It’s the final day of the third week of posting in the A to Z Challenge! I’m so pleased I’ve got this far, and I’m really enjoying blogging every day. But don’t worry if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed – I’ll go back to my haphazard schedule on the 1st May.
Today’s letter is R, and the topic I’ve chosen to write about is Reviews. Well, what else? A topic that’s important to all writers – love them or hate them, you can’t get by without reviews.
When my lovely mum decided to publish her brilliant novel, A Grave Inheritance, I tried to warn her about reviews. This was harder than you might imagine! If you tell someone to brace themselves because reviewers on Amazon can be vicious, they are quite rightly going to ask: ‘Don’t you think my book’s any good, or what?’ New authors don’t realise what the world’s like out there – it’s easy to believe it’s a nice place.
I’m only half joking. Of course it is a nice place, especially the indie world. But reviewers are real people, from all over the world, from all walks of life, and the vast majority are not writers. They are not people who will ever have anything of their own, any creative venture, reviewed. So they don’t know what it feels like, and they – quite rightly, as a matter of fact – don’t care. A review is an honest reflection of what that particular reader thought about your book at that particular time. And no matter how great your book is, no matter how many people love it, there will be some who plain don’t.
Bad reviews do hurt. Some authors claim not to care, but I don’t believe them. There’s nothing wrong with bravado – you have to develop a thick skin. As a reader-stroke-writer, I review very carefully myself. If I don’t like a book I don’t review it, simple as. If I can’t give at least 3 stars I just don’t review. But if I wasn’t a writer, I’d be dishing out 1 and 2 stars like crazy – there are some awful books out there in my opinion. And that’s just it, isn’t it? In my opinion. Each and every review is one person’s opinion. It is not fact. I’m going to repeat that for emphasis. It. Is. Not. Fact. Even the 5 star reviews aren’t fact. Just because Can’t Live Without has 80 five star reviews does not make it a 5 star book – it simply means that 80 of the 40,000 people who have downloaded it (!) thought it was worth 5 stars. And not everyone bothers to review either – CLW has 143 reviews over both the UK and US Amazon sites. Out of 40,000 downloads!
Before I go and have a nice day off tomorrow, here’s another thought about reviews. Literary criticism they are not. Literary criticism is often about re-reading a book, playing close attention to narrative style, voice, structure etc. Reviews are a snapshot, a mood or a couple of thoughts caught for posterity. Really, authors – and possibly buyers – pay too much attention to them. The book becomes like the wardrobe that is ‘OK but the doors don’t shut properly’ – how do we know the person who put this wardrobe together had any DIY skills at all?