I have dealt with the actions of Victor Gollancz and the Wharton School and Richard Nixon because, although lots of time and space separates them, their behavior when faced with unpleasant facts and honest talk they don't like strikes me as so instructively typical of a modern moral insensitivity among otherwise quite sophisticated people. I have authors especially in mind, those authors who, not liking the reviews their books receive, feel obliged to insist publicly that the comment of the reviewer is, variously, unfair, perverse, stupid, irresponsible, or otherwise not at all what it should be—that is, laudatory.
I have descanted on the subject before, [...] and indeed the topic has been a favorite ever since encountering Samuel Johnson's classic observation, in his Life of Pope, addressed to softies who might think the bad writers ridiculed in The Dunciad somehow unfairly maligned: "An author places himself uncalled before the tribunal of criticism," says Johnson, "and solicits fame at the hazard of disgrace." Or as E.M. Forster puts it: "Some reviews give pain. This is regrettable, but no author has the right to whine. He was not obliged to be an author. He invited publicity, and he must take the publicity that comes along."
Serious writers of all kinds—classic, romantic, ironic, even sentimental—understand the principle, and they understand it because you can't be a serious writer without deep moral awareness, even if you never let it show. Here's some perhaps unexpected wisdom from Edna St. Vincent Millay: "A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down...If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book, nothing can help him."
John Keats is exemplary because he cared more for his work than for his publicity. When an acquaintance defended him from some bad reviews, he argued that defense was unnecessary and told him, "Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic of his own works. Note the distinctly postmodern ring to that. Today it is the fantasy of celebrity, hardly the love of beauty, that seems to propel most aspirant writers—a term now all but equivalent to "novelists." Thus, unfavorable notices of their work offend deeply because they seem to proclaim their ineptitude to a wide paying audience, and it's a rare second- or third-rate writer who can resist immediately whipping off a letter to the review journal protesting the response his work has occasioned. Such a letter I have called an A.B.M., or Author's Big Mistake, since its effect is simply to reveal to an amused audience how deeply the author's feelings have been lacerated by the criticism he himself has so sedulously, solicited. If the bad review has made him look like a ninny, his letter of outrage makes him look like an ass. What, then, is the author's appropriate recourse? SIlence. Getting busy on the next book immediately, and resolving this time to be as little elated by public praise as downcast by public blame.
—Paul Fussell, " 'A Power Of Facing Unpleasant Facts'," in Thank God For The Atom Bomb And Other Essays, Summit, 1988