When I had my first book published five years ago, I wanted to read all the reviews. Most of them were great, glowing even, and it really gave me a boost. I’m a confident person, independent, so I didn’t seek out reviews so that I’d feel better about my writing. But I did think at the time that there might be some hints about what works well in my books so that I could learn and develop my craft. What did readers enjoy most about the story and the characters? What made them laugh and cry? I looked to reviewers for their interpretation of the answer.
Of course, as time went on, ten or so more books later, my understanding of reviews and reviewers has changed. I read other writers’ reviews too, and I recognise a pattern. I write a few reviews of others’ books too, although I only write good ones. If I don’t like a novel, I don’t want to spoil it for someone else who might love it by writing something negative. I don’t want to put readers off. I don’t have that right.
Let’s just talk about how a book comes into existence for a moment. Someone spends weeks, months writing it, putting time and love and sleepless nights into the work; someone else has invested more time and belief in the author by financing the book to be published. There are tireless and wonderful agents, editors, talented cover designers, voice actors, publicists, committed marketing teams, all working hard. The book must be of a reasonable quality to pass through all these stages.
Reviewers are so important to authors. Since I’ve started writing novels, I’ve been fortunate to connect with some of the loveliest and most incredible professional reviewers who are perceptive and intelligent, with fine minds and wise opinions. I value these people so much; they write lucidly about out books and guide readers to make decisions about which to choose. Books aren’t cheap, not much is is nowadays, although a 99p Kindle copy is a gift of a read.
Then there are reviewers who belong to the public, people who read our books loyally, review them from the kindness of their hearts because they feel moved to. They are encouraging, fair, profuse in their praise. Those people enable writers to build up a catalogue of reviews, which increases our visibility and whose comments I always read with interest.
The reason for this blog post is as follows. Last week an author colleague of mine received a ridiculous bad review. The book hasn’t been published yet! I was fortunate to read an ARC and I gave it five stars. It was a joyful novel. The reviewer slated it because of one mistake that was so small, no-one would normally notice it. I offered support – it was a small hiccup in a feast of a book. But I’m sure that bad review will hurt the writer a lot more than it ought to, despite the thousands of glowing reviews that are bound to follow.
Some of my writer friends respond to negative comments by taking the harsh or inaccurate reviewer on, and I admire them for that. Why should they let it go? I usually reel with the punches. Someone suggested in less polite terms that The Witch’s Tree was far too long. I hope they don’t try War and Peace. Someone else – and this really hurt given how hard I work – unkindly said I ‘churned books out far too frequently’. Churned!!
One of my worst reviews was someone who simply wrote, ‘meh.’ That did make me smile though. I assumed the reviewer’s vocabulary didn’t extend much beyond the one syllable, so I wasn’t going to take it seriously. I concluded then that reviews are often as good or bad, not as the author’s opus, but as the person who writes them. None of the reviewers I admire would put deliberately hurtful comments out there.
We live in a world where people are abused and bullied on social media all the time, sadly. That kind of harsh, sweeping review sits in the same category for me. And I won’t even mention the trolls we all encounter who just leave a single one star rating they day after the book is published and don’t even add a comment. They probably haven’t read the book. And as for the copy-and-pasters who write the same remarks for every author… why, I wonder?
Positive reviews, however, have an incredible effect on authors. They encourage, they enable, they let writers know what elements of the story appeal to readers and how the journey of the book has worked for them. It makes authors want to write more, to be adventurous, take chances, make our stories that bit more exciting. Positivity is a real gift.
To conclude, the world is full of the loveliest people, and I don’t normally grumble. I’m a happy soul and I’m so delighted with my reviews. 99.9% of the ones I’ve read range from really nice, subjective but fair to sublimely lovely, and I appreciate every word. But the .1% should perhaps stick with whatever day job they do and not bother reviewing – one nasty piece of disapproval hurts like a bruise for days and no matter how often writers read the other glowing remarks, the cutting one still stings.
But, like many victims, we grow stronger and we stop listening to the moans and filter them out. There are so many other people more deserving of our attention. The problem is, though, that all writers – like everyone – have difficult moments in their lives, health concerns, anxieties, bereavements, life-changing events and, in the world of the one-star reviews and the mehs, it doesn’t take much to send someone to a really dark place, however smiley we may look on the outside.
We are a good community, authors and reviewers, editors and agents and publishers. We stick together and there is power in numbers. And we have some very famous and fabulous members in our group of writers who’ve experienced that awful one-star review, so we’re in good company. Check these out below, just copied and pasted….
Jane Austen …. . tedious, repetitive, boring and worse than watching paint dry.
James Joyce…. Oh my goodness, this book…. I HATE this book.
Bernadine Evaristo…. It was boring and indulgent!
Richard Osman… This book did not inspire me to get to the second chapter, now on a book shelf collecting dust.
Emily Bronte…(Wuthering Heights) Vile people are meant for each other. The end.
As I said, a review reveals so much about the reviewer. Thank goodness most of them are angels. ’Nuff said.
Happy reading to you all. x