(I wrote this some while back, and then vacillated about posting it for fear of giving offence. However, on re-reading, I don’t see why it should.)
A question for any writer, obscure or world-famous, relates to responses to reviews. What would you assume the consensus on policy is? Respond? Argue? Remain aloof?
I had always believed that it was ‘bad form’ to reply in any way.
Recently expressed opinions, however, reflect that this is not so, but nevertheless the most frequently offered ‘definite no-no’ is responding in any way to awful reviews. There, the argument goes, one cannot convince anyone who is heavily bigoted, and will merely come out of the exchange looking petulant. One-star on Amazon? Ignore. ‘The most putrid lump of garbage I have ever read’ ? Ignore. Of course, with such reviews, it is a good idea to pretend something like a handy pillow or punch-bag is that reviewer, and treat it accordingly …
Amazon actually encourages writers to respond to all reviews, though, and some comments there indicate that it is even possible to turn around the unreasonable one-starrer. ‘My book took two months to get to me’ given as a reason – as if that is the writer’s fault, or has anything to do with the book content? If you don’t choose to ignore it, rather not give that response, though. ‘Can I send you the next one free by courier?’ is an expensive way of building goodwill, but one that seems to work!
As another general rule, I can now see no good reason for writers being ‘above’ responding with thanks to a mainly approving, good, or glowing review. One is happy the book has been read and enjoyed. One is happy that the reviewer has announced the fact. So why not say so?
A trickier decision comes where there are aspects of a review which reflect a certain point of view, and where one is tempted to add one’s own to balance it – and to test a more general opinion. A case in point was a review I had from BestChickLit (Young Adult Reviews) on Forest Circle Quest in June 2014, which was gratifyingly complimentary on the whole. I had no problem with the fact that it was assumed that I was a female writer (maybe I wouldn’t have been reviewed, otherwise!) but I was slightly disappointed at less complimentary comments relating to complexity of plot, length, and the novel’s constant reference to the girth of the protagonists. I looked carefully at all three aspects with a view to changing them in need, but found myself not in agreement. Still, I held my peace.
Perhaps I can now use this as a cavy inserted into a pond – er, I mean, as a guinea-pig to test the water – toward giving a more proactive reaction?
Firstly, I would have responded by mentioning that the plot needed some complexity, development and red herrings if the mystery was to be maintained. Those on the quest know they’re on a quest, but it takes them ages to work out what they are actually questing for. That, I thought, was a large part of the fun of it. If one provides a number of real surprises during the course of a story, one needs some convolutions in the plot to bring it off.
The book also goes into some deeper levels of philosophical analogy, if one chooses to follow them. Even if taken only at face value, I think they do add to the substance.
The second point, on length. This is a hot potato, which I should perhaps drop lest I get burnt. Instead, I propose sticking a fork into it and hanging on:
Sorry, but the idea of getting a decent read at forty to eighty thousand words just doesn’t gel with me. It does need more than that if a tale is to be fleshed out decently. (The exception is where it is expanded or dealt with further in sequels.) Otherwise, it leads to these ghastly habits of pruning anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for the plot.
‘The food at the banquet was all perfectly presented and delicious,’? Doesn’t matter one way or the other to the story, so leave it out.
Why? It adds flavour!
‘”I think I’m falling in love with you,” he murmured hesitantly,’? Oh, horrors! Adverb! Chop it! ‘Murmured’? No, no, no! Just keep an unending string of ‘he (or she) said’. You can do without the ‘I think’, too. Throw it away. Now we have: ”‘I’m falling in love with you,’ he said.” Perfect.
Why? All of the rest adds another dimension to the declaration. And if ‘murmur’ perfectly describes the tone, who cares if it has become clichéd?
My latest fantasy is even longer and contains all the above sins. Perhaps I am committing writers’ hara-kiri that way.
The third point: (I am surprised the reason wasn’t obvious.)
Part of the momentum of this novel comes from concern at a generation of unnecessarily overweight children in the more privileged parts of the world, and the idea was to plant ideas in young minds about going on strenuous and hideously dangerous fantasy adventures – or, at least, moderating food intake and getting some exercise – to combat that!
What are your thoughts on the subject of review responses, and on these three specific points?