Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Writers' Wednesday - Reviews

This Wednesday Abby Green talks about reviews, good and bad, and how to survive them.

After the heady rush of having your first manuscript bought, and realising that you are now a ‘proper’ writer, reality sets in. Dealing with your first deadline can be like a gentle slap in the face - a little sting of, Oh! Ok…you mean I have to really work now?!

And then we get revisions, the slap of which again might be quite gentle, but which more often than not results in a resounding clatter which can be heard on the next continent. I’ve had a few of them.

And then, once your first little baby and subsequently more babies go out into the big bad world, comes the extremely harsh reality of…THE REVIEWER, cue scary music because invariably, it drowns out the more bland elevator type music that accompanies good reviews.

Now a review - unless you know the reviewer well, or have paid a family member to wax lyrical - may come back to hit you with a hefty whack across the arse. And you have to be prepared for that. The simple fact is this; no-one is going to have as much invested in your book as you do. Not everyone is going to like the genre, never mind your book.

Who knows what prompts someone to pick up say, a Harlequin Presents after not having read one for years only to have your book reaffirm all over again why they stopped reading them? It’s harsh but very possible.

Reviews are entirely the product of a very subjective opinion. They are at the whim of the person who may be having a terrible day and your story pushes them over the edge, or equally, saves them. They could be at the whim of a deranged lunatic who has access to your website and email. Beware the curse of the amazon reviewer, they can be the most vitriolic. There’s nothing so seductive (and cowardly) as the protection of a generic name and the ability to hide your identity to incite people to review-rage.

Then obviously there is the holy sanctity of the good review. Hallelujah. The lovely review, which gives you a smile on your face, renews your zest for life and reaffirms your choice to go into this sometimes lonely and frustrating profession.

The good reviews are great, and you’ll always have good reviews because the very fact that you’ve been bought by a major publisher is proof that you can write. There are also a lot of review sites that champion series fiction and review very favourably, and there’s nothing wrong with that in a world where many deride the romantic fiction genre, and especially the series end of it.

Thereafter though, and favourable reviewers aside, your choice of storyline, hero and heroine are open to interpretation by the masses. And they will interpret.

When your book goes out into the big bad world, shiny and sparkling with its title and gorgeous couple in their close embrace – you have to let it go, much in the same way a parent lets go of a grown child. These books are more robust than they look. They’ve been thoroughly vetted by our Editors who know what they’re doing and have their eye on the bigger picture.

What we have to come to terms with is this - by putting them out there, they, and us by proxy, are going to be judged and it’s not always going to be very nice. It’s hard not to take someone’s criticism personally but it’s essential to learn how, for the sake of our sanity, and those around us.

Here is my advice for what it’s worth on how to take reviews. Both good and bad have their merits and pitfalls. The good – read them over and over, relish them, show them to everyone, stick them up on a board. They should be used to bolster your self confidence and restore your faith in what you do.

The bad should certainly be taken on board but not taken to heart. And having said that, neither should the good. They are just reviews; guides; one person’s opinion whether solicited or not, on your story. One story. On that particular day.

If someone has given you a one star review on amazon then that person took the precious time out of their day to sit down and write a few (albeit insulting) words about your book.

In this day and age where our culture lurches from apathy to the quick fix reality buzz right now, isn’t that amazing that someone took the time to tell the world how much they hated your book?! Passion, even when negative is still passion. One reviewer on Amazon was so incensed by one of my books that they threw it across the room, I have to admit to being secretly pleased that it roused them to such violence.

If you get a bad review why not print it out and ceremonially burn it while sending the best of wishes to that random person who felt compelled to vent their spleen? Perhaps writing that bad review made them a nicer person for the people around them?

At the end of the day, you have to remember that it is so much harder to sit down, create and subsequently sell an original story. And it’s ridiculously easy to come along and tear it down.

Chuckle lightly (if a little manically) in the face of the next bad review you get, and then with renewed vigour go forth, write prolifically and may we all benefit from both the good and the bad!

Abby's latest release is ‘The Spaniard’s Marriage Bargain’ , available right now in the UK.


  1. Abby, what a great article! I think it's really valuable advice for budding writers like myself. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Monique! Here's hoping you get lots and lots of lovely reviews in the future :-)
    x Abby

  3. Great piece Abby, though of course I wouldn't really understand what you're talking about because I've never had a bad review...

    (cue sound of hollow laughter...)

    Oh well, maybe just a couple then.

    I really like that line about it being so much harder to write a saleable story than a review to tear it to shreds. Amen to that-- you're so right!


  4. Oh, and do I see that The Spaniard's Marriage Bargain is NOW OUT??? Yesssss! I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book, though I defy anyone to read it and still maintain normal routine like feeding their children/remembering to pick them up from school etc...

    (What the heck, read it anyway! It's worth it!)

  5. Picking up children from school and washing them and feeding them is soooo overrated.

  6. I love the saying -- from I think EB White -- a bad review can ruin breakfast but it should never ruin lunch as well.

  7. Great post Abby, and having been a film reviewer for more years than I care to mention I can safely say it's definitely easier to tear something down than to create it in the first place.

    Right, now I'm going off to buy my copy of the Spaniard's Marriage Bargain and leave the kids starving for a few days.

  8. Ah, a review... Ecstatic, scathing, I wouldn't mind! A review of any kind is something I can only dream of :)

  9. Great post Abby - I'm both longing for and dreading Spring when my first book hits the shelves and everyone can pass opinion! I shall make sure to return to this post to retain a sense of perspective though :)

  10. Abby,

    What a tremendous post. You know, before having a book accepted, receiving reviews wasn't anything I thought about much. Now I'm amazed at how they can alter my mood, or feed into the little negative voices that pipe up if I don't slap them down quickly! You're right, reviews are totally subjective. I can read a book twice and have a different reaction depending on other circumstances.

    I know someone who tries not to read even positive reviews as she says they mess with her head, making her think it's hard to live up to a good book the next time round.

    Love your advice on the ritual burning, and also the quote Michele gave about ruining breakfast but not lunch.

    My own take is to enjoy the good ones, read the not so positive to see what the problem was but then try not to reread!

    Congratulations on your Spaniard being out now. Perhaps my sheikh is next to him on the UK shelves? As you know I loved your latest release - a fab read. Hope you get stacks of positive reviews!


  11. Thanks Annie! I'm due a trip into my local Easons tomorrow so will duly rearrange the shelves to our benefit!
    And Sabrina, it was a pleasure to meet you this September and I'm looking forward to your first book - and no doubt you'll be well able for all reviews and I'm sure they'll all be good :-)
    x Abby