Every time a writer puts a story out into the world something happens.
I say often that the point of the writer is the reader, and I stand by that. I also say that once a story is bought and paid for it no longer belongs to the writer. It is bought by the publisher, and then it is bought by the reader. Ultimately, it belongs to him, and he can think of it whatever he likes. I stand by this too.
Of course, in one sense, this is a cop out. Or, at the very least, it allows me to let stuff go.
I need to care about the work that I’m doing now.
I need to be invested in the characters that I’m writing today and tomorrow and for however long it takes to finish this story, the one in the document open in front of me. I need to care about the characters I’m engaged with today, who they are and what they’re doing as I write them.
It takes a long time to get a story from pitch to publication, always weeks, often months and sometimes even years. If I was as invested in a story when it was sold to a reader as I am when I’m writing it, I’d be in trouble... in so much trouble on so many levels.
I have some weird coping strategy that allows me to let go, to forget. Sometimes I go back to old stories and I’m surprised that I even wrote them, they are so completely gone from my mind. Characters that I loved and cherished, storylines that I invested time and mental energy in are lost to me until I read them just as any other reader would. They belong to me again in new and different ways, as if I’d paid for them. I too have the right to think what I please about that story. I’m the reader who put her hand in her pocket and pulled out the price of the story. I made the investment of time. I made the emotional commitment to the characters and I can judge the thing... and I do.
I am lucky that I feel this disconnect, because every time a writer puts a story out into the world something happens. People begin to read it, and the first of those people are critics. Every time a writer puts a story out into the world, reviewers flock and swoop, and begin the process of assessing the qualities of that story, of judging it.
The bottom line is that all publicity is good publicity. Any review, even a consumer review on Amazon, however bad, will increase sales of a book by a decent percentage... and I do mean any review. That someone is willing to write a review signals interest in a story and in the writer of that story. Indifference is what we really dread. No one turning up is the kiss of death for anyone in the arts.
The next-to-bottom line, for which I ought to be able to come up with a much neater moniker, is that reviews are always going to be mixed. Some people will like a writer’s work, some will not. Some people will like a story and some will not. Some will love a story, others will like it, some will dislike it, and one or two crazed individuals will pour scorn on it. The more reviews a story gets the more likely it is to get an average score over all. That’s just the way it goes.
Since I’m working my way up from the bottom, let’s go to the next-to-next-to-bottom line and talk about reviewers. They are human people with varying tastes and preferences. Some are more consistent than others, some more experienced, some kinder, wiser, nicer, some more demanding, some more vitriolic, some lazier, and some simply have some sort of agenda. Some reviewers are professionals, some semi-pros, some review as a hobby and take it very seriously and are well-respected, some play at it, some give themselves an incredibly narrow purview, and some are out-and-out amateurs. That’s just the way it is.
I seldom talk about reviews: the good or the not-so-good, and I’ve had my share of both kinds. I enjoy the good reviews more than the less-good ones, and like all well-behaved authors I do what I’m supposed to do and re-tweet the good ones to try to spread the word. To spot the good ones, it’s inevitable that a writer is going to read less good reviews about the work. Once in a while, a reviewer doesn’t like something for perfectly legitimate reasons, sometimes he doesn’t get it, and sometimes he’s just plain wrong. That’s all fine, too.
Once in a while, a reviewer says something shocking.
Some of those shocks are humbling.
Today I saw a tweet pointing me in the direction of a review of a story that I wrote back in the summer.
|Some awfully good short stories|
Dangerous Games is available Dec 4th
Dangerous Games is an anthology of short stories edited by the brilliant, award-winning Jonathan Oliver. He invited me to write a story, and I was pleased to do it. I’m in very good and sometimes illustrious company in this collection, and I feel rather honoured to be a part of it. Being asked to contribute made me proud. The prospect of appearing among some pretty stellar talent in genre fiction excited and terrified me in more-or-less equal measures.
My story The Stranger Cards was reviewed today on The Bookbeard’s blog. Nice things were said about it. I was relieved and delighted. Then came the shock: the humbling shocking bit, and just for once, I can’t help repeating what was written.
A fantastic and atmospheric tale that reminded me of that horror writing great Stephen King, Stranger Cards manages a lot in with a little and does it brilliantly.
A reviewer compared my writing to the modern writing god of the horror genre. If I never publish another story and if I do and I never receive another good review, I can still die happy.
Today was a good day.