There’s nothing like the experience of reading a bad review of your brand new book.
OUR BODIES, OUR SHELVES is a collection of funny essays about working at a public library and other bookish topics, all of which first appeared in venues like The Christian Science Monitor and The Huffington Post.
When the book came out this April, Stacia Friedman, writing in the Huffington post, called it “screamingly funny.“ When readers began posting reviews of the book on Amazon, they too, to my relief, were positive. “Really really funny.” “Don’t read it in a library — you’ll laugh too loud.” “A treat for booklovers and librarians alike.”
But, inevitably, a reader came along to rain on my parade. The title of her review? MEH.
“I work in a library,” Portnianay posted. “I smiled maybe twice.” Her recommendation? “Don’t buy.“
(She also gave a negative review to Dick Patten’s Natural Balance Duck and Turkey Flavored Dog Food. “I‘m sure it would not hurt my dogs,“ she wrote, but they do not particularly love the taste.”) (Which could also have served as a review of my book had her dogs chewed it up.)
Of course, a negative review was inevitable. Everybody wasn’t going to love my book.
But I wanted them to! I love my book. My editors loved (and paid me for!) every one of those essays. One even went viral. On the day it came out, “Dude Reads Like a Lady,“ my essay about gendered reading, was the most emailed piece in the Christian Science Monitor.
“I don’t care,” I imagine my MEH-sayer responding. “I thought it was stupid.”
She’s entitled to that opinion. Not only that, but she paid for her copy. She may have trashed my book, but I’ve got her $3 in my pocket. (That’s my royalty share.)
I happen to be a hard-to-satisfy reader myself. Working in a library means that I can check out dozens of books a week, but I rarely finish any of them.
“Read anything good lately?” a patron will ask.
“What about the new Wright brothers biography? That’s supposed to be good.”
“It didn’t fly with me.
“I thought it was a drag.”
“The English Spy?”
“Not my cup of tea.“
So when another hard-to-please reader dislikes my book? That‘s not just criticism. That’s Karma.
I’m a book reviewer myself, but I don’t write negative reviews. Why? I’d rather point somebody toward a great read than warn them about a bad one. Plus if there’s one thing working in a library has taught me it’s that one reader‘s favorite book is the next readers “I wouldn’t finish this turkey if I were stranded on a desert island and it was the only book there.”
Sure, it’s fun to trash a book you dislike. I’ve read reviews where the writer gleefully takes out the knives and absolutely skewers a crap novel with mocking insight.
But as much fun as it is to read those reviews, I always feel a twinge of sympathy for the poor author. (Although when that poor author’s book sits atop the bestseller list, I’m guessing that she doesn’t need my sympathy as she happily deposits her mammoth royalty checks.)
At the moment, OUR BODIES OUR SHELVES has twenty-two Amazon.com reader reviews. Eighteen are positive and four are negative. Those who gave it five stars? To paraphrase Sally Field, They really really liked it. “An amazing collection.” “A great gift book.” “Highly recommended.“
But from the readers who gave it just three stars? “I was disappointed.“ The title was the funniest part.” “I got maybe two laughs from the entire book.”
Reader, I invite you to be the judge. Read my book and post your own review. If you love it? Spread the news! And if you hate it? Write a scathing review. Jump up and down on it. Tell the world what crap it is.
Feed it to the dog instead of Dick Patten’s Natural Balance Duck and Turkey Flavored Dog Food.
Yes, your bad review will break my heart. But at least I’ll have your $3 in my pocket to console me.
(Roz Warren is the author of OUR BODIES, OUR SHELVES: A COLLECTION OF LIBRARY HUMOR.)