I have the reputation of being a nice guy, at least according to some people. I also have the reputation of being a quiet guy. For me, the two often go hand in hand because I tend to live by the rule "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
This is probably still good advice for the most part, but honestly I'm finding myself more bored by it than anything else. To only compliment other writers doesn't make for very lively interactions, and, sadly, I often treat book reviews I see by other writers as meaningless.
So, I've changed my stance.
I'm being more open with my opinions about other writers and agents and editors. And I have a greater respect for my peers who act the same way. There are definitely some honest reviewers out there, and I hope they know that I appreciate them.
Last week, Man Booker Judge Carmen Callil retired from the judging panel after the prize was given to writer Philip Roth. Beyond my own opinions of whether or not I think Roth is deserving of the prize, I appreciated the story being made public because 1. I'm tired of everyone always playing nice-nice, and 2. it made me think about my own opinions of what makes good or bad writing.
We shouldn't be afraid of bad reviews. When I look at book reviews, which I tend to do more often now, I find that both good and bad reviews can get me interested in a book. With bad reviews, I often want to buy a book because I'm pretty sure I'll disagree with the reviewer. Showing me a bad review written by a bad reviewer is probably the best way to get me to read a book!
And I'm pretty sure a lot of us writers are desperately seeking honest feedback. When I did my Tiger Mother reviews some time ago, I got a lot more people requesting the harsh review over the nice one. And the reviews people gave me for my own passage made me think harder about my writing. They made me a better writer (even if I was calling them names in my head).
Being honest about our opinions also gives us more credibility. I value the words of someone who I think is honest much more than someone who is always nice. I want my own words to have that sort of weight, so I'm going to be honest when I see bad writing, and I hope I'm going to be trusted when I talk about good writing.
I worry a bit about writing this post now, just a few days before I publish my collection The Wild Grass. Will this mean that everyone gives me bad reviews, and will this keep other people from buying my book? After thinking about it, though, I realize that I'm okay with whatever happens. If people are like me, the bad reviews might get them more interested in my work. For my own development, a bad review might make me a better writer.