Sorry, guys. Next week we'll do gumbo. Promise. But I have a few things to say and until I say them I'm just going to obsess about them.
Have you ever noticed that for all we writers claim to support and nurture each other, we're among the first to point out the flaws in someone else's work? And not in a good, constructive way. No, we tend to rip the offender to pieces, as if we, the reader, have been personally insulted by the offender's efforts. If for whatever reason you have, well, that's another topic entirely. The fact still remains, there is no solidarity in our profession.
Cops, lawyers, doctors--the shields each of these professions throw up to protect their own is legendary, even to the point of illegality. I'm not suggesting writers start doing illegal things in the name of creating a united front (although I'd like you to take a few minutes and imagine what could be done--I'm open to suggestions), but I am suggesting that we stop looking at each other as competitors and start looking at each other as a massive network of mentors and team members.
Now, you may be wondering what set all this off. I'm going to flip THE RULES a big one, and tell you.
Late last year, when I released Shades of Gray for the first time, I did what a lot of new, self-published authors did, and tried to find people to read and review my work. One person I approached did read and review Shades of Gray--they also e-mailed it to various other people (without my permission), and wrote the kind of blistering review that will haunt me until the day I die. Okay, maybe not that long, but to this day I cringe when I think about it.
I can't read it--not because I disagree with this person's opinion. After all, I specifically asked for it. Even more so, the last year has taught me something difficult to admit: I did not release the best work possible. This past year has shown me the weak points in my writing, as well as the strengths, and I can admit that the first released version of Shades of Gray was not at the level it needed to be. I can't read the review because the tone is such that I find it difficult to find the constructive portion, and instead focus only on the glee and mirth my failure brought this person.
Answer me this--if your words are so nasty and spiteful that nothing can be gleaned from them, what have you accomplished? If your goal was to provide constructive criticism, to examine the deficits in a work and provide ways of improving them, then you've failed--all the other author sees is the malice and spite. If your goal was to loft your own personal views on literature, well, you've accomplished quite a bit.
What's worse, at least in my opinion, is that both this review and another in the same tone (from what I understand, written by one of the people who were "gifted" the book) were written by people claiming to be authors/aspiring authors. On the basis of that knowledge alone, I could petition to have those reviews removed, in accordance with the home site's Fair Competition policy. I don't, because I believe they're entitled to their opinion, and to be honest, I don't want to deal with the shit-storm associated with fighting a review. I don't find fault with their opinion--some of the issues mentioned were fixed during edits, others are stylistic and we all know you can't make everyone happy.
I find fault with their tone, with the snide, condescending nature of their remarks. The saying "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" comes to mind--if your words are meant to be constructive, coach them in a way that will be received. Note I didn't say received well or happily, just received, because even the most well meaning remarks can upset someone who isn't willing to see the faults in their work. Don't point out every flaw with a huge grin on your face, don't discount the effort put into something, and don't think hiding behind the banner of REVIEWER lends those actions some sort of legitimacy.
We as writers know the power of words. We know how to wield that power. As mentioned in Spider-Man, "With great power comes great responsibility." We, the writing community, whether we're published, unpublished, fiction, non-fiction, whatever, need to step up and be responsible for not just our growth, but the growth of our fellow writers. We need to give as much as we get, something Kristen Lamb does to an incredible degree. We need to stop seeing each other as competition, and start seeing every other writer as a mentor and team member.
Next Week: We're Doing Gumbo! I promise!