In 1914, Rebecca West wrote about "The Duty of Harsh Criticism" in The New Republic, which by large, focused on the way reviewers were starting to cheer on authors rather than provide gut-checking feedback. Eight days ago, Ruth Franklin spoke on a similar topic after she received the 2012 Roger Shattuck in literary criticism from the Center of Fiction. While Franklin was surprised to earn an award she once never knew existed, she was even more surprised to discover the limited amount of book reviewers in 2012.
It's true: While the number of unique novels and authors is increasing, the number of book reviewers or critics is on a decline. It's not a bad gig to be paid to read all day and then submit what you thought about a certain work of fiction. In fact, for most writers, a book reviewer career can be tempting at times. How often do writers come across other people who like to talk about the craft of writing and what they thought of a certain book. If the job's so great, why aren't there more reviewers?
West's idea of the critic turning into more of a publicist than anything else pales in comparison to the 2012 book reviewer. As a matter of fact, you can even Tweet book reviewers today and they'll be happy to review your book. It's almost always positive feedback when they do.
In part, the positive feedback in an online article works to, not only draw more attention to your novel and personal website, but also its products and journal. The term circle-jerk comes to mind every time I think about certain aspects of the writing world.
However, I wouldn't mind some negative criticism from time to time, especially if it's constructive. A writer encounters far too much criticism in college, but then almost none when they finally publish a work. Maybe the difference is, in college, you're being reviewed by other egocentric aspiring writers, whereas in the real world you face readers and critics trying to solidify their opinion.
However, with the evolution of digital publishing, there are more and more books out there, which would lead you to think there would be more reviewers - more people calling you a terrible writer. But there aren't.
One of my goals in life is to have a book banned. How can a book become banned if none is calling it too controversial?
Many writers struggle with obtaining professional reviews. And let's face it, with the number of books out there, it's rather tough to find an established reviewer who isn't busy. Even with the lack of reviews today, I often hear when other authors receive feedback it comes with very few jeers. Seriously, one or two complains about your work isn't a lot considering the number of rejections that came before the book was even published.
Reviewers and novelists have a strange relationship. In Franklin's words, " . . . [S]ome parasites are essential."
Reviewers need great novelist to challenge their criticism and bring their name into public light. Likewise, novelist need reviewers to not only advertise their works but also make sure there's a gatekeeper, someone who decides what work of fiction exceeds the status quo.
Writers don't become professionals over night because they are simply good writers. The best writers come from those who say "no" and claim their dream is impossible. Likewise, they strive for a "yes" with reason.
Without someone to describe the Northern Lights, we can only assume it's beautiful. Beautiful without how or why, however, can describe almost anything.
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