I’ve just been told off by a fellow Amazon customer for having an invalid opinion about a book I read. Go and have a look if you like, but no need to jump in on my behalf. As you can see, I’ve already wasted more of my life than is strictly appropriate in responding. Your lives are precious to me, and you should avoid repeating my error.
To save you the trouble of gazing in shock at my unbecoming response, I’ll summarise. I left a review on a book about Richard III in which I mentioned that I had not finished the tome because it presumed too advanced a knowledge of me. I was at pains to say that this wasn’t a criticism per se, and that I might return to it after I built up my knowledge a bit. The commenter doesn’t trouble herself with any of that, but takes me to task for being too ignorant to finish the book in the first place, and daring to pass comment on it without doing so (and right there, she misses my sole problem with the book).
You’ve sensed, I trust, that I find this irksome. I see it all the time, and to my despair it’s usually from amidst the ranks of fellow authors that such mewlings arise when they discover a negative comment about their work*. A one star review? How very dare they? They have not understood my genius! They haven’t even finished the thing! What qualifies them to have that opinion, when reader X seemed to enjoy it so much! They’re clearly incorrect. Mum! The big boys are picking on me!
I understand the hurt – every one of my books has had great reader reviews and bad, five stars and ones. That’s because readers are different. What pleases one annoys the next. I personally think the range of reviews is a good thing – it helps the book find the right readers, the ones who’ll most enjoy it. Understanding that doesn’t stop me feeling genuinely distressed when somebody dislikes one of my books and says so. I’m tremendously grateful when somebody takes a chance on something I’ve written, over every other book they could have bought instead, and hate having disappointed them.
Authors need to take their lumps though. Simple as that. When a reader buys a book, it’s theirs to think of what they will. I encourage people to share their opinions, and in doing so accept that I can’t have it all ways. Some of those opinions won’t be good. I just have to hope, each time that something of mine is published, enough of them are to balance the scales.
A story has two authors. There’s the person who writes it, sketching out a world and tale, and the person who reads it and in their head turns that sketch into something more than it was on paper. Stories are collaborations. Both collaborators are people. Sometimes people work well together, and come back time and again to repeat the experience, making bigger and more beautiful things. Sometimes they don’t gel, the result is a mess, and they avoid each other from that point on. Such is life.
I hope you and I have made some incredible things in this way – people and places and stories. I hope you’ll come back and do it all over again soon. If we work well together, then let’s keep making extraordinary things. They’ll be quite unlike what I can make with the next reader, things that only we two could create.
If we failed to make something either of us can look on with much satisfaction though, I hope you’ll forgive me. We both tried, but it didn’t work out. We can try again if you like, just give me a minute or two…
Actually, are we still talking about books? Sorry. My mind wandered.
Point is, when somebody reads one of my books they’re entitled not to like it. In fact, they’re entitled to loathe it – and say so to whoever they like. They don’t have to think it through. They don’t have to give it any more consideration that they feel it has merited. That’s the contract I enter into with every reader, and it’s why writers need to have thick skins.
Just, you know, remind me that I wrote all this next time somebody slates one of my books, okay? I’ll look like a complete arse if I fly off the handle at them…
Currently reading (novel): Last of the Gaderene, Mark Gatiss
Currently reading (anthology): Chiral Mad, edited by Michael Bailey
Currently reading (anthology): The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stores, edited by Anne and Jeff Vandermeer
*today we shall pretend that intentionally malicious reviews don’t exist…