reviews in industry publications (School Library Journal, Kirkus, VOYA, Publishers Weekly) don’t typically appear until a few months before the release date, but that doesn’t mean there are no reviews.
** Leaving aside, of course, those reviews when it’s obvious the book has not been read. “I didn’t like this book because the cover was too orange.”