Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Book Reviews

Gentle Reader, I have a confession I wish to make – I have not done it.  Yes, I freely admit I have not done it.  I am Cynthia Marsh, author of this parish and I have not done it!  I have not been sending my books out to review sites and have been very lax in my marketing.  There I’ve said it!  Been honest and stopped hiding behind the too busy, must take my plant to the vet or I got stuck in an airport in Azerbaijan with no internet access excuses.

Now the more practical and level-headed of you out there are probably puzzled right now.  Thinking ‘how does she think she’s going to sell any books if she doesn’t put herself about a bit and do some marketing?’  Well of course you are all right, ‘write it and they will come’ doesn’t quite cut the mustard in today’s cut and thrust world of short attention spans and millions of other things to read.

Hall of the Golden Crocodiles - The Aten Sequence 2
Hall of the Golden Crocodiles - The Aten Sequence 2 

So what stops authors blowing their own trumpets, sending their books into the world and marketing the hell out of them?  After extensive and long-drawn-out analysis (time I could have more profitably spent in writing a few more blog posts or annoying a few more book reviewers) I would have to say it is fear.  Scalp-numbing, blood-freezing, visceral fear!  You have spent months, if not years, working on your novel, short stories or poetry and now you are expected to send it out there to a bunch of strangers who have the power to dismiss it entirely with a few, well-chosen words.  Or even worse, ignore it entirely.

The only situation I can liken it to is when mother’s anxiously prepare their kids for their first day at school or play group.  They dress them up smartly, make sure they have enough felt pens and crayons to compete in the pencil case wars, pack up their lunch and deliver them to the school door.  And for perhaps the first time in their child’s short life they will have no control at all over what is now going to happen in their child’s life.  Will they be liked?  Will the teacher understand they don’t like carrots?  Will people know that he only pokes his tongue out at people because he’s scared?

Well that’s a bit like how you feel when you are ready to launch a new book onto the unsuspecting public.  There aren’t enough back-page blurbs and plot synopses in the world to really allow you to convey what this piece of fiction means to you, the endless hours you spent agonising over every little word and punctuation mark and what your protagonist really meant on page 72, fifth line down. And the worst thing to swallow is that you know that nobody really cares.

Because readers are buying a finished product, a book that can entertain, take them away from reality for a few hours, inform or make them think, and the author’s journey in producing that product is just an interesting little titbit for the author bio on Amazon.

  Cynthia Marsh - author of The Aten Sequence Books
Cynthia Marsh - author of The Aten Sequence Books

So what we authors really need is a much thicker skin, something many creative people lack.  There are many writers out there, of course, who are doing really well and making lots of money, because they have overcome their fears, or never doubted the quality and saleability of their work in the first place.  They may not even necessarily be the best writers in the world today, but they have the guts and drive to get out there and market their books, so they fully deserve all the success that comes their way.

I did read somewhere recently that most procrastinators are actually perfectionists and that is why they are so bad at starting new tasks.  I think a lot of authors, me included, are like this.  We can fuss, revise and edit for years but at some stage we will have to admit there is no such thing as the perfect book and get on with it.  And when we do that, it frees us up to write the next book and then the next one and our writing improves because we are doing more of it.
And because no book is perfect, we authors just have to get used to the reality of bad reviews.  As an author you simply can’t please everyone.  Someone out the, and probably quite a few someones, will not like your book.  They will not like the cover, they will not like the genre, they will not like the characters, the plot or the dialogue.  And this is Ok as they have a perfect right to not like your book, even if it took twenty four years and several nervous break downs to write.

If you get a bad review, all you can do as an author is accept the fact somebody did not like your book and take on board any constructive criticism they made.  After all, you want your writing to improve right?  Instead of viewing it as an attack on your precious oeuvre, thank the reviewer and take it as a chance to get a different perspective and an opportunity to learn and develop your writing skills.  Of course, writing a bad review is not the same thing as a reader attacking you personally as an author.  These types of reviews are best ignored and are not even worth the energy of a reply.  Unfortunately, the world of the internet is full of trolls trying to get a rise out of people, so take heed of the signs and do not feed the trolls.

But even though I have said I have not done my marketing, I have to confess to doing a little.  This led to a delightful book reviewer called Kathy Ree reviewing ‘Hall of theGolden Crocodiles – The Aten Sequence 2’ on her blog ‘Kitty Muse and Me’ and also posting the review on Amazon in the States.  This is where the ecstasy of book reviews comes in.  When you see those five little stars and realise someone else has loved your book.  Someone, moreover, who was not your mother, best friend or the guy down the road you promised a beer to if he read them all and posted reviews.  So I can’t thank Kathy enough for giving me my first independent book review in the US and a good one at that!

Yes book reviews can be agony, but they can also be ecstasy and, like it or not, you are not going to sell many books until you get them.  Readers these days want to know other people have read the book, they are reluctant to be the first.   Surprisingly, bad reviews do not do as much harm as you may think, as a large percentage of  reviews for ’50 Shades of Grey’ were not that flattering, but they still encouraged others to buy it.

If you are one of the rare outliers who will read books that catch your fancy that are still unknown, do the author a favour and write that review for them.  A few short sentences is all it takes and the writer will love you forever!

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