Genuinely Affecting

Posted on 21 September 2011

Living Arrangements received its first review this week. It was a mixed bag. But what can a writer do but appreciate the good and ignore the rest, all while thanking her lucky (dare I say “dazzling and disturbing”) stars that her debut short story collection from a small press is receiving reviews at all?

I have to remind myself that three years ago at this time, I was sitting on a bunch of stories, furiously writing others, stalled on a novel attempt, and not sending anything out, anywhere. To think that by this time I’d have a book coming out, and a review from Publishers Weekly to top it off, would have been unimaginable. But here I am.

This experience is another reminder that the publishing process isn’t all kittens and buttercups, even when you have realistic expectations, a positive attitude, and a supportive publisher behind you. It also got me thinking about various aspects of the business side of writing, from facing reviews to asking for blurbs.

In this article, Emily St. John Mandel discusses reviews, including the bad (and ugly), writers who snapped back at their reviewers, and more. She also shares some lines from a particularly harsh PW review she’s received and describes her experience of facing the verdict:

I’ve published two novels, which has meant that twice in the past two years I’ve sold a book to a publisher and gone through the edits, and then the publication date is scheduled, the lead-up begins, and the first pre-publication reviews trickle in. It’s a nervous, hectic, mostly pleasant time, filled with anticipation and exclamation-point laden emails from booksellers and publicists, and then Publishers Weekly weighs in. By “weighs in”, I mean that Google Alerts delivers the literary equivalent of unexploded ordnance into my inbox. The next few hours are always a little rough.

Over at The Awl, six writers discuss their blurbs and book covers. Mark Jude Poirier describes the process of asking for blurbs as “humiliating and horrible.” Bennett Madison shares a few frustrating stories about his books’ cover designs, including one he despised:

I absolutely hated the cover of my first book. I complained a little and they changed it enough to make me hate it so much more! So the moral of the story there is, no matter how bad it is it can always be made worse with hot-pink “I Dream of Jeannie” harem pants.

Thankfully, I like my cover (or cover-in-progress, I should say) and there is nary a pink pair of harem pants in sight. As for the review, I’ll take it, gems and dazzles and melancholy and all, and move forward.

What do you think would be the most stressful part of the publishing process?

Photo: CraftyGoat


16 responses to Genuinely Affecting

  • lisahgolden says:

    MOST stressful? Girl, I won’t even allow myself to become part of the goat rodeo. Apparently.

    I am so excited for you and very pleased with your PW review. Very cool!

    I know myself in this regard – I’m going to have work doubly hard to not get hung on the nail of what I perceive to be negative bits of reviews. Or entire negative reviews. Or reviews at all. Or no reviews.

    I’m going back to play with my food now.

  • margosita says:

    “The publishing process isn’t all kittens and buttercups”

    This belongs on a t-shirt. You could sell it at AWP and spend the profits on books and wine during the conference.

    • I don’t think I had the ability to make the leap from my love of kittens and buttercups to business venture. You should start a side business as a life coach!

      I still plan to come to AWP this year, btw, but have made no plans as of yet…

  • Susan says:

    “Dazzling and disturbing” is a pretty cool assessment. I’d take it. Congratulations on even getting a PW review–that’s a huge help in letting people know about the book. I think trying to sell the damn thing is the most stressful part of the publishing process.

  • Downith says:

    I’m not close enough to the process to know. Thanks for the links, the Emily St John Mandel article was very interesting. If I ever get there, I’d like to think I’d take the high road.

    Genuinely affecting and dazzling and disturbing sounds pretty damn fine to me.

    And here is some advice for debut novelists from one of my fav UK authors – am sure it applies equally to debut short story collection authors.

  • Averil Dean says:

    Seriously, if the only real criticism has to do with a resemblence to the work of Lorrie Moore, I think you’re in great shape. After all, who can claim work that is unlike anyone else’s?

    I’ll take one of those Dazzling and Disturbing tee-shirts.

  • Lyra says:

    Reviews! Gah!
    I can’t read them yet, I have a rule for myself about reading someone else’s view of something before I’ve established my own. I want a pure, unadulterated read of your book.

    As for the publishing process, I can only assume that it is in fact all kittens and buttercups, unicorns and rainbows. I see through your master plan to dissuade us and I am disgusted.

    I shall now return to bedazzling my macrame owls which I shall send with each submission.

  • Deb says:

    I cannot wait to get my hands on it, Laura. I’m avoiding thinking ahead at this point and keeping focused on the step I’m on. Otherwise, it feels like I will never finish this thing.

  • Just having P&W review your book gives it credibility. And the “mixed” review seems mostly positive to me. Can’t wait to read it. My gut feeling–based on what I’ve read about it and also based on your blog writing–is that I’ll be rating it with multiple stars… Congrats.

  • Tricia says:

    The biggest problem with reviews is if you don’t believe the bad/mixed ones, how can you celebrate the good ones? And yet, I don’t for a minute believe those writers who claim they never read their reviews.

  • Tricia says:

    P.S. Yesterday Russell Banks’s new novel got more or less slammed in the PD. Today a review in the NYTTimes says it is “destined to be a canonical novel of its time”.

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