July 12th, 2006

The Pros and Cons of Looking Like a Fat Demented Chicken

Op-Ed piece in the New York Times reflecting on the hidden advantages to having a bad review.


I remember with my first book, my publicist told me that the LA Times has called, wanting a book jacket for an upcoming review. He was sure it would be a good review. Why waste precious space if it wasn't. I called my agent and said, "Want me to tell you something that will make you happy?" She kindly replied that I always made her happy.

The big day finally arrived. It wasn't online yet, so I got a friend who lives in LA to fax me the review. I still remember seeing the cover sheet curl up out of the machine. It contained one word, "Critics!" I knew then it was bad. But it was worse than I imagined.

The review was scathing. Mocking. She actually used the phrase, "But what made me homicidal was..." Then she went on to praise one of those books where the cat solves the crimes.

Everyone tried to console me with the idea that people only remember the name of the book, not that the review was bad.

The book sold well, was a Booksense pick, and was nominated for the Agatha and the Anthony. But that review shamed me for many years.

Later I found out the reviewer was about my age. She had a kid about my kid's age. She died from breast cancer. I think she was fighting it when she wrote the review. Her death, her kid without a mom (and young, too - like five years old), made any lingering resentment seem petty.

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