Well it appears that the first copy of my first book has found it’s way into the hands of a reader:
I can’t wait to see what people think of it. I know that a few reviews are currently being written and will begin appearing soon. I’ll link to them as soon as they emerge. It’s a little nerve-wracking and a lot exciting to finally be about to see what readers and critics make of the collection.
On the subject of reviews, I read this interesting New York Times Bookends piece earlier this week, which asks the question Do We Really Need Negative Book Reviews? seemingly inspired by the recent decision of new BuzzFeed books editor, Isaac Fitzgerald, to institute a positive-only book review policy.
I have to say that I agree with both Francine Prose and Zoe Heller that negative reviews on books sites and in newspapers are necessary to ensure a proper critical appreciation of published work. How can you trust a review site or newspaper if they say everything is fabulous and ignore everything else. Refusing to negatively review a book, as Zoe Heller states, means ‘banishing it, without explanation, from public notice.’ I know that, however hard it might be to read, I’d rather receive some bad reviews than my book be ignored. A good critical review, however negative, must by definition at least present the reasons behind the reviewer’s dislike of the work.
I also listened to Hilary Mantel talking about reading negative reviews and the possibility of work being misunderstood. I like her pragmatic approach to such occurrences. She is basically of the mind that so long as the reviewer gets the basics of the book right in the review, they are entitled to their critical opinion of the work, however negative. as for being misunderstood, she quite beautifully answers that one by stating that ‘you can’t staple yourself to the book’ and explain it. to each and every reader. To her mind, and I am paraphrasing from her responses in The Writing Life audio, you put the book out in the world and have to take the rough with the smooth.
To be honest, I’m looking forward to seeing what folk think of my first collection of short fiction. Good or bad. But hopefully, y’know, good. And as and when the bad ones come along, I’ll take some solace in the ever wise words of one of the truly great writers who took his own fair share of critical knocks:
‘Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.’ – Kurt Vonnegut
What do you think? Are negative reviews necessary?
10 Responses to Bad reviews. Can they be a good thing?
There was a wonderful Frasier episode years ago, when Frasier eavesdropped on a focus group talking about his radio show. The response was almost entirely positive,except for one man who said he just didn’t like the show. Frasier obsessed about this single negative comment, with horrendous/hilarious consequences I won’t go into now (no spoilers!), but the temptation is strong to hear a solitary put-down above a clamour of praise. I still remember two wounding adjectives from a Guardian review of my new novel, but not a word of the great reviews the book received elsewhere…
Hi Charles. I’ve not seen that Frasier episode but I will try and track it down. I know from my experience as an English teacher that negative feedback long outlives the positive in the mind of the recipient. I saw this both in the students and the staff of schools I have worked in. Quite often with exam groups a key issue was changing their own low opinion of their work, a low opinion built from the negative comments of previous teachers or poor achievement in tests.
As this is my first book, I know I will likely feel the negative comments that much more deeply. Your own remembering of negative reviews over the more positive shows that they cut to the heart of us. They say that having a child is like wearing your heart outside your body. Surely the same can be said of a writer’s work. Little wonder we remember all harsh words or treatment of our creations so clearly. I shall endeavour to remember the brighter, better words thrown at my work.
Yes, as a teacher myself, Dan, I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, reviewers, however much we might like it to be the case, don’t always see their role as nurturing…
I’ve also noticed that, as other books come out, my energies have generally been focused on the one I’m writing rather than the one that’s being reviewed, which I may have written three or fours ago. They’re children, but they’ve flown the nest and they have to deal with the odd buffeting wind themselves!
Focusing on the current project is definitely the way to go I think. I have a novel to finish for my MA and to sub, and a new collection (slowly) on the go, so plenty to keep me focused. This one’s flown the nest, yes. If I’m a bit clingy, it’s only because it is my first. 🙂
I admit, I won’t leave negative reviews of fiction books if they’re by a writer I know (I’m sure someone in the stratosphere with Lee Child etc. isn’t going to be perturbed by little old me). I know how much hard work went into the book. I’d rather just not say anything. That said, I will leave negative reviews of non-fiction, because if it’s factually inaccurate, badly written, or just plain dull, then those are the kind of things I’d want to know about as a buyer.
Book buyers do need to be able to see what they’re buying before they invest the time and the money in it, so yes, negative reviews are necessary. I’ve had two – one 1* review from someone I don’t know, and one 2* review from someone I do know. The latter really did upset me because it wasn’t so much a negative review, as just really laying into my work with an almost gleeful fervour. Those kind of reviews are difficult to ignore, because a) you know the reviewer and b) you wish they’d said something to you first, even if that’s essentially unreasonable.
Still, everyone’s got an opinion.
I’m with you on not leaving negative reviews for folks you know. A negative review for a mate could really foul a friendship. When writing this post I was more thinking of the big league reviewers whether in old or new media. We need solid criticism from them. The whole issue of blogs and writers reviewing on them is a muddy area. I tend to use my blog to big up the stuff I have read and love. But then I haven’t set myself up as a reviewer as such, more as a writer who shouts about stuff he likes from time to time. Going out of the way to say horrible stuff, like you describe happening to you, is just not cool. There’s a reason Vonnegut’s main rule was ‘be kind.’
I’m very close to finishing my copy. I can post my thoughts in a review when I’m done but I’ve enjoyed the book immensely so far, some of the best short stories I’ve read in a very long time! Well worth the wait.
Thanks for the high praise, Daniel. I really appreciate your support and by all means, please do post a review. Slapping something on the book’s Amazon page is always welcome. I look forward to reading what you thought in more detail.
I don’t think you have anything to worry about, Dan. And congratulations on your Willesden listing.
Thanks Rachel. That’s very kind. More thinking out loud than worrying as such, but, like any writer, I am sure I’ll get my fair share of negative responses. 🙂
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