A Masochistic Open Letter To Book Reviewers: Be Mean To Me, Please!

Dear book reviewers in all corners of the internet, You can say all the nasty things you want about my books without fear of reprisal. Honest.

So far the few reviews of my first two books, Generous Fire and Hearts and Harbingers, have all been quite pleasant to read. I would be interested to hear what many of you have to say about Damned if You Do, which came out during the holiday rush and may have slipped beneath the radar like a shy debutante in a shadowed corner of the ballroom. While in the middle of the ballroom is an orgy. The holiday season is hectic, is what I mean to say—and it's easy for a short book to get lost in all the chaos.

The cover image for Damned if You Do, by Olivia Waite: a nude male torso in a tense upright attitude, surrounded by swirls of green light.

But then I read about authors getting butthurt over a review that wasn't even notably scathing, or authors getting butthurt over other authors' bad reviews on Goodreads, or authors comparing Goodreads to 4chan (to agree with Dear Author: HAHAHAHAHA) … and then I remember Pregnesia.

Pregnesia is a Harlequin Intrigue by Carla Cassidy that got a snarky, ironical C review on Smart Bitches that notably used the word "WACKADOO" in all caps. It is presented as a ridiculous, jaw-droppingly misguided novel that managed to offend on every level of craft while still pulling the reader through the story, kicking and screaming. The review did recommend the book, but only so others might witness the awfulness for themselves.

And author Carla Cassidy responded. She commented in the thread for the review itself. She didn't get defensive or angry or descend to the level of personal attacks. She made a wonderful, funny, self-deprecating list of reasons why she liked this review.

Commenters fell all over themselves with delight and promptly ordered copies of the book. I bought one, too, straight off the internet—even though I almost never read contemporaries and hadn't picked up a Harlequin in ten-odd years. I passed it around to several friends, too—friends who didn't read romance. A few of those friends got impatient waiting to read it and bought it on their own. I can't fathom how many copies of Pregnesia were sold on account of that one craptastic review.

I would leap at the chance to have the next Pregnesia on my hands. Charming self-deprecation is totally in my wheelhouse. Want to write a negative review of any of my books? Shoot me an email and I'll send you a copy!

I have, in fact, written a few snarky book reviews myself (under my dayname, of course). One of them was a disappointed and shamefully bitter response to a book I had certain expectations of, that turned out to be something different than I thought. That author has gone on to win a RITA for a later book in the series, and has hit the NYT Bestseller list a bunch of times. I still get about one person a month who hits the like button on my vitriolic review, and every time it happens I am glad that A) someone else out there felt the same way about this otherwise popular novel, and B) that author is still writing that series, quite successfully, and to great acclaim. My review is certainly not responsible for her success, but nor did it damage her career in any way that I can see.

We don't all have to like the same things, you see.

I've had one fairly well-known reviewer pass on the chance to review Generous Fire for her website; she was kind enough not only to tell me she wasn't going to review a book she didn't like, and also to tell me (at my request) precisely what failed to please. And as a writer, that kind of feedback is like living, breathing gold that will cook you a five-course meal and do all the dishes afterward. I want to know the ways my book is broken, the ways it could be better, the ways I could avoid narrative traps in the next go-round. Isn't that why we have editors, too? Editors are marvelous. But they are few and far between.

Reviewers and readers who talk about their responses to books are like pre-editors for whatever you're planning to write next.

Even something simple like "This wasn't to my taste" is helpful—an author needs to know what kind of readers her book appeals to, and what kind are going to heave it at the wall like Dorothy Parker on one of her low days. Because otherwise we will spend time and energy marketing to the wrong people and have nothing to show for our efforts. Are my books interesting to high-falutin' academics who toss around phrases in Latin and French like they were going out of style? (Answer: maybe—and phrases in Latin and French are almost certainly going out of style. Le sigh.)

So if you, dear reviewer, tire of fighting the good fight while ranty authors hurl ad hominem attacks your way like they're egging your house on Halloween, give yourself a break. Read one of my books—I have three of them now, all short and smutty!—and let your pen go wild with the poison of righteous indignation.

And after every sharp and cutting line, I will smile with delight and say, "Thank you, sir, may I have another?"