Why I Quit Newspaper Reviewing and Became a Happier Writer

Ten years ago I stopped reviewing for the handful of newspapers and magazines I’d spent a decade freelancing for.  But I kept reviewing on several radio stations because I felt freer there and had more fun; eventually I also moved on line to Bibliobuffet.com and The Huffington Post.

I didn’t quit print reviewing because the deadlines wore me down.  I loved the discipline of writing well under pressure, seeing my work in print so quickly, and knowing people read it.

And I didn’t quit because I had a vision of the decline of print journalism.

My main reason for quitting was bad policy.

On radio, nobody hassled me about whether a book had come out that week, that month, or the month before–but print reviewing was very different.  One newspaper editor in particular was obsessed with “timeliness.”  Here’s what she meant:  I couldn’t, for example, review a book in December if its official publication date was in November. Why? Because by then it was old.

This struck me as ridiculous. Reviewing books isn’t like covering fast-breaking news stories. Why would readers think the way my editor(s) did? Especially when I was reviewing fiction? Why would readers care about publication dates?

Let’s be clear. Not every newspaper or magazine operates in this way, but those that do are extremely rigid in their boundaries, and that’s sad.   Books get lost; staffers at publishing houses fall ill and fall behind; sometimes they forget to send all the review copies out.  Books can reach the reviewers late for any number for reasons, but if that happens at one of these outlets, the author and the publisher are completely out of luck.

Reviews are a crucial part of a book’s success, even bad reviews, because they alert people to the book’s existence, and not everyone believes bad reviews anyway.  I’ve bought books precisely because a certain reviewer didn’t like them and I knew our tastes were very different.

I don’t miss living with that kind of rigidity at all.  And I feel sorry for all those authors whose books don’t get in under the wire to at least be considered for review.  The strict policy about publication dates is old-fashioned, idiotically restrictive, and doesn’t serve the interests of the reading public well at all.

I’m glad I don’t have to work with editors who are so inflexible and that I can share my excitement about a book whenever I discover it, because that’s the best part of being a writer-reviewer. The second best part is finding a book to review that also makes me a better writer and when that happens, it’s magical.

Lev Raphael’s books have been translated into fifteen languages, most recently Czech and Romanian.  His 25th book is a novel of suspense about stalking, gun violence, and militarized police: Assault with a Deadly Lie.

 

Don’t Freak Out When You Get a Bad Review (Updated)

Damaged IT Goods

Don’t snarl at people who tell you that all publicity is good publicity.  Later in life (and your career) you’ll want some friends.

Don’t text everyone you know that the reviewer is an absolute moron who deserves nothing but Ebola. Why? Most people likely won’t know about the review until you mention it.

Don’t make snarky tweets or Facebook posts about this reviewer, because your bitterness won’t wreak revenge, it’ll end up as an unflattering hashtag about you like #authorbeyotch.

Don’t  look up all the other reviews this person has done (especially of your friends’ books) to see if yours is the worst, or otherwise push the dagger in any further.

Don’t contact the reviewer or the publication the review appeared in to complain. Nothing you say will help. Your nemesis will always get the last word.

Do get revenge by inflicting whatever bodily harm on the reviewer you want to in fiction.  If you’re not up to it, find a crime writer who is, pay whatever it costs and move on.

Do try to remember that bad reviews are the price of being an author, like losing an editor, hating your book cover, nobody showing up to your book signing, and strangers asking you if you know Stephen King.

Do spend some time re-reading your good reviews if you can’t let go of the bad one, and remind yourself that not everyone is as blind, lacking in taste, or mentally deficient as that reviewer.

Do go out and have whatever fun will distract you most, or sit down and write something terrific because you know you can. The Romans didn’t say it, but they should have: ars longa, censor brevis. Art lasts a long time. Reviewers? Not so much.

Do have someone you trust examine the review dispassionately just in case the reviewer might have possibly stumbled on something remotely helpful to you in your craft. Then have this person write it down, put it in a bottle, seal the bottle carefully and throw it into the nearest body of water.