By Louise Ure
I’m a San Francisco girl, so I’ve been especially interested in baseball this last few weeks.
Unless you’re a hermit living off the grid, you probably know that Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron’s longstanding home run record of 755 on Saturday and tried to reach the magic 756 at a home game last night. Alas, to no avail.
And while that’s a lot of pressure, that’s also pretty cool, right? I mean, he’s making more money than God and he’s a master at his craft, even if he is an arrogant SOB with all the credibility of Alberto Gonzales in front of a Senate Judiciary committee.
I could have hoped that Hank Aaron and Commissioner Bud Selig would be better gents during this home run hunt, but I guess they’re doing what they have to do.
Does Bonds deserve to be called the best home run hitter in all of baseball? Will his name ever be typed without an asterisk?
Don’t give me any shit, you sports nuts out there. I don’t care if he took steroids. We’ve all got our crutches. So what if his head and feet are three sizes bigger than they were a couple of years ago? I know writers whose heads swell up with the slightest compliment. And my shoe size can increase with a big lunch.
Whether you come down on the asterisk or no asterisk side of the argument, one thing is clear: Barry Bonds, like just about any major sports figure today, lives under a microscope.
For a moment I’d like you to walk a mile in those size thirteens of his. How would you like it if your performance … like that of any baseball player or quarterback or point guard or golfer … was followed and publicly critiqued at every turn?
Imagine if authors were subjected to the same analysis, scrutiny and statistics that sports figures endure. Your every move would be analyzed; each sentence parsed and graded.
“He’s been in a slump. Only sold three books at his last signing.”
“Her Ingram sales numbers are down this week from the same week last year.”
“His word count is up, but the sophisticated analogies and literary references are down.”
Sure, we’ve got our share of folks who tell us just what they think of us. We start growing a thicker skin well before publication, back when that first critic in our writers’ group says the characters are dull and the writing is flat.
The skin hardens with each subsequent rejection … first by agents, then by editors.
“The willing suspension of disbelief does not mean that you have to grab it by the throat, suspend it in mid-air and then shake it until it is dead.”
“I just wasn’t as wowed as I’d hoped to be.”
Later, even the copy editors become critics of our work.
“On page 37 you’ve described the cowlick on the back of his head. Please note that on page 246 it has moved to the front of his head.”
“This courtroom scene is set on a Sunday. Did you intend that?”
And they rarely add a smiley face notation.
By the time the book is published, we’ve practically grown a carapace.
Reviews can be elating, illuminating or just plain hurtful. Maybe you learn to take them all with a measure of salt after a few books. At this point though, I still disbelieve the good ones, learn from the thoughtful ones … and memorize the negative ones.
“Despite a clunky and obvious plot …”
“I read this book so you don’t have to.”
But, even with all that commentary, we still don’t have to put up with the daily microscope of the media or the analysis of every day’s work like those sports figures do.
“She promised a new scene, but only wrote five hundred words today.”
“Her Amazon ranking has slipped in the last hour, and now a full 80% of the people who click on her page wind up buying Laura Lippman’s book instead.”
“He’s oh-for-four in awards nominations this year. Doesn’t look like he’s going to the Edgars.”
You’d think we’d all be turtles by now, jaded and hard-shelled when someone comments on our words and our work. And mostly we are.
But then along comes some nameless blogger or Amazon reviewer or dull-witted relative who can still cut us to the core with a hasty, inexpert jab. And we still bleed. We put our hearts out there on the tracks and wait for the train to come along. And so it does.
But hey, things could be worse. We could be Barry Bonds.
"To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing."
– Elbert Hubbard