Reviews and reviewers are both the saviour and damnation of writers. Without reviews, our work will go unnoticed and our efforts unrewarded, but like a two-edged sword, it cuts both ways.
Last year, Angry Robot Books held a launch party at Forbidden Planet in London, which was great fun, thanks to the efforts of all concerned. It was strange for me, though, because I didn’t have anything to promote other than myself. My debut novel was still a couple of months from publication and the best I could offer was an ARC or two and there were no-where near enough of those to go around. In a way, though, it was liberating as it freed me to chat to visitors and authors alike and made for a most engaging and enjoyable afternoon.
So, when someone sidled up to me and asked, “Have you had your first reviews yet?” I was slightly taken aback. I explained that the book had only just gone to the printers.
“You wait,” he said, in a manner of someone watching storm clouds bank up on the horizon.
He proceeded to quote a review he had received for a piece of his own writing, at length, word-for-word. The comments were fiercely critical, vindictive and insulting. ”You always remember the bad ones,” he whispered to me.
It was a strange comment to make at a launch party and the debut of a writing career and it struck me that he was carrying these comments around in his heart and that periodically, like a penitent monk, he would pick up the review and beat himself with it. Whether this was an incentive to improve his writing, or a way of dealing with his own insecurities I do not know, but I resolved not to carry bad reviews along with me. I would leave them behind me and move on.
Since then I have been fortunate enough to be blessed with some very positive reviews, but I have also learned something about the nature of reviews themselves.
The truth is that when you release a story into the wild, something strange happens. The characters that you invented, the situation that you placed them in, is recreated in someone else’s head and what used to be yours becomes theirs. This is fundamental to the suspension of disbelief and, as an author, you rely on this to support your narrative. What you imagined, though, isn’t what they see, so what they are reviewing is not what you imagined. It is coloured by their experience and tinged with their memories, prejudiced with their loves and hates.
I read yesterday a stunning review for J. Robert King’s, Angel of Death on DaveBrendon’s Fantasy and SciFi. Shortly afterwards, I saw a tweet from J Robert King saying, “The book *is* brutal, but Dave clearly got what I was after.”
As an author, I don’t think that you can ask more from a reviewer than to ‘get’ what we are after. If the reviewer liked or disliked the book, if it horrified or amused them, caused them to stay up late or throw the book at the wall, that is down to their personal experience of the book. They have made the effort to place themselves in an open state of mind that was receptive to the authors imaginings.
In contrast, as authors, it is down to us to set out those imaginings in such a way that it doesn’t matter whether the reader has comparable experience or even knowledge of the situation. It is our role to create that situation for them so that they may experience it for themselves. If we can achieve that, then the reviews that follow will be as glowing as the one mentioned here.