An artist’s ego is a fragile thing. There is always a measure of doubt because the source of the work comes from the inside. Putting a piece of that “out there” to be “judged” is a difficult but noble task. Unless one is over-confident, then certainly an artist cringes at the thought or the reality of a “bad review.”
Your work may be good or it may be bad. There may be objective issues with the work – but – there may also be subjective issues. Objective issues or critiques can and should be taken on face value. If you have typos then you have typos. If your formatting is clunky then so be it. If you are no artist and you have hand drawn your cover art – well that and the other things are easy to accept. Subjective criticisms are a little different and they should be treated as such. Of course, as the artist of a particular work, you are not going to always be the best person to determine if those subjective opinions have merit.
Review the reviews of even best-selling authors and you will note at least some 1 star ratings. Statements such as “this was boring” or “this was stupid” or “I couldn’t get through the first chapter.” Those opinions are true for the reviewer – but not necessarily for the work.
The reviewer brings to the table his or her own preferences. In the world of novels those preferences often mean genres. It’s the same in all genres of art. For example, you would not want me to conduct a review of the newest Hip Hop song. I don’t have a taste for it. I don’t understand what is “good” and what is “bad.” I’d probably critique things that a Hip Hop lover would argue are essential to the music. I don’t like Monet’s work. It’s probably genius but I don’t get it because I don’t appreciate or understand what Monet lovers appreciate and understand.
There may be no such thing as bad press. The same may be true for reviews. Attention is after all attention. As an artist however it is critical that you are able to differentiate between objective and subjective opinions of your work. Especially if you write in the field of horror or science fiction. It is a limited field of interest and those without interest can sometimes miss the point – much like me reviewing a Hip Hop song or a painting by Monet. A bad review may have some truth, but it also may contain suggestions that you should dismiss – I don’t write “gore” but I am amazed when I see a reviewer complain about a Bryan Smith novel containing too much gore….umm that’s what he does. It can be difficult to separate your ego from the words. You may be angry or hurt when someone doesn’t like your work – because it feels so personal.
I bring all of this up because I had an interesting experience of late. I can be objective because it dealt with my cover art and not my story. I love the cover art and it is a part of my book, but I didn’t actually create it, so the impact was less emotional. So here’s what happened. I believe that my cover artist has done a fantastic job capturing the essence of a horror-zombie novel. I like the image, I like the graphic novel feel and it seemed to me that in terms of zombie fans – this cover is the type that they would be attracted to. So I submitted it to a blog called The Book Designer. It is run by Joel Friedlander, who as far as I can tell, has spent a lifetime in the publishing industry, writes for CreateSpace, and who probably knows more about the inside of the old and gutted publishing industry than I will ever care to know. Mr. Friedlander hated- yes hated – my cover.
Okay so the spiteful, vindictive, “why don’t you go kill yourself you old has-been” part of me had some thoughts on his thoughts. The first was that I, Raymond Esposito, am a quarter of a million dollar a year senior vice president who has launched globally successful strategic initiatives and content marketing campaigns to hard nose buyers like CEOs and CFOs -while this guy is now pandering his services to poor authors who just want a chance at being read. Deep breath – don’t make it personal. Okay – the professional, objective me came to the table and looked again at his thoughts on my cover. Here is what he said,
JF: Looks to be an interesting illustration, but the way the type has been treated and the overall layout is just really wrong. There’s no purpose to torturing the type to the point it’s almost unreadable, and the big dark area of the main figure’s back is the where the title should be anchored.
That’s it? The type is wrong and its an interesting illustration? Here is a book cover in the same genre (zombies) that he loved:
JF: Looks like the work of a talented and experienced designer, not a newbie. A very strong cover that communicates its offer clearly, cleverly, and with humor. Love this one. ★
Perhaps Joel is correct in his comments on the tortured type of my book cover. I don’t necessarily disagree that the title could have gone nicely in the “dark area.” What he missed however is that a book cover is more than just the words – its the picture. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the simple cover is better. Or maybe Joel is a smart guy who doesn’t know much about horror fans (he seems to pan the horror covers). Maybe he doesn’t like illustrations because his services include more digital cut and paste. Or maybe he didn’t dare critique an award winning writer like Rachel Aukes -oops I’m being bitter again.
What I do know, and the point of this article, is that when it comes to opinions everybody has one. The buyer’s opinion of course being the most critical. I also know that the truly valuable opinions – the ones that will help you see where to improve your story or your craft will come first from those who have a passion for your genre. You probably can’t get a chick lit fan to love your serial killer story. A spy novel reader isn’t going to help much with your romance novel. So when seeking those all important reviews and inputs, make certain the the source understands or appreciates the genre you are writing. It’s a critical aspect of growth – you just shouldn’t go to a Honda dealership to discuss the merits of a Toyota.
So you tell me – Was Joel correct? Should I go with a simpler illustration and less tortured text?