This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

"I LOVED Your Book"

            A wise person once told me that the best way to respond to a compliment is simply to say “thank you” and leave it at that. It’s good advice, and I do my imperfect best to follow it.
            In the past couple of months I’ve had more occasion than usual to follow the advice, or try to. The publication of my mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance, and the resultant publicity led to the realization that a gratifyingly high number of people I know were willing to buy the book, read it, or both. Consequently, there were a number of follow-up compliments.
            Back in August, I wrote in this space about the problematic nature of evaluating reviews of one’s book — especially the type that can be put up on Amazon by anyone who bought it. That’s a plenty daunting proposition, but it’s easier than trying to assess the validity of compliments from friends and acquaintances.

Experience of a Cynical Newspaperman

            My attitude toward receiving compliments will be colored, to my dying day, by two decades of working for a newspaper. For more than half the time I was an editor with the power to determine which stories got written. In that position, there was a pretty simple rule about compliments. At least 98 percent of the time you got one, it would soon be followed by a request for a favor and ha to be considered insincere.
            As the proud author of a book, I’m not dealing with favor-seekers anymore, but with well-meaning friends. And the first consideration in evaluating their compliments is to remember that almost no friend is going to tell you your book is a piece of crap and you just made a public jackass of yourself by publishing it. So when they tell you they loved it, what do they mean?
            You can go nuts obsessing about that, and I try not to. But I have, for whatever it’s worth, come up with a few rules of thumb for evaluating praise. If someone says, “I loved your book,” then changes the subject, it may mean they didn’t like it (or didn’t read it) but felt they had to say something nice. Or it could mean they did like it but are uncomfortable giving a compliment. I give the friend the benefit of the doubt and assume the latter but try not to assign much weight to it.

The Compliments That Resonate

            What really gets my attention is when the compliment is followed by further discussion of the book. If the compliment is followed, for example, by a number of questions about the book, how I got the ideas for it, how long it took to write, etc., I figure that’s probably an expression of genuine interest and take the compliment more seriously.
            Better yet is when the person who compliments the book talks about its content in some detail and with genuine perception. Last week I got a call from one of Linda’s friends, who wanted to say she enjoyed the book and went on to talk about some of the details she liked in Chapter 7. They were details I felt I had nailed, so the compliment was particularly meaningful.
            Best of all, of course, are the rare compliments from total strangers. A woman in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, who has never met me, wrote on a blog that she had read The McHenry Inheritance while recovering from a major surgery, had really enjoyed it, and planned to recommend it to her book club. Now that’s a compliment you can take to the bank.