Giving Yourself Stars and Stickers: On Book Reviews
But receiving this good news made me want to talk about more than the book and its review.
It made me want to talk about how I’m almost 41 years old and my life is about getting “STARS.” Also, “STICKERS.” Sweet suffering Jesus.
I mean, yeah. I want to be successful at writing in that people keep paying me to put out books and other people keep reading them. I want to be successful at writing in that smart people say they enjoy my books.
But I can get really hung on up STARS and STICKERS. And it makes me feel like a psycho.
My first book got a couple stars and one sticker. Not “The Big Sticker.” But it has a sticker. My second book got a few stars. Not as many as the first. And no sticker. My third book got more stars. The stickers don’t come out for a while, but I’m willing to wager it won’t get any stickers. So what does this mean? My first book is the best and that it’s a quiet downhill ride from here on out? My second book sucked? I didn’t work hard enough on it?
This is only to speak of institutional or trade reviews. The stars on GoodReads for all of my books? Well. You don’t want to know. I don’t want to know. Some reviews on that site make me want to lay down and die.
“Extremely profane and not worth your time…”
“I literally did not care about anything in this book…”
“The main character is such an asshole…”
Do you see how batshit this can make a person? It’s like a potty chart you make for a kid learning to use the toilet. Except, instead of making shit in the commode, I’m trying to recreate the world how I see it in an artful way. Except, I’m middle-aged, not a toddler.
Still, there’s also this point: the people who give out stickers and stars are people who read a lot of books. They are librarians and teachers and scholars. They KNOW books. So you want those people, the ones who’ve trafficked in books their whole lives, to read your book and put a sticker or a star on its chart. You want it to be distinct, distinguished, special. It’s not meaningless, this star-and-sticker business.
But sometimes I want to give myself stars or stickers for parts of my books. For my second book, I want to give a sticker to the ending. It’s my favorite ending of all my books. I also want to give a star to its ladyhead scene. That was a bit that remained almost unchanged from its first drafting.
For my first book, I’d give a star to the part where two characters make out in a bathroom. Goddamn did I work hard on that scene! I’d also give a star to the scene where the guys are eating fried chicken and watching A Clockwork Orange and the one guy says, “Dude, you’re such a cock to your dog.” Dunno why, but I love that line.
For my third book, the sticker would go to the scenes with Will’s step-sisters. I loved writing them and I loved those little pain-in-the-ass girls.
So, maybe this is only a post that other writers will care about. Maybe this is a post that will make people say, “Oh, poor Carrie, with your book deals! Waaaah, we’re so sorry for your precious feelings!”
Say that, if you’d like. It’s totally true. I’m a lucky fucker and complaining about this could surely come off bratty and ungrateful.
But the reason I wrote this is to put it out to all writers, published or not: what would you give your stars and stickers to? What parts of your stories or essays are you especially fond of? What scenes have you written that please you every time you read them? What opening or closing lines still make you proud? Leave me a comment, make a chart on your refrigerator, or just ponder it privately in your heart.
Remembering how your own work pleases you is a good thing which begets more good work. I hope you’ll endow yourself with many stickers and stars in the future.