Saturday 21 July 2012

"How dare they say I can't write BUM on a wall?"

Note: since writing this, over two years ago, my attitude to this has mellowed slightly, as I realise that some people give bad reviews to a book for reasons other than it being crap!

My last post on here was about accepting bad reviews.  I've written in the past about how I disagree with the 'culture of encouragement' that can give fairly average writers the false impression that they are likely to win the next Booker Prize, and also about whether or not authors should comment on reviews at all (I don't think they should).  Since then, I've had discussions with other writers about whether bad reviews are cruel and unnecessary, and whether the reviewer should give constructive criticism (including suggestions of how a flaw might be improved).

I've also just read an article in the Guardian about some group on Goodreads that 'outs' bullying authors who snap back at reviewers.  It suggested, amongst other things, that the group was as bad as the bullying authors.  I haven't looked at the group, but I imagine I would agree.  I did actually see one of these groups on Goodreads and almost joined, just out of nosiness, to see what it was all about, but stopped myself in time!

It all seems a tad like the playground, to me.

This is my view on the subject:

The purpose of a review is to tell the reading public what you thought of a book, to advise them whether or not to read/purchase it.  If you didn't like it, you have the right to say so.  If you (ie, the author) puts something out for sale/on show, you must expect criticism.  The purpose of a review is not to give an author feedback.  To most people, your book is a product, for sale, and that is all.  I know it doesn't feel like it when you've slaved over it for nine months, but that is how the reading public sees it.  I'm sorry if that sounds a bit harsh!  If you want feedback on your work, there are plenty of creative writing/critiquing groups you can join. 

The self-published book market gets bigger and bigger all the time - some of the stuff therein is marvellous, and would probably have been taken up by an agent/publisher in different times.  Some of it is very good, some quite good, some just okay.  Some of it is dire; those manuscripts that made the agent say "Jesus H Christ, what IS this crap?"  are now appearing on Amazon, along with five star reviews by the author's mates. Sometimes, people need to be told not to give up the day job.

It's a bit like The X Factor and similar shows; people who couldn't sing a note would be told by Simon Cowell, forget it, you can't sing; they would be seen outside the audition room in tears, saying "but everyone (read: my family and close friends) tells me I've got a brilliant voice!  It's all I've ever wanted to do!"

Yes, but you can't sing, love.  Desire to do something doesn't necessarily mean the talent is present.  I'd love to be able to paint wonderful landscapes.  I can't, though.  I'd love to be an actress.  If I ever tried, I suspect I might be fairly average.  No-one can tell you you mustn't write if you enjoy it, or that you mustn't publish your work, but once you put it 'out there' it WILL get commented on. 

People are entitled to their point of view.  It is not the responsibility of the reader (who doesn't know you from Adam) to give you helpful suggestions that might help you improve your work.  Having said this, if I don't think a book is much cop, I won't review it; knowing how it feels to get a particularly vicious bad review, I wouldn't want to bestow that feeling upon anyone!  Furthermore, I do understand that some reviewers might have their own issues with the writer him/herself, or indeed with any writers who have managed to finish a novel.   They might make comments that seem unnecessarily cruel, for a variety of reasons.  And yes, it's frustrating when the reader just doesn't 'get' what you were doing with the story; however, you can't tell someone how to read a book. All this, however, is another subject.

Every time you tweet or write on Facebook that a certain film or TV programme is rubbish, you are, in effect, giving a bad review.  Yet I imagine some of those 'bullying' authors have done just that, many times.

Another thing to consider is whether your first novel should be your debut....  

Monday 9 July 2012

What I think about bad reviews

Ooh look, a new review!!  Scroll down the Amazon page to the most recent reviews... and, oh no, it's one of those nasty little ones with hardly any yellow stars....

Yes, bad reviews are horrible, but they don't really matter all that much, unless you're getting more than about 7% bad ones - unless they ALL say that there are grammatical and punctuation errors, in which case you might have some work on your hands, but that's a different subject.  

Here are some of the things people say when they get them: 

  • "Huh!  Obviously someone with an axe to grind!"
  • "Well, why read it if it's not their usual type of book?"
  • "They just didn't understand it."
  • "Some people just want to knock something that everyone else says is good."
  • "I looked at their other reviews and they give bad reviews to everyone."
  • "I don't think they'd actually read it, or they wouldn't have said that!"
  • "Probably downloaded it when it was free, forgot it was a freebie, found it wasn't their usual genre, so felt annoyed that they'd paid money for it."
  • "I bet it's one of so-and-so's mates; she must have asked them all to write me bad reviews." 
  • "Must be a troll!"

Whatever.  I've said a couple of those myself, in the past; I bet you have, too.  I don't do so anymore, though.  I've faced up to reality. 

Mostly, if someone gives your book a bad review, it's because they didn't like it. End of.  Furthermore, they are entitled to express that opinion.  I've written another post about whether or not people should write bad reviews; that, too, is another subject - I'm just trying to help you deal with the ones you do get!

The odd bad review doesn't actually matter that much.  Forget about it.  Who says everyone has to love everything you do?  Are you really that insecure?  No, of course you're not!  

Consider this: you know how those 'Best Films of All Time' lists always feature Star Wars, somewhere near the top?  I went to see it when it was first released, and fell asleep within the first half hour.  I've tried watching the sequels a couple of times, and the same thing has happened.

If it had been a book, I'd have given it a one star review - because it bored me witless and I didn't enjoy it at all.  Okay, I may have given it 2 stars because it was well executed, but that's about it.

Most would disagree with me.  I was one of the 10%, or maybe 5% who didn't like it - and I'm sure whoever produced/directed/wrote the damn thing hasn't lost a moment's sleep over me, or all the people like me.

Remember that one man's meat is another man's poison, then vow never to use cliches like that in your next book!  My most widely read novel, You Wish, has been described as 'absolutely brilliant, clever and insightful', and also 'a complete load of rubbish' - and practically every variation in between!  

Oh, just one more thing.... when you're being very reasonable and mature about it all, try to really not mind, unlike the chap in the cartoon below.....!!