As my on-sale date approaches I’m starting to think about reviews. I’m not obsessing about them or even really worrying about them. I’m just slowly accepting that other people’s opinions of my book will be “out there” for me to see.
I’m online far too often to be one of those writers who doesn’t read reviews of their works (or who reads only positive reviews).
I used to write book reviews for the National Post and the Literary Review of Canada. More often than not I liked the books I reviewed and did not hold back in my praise. But when I didn’t like the book or found it to be deeply flawed, I was withering. Part of this is my personality. I am highly critical. But part of it is that I was young and armed with a master’s degree in English literature and I wanted to distinguish myself as a Very Good Reviewer: discerning, clever, sharp. I want to tell you I was always fair. But it is difficult to determine what is fair. If it’s challenging to judge a book, it’s equally challenging to judge a book reviewer. My opinion was subject to the vagaries of my mood, the kinds of things I was interested at that particular time, the weather. Okay, not the weather.
A review is simply one person’s opinion — and that person’s opinion in any given moment. That’s all. Obviously the more widely read, the more informed, the more intelligent and more articulate the reviewer, the better. But what may appeal to one person may simply not appeal to another, no matter its merit. Even the most successful books (commercially and critically speaking) have been rejected by many publishers before finally landing a deal. Here’s a list of the more famous ones.
There has been much bemoaning about the poor state of the book review culture. And this is a real problem. Newspapers, shrinking as a result of diminishing sales, are devoting less and less space to book coverage and in particular to reviews, particularly fiction reviews.
But I am encouraged by online reviews. I usually check reviews on Goodreads of books I am considering and books I’ve read, and I am continually amazed: There are a good number of Very Good Reviewers out there. There are some flip people as well and some who are downright nasty. (Thankfully, the “voting up” feature pushes the most thoughtful reviews up top.)
Ultimately, however, as a writer and lover of fiction it is wonderful to know there are many, many people who love books enough to join an online book reading community. (At last count, 25 million, according to Goodreads.)