REVIEW THIS

Because of space considerations, the following section had to be cut from the final text of The Guide to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction, but why let it go to waste? The quotes from friends were taken directly from the interviews I conducted for the book, which will feature more wisdom from these gentlemen and others.

As with editors and agents, you might think it’s possible that there are good critics and bad critics, and that the “advice” of a critic can be as helpful as an editor’s or an agent’s. I suffered over whether or not to include anything on the subject of reviews, especially since I wanted to keep this book positive, but I guess I should say something. I’ll start with asking the opinion of some friends.

Lou Anders, editorial director at Pyr, not only reads reviews, but passes them on to the authors he works with as a way, “to gauge reaction, not inform the writing. By the time a book has come out and been reviewed, the author is way past it and into another project, and every project is its own animal.”

Reviews, both good and bad are part of the business, and though many of the traditional review sources, especially daily newspapers, are publishing fewer, if any book reviews, the critics are still out there—especially in the so-called “blogosphere.” Though I would strongly advise against reading any of your own reviews, ever, good or bad, I know that isn’t terribly realistic. According to John Betancourt of Wildside Press: “I always read reviews; I don’t think it’s possible for anyone in publishing to not read reviews of books they have worked on. But it helps to keep them in perspective (good or bad) and develop a thick skin for the (inevitable) bad ones.”

How thick does your skin have to be? I’d say somewhere between a Kevlar vest and the armor of a main battle tank. If not thicker.

Kuo-Yu Liang, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Diamond Book Distributors believes that aspiring authors should read reviews of other authors’ books, “to learn more about the process. Publishing and library reviews are pretty much straightforward and informative and will cover commercial genres. Mainstream reviews typically go out of their way to review literary titles that will never sell. Genre reviews can be all over the place depending on the personality of the reviewer. I think most reviews do not sell books to the consumers, but librarians and booksellers do use them as a reference.”

“I’ve never read a review that I thought made me a better writer,” said best-selling author Paul S. Kemp, who admits to reading reviews of his own work. But those reviews still won’t shake his confidence. “If I let a manuscript out of my hands, that’s because, at that moment, it’s the best story I can tell and the best way I can tell it. Once that manuscript becomes a book and gets into the hands of readers, it’s theirs, and they should and do feel free to offer their views of it. But whatever their views (good or bad), it doesn’t change the fact that it was the best book I could write at the moment I wrote it. I’m content with that, irrespective of reviewer sentiment.”

Even R.A. Salvatore, one of the most successful fantasy authors in the world today, has had his share of run-ins with bad reviews that he said, “shook my confidence, made me rethink my choice of careers (and it chose me, not vice-versa, I insist!) and helped me along a road of depression that had me shaking every time I had to turn on the computer. I had just lost my best friend to cancer and Vector Prime, my foray into the Star Wars universe came out, wherein I killed Chewie. Let’s just say it was a fairly horrible few months. To this day, I won’t go near the internet for a month or two after a release.”

I’d actually advise extending that period out to infinity.

You’re always better off listening to the considered opinions of your editor, whose job it is to help you be a better writer. For the most part, a critic’s job is to prove he’s a better writer than you are by finding a clever way of dismissing your life’s work. Whatever power they may actually have over your career they should have to claim without your assistance. Leave them out of your life, whether they like you or not.

And that was my nice version.

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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One Response to REVIEW THIS

  1. Gabriella says:

    I came across your blog after purchasing a copy of this novel! I found it extremely informative and I would like to thank you for writing a guidebook tailored to SF&F (there just aren’t enough out there!). One thing I was curious about: you mentioned very briefly in your guide about choosing a stand-alone length for a first novel as opposed to a series. Is it possible for a new author to breakthrough with an epic fantasy series? I’m currently writing a fantasy epic that I’ve been nurturing for quite some time now, and hope to one day soon see it on a shelf.

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