Should Writers Read Their Reviews?

Reading & Writing


Any writer who says s/he doesn’t read press reviews is a liar. We all do, without fail, because it’s human nature (also, if they’re good they get forwarded on by all sorts of people). What we should never do is over-analyse them. Or believe in them.

I know how hard it is to get reviewed at all because I periodically review for newspapers, and just scraping up enough column space to cover anything now in the dying world of print is exhausting – you have to badger your editor until something cracks, and most people simply aren’t being rewarded to do so. There are certain authors who are reviewed no matter what they write. Either they’re very good and constantly in the public eye, or they’re very good at networking (usually the former – the latter doesn’t cut as much ice as it used to).

But the one thing that does make a big difference is whether, like movies, your ‘product’ is coming out from one of the five majors – smaller companies often don’t have the firepower to get a look-in.

Then there’s the matter of reader reviews. In a way these are far more important, because we need feedback from the very people we are writing for. I don’t dare to look at my reader reviews with any frequency – my frail confidence has to be pretty strong before I tackle that so I wait for a good day.

I knew that the ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of my next noel ‘Nyctophobia’ were going out to professional and amateur reviewers last month but deliberately stayed away from checking out any results – after all, up until now the book has only be read by my agent and editor, neither of whom can be said to give fully unbiased reports.

Then I was forwarded these, which I’m confident enough to share. Maybe I’ll read a few more reviews from now on!

‘Fowler understands that, in the best eerie tales, our protagonists are haunted long before the supernatural comes into play. Nyctophobia is a clever, beautifully observed novel, evoking haunted house elements but in a way that is completely fresh and original.’ – Guy Adams,

‘The writing was exquisite, rich in detail, atmospheric and haunting. I expected to find a standard haunted house story but this is completely different, and utterly, utterly terrifying.

I had nightmares about this book last night, and I don’t think they’ll be the last. I don’t mind nightmares though, especially not when the cause is a book as amazing as this one. Terrifying. The best writing I’ve read in ages. Read it for yourself if you don’t believe me, but I can do nothing but recommend it.’ – Majanka Verstraete, NetGalley

6 comments on “Should Writers Read Their Reviews?”

  1. Wayne says:

    Well that has really got me interested! I have already pre-ordered Nyctrophobia, now I can’t wait to get it!!!!

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    I’d say you definitely should read your reviews, if the one above is any indication of what is being written about your work.

  3. Charles says:

    @Dan Terrel: Ahh, but where there is praise like the above, there are very often the scathing remarks made by people that seem to have a vendetta against the author, [i]especially[/i] in reader reviews. And I can tell you, when somebody says that something you’ve spent thousands of hours creating sucks and never should have been made, it stings.

    For an anology, consider something that happened to me a lot in secondary school. I had an English class where all we seemed to do was write essays. Now if you only read the teacher comments that completely filled the margins of any particular essay, each and every one of them pointing out something you did wrong, was bad, or was horrible and how I should have done ‘this’ or ‘that’, then you’d think the essay was a terrible piece of work, and it sure made me feel terrible sometimes (though that was not the teacher’s intention), especially since I really put all my effort into my work. But once you looked at the grade buried at the bottom of the last page, you’d be utterly confused: A+? How is that even possible? My point is, negative criticism hurts.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    That teacher obviously thought you had promise or he/she wouldn’t have bothered with the constructive criticism, Charles. The trick for teachers is to phrase the suggestions in a constructive way so you don’t see it as negative. I still don’t do it well.

  5. Charles says:

    (Not to get off-topic, but…)

    I know that. She even said it herself, that my writing was some of the best she’s ever seen. The thing is, I never enjoyed writing very much; I only did it because I had to, and because I always put forth my best effort in everything I do. That teacher also stated that she doesn’t believe in writing positive comments because they don’t serve any purpose. I disagree with that, however. Pointing out what a student has done well is just as important as what they did wrong, because if the teacher doesn’t acknowledge it, who will? My experiences reflect that.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Great Godfrey! Of course you make positive comments – that’s where you start. No wonder you took a scunner to writing, but at least you discussed it with her. Are you sure you don’t like writing? If someone promised to comment on the good parts first?

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