Reviews

As I am also a debut author, Ms Gilian’s thoughts are also mine. I will appreciate it greatly if all who read my novel “I Am Sheffrou”, book 1 of The Sheffrou Trilogy, pen name Cami Michaels, now available on Amazon will take a few minutes to write a review.

The Good, The Mediocre and The Ugly: On Reviews

August 17, 2020 | By Gilian Harvey | Reply

Most writers will agree that when it comes to achieving the goal of having a novel published, the dream and reality do not quite correlate.

From the outside, it looks amazing – and of course, in many ways it is – but what looks like a joyous time of champagne quaffing, great-review sharing and being #so excited on social media is only part of the picture.

What authors don’t usually report is the nail-biting days after publication as you wait to see whether your book will sink or swim.  We don’t necessarily mention the fear that each publication contract might be our last. We don’t mention being plagued with imposter syndrome when we change our Twitter bio to mention that we’re a ‘published author.’ 

Launching a book into the world is a bit like sending a small child out on her first day of school. You know you’ve prepared her; you believe she can do it. But at the same time, you’re petrified. Is she really ready? Are you?

One of the most terrifying parts is knowing that you’re going to be judged. Judged by critics, judged by friends and family; judged by readers who stumble across your work for the first time.

Don’t get me wrong, writers need reviews. Good, mediocre or downright ugly, they draw attention to our work and give us a much-needed boost or – if they’re ugly – an incentive to write an even better, more sparkly novel next time. Plus, they’re evidence that people are picking up and reading our work – the opposite is much more frightening.

But after the thrill of an agent actually saying yes, of signing a publishing contract and working with a team who really believe in your book (a process that takes a year or more for many of us) the first mediocre review can feel like a cold cup of water being thrown over you as you recline in your deckchair on a hot day (seriously, I have five kids – I know what I’m talking about).

Look, I get it. I know people’s tastes vary. Thinking back over my years of reading, I know I’ve read books that didn’t quite work for me, and can think of very few that I’d actually award a coveted 5 stars. I also know that while some amazing people review each book they’ve read (something I’m going to try to do going forward), others are only moved to rate your work if they’ve absolutely loved it… or the opposite.

Humans are hard-wired to focus on the negative – leftover programming from prehistory, when in order to survive we needed to remember that although we’d left the cave with the intention of bringing home a tasty deer for dinner, we mustn’t forget about the pack of wolves which could simultaneously be hunting us.

Alert to what it perceives as ‘danger’ our brain dismisses pages of four- and five-star ratings and hones in on the two star, or the dreaded DNF (did not finish).

From the outside, I thought I was ready to receive my first thumbs down – I’d read terrible reviews of books by writers so successful they’ve become household names. I’d gasped at the one-star critiques of novels I’ve loved. But I’d also seen how these were offset by reviews from readers who’d really enjoyed the work and given it a higher rating, higher praise. I knew that receiving the odd negative comment was par for the course.

But nothing can really prepare you for the moment when your little baby comes back with their first bad report card.  It’s heart-sinking. And for many authors, or at least those like me whose egos are pathetically fragile, it can make you momentarily question whether your writing is actually any good. Whether your book should ever have been written; whether all the people along the journey who had to approve of your novel in order for you to get this far actually knew what they were talking about.

I find chocolate helps. Chocolate and the bit of perspective that comes from chatting with other writers. As part of a debut novelist group on Facebook I know that the two- or one-star zinger is a rite of passage. And I’ve learned to let go of the dream that everyone in the entire world is going to love my book as much as some readers do.

I’m relieved to report that – so far at least – the four and fivers completely outweigh the more negative reports of my little novel. But I’m still grateful for the people who take the time to report back on the bits they didn’t love. (Eventually, that is, after consuming half my body-weight in candy).

Being rejected is part of writing. It keeps us on our toes. It reminds us that whilst we’re lucky enough to have broken into the world of print, we still have so much to learn.

And while I’d never choose to receive a mediocre rating, those moments of horror make the times when you receive a great write-up in a magazine, or a five-star rating from a brand new reader all the more exciting and precious.

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