Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Reviews - Consider Before You Review!

Today seems as good a day as any to talk about book reviews. There are heaps of articles and blogs online discussing them, not to mention fabulously painful conversations that go viral of authors challenging someone who's left a negative one. But now that my debut has been available for nearly six months, and the reviews are not so much pouring but trickling in, (because my goodness, getting reviews = blood from stone), I've experienced both sides of the divide: reader vs author; reviewer vs writer; giver vs receiver.
From an author's point of view they can provide the biggest buzz in the world, but they can also hurt. Like 'crumble and curl up in a ball, making guttural sobbing sounds' type pain. Ouch.

Most of my reviews have been positive. Phew. So far, anyway! And for those readers who've taken the time to leave one on Goodreads, Amazon, Netgalley or on their blogs, I'm eternally grateful. I wish I could hug you back (I'll find a way!). But there have been a couple of negative ones. Now, no author wants to hear anything negative about their story. Just as no parent wants to hear anything negative about their child. It hurts. Badly. So much so, I've known writers to give up writing for several months as a result. All that effort, that love, that passion – smashed to smithereens in a handful of sentences. Another ouch. This isn't me, but I've certainly been affected for a day or two afterwards. (At this point, please don't tell me I shouldn't read my reviews – ain't gonna happen. I obsess. Can't fight it, so I accept I might not always be happy with what I find!) But I have wanted to challenge the reviewer. I've wanted to explain the bits they've misunderstood. I've wanted to email them and say, 'My book is mid-grade NOT YA!' But I won't. Because no matter how I look at justifying the powerful internal force convincing me I should, I'm the author, and I need to maintain my distance and my professionalism.

I write, therefore I cannot please all.

However, I don't know many writers who can't take CONSTRUCTIVE negativism. Most writers want to hear a reader's opinion. It's the nature of the writing beast. If a reader says they didn't enjoy the book and then gives their reasons, but in an honest, open and explanative tone, that's life, and fair. Every writer has been rejected at some point, and we've all read bestsellers that we didn't connect with, so why should other titles be any different. It's one of the beautiful things about this industry: there are so many tastes to please, every style and genre has the potential to reach a readership, and give a smile. But when a review is vicious, pointless and cutting, takes a pop at the author, or knocks any previous positive reviews, well that sucks. It's low. And completely unnecessary. It really doesn't say much about the person leaving the review, either.

How would you like it if a complete stranger walked into your recently decorated house that you spent the last month breaking your back and bank balance over to look amazing, and told you it sucked, they hated it, worst paint job they'd ever seen, that you're probably the most untalented decorator they've ever met and will now tell everyone through every means they can what a terrible job you've done, but will definitely not give you a reason as to why they think this. Smidge unfair if you ask me. (Not the best likeness, I know! But it's the best I could come up with today.)

I've heard all too often people who've watched a Steven Seagel or Bruce Willis movie saying it was pointless, farfetched and unbelievable. 'The hero killed everyone with a revolver and ten bullets yet never even took a single bullet, even though fifty baddies were all shooting at him at once with machine guns.' Err, point. Of course, he didn't. He's a hero in a film that isn't meant to be real, it's pointless, farfetched, unbelievable entertainment. Grrrrr!

And books are exactly the same.

It's good for a reader to branch out and read different things if they feel the need. Why not? You might just find the book of your dreams. But if you're reading sci-fi for the first time when all you usually read is hardcore gory horror, then it's simply not fair to the author, or potential readers, to compare this book to  those in your backlist. Readers have to be as open-minded and fair in reaction as the author.

So, if you're planning to leave a review (which you absolutely should) of a recent book you've devoured, consider exactly what you're reading or agreeing to review first. Before you read, even before you buy, and definitely before you review. Have an idea of your expectations of the book beforehand. Who is the intended audience? What's the genre? Then review it with these considerations in mind. Don't compare a light-hearted, fun fantasy adventure with a heart-wrenching contemporary. They're not going to be the same. Obvs.  

Take the story for what it is and don't forget your manners.


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