To review or not to review

30 October 2011

‘Just ignore the reviews, darling...’ It’s easy enough to say. But show me an author who doesn’t read reviews. Of course reviews are important. Reviews are hugely important – at least, good reviews are, particularly for a first novel.
The problem is that a first novel’s chances of a review in newsprint are pretty damn slim, unless you‘re related to the literary editor of Milady’s Boudoir or were at school with the books editor of the Market Snodsbury Weekly Advertiser. Even then, crime fiction is something the mainstream press, proper newspapers, look down their very long noses at and if you’re really lucky, it’ll be a 50-word mention in a roundup of the latest crime releases.
Blogs are where the reviews are and Frozen Out (Frozen Assets west of the big pond) has managed to get some genuinely excellent reviews. I’m truly grateful to these people who wallow in crime fiction and produce some very insightful reviews that really are useful to potential readers.
On the other hand, there have been a few stinkers... One reviewer (on Amazon) clearly hated the book and dished out, with bad grace, a single star. He also admitted that he’d only got 40% through it, so it’s debatable just how valid that review might be, but the solitary star rankles.
I’ve written plenty of reviews myself, (in print, for the day job). One editor I worked for recommended writing half a dozen book reviews in an afternoon on the basis of the publisher’s blurb plus the intro and the the last few pages of a book, but I tend to take this a bit seriously and do like to actually read the book I’m reviewing. It seems only fair. Someone has put heart and soul into producing a piece of work that may have taken years, so I could never bring myself to slam a book just because I’d had a bad day. In fact, I think I only ever produced one stinker of a review, which was when a respected and surprisingly entertaining textbook had been revamped and republished with a snazzy cover, but with all the best bits stuff taken out and an amateurish additional chapter haphazardly tacked on the end by way of updating it. Strangely, that was the last time that particular (who shall remain nameless) publisher sent me anything to review. On the other hand, it may be because I simply couldn’t bring myself to wade through some of the bowel-churningly dull books they used to send and couldn't find it in myself to bash out a review based on the blurb and the introduction.
On one memorable occasion I managed to a wangle a Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference into a surprisingly bright and interesting take on modern fisheries management, but that’s another story.
But will you find me reviewing other crime writers’ work here or anywhere else? No. Absolutely not. It’s too close to home. It’s a small world and it’s too easy – unwittingly or otherwise – to upset someone who can respond too easily with a boot in the dangly bits, and it’s too easy to give a friend a blinding 5-star review and then find yourself accused of the heinous crime of logrolling.
So just take the rough with the smooth. If most of the reviews are consistently terrible, it may be time to look carefully under the hood. If the majority are favourable, that’s great. Working on the principle that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, there’ll always be someone who doesn’t like your work, and that’s something that just has to be put down to human nature and people’s diverse tastes.
It’s part of the territory. You have to accept that some people won’t like your book, but unfortunately, instead of just chucking it aside and moving on (in the 40% guy’s case, maybe...) to something simpler, there’s a need to bray about how they’ve been short-changed with a lousy book. You can’t not read the reviews, but they sometimes need to be taken with hefty pinches of salt.

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