Note: The following article appeared in Crimespree magazine last year. I'm resurrecting it here (with the permission of Crimespree co-honcho Jon Jordan) because the announcement I was going to trot out yesterday has been delayed and I don't want dead air on the blog all week. So here you go. Come back next Monday to get the scoop. Oh, and there's been a change since the piece below first ran: I don't Google myself anymore. Maybe I'll write a follow-up on how I kicked the habit. It would be pretty short, though. "Find some people online who really, really hate you." Googling addiction cured! And now on to the article....
I only do it when no one's around to see. It's a private thing -- a secret shame, even. But it can feel so damned good I just can't resist.
I Google myself. I check my books on Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com. I've even searched for myself on Goodreads and LibraryThing and Shelfari.
Hello. My name is Steve, and I'm a validation addict.
It shouldn't be that surprising, really. Isn't writing just an introvert's version of the Drama major's "Hey, look at me -- I can sing and dance!" Sure, certain writers talk about their work as an end unto itself, something to do for the pure, self-revelatory journey of it. To which I say: ARE YOU PEOPLE NUTS?!? If I paint the Mona Lisa, I want people to frakkin' see it. Heck, if I do a particularly nice job on Linus in my daughter's Peanuts coloring book, I want someone to notice.
And getting noticed isn't always that easy for a mid-lister like myself. Which reminds me -- further introductions are probably necessary.
Hello again. Steve here. Steve Hockensmith, that is. I write the "Holmes on the Range" mysteries. They're about 19th century cowboy brothers who set out to become detectives just like their hero, Sherlock Holmes. People seem to enjoy the series, and I've been nominated for awards and stuff. Oh, and the most recent one, The Crack in the Lens, got a starred review in Publishers Weekly and even the New York Times said nice things about it! Wanna see the clippings?
But enough about me. Let's talk about Meg Ryan for a moment. There was a Meg Ryan/Russell Crowe movie a few years back, and as with most Meg Ryan movies, I haven't seen it and probably never will. Nothing against Meg. It's just those new bee-stung collagen lips of hers -- they scare me. I'm sorry, but the poor woman looks like a cross between Joan Rivers and the Bumble.
Anywho, the flick was called Proof of Life, and though I think this had something to do with Meg's missing husband (no, not Dennis Quaid -- the one in the movie) it strikes me as the perfect term for what I'm looking for when I search for "Steve Hockensmith" on Dogpile. Proof I'm alive! And writing. And that somebody out there appreciates my unique genius. (Jonathan A. Turner of Nashua, New Hampshire, you complete me. Don't you ever stop reviewing books on Amazon. Ever!)
Yes. It's kind of pitiful, this never-ending quest for Proof. But at least I'm not pitiful alone.
"I always heard about these pathetic souls who obsessively check their Amazon numbers and Google alerts like victims of some sort of odd behavioral tic, and I swore I would never become one of them," says Sophie Littlefield, whose mystery A Bad Day for Sorry won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. "Yeah, that lasted. Sadly, I can't resist. I think anyone who says they do is lying."
"Yes, I do look at the online reviews, sometimes compulsively," admits Julie Goodson-Lawes, one-half of the pseudonymous mystery-writing team "Hailey Lind" and author (as Juliet Blackwell) of the "witchcraft mysteries" Secondhand Spirits and A Cast Off Coven. "I try not to, but somehow my fingers type in the address and then I can't help but look.
But there's a danger when a writer goes looking for Proof of Life. He or she might stumble across Proof of Suck, instead. Or at least Proof that Bukluver66 on Amazon Thinks They Suck. And one snippy review can wipe out all the good vibes from a dozen raves. (I'm looking at you, Kirkus.)
"Negative reviews definitely have a higher impact than positive ones," says Goodson-Lawes. "I occasionally feel a glow from a fantastic review, but I always feel that queasy sensation in the pit of my stomach when I read the negative, regardless of the fact that I tell myself, 'This is just some idiot on Amazon, it could be anyone, and who takes the time to slam authors on Amazon anyway? Who are these people?' You see, even just writing this I slide right into a hyper-defensive spiral of self-doubt and shame."
"The only reviews that really bug me are the snarky ones," says Tim Maleeny, author of the Cape Weathers mystery series as well as the new standalone Jump. "Though I've been lucky overall with my reviews, I'll get angry just reading a snarky review of someone else's book. Clearly not every book is for everybody, and we all have our favorites, so the reviewer's job is to write from the perspective of fans of that particular genre. 'For lovers of cozies, this book will...' But when the reviewer feels compelled to insert themselves into the review and show us how biting they can be, with a clear disdain for the genre, then they're just spewing negative energy. Those people should be forced to sign their reviews, and then we, as writers, have the responsibility to use their names for characters in our books and kill them off, one by one, in as grisly a manner as possible. Not for revenge, but for the good of the crime fiction community. Just a thought on how to bring some positive energy back into the equation."
But not all writers have to resort to murder fantasies to keep their equilibrium. Most probably, but not all. Take the infuriatingly cool, calm and collected Steven Sidor, for instance.
"It's pointless getting worked up over a bad review or feeling especially self-satisfied with a good one," says Sidor, who specializes in dark thrillers such as The Mirror's Edge and Skin River. "Reviews don't change the work itself. If I read a bad review online, I try to remain Zen-like: No pain, only experience. My books are out there with lives of their own. I don't want to be thinking about what reviewers might say when I'm in my head writing a new book. I want to be lost in the story. I think reviewers, both the amateurs and the pros, play an important role in the world of books. But their role is for readers, not writers."
Which makes a ton of sense...in a Mr. Spock sort of way. Unfortunately, when it comes to my writing, I come more from the Mr. Scott school. Meaning I'm prone to screaming "She's breakin' up!" and "She canna take much mora this!" -- the "she" being, in this case, my self-confidence.
Louise Ure feels my pain. Though she's a Shamus-winning author with a long list of accolades to her credit, she says certain low blows will remain "etched in [her] heart forever."
"I can quote the negative reviews verbatim," says Ure, "and still have only a hazy idea of what the positive ones said."
But as long as she's stuck with those painful words, she tries to make use of them.
"If we're going to appreciate and believe the positive [comments], I think we also have to listen to the sour ones," she says.
Which means I have to listen to the guy who said my first book "doesn't work as a mystery, doesn't work as a Western, doesn't work as a novel, doesn't work as anything"? (See -- Louise isn't the only one with certain words etched on her heart forever.) Well, maybe I do have to listen to him...at least enough to help me remember one of the greatest lessons a working writer can learn.
You can't please everybody.
Now pardon me while I go Google "Steve + Hockensmith + genius." Remembering Mr. "Doesn't Work As Anything" has got me feeling a little wobbly, and I need a pick-me-up before getting back to work on my next book....