Thursday, 24 January 2013
On not reading reviews
(My book cover, complete with moped)
I chuckled today when I read this very funny post by Lisa Jewell. When I saw it was about readers’ reviews I HAD to read it. I really admired Lisa's honesty and I felt for her as she engaged with a reviewer with disastrous effect. For me, undoubtedly some of the best and worst experiences of being published have come from reading readers' reviews (which is why I don’t do it any more, but we’ll come to that later).
When my book first came out I was very excited to read my reviews, and went impatiently onto Amazon every day to see if I had a new one. The first few were lovely, and I was thrilled and naively assumed that they would all be nice, maybe with the odd 'meh'. I mean, it's just a harmless rom-com, right? Nothing to get your knickers in a twist about? But then ... hoboy.
I can still remember the first really mean reader review I got; it was very early on. I don't remember it word for word but I do remember that she used the words 'blah blah blah' to sum up my narrative style ... she also implied that the positive reviews were fake, which really upset me, but in a rare moment of wisdom I decided not to engage. But I read the review several times, and it made me doubt everything and wonder if I was secretly a loser with no talent who’d inflicted an awful book on the world. I went back and read MORE reviews to try and take away the sting. But even the nice ones began to upset me, if they implied the book was a guilty pleasure (which it totally is! I know!) or if they made even the tiniest criticism. The negative ones also make SO much more impact that it took several nice ones to drown them out ... and eventually I just decided the whole emotional rollercoaster was unhealthy. Now I do not look at my Amazon page, ever. I believe Marian Keyes does the same so I’m in good company.
But I still continued reading blog reviews (I don't any more). I gave them a quick peep through my fingers to check they were OK first. Mainly they are nice and constructive – though again, sometimes the smallest things can get to you. One reviewer, who was generally very smart, fair and balanced, was nonetheless very put out because the publishers had compared me to a well-known author on the book proof, and wanted to make it clear that while I’m quite funny I’m in no way as funny as said well-known author. She also didn’t like the fact that there’s a moped on the cover but NO MOPED APPEARS IN THE BOOK. It’s true! And I was worried about that too, but sadly, I don’t have control over the cover.* I was though amused by her suggestion that ‘surely Doherty could have inserted a moped’ in the story. I don’t know why I found it funny, I mean it’s a valid point, it was just the idea of ‘inserting a moped’. Unfortunately by the time the cover was designed, the text was finished and typset, so it was too late to insert mopeds anywhere.
Anyway, I've stopped reading reviews of all kinds now. Don't get me wrong; reader reviews and blog reviews are fantastic and provide an invaluable service both for readers or writers. But really, reviews of any kind, whether by bloggers or anyone, should be a dialogue between those who've read the book - not between readers and the author. The worst thing would be if there were no more honest reviews because people were worried about upsetting the person who wrote the book: the author should not be invited to that particular party. So for the sake of my mental health, I should concentrate on writing, listen to my agent and editor, and leave the reviews to be read by the people they're meant for: readers. There is one exception though: I LOVE it when people contact me on Twitter or here on the blog or on Facebook, to tell me they enjoyed my book. It literally makes my day. That is one kind of review I'll never get tired of reading.
* There’s a very nerdy point to make here too, about the fact that Italians generally don’t ride mopeds on the autostrada, because it’s dangerous and they’re not fast enough, but, you know, let’s not go there because in that case why is there a moped on my cover?