This week, as I let my own manuscript gestate a bit while I spend some time among the back roads of gorgeous New England and spend hours casting our friends in roles on Buffy, The Vampire Slayer with my friend K, some amazing pepole are telling their stories of criticism. Today, I bring you the lovely and honest, Katherine Willis Pershey.
Earlier this year, Chalice Press published my memoir, Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family. It has received overwhelmingly positive reviews – from readers on Amazon and GoodReads, and in publications such as Englewood Review of Books and The Christian Century.
I thought it would be a nice touch to doctor in the bad review using Comic Sans. You know, just to add salt to the wound.
I fully expected this book publishing thing to be intense. I’m learning some things about myself that I don’t particularly like. I’ve felt vulnerable about sharing our story. I’ve been sensitive to both negative reviews and the wonderful ones that use words like “enchanting” and “absolutely beautiful.” I harbor these contained hopes that it will miraculously take off and become a literary sensation. And, worst of all, I’ve envied the cool kids whose books (and blogs) are taking off.
One of my writing mentors recently diagnosed me with Book Head. I thought training for a triathlon this spring would be helpful, but as it turns out I’m perfectly capable of tending multiple obsessions. Publishing a book is little like being back in junior high – only back then hourly statistics updates on one’s popularity weren’t readily available.
There’s really only been this one bad review. I have no doubt that there are plenty more people who read it and thought “meh,” but only one person one-starred it so far.
When I bemoaned this development on Facebook, I received a number of helpful responses, as well as a few well-meaning but less-than-helpful responses. As it turns out, saying that the anonymous reviewer must have bad taste or that they are essentially a bad person doesn’t make me feel any better. It makes me want to defend them and their right to pan my book.
But other friends were quite helpful. A writer quoted some one-star reviews of Gilead: priceless. My dear husband Ben said this: “I personally like my theology as thin as it can get: the closer to God the better.” And a guy I haven’t seen since high school wrote: “Theologically thin is a golden review if you are interested in more than Christian niche publication, frankly. By the way, I am really proud of you and your accomplishments, especially the latest of being a published author who inspires the people around her. Thank you, Kay, for all that you do.”
How sweet is that?
How can I give the person who wrote the anonymous negative review more power than the people who have been so kind and supportive? Besides, as I said in response to all the comments on Facebook, I ultimately think people will take a thoughtfully-written two- or three-star review more seriously than a scathing one-star review.
Here’s hoping I recover from Book Head soon. And that I can receive both the raving and scathing reviews with a little more grace. And that the big-deal author who wanted a copy of the book reads it and loves it and plugs it in Oprah Magazine. (Oh, whoops. Did I type that out loud?)
Katherine Willis Pershey is the Associate Minister of the First Congregational Church in Western Springs, Illinois and the author of Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family. A graduate of Claremont School of Theology, Katherine previously served as the solo pastor of South Bay Christian Church in Redondo Beach, California. She was one of the founding editorial board members of Fidelia’s Sisters, a publication of The Young Clergy Women Project. In addition to writing a personal blog, she is a contributor to the Christian Century. She and her husband Ben have two daughters.