Dear ___ and ____,
On a day filled with somber news of an impending hurricane, accompanied by much potential for a panic attack due to other matters, I ran across something that made me laugh out loud:
Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.
British playwright Christopher Hampton’s veracious words led me to think of you.
And not in a good way. No, not at all.
For you see, your treatment of my article last year – you know the one – caused me a bit of angst and numerous sleepless nights, even though I was right and you two were not.
The world today seems to orbit around what is called “fake news.” Well, just to make my point clear, it’s not only news that’s “fake.” Perpetuating and supporting theories that simply do not stand up to scholarly scrutiny might also be termed “fake.”
So let’s say I forgive you for your insulting take down of my work. After all, there’s a cliché out there suggesting that whatever doesn’t kill a person only serves to make him or her stronger. In my case, I’ve weathered enough verbal abuse to know not to inflict the same on another person. Though Lord knows, I would love to sharpen my tongue and run screaming toward you both at the clarion call of “Fix bayonets!”
You both have long lists of books and/or articles to your credit. I note that the popular hordes either ignore your books or award them the equivalent of a stifled yawn. And those reviews, alas for you and your sales, tend to be from reviewers who seem to be a bit peckish in nature, perhaps because they’ve missed breakfast or a neighbor allowed his pooch free rein in their front yard. At least it’s clear that you have not begged readers for reviews via social media, something that verges on the unethical. But, hey, who’s ethical these days?
My point here is simply to remind you that you two, of all people, should know what fair and wise critics mean to writers. You realize that a decent book takes years of placing your posterior end in a chair and facing the music. Or rather the blank screen, the blank page, and – sometimes – the blank brain.
With all that in mind, I’ll cut to the chase and remind you of four crucial tenets for empathetic reviewing. Are you ready?
- Be kind. Remember what that means: “Having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature.”
- Be thorough. Don’t worry one chapter or paragraph like a dog with a rawhide bone. Discuss the entire work.
- Be precise and erudite. Do choose your language carefully. Do not resort to thought-terminating clichés. Here, for your perusal, is a list of common clichés.
- Be objective. Try not to be eager to follow the herd. Avoid the temptation to be a sycophant. In other words, don’t be a brown-noser.
There, I think I’ve covered it. Other tenets may occur to me as time goes on.
And, before I close, I must thank you. For what?, you might ask. Indeed.
I thank you for showing me your true natures, the personages behind the masks of success. But most of all, I thank you for showing me how not to behave toward fellow writers.