Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Liver pecking aka reviews

I love Greek mythology. Have so since I was a kid. There was something so, well, epic and yet so very human about the Olympus clan with their petty jealousies and family feuds. I think reading the myths was probably what made me want to be a storyteller. So indulge me and let me tell you about one of my favorite guys, Prometheus.

What a poor slob. To make things brief, he pissed Zeus off really bad. So Zeus had Prometheus shackled to the side of a mountain, and every day, Zeus sent his eagle down to rip at Prometheus's flesh. The bird also tried to eat his liver, although mythology doesn't not record whether this was with fava beans and nice Chianti. Then, the bird left and the flesh healed up -- until the eagle came back and tore it up again.

What the hell does this have to do with reviews? If you have to ask, then you clearly have never had your liver eaten. I have. Kirkus ate my liver in 2000 right after the publication of our first book, Dark of the Moon. No, "ate" is not right. Kirkus ripped open my gut, jerked out my liver, stomped on it with nail boots, flung it against the wall, ground it up in a Cuisinart, served it on Carr's crackers and savored each morsel.

Here, in part, was the very first review I ever got:

"An overwrought debut thriller...Clumsy prose, stereotyped people and a first novelist who has to learn that in plotting the twist is better than the wrench."

It didn't matter that Publisher's Weekly called us "promising" and Library Journal loved the book. It didn't matter that our first book had many of the usual freshman mistakes. All I could feel was my bleeding liver. I called our agent, aka She Who Knows All, and she said, "Oh, don't worry. Kirkus hates everything. And no one reads them anyway."

That didn't lessen the pain. And the damn Kirkus review is still there on Amazon for all to read, like a wart you can never get rid of.

God, it is so sad how much a review can affect an author's self esteem. We might say we don't care. Some of us say we don't even read them. (Yeah, right...) But we don't ignore them. We can't, because our publishers don't.

Which is not to say that all reviews are created equal. Like the rest of our biz, there is a food chain. At the top, are the professional reviewers who have earned their stripes through years of hard work, reviewers who value their credibility so much they won't even let you buy them a drink at Bouchercon. There are some excellent internet reviewers and others who work for love or slave wages in magazines. Then there are those cowards who won't sign their names, and the vast mass of readers who post on internet sites.

Now don't get me wrong. Readers have a right to post on Amazon, and their insights can be useful. What bugs me that anyone can post anonymously, and Amazon does nothing to police the posts. So if an author wants to boost his own star rating, he can enlist all his friends. Hey, it goes on all the time, folks. Or if someone has a burr up their ass about you, or your ex is pissed, they can flame your book in public. Until Amazon cleans this up, its reviews have zero credibility.

But back to the point.

We got our first review for the upcoming book, An Unquiet Grave. I get Publisher's Weekly in the mail, and I have been haunting the mailbox waiting for the review. Now I know PW only has a certain limited audience -- trade folks, librarians and such. But it's still an early barometer.

PW gave Grave a starred review. Again, you have to indulge me because this stuff doesn't happen every day and when you get a gift, you savor it. Even if just for a moment. Because your liver never ever truly heals and the little peckers could be back tomorrow.

The review says in part: "Parrish's gripping and atmospheric new novel is a quality read that will remind many of Dennis Lehane....the author's ability to raise goosebumps puts her in the front rank of thriller writers."

And that is the end of my blatant self-promotion. Happy holidays, folks. May you get everything you wish for. We already got our nice present. I think I will go celebrate with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc. It's good for the liver.


Anonymous Mark Terry said...

First, since you like Greek myths so much, do yourself a favor and pick up Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief." It's a tweener book with inevitable comparison to Harry Potter, but it was a hell of a lot of fun for this adult to review, and my 11-year-old loved it.

Second, I'm a reviewer, and the review you got was not a review. It was a slam. It wasn't useful to anybody, which from what I've heard of Kirkus, pretty much nails it. Kirkus is known as the "Mikey" of the reviewing world, as in: "Give it to Mikey. Mikey'll hate it. Mikey hates everything."

I haven't received an ARC of your next book, but you should send it, because I profiled you guys and I like your books. I review for The Oakland Press (Michigan) and I promise I won't peck at your livers. (Maybe a little love nip, but no liver pecking).

Third, well, there's no third. Just hope you have good holidays and a starred review in PW is fantastic.

Mark Terry

11:19 AM  
Blogger Pat Mullan said...

..agh! reviewers! don't lose sleep over them ... amazing the drivel( both 5 star and 1 star - both good and bad drivel) that the 'man in the street' leaves on Amazon. If I can't give a good review - and in many cases I can't, I don't leave a negative one. I simply leave no review at all ..

Congrats on that latest PW review - that will make me go read your thriller ..

And lifting my glass of pinotage to your glass of Sauvignon blanc ..

Slainte = and happy holidays!

4:14 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Thanks guys,
I will look for Riordan's book, Mark. And for some reason (well there IS a reason but I can't go into it here) our ARCS are late this time. I will make sure you get one somehow.

And Pat: many reviewers agree with you, that if the book is lousy, why bother? But if it comes from a bestseller with a large established audience, don't you think a reviewer has an obligation to tell if the author is phoning it in?

And I presume Slainte is a Scottish salutation?

5:50 PM  
Blogger Pat Mullan said...

Hi P.J.

Yes - I see your point about "a reviewer has an obligation to tell if the author is phoning it in?"

And 'Slainte' is both Scottish and Irish ... it's Gaelic which is common to both countries ...

I'll use the English this time,

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Melissa Houtte said...

Hello PJ:

Congratulations on the Kirkus starred review, and all your other successes over the past years. Obviously you guys have strong livers! Best wishes for continued success from a fellow former newspaper journalist who knew Kristy in her Fort Lauderdale News days and is also pursuing books these days.

2:09 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Hey, good to hear from you. Email me and let me know where you are and what you are up to. And whatever the book poject is, best of luck! -- Kris

2:35 PM  

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