Baby Writer Moment

I’ve had three pro author friends more established than me come into the comments thread on the last post to pat me on the head and reassure me that Kirkus Hates Everything. This does indeed help, as does the quoting from their reviews of Gene Wolfe’s work.

It was an odd little Baby Writer Moment, as I got educated in something new to me (namely, the general snarky disdain of Kirkus, which I had not been aware of before).

Our brains are weird things. Psychologists have apparently established that it takes on average fifteen or so pieces of praise to outweigh one negative response. (As I headed for bed, I started tallying up how many positive reactions I’ve gotten, to see where my personal balance sheet stands. <g> We’re up to roughly eleven, as I count it.) Certainly writer-brain seems to lend itself to mood swings that would get any normal person put on medication: the PW review had my subconscious convinced that my book would storm the world, sweeping all before it, for NONE CAN DENY ITS MAJESTY!!!! Then I read the Kirkus review and dropped straight into the Doldrums of I Suck, do not pass Go, do not collect your royalty check because there won’t be one.

(An exaggeration. The actual emotional reactions have been magnified slightly for the sake of imagery. But only slightly.)

If we were rational beings, this math would make more sense. But we aren’t, and it doesn’t.

0 Responses to “Baby Writer Moment”

  1. sartorias

    There is no method to the madness, either. I once had a stellar review on Kirkus–and meh on Booklist. My most popular book (in its ninth printing) the very first review went on at length about how terrible it was. (All the other reviews ranged from good to okay, but that one really hated it.)

    I figure these are preparation for the Amazon reviews–if you choose to visit that pit of madness. Because someone is sure to log onto Amazon just to rant, at length, about how horrible one’s book is. And it won’t even seem to be the book you wrote.

    Like you said, brains are weird. And think of the Kirkus thing as your baptism of fire in the “brains are weird” club, and in no way a comment on how readers are going to find the book.

    • Marie Brennan

      And yet the supposed purpose of a review is to give the reader some sense of how they’ll like the book.

      I think this is why I generally don’t like institutions like Kirkus, where you can’t tell which individual is reviewing a book. I like getting to know a given reviewer’s taste, so that I can accurately measure it against my own. (If Philip Wuntch of the Dallas Morning News bashes an action movie, it’s a good indication that I’ll like it.) Otherwise it’s hard to know how to interpret their opinion.

      • sartorias

        Oh, yes. I really believe that some pro reviewers have forgotten the purpose of reviews, which is to clue readers to books they might enjoy. They end up doing jaded analysis, without any academic or intellectual rigor–just years of reading and spot-judgments. I loathe that tone; as soon as I sense it in any review, I refuse to read on.

        • Marie Brennan

          I tend to think it’s a natural peril of being a reviewer. When you have to read/watch/listen to a bunch of stuff because it’s your job, not because your own curiosity and inclination led you there, it must be easy to get jaded.

  2. Anonymous


    Kirkus gave my husband Dustin a negative review too. They also made at least two fairly major factual errors, showing they had read it very hastily if at all, so that made us feel a little better. I’m excited about Midnight Never Come and good luck on the dropping out of grad school! I’ve thus far enjoyed it myself.
    -Chantal (from folklore)

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: kirkus

      Oh, hi! I had no idea you were reading this journal.

      re: Kirkus — yeah, it’s also hard to take a review seriously if you spot major errors in it.

      re: grad school — I’ve enjoyed it, too — but I’m at a point of diminishing returns, it seems, and it’s time to rethink my approach.

      • Anonymous

        Re: kirkus

        Oh, that came out wrong. I meant to say, I dropped out of grad school myself about a year and a half ago and have enjoyed it. I now work at a magazine in NY (thus reading all sorts of things on the Internet now that I have an office job).

  3. mindstalk

    I think the math is rational, in the right context. Not a democratic or market context of “have I pleased the majority”, no. But in a social context you might well need to be much more sensitive to having pissed someone off, who might fight or backstab you later, than to praise. Even without discounting for flattery-praise and criticism-reluctance (say only 5 of the 15 praisers actually mean it, while 4 other people don’t like you but didn’t say anything.)

  4. sora_blue

    You are a great writer. Your story in OnSpec was the best one in that issue. (There over 15 now, right?) 🙂

    Do you think this inability to do math is why editors and agents tell us baby writers not to read reviews?

  5. takrann

    Two Words: Harriet Klausner.

    She seems to read about four books a day. Most of her reviews are as pointless as they are brief. Perish the thought to tentatively suggest she concocts a lot of her reviews from the back cover blurbs of novels. Apparently she ‘speed reads’. At best they are useless ‘been there done that and got the T shirt exercises’ although one suspects in many cases she somehow merely ‘acquired’ a T shirt. There was talk of this on Jeff VanderMeer’s blog a while back and also a blog post by him on what a good reviewer should take into consideration.

  6. mmegaera

    Reading Kirkus is one of the perks of being a librarian. The trick is learning how to interpret the snark, and then you’re on your way.

    But as an aspiring author, I fully intend to completely ignore any potential Kirkus reviews of my work, and that’s even though I know how to interpret the snark. It just wouldn’t be good for me.

  7. rosefox

    once suggested that if I had to leave PW I could go work for Kirkus. “Not on your life,” I said. They’re way too snarktastic even for me.

  8. shveta_thakrar

    For what it’s worth, I can’t wait to read Midnight Never Come. 🙂

    • Marie Brennan

      Oh, I know people are looking forward to it. I’m not actually that depressed.

      (Any more. At two in the morning, when I read that thing, I admit I was fairly low.)

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