- A friend said she had a "brutal critique partner" that could be relied on. It got me to thinking about brutal reviewers I've known who were worse than useless and actually destructive.
- When I was looking for feedback on a fantasy manuscript I wrote two years ago (WAR OF THE WORLD MAKERS), I purposely sought feedback from three writers I knew would rip me a new one for payback reasons, and they did, but there were no commonalities. I figured that reasonably intelligent writers straining hard to be negative would find an issue if it really existed. It was funny to watch them strive to be as negative as possible over essentially petty things. I thanked them all profusely.
- We need to keep in mind that the better an ms becomes, the harder such “brutal” critics are forced to dig for critique at all costs, inevitably focusing on matters of taste, e.g, “I don’t like that character's personality...” as opposed to “I think this point could be made clearer by doing XYZ.”
- You could put 10 of these brutal negative types in a room and they would shred an unpublished novel to pieces in their own special way. But if the exact same novel were actually written by a commercial author favorite of theirs, they would not only praise it but compete with each other to deliver the most positive, in-depth insight into the work. Their blurbs would shower Amazon with five stars. Perhaps a "however" now and then, but nothing that would ever approach the brutality of decimating the ms they believed unpublished.
- I’ve had experience with various coverage people in LA and fought huge battles with them over specific screenplays and manuscripts they were attempting to annihilate, and I’ve noticed, the more perfect the manuscript, the more vehement and extreme the critique became. It's was if the good story and great prose infuriated them and made them all the more determined to find ways to chop at it. Of course, they made their living by using negativity as a substitute for authentic and insightful review, much like certain commercial book reviewers who go viciously negative in order to stand out in a crowd.
- Before my first novel was published in 2009 (a novel about Washington in the Reagan years), the ms was 99% ideal, having run a strong gauntlet of great review, but I sent it to some editors I knew in Iowa who I believed I could trust to put the final coat of paint on the top floor. Instead, they shredded the ms in every inconceivable way. I was shocked by it. They strained to dissect sentences and nitpick “the real meaning” vs. the words actually used in a manner that was nothing short of bizarre. They were determined to be negative at all costs, didn't say one positive thing about any facet of the ms. When I didn’t provide them with their normal food they simply picked and picked until they created a series of false negatives. The coverage people in LA, as I noted above, imitated this Iowa group. However, I couldn't help but notice the exact same editors, when courting a client for monetary reasons, fell over themselves being complimentary.
- Regarding the same first novel, another reviewer, friend to a relatively famous author I knew, began a debate with me over the meaning of the phrase "if only America had been there." She said, "Well, America was there." and I said, no, only those who worked in Washington itself in 1984 were there. 99.9 percent of America wasn't there... and it continued until I stopped emailing her back. She'd been determined to find something negative, string it out, amplify it, and doggedly shove it down my throat. So bizarre and pointless. I wonder what she really got out of it?
Conclusion. If you must use reviewers, use the best you can find, and look for commonalities.