2nd March 2013
I ran into a writer friend of mine in the grocery store shortly after he had published his fourth novel with a major publisher - he was congratulating me on my upcoming book (at the time it was more upcoming than it currently is...) and he commented, "Now you'll have to face the reviewers."
Issac Asimov once said, "From my close observation of writers...they fall into two groups: those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and those who bleed copiously and secretly."
Unless you fall into the artisitic calibre of Mozart ("I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my feelings,") you are going to bleed. I have been doing my homework, so here's another quote I like about reviews: "Bad reviews are the tools of the dark side." (Eric Benoit)
When I am going to buy a book from Amazon, I invariably look at the graph they provide which shows how many five star reviews, how many four, three, two and one star reviews a book has garnered. I looked up my four published writer friends, and their graphs all look about the same: mostly you get five star, then the numbers decrease with each rating. (I like to read the one star reviews because they can get quite nasty.) But this pattern goes for almost any book you can think of.
I looked up the following cross-section of titles: Little Women, Grapes of Wrath, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, All the Pretty Horses, Uncle Tom's Cabin. To the great credit of American readers, only 50 Shades of Grey gained more one star than five star reviews. Otherwise, the story was the same.
For authors who have almost only five star reviews, you have to turn to Dickens and Shakespeare (though I was curious at the two "one star" entries against Romeo and Juliet and found what were probably the words of exasperated high schoolers - one said the play "sucks," the other merely penned, "I hate it.")
Amazon recently cleared its books of all five star ratings that had come from an automated source, but that can't stop every author's friend and relation swelling the figures a little. I know I'll get every friend of mine to endorse my book. Even some that don't know they're my friends yet.
But I figure there's a limit to how many people an author knows, and the book won't sink or swim because of these kind of reviews. If you have ten reviews and they all say the book is a smashing read and they couldn't put it down, it's a fair bet the author knows the reviewers. I have yet to read a book I couldn't put down, and I have read some books that, as Emily Dickinson said, lifted the top of my head off. If it's that good, I want to savour it, and I put it down a lot. I just don't lose sight of it.
So, blood or no blood, there is still a lot riding on a first novel. As my agent says, it's better to have no novel published than one that sank like the Titanic.
I think I had better get out the bandages...