This is one of an author’s favorite topics (or not). We wait and watch for them. At least, those of us who are still unsure of our writing capabilities do. If we are favored with a five star, our feet don’t even touch the ground. We never doubted that our book was anything less than five. Without saying it aloud, we are reassured that we are writers.
“It deserves a rating of 5 stars. Could not put it down!”
On the other hand, there are those nightmarish one star reviews. Has this reader even read our fifty thousand-plus word novel that took us almost a year to write? A year of struggle and loneliness? Days spent bent over our computer trying hard to overcome a writer’s block? What’s wrong with these people anyway? Even if my story wasn’t as great as John Grisham’s latest novel, it certainly doesn’t deserve one star!
“AVOID THIS MESS!” (one star!)
That got me thinking – how did writers in the past feel about book reviews? Were they as emotionally affected by what other people said or wrote about their work? I discovered that we are pansies when it comes to expressing our thoughts and feelings about book reviews or the publishing industry as a whole for that matter.
In 1846, Sir Edgar Allen Poe said that book reviews were a sham and riddled with nepotism. In his own words, he wrote, “We place on paper without hesitation a tissue of flatteries, to which in society we could not give utterance, for our lives, without either blushing or laughing outright.” Now I really can’t say I understand exactly what Sir Edgar was trying to tell us because no one has been quite that flattering to me; I just know he didn’t think much of book reviews. Several years later, H.L. Mencken spoke of the “inconceivable complacency and conformity” of journalistic criticism.
In 1891, Henry James, complained that we publish too many reviews and none of value. (I like his way of thinking!) Reviewing, he said, was all chatter and lacked ‘concrete literary fact.’ In 1928, Edmund Wilson wrote, “It is astonishing to observe, in America, in spite of our floods of literary journalism, to what extent the literary atmosphere is a non-conductor of criticism.”
As the years go by, I seem to reflect on some of my reviews with much more tolerance and humor. For example, one reader felt that reading my book was as painful as sticking a needle in her eye! (Personally, I have never tried that but I imagine the reader has!) Actually, I have had a similar feeling about some books that I’ve read but would I write a review saying that? Never! I know how much work goes into writing and even if it isn’t ‘my kind’ of book, I give the writer credit for the many hours of hard work he or she put into it. No one spends that amount of time writing simply to irritate readers. Not that I would give five stars for a book that I absolutely disliked; however, there is always something positive to say about any book – even if it’s only to commend the writer for the character names!
So, when all is said and done, reviews are always someone else’s viewpoint and that’s all it is – their viewpoint. We always hope everyone will love our books but that isn’t reality – some will give us five stars and some (unfortunately) will give us the dreaded one star! Let’s humbly learn from both.