Several months ago I got an email telling me what an amazing job I had done reviewing a particularly weird (but educational!) book I had been asked to review for Celebstoner. You can read the review here. The editor at the website has used me exactly twice to review books by women writers of books that somehow embrace, mention or heavily smoke – marijuana because I wrote a book that embraced, mentioned and heavily smoked – marijuana. The book review that the email sender professed to love included something about smoking pot out of private bodily orifices, so that might have served as some kind of warning. It didn’t.
He blew so much proverbial sunshine- or pot smoke- up my ass (I had to go there) telling me how much he loved my review that I was the first person he thought of to review his new book that embraced, mentioned and might have once even been marijuana. How could I say no? I couldn’t. I am very susceptible to things blown up my ass. (Sorry. I’m done. It wasn’t really even funny the first time.)
A few weeks later the book arrived. It was really lovely. Colorful, well titled, legible. It took me a few weeks, but he nudged me with another pleasantly motivational email and I decided to make it my afternoon subway read. The next two things that happened were particularly vexing: 1) The book was a mess and 2) I had nothing else to read on the subway.
Point 1 had me kind of worried. I didn’t know if the story was smart or thoughtful or fun, all I knew is that the grammar was, well, bad and the layout was far from polished. If the guy had sent a note explaining that this was a galley proof, an unedited version of the manuscript, I would have read straight through and reviewed the thing for content, not grammer. But he didn’t. So, it would seem, this was the final edit, bad though it was. Point 2 just had me pissed.
Now let me just say, I am not an important writer. I’m not a big wig in any world much less the pot world. I don’t even smoke pot, I just enjoy people who smoke it. But somehow I knew I couldn’t review this guy’s book. I mean, I couldn’t even give it a bad review because that would imply that it was even in a state that was ready to be reviewed – even badly! But there he was, really really excited for me to review it. Which made me feel guilty, especially when I thought back on how much he really seemed to love me. Even if the love was for one little book review on one website in a universe of big reviews on many bigger websites, I would take it, because I am very good at receiving love – probably because I spent most of 7th grade feeling sort of sweaty and unloveable.
So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I overcompensated. I wrote the guy a very very long email telling him exactly what he should do to fix up his manuscript. I wrote about finding a good editor, building a target audience, finding an agent, reaching out to publishers, fixing the weird intro at the beginning of the story that is not only poorly written but tonally opposed to everything else I had read. Then I reread what I wrote and sent it off. And I waited. And waited. No reply. No, “Thank you so much Joselin! You are still my favorite all time book reviewer of books-by-women-writers-which-include-pot-themes! Great advice by the way! You are very very smart about writing, too!”
I don’t know what it was that I expected. I mean, I do because I just wrote it all out in the preceding paragraph. But I mean, this guy had printed lord-knows-how-many fancy books that looked very like a real book by a real publisher (because frankly, we are about to no longer need publishers…) and here was this person writing him a long email even though she wasn’t The Times, about why even she wasn’t going to review his book. And she wanted a reply. She wanted one bad. And then she got one (I will take it out of 3rd person now):
I read his barely one line reply. “Thanks,” he wrote. “I’ll look into it.”
What more could he say? I mean, really, what else was there?
I truly hope he did look into it, because I think people who want to write should always be writing. But I also stand by my 40,000 word email suggesting that if you want to do something and get paid to do it, do it right. A friend of mine recently embarked on writing a play. The problem was, she didn’t really know much about play writing. So instead of reading plays, taking a class or even looking up how-to tips on the internet, she just started writing dialogue. That would have been fine, but then she started sharing that dialogue with others in a professional setting so that it was being judged.
I think it’s important to stop here and say that it’s hard to write and sometimes it’s just a matter of getting it out. That’s 100% okay. I think writing should be shared and read and reread and not judged. But it’s also a little bit about expectation. If you hand something in to a potential editor, agent or even reviewer, polish it as well as you can, disclaim it by mentioning it still needs a professional vetting, or otherwise manage expectation, and then share it. If you are showing it to a spouse or a buddy, you can let them know you plan to eventually look up “how to write a play” but for now you just want to hear their thoughts on what you’ve got on paper.
But the person reading the work is only going to respect it as much as you did during your editing process. Which means, if you didn’t edit at all, that’s probably how much they’re going to respect it.
In conclusion, write all the time because it’s good for you, and also, just say no drugs. And also, read about people doing drugs.