Authors responding to reviewers

While perusing other blogs this week, I was directed to this site, where a self-published author responds back several times over to a slighlty negative review, which praised her story but criticized the numerous spelling and grammar errors that plagued the text and hindered reading.

I was interested, as I am currently reading a book for my first formal, requested book review in a journal. I’ve reviewed books before–but only in my weekly column. The review I’m writing will be slightly more academic in tone, and I’ll post the link to it sometime in mid-May when it’s released online. I wonder how the author of the books I’m reviewing will respond to me, if at all?

But this author responded several times, criticizing her reviewer (who was very professional in tone) with very unprofessional exclamations and rude comments. Her reaction made me think one thing and one thing only: I bet she’s never been through an MFA.

For better or for worse, one thing that the workshop setting does teach you is to sit quietly and listen when you are being critiqued. There is something to learn from good criticism–whether you apply it to the current project or one in the future. At times it might seem unfair that you can’t chime in, but you learn to listen in a new way when you sit back. You get so many different opinions in class and in the required post-class letters that you also learn how to ignore the comments that don’t seem to really say anything meaningful to you–but also how to internalize the words of wisdom from the ones that do. And when almost everyone in the class has the same idea about something that doesn’t quite sit right, you can bet that it probably won’t quite sit right with most readers. You don’t necessarily have to take the suggested solutions to fixing the problem, but workshop at the very least points out those problem areas to you.

In any case, I haven’t read the book in question, nor do I know the author’s background, so I won’t comment on the situation, really. (Maybe she does have an MFA and was a sore sport in workshop, constantly justifying why she did what she did without listening to critiques). But I do know that one of the things I’ve gotten good at over the years is not responding to negative feedback that seems useless to me (via letters complaining about my newspaper column)–but I always do try to get back to my readers to thank them for reading. Of course, it’s a much more pleasant experience for me if they like what I’ve written. But I’m always grateful, no matter what they think, that they took the time to read my work.

But maybe I’m too much of an idealist.

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