Best review, worst review… I guess an alternate title could be Good Reviews/Bad Reviews. I’ve had my share of each. Thankfully, the good ones have pretty much outnumbered the bad, but I’ve learned to take them all in stride. In the final analysis, the only review that matters is if you, yourself, feel good about what you’ve written.
But I’m getting off topic. Let me reboot and go back to the reviews. The one that stands out in my mind as the worst was a review of one of my police procedural novels. I’d hired a publicist at the time, and she was busy setting up radio interviews for me and getting my latest books reviewed in various places. As part of this, she requested that I send her ten copies of my latest book, which I did. I thought little of this until it came to my attention that a bad review of the book had been posted on Amazon.com. It was from one of the people whom the publicist had solicited. What bothered me wasn’t that the guy didn’t like the book, but rather that he’d gotten it for free and then trashed it. I mean, if someone buys one of my books, reads it, and feels that he wasted his money, that’s one thing. He has a right to sound off about it. But if you get a book for free, with the understanding that you’d agreed to write a review, and you then blast it, strikes me as a punch below the belt. I felt like I paid somebody to take a free shot at me. To put it bluntly, I don’t like to get punched and not be able to punch back. I contacted the publicist, explained my feelings, and she apologized. “I’ll have him withdraw the review,” she said, but he refused to do so. To my knowledge, the bad review still stands, and I learned a valuable lesson: a jerk is a jerk, and will always remain so. The creep better hope that he and I never meet face-to-face.
Ah, but then there are those positive reviews… They’re worth their weight in gold. My fondest memories have to do with a few quick compliments from the people whose opinions really matter. My idol, Stephen Marlowe, whose novels I grew up reading, liked my writing and gave me a blurb for my second novel, Windy City Knights. Master writer and craftsman Donald Bain (the Murder She Wrote series and many others) told me he thought my book, Sleeping Dragons, should win the Best Novel Scribes Award because it was “so well written.” Prolific author and friend, Marilyn Meredith (the Deputy Tempe Crabtree Series), mentioned at a Public Safety Writers Association Conference that she thought I was “a very good writer.” They all mean the world to me.
But the one that stands out most in my memory happened just after my first novel, A Killing Frost, came out. My editor liked it so much she submitted it to the Edgars for consideration for the Best First Novel Award. I had few illusions about winning, but I was flattered to be in the running. That fall I got an opportunity to attend a seminar in Las Vegas called Firearms and Fiction, sponsored by the Second Amendment Foundation. They paid travel and hotel expenses, and threw in some of the meals, too. All they asked in return was a chance to acquaint writers of mystery fiction with firearms. This included a series of classes on weapons and the chance to fire a bunch of guns at a desert range. It was a real fun time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. On the last day, all the attendees exchanged information, and I passed out postcards with my book cover. One of the women attending, Chassie West, came up to me and said she was one of the judges for the Edgar Committee for Best First Novel. She’d recognized the cover of my book from the postcard and told me she’d really enjoyed reading it. Chassie expressed confidence that the book would make the finals. Having someone of her accomplishments (the Leigh Ann Warren Series as well as some of the Nancy Drew books) pay me a compliment like that made me feel like a million bucks. Even though I didn’t win the Best First Novel Award, I still felt like a winner.
Reviewing all this reminded me of my grandmother and a poem that she kept on her wall. The poem addressed the reader in the second person, asking, “What did you do with your day?” The crux was that it was better to make someone smile than make them frown. The same could be said about reviewing someone’s book. I much prefer spreading those good messages.