A Little Reconnaissance

Lately, I have become obsessed with book reviews. Not in terms of what I should read, but what I should (or shouldn’t) write.

The whole thing began when a writer friend of mine, who is very much published, lamented about stinging reviews. As a very entrenched NPI (non-published individual), my only concern with the other side of the fence (getting published) is how to scale it. I never once gave thought to what I would do if.. gasp!.. I’d ever make it over the hump. But being able to perch on my friend’s shoulder as she navigates through this publishing maze has opened my eyes. And those eyes went straight to reviews.

As I scour through the reviews, I’m fascinated, riveted and scared witless. In many instances, they are like a bad car wreck (i.e. carbeque). And even though I know I should look away, I can’t turn my head away from the good, the bad.. and the, oh, holy moly, OUCH! And there are many ouches out there. From Smart Bitches to Mrs. Giggles, these folks don’t pull any punches. They throw them down, one after the other.

I keep telling myself that I’m performing an epidemiological study into the mind of a reader and reviewer. It’s fascinating to understand what people liked or didn’t like and why. I’m hoping, through this exercise, it will trigger an a-ha moment for my own stories, although, I can’t help but feel like a grave robber – trying to steal gold nuggets from the coffins of writers who were trampled by bad reviews.

At times, I do wonder if I’m using this voyeuristic journey as a way to stymie myself, through fear, into a writing corner. It’s not as if the pontifications of some nameless web weenie will have any bearing on floppiness regarding my own story. But as much as I’m kicking and screaming that bad reviews of other writers have no effect on my own writing, in reality, of course they do. Beyond the floppiness, I think it eats at the core of my desire for perfection and if every part of the story isn’t perfect, it might as well be trash.

The big question is whether I have scared myself to write, or, if by reviewing the possible mistakes of others, I’m realizing and understanding my own mistakes. Right now, the ONLY upside to being unpublished is that, unlike the published writers, I can go back and re-do portions that don’t work.

I’ll probably wean myself off these review drive-bys, but I won’t entirely forget them. In a world where anyone with a keyboard and an opinion can electronically transmit their thoughts to zillions of people around the globe, the question of when to listen and to whom becomes greater. Although in the end, we can do all the reconnaissance we want, but after all the research, you gotta go with your own gut.