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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Book Reviews - A Siren Call?

I picked up my first negative review of my novel Maverick yesterday, a harsh analysis which earned only 3 stars and used disconcerting terms such as “filler” and “weak”, albeit balanced by a “good but.....” Looking at the reviewer’s other offerings I was in fine company. Similar works in my genre had received equally harsh criticism, although with one notable exception. There were many 3 stars but few 5 stars.

The old gnawing doubt reasserts itself. Maybe this is the true assessment of your work rather than the dozen 5 star reviews it has earned so far. The first reaction of any author is to refute the criticism and to mount a staunch defence of my “baby” but is that appropriate? Of course, the answer is no. A critic is entitled to his or her opinion. They have, after all, spent their hard earned money on the novel and are entitled to express their concerns, comments or emotions. 

Feedback is important to any author, established or aspiring. At the London Book Fair this year, the authors who presented on stage raised the topic of reviews. Even the bestselling authors cited examples of the "One Star Bashing" which spoiled their morning coffee. All commented on the buzz of that 5 star accolade which, of course, was hugely deserved (where is that smiley face when it’s needed?) Online mentors urge authors not to engage in a hostile debate to counter the criticism. Equally, ignoring a review, however unpalatable, is not the right course of action.

Reviews are lifeblood to a writer. Good reviews encourage you to continue writing and to strive for perfection. Good reviews can sell books yet, in their absence, can instil caution in a potential buyer who may not click “buy” or take the book to the checkout. Bad reviews can consign a book to the slush pile and, at the early stage, might prove fatal. To receive a good review from an established expert can be the path to the bestsellers list. Too many bad reviews may be a prelude to oblivion. Let’s say then that reviews are crucial for reader and writer alike.

As a former aviator I learned my trade the hard way. On the Squadron we followed a mission cycle. At the briefing we constructed a plan, briefed the formation on how to neutralise an opponent by employing the best tactics. In the cockpit we tried to execute the plan to perfection, returning to terra firma for tea and medals. Critically, at the debrief we analysed the objectives against successful engagements and tried to extract key learning points. This is a model which also sits well in the literary arena. Not every review will be positive. Even Tom Clancy in his epic Cold War thriller “A Hunt for Red October” failed to achieve a “Straight A”.

So the lesson for me is take in the criticism, adapt if the analysis is fair, redouble your efforts during your own editing process, look for the positives and move on.

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