I was having dinner with my husband, another couple, and our five combined young boys at a casual outdoor restaurant in Charlottesville, Va., one evening last month. The kids were restless from being cooped up in the minivan on the long drive from D.C., and excited to see their friends. It was late – around 8:30 – and only one other family was dining nearby, so manners were, shall we say, sliding a bit. One of my boys got ketchup on his hand and dramatically said, “I’m bleeding!” There was, I believe, some discussion about burps. Our kids gobbled a few bites, then raced around the closed-off street surrounding the restaurant.
I kept glancing at the other family – a husband, wife, and college-aged daughter – to make sure they weren’t annoyed, but instead, they were laughing at our boys. I sighed in relief, because it meant I could eat dinner, rather than rein in my boys with the threat of no ice cream unless they sat quietly at the table for another half-hour.
Later that night, we bumped into the nice family on our hotel elevator. “Are you here for the book festival?” I asked. We reached our floor and our boys took off – presumably to go wait outside our room.
The man nodded: “Are you authors?” he asked.
“Yes, but you wouldn’t have heard of me,” I said. “I’m a debut author, and my name’s Sarah Pekkanen.”
He blinked. “I assigned your book for a review.”
Turns out it was Ron Charles – book editor for The Washington Post. But before I could respond, my oldest son came tearing around the corner – shirtless – with my middle boy in hot pursuit.
It wasn’t my most professional of moments, but here’s the good new: Ron Charles is a really nice guy.
Still, even if we’d annoyed him, it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference in my review (which he only assigned; he didn’t write it). I was lucky that the Post reviewer liked my book – but if she hadn’t, here’s what I would’ve told myself: A review is one person’s opinion on one day.
That person might’ve just broken up with her boyfriend. Or stepped in a mud puddle in brand-new shoes. Stubbed her toe, or argued with her boss. Or he might’ve won a scratch-off lottery ticket, sold his novel, or gotten the cute girl from the coffeeshop. Or even all three.
The fact of the matter is, none of us can control who reviews our books – or what mood that person is in when he or she cracks the spine and reads the first line. And so before I started getting reviews, I gave myself a little talk (though not in public. People run away from me when I do that).
I told myself I’d get a horrible review and everyone I knew would see it. It would happen to run on the day of my high school reunion, and people would call to make sure I’d seen it, then surround me at my reunion while making sympathetic clucking noises with their tongues. Helpful folks would post in on my Facebook page, with frowning-faced emoticons. The review would very likely go viral.
And you know what? I’d survive it (just like I survived that spiral perm gone very wrong in 10th grade).
Because most people forget the wording of reviews – they remember seeing the book cover and the general description. So even bad press isn’t really bad press.