A plea from an author who just saw his entire book plot given away by a reviewer, on release day!
This one’s for you. I love you, from the bottom of my marketing heart. As an author, former publisher, and as a reviewer and post-grad student of literature myself, I understand your profession, your calling, all too well. And I understand just how necessary reviewers are, to guide readers to the best books out there, help them stay clear of the not so good books.
When I studied literature, many moons ago, we talked about people like Herman Bang, one of Europe’s greatest literary critics, a writer himself, a man who could make or break at least Scandinavian authors over a century ago. That was the power of the reviewers back then. Even when I studied literature, in the late eighties and early nineties, newspapers were still read regularly, there was no Internet, and the cultural pages were widely discussed in intellectual circles. Several of my teachers were also literary critics, reviewers. I know what power they yielded.
Today, the world is a different place. Professional critics are fewer, their words drown in the plethora of voices and the democratization of literary reviews, thanks to Amazon, Goodreads and what not. This is good, mostly, because the literary critics of the past wrote mostly for themselves, to glorify their own egos, and even today, when I hear/read the reviews of theater plays or opera performances on the radio or in papers here in Sweden, I can’t but shake my head at how blasé and detached from reality some of these people seem to be. Being able to wield mighty words does not make you any more credible, doesn’t afford you status, except maybe in your own vain reflection.
The flip side of this democratization are of course the Internet trolls. Let us not speak of them today. They neither deserve mention nor attention; they deserve to be ignored.
No, let us speak of the many reviewers of books today, who read dozens, if not hundreds, of novels every year and blog about them, and guide speciality readers to the best possible books on the market. I applaud you, and I understand just how much time such a review takes to write. Because not only is it the task of actually writing it, on time, e.g. if you’re on a book tour, but also to read the book, reflect upon its meaning, and coming up with the appropriate things to say. All of it, a hobby, executed in the shadows, after you’ve come home from your day job, your partners, your children, your friends. I applaud you! And along with all of my fellow author colleagues, I am utterly grateful for your work.
Allow me to ask you for a favor though, a small one, I would hope: please, please don’t give away the plot of a book in your reviews.
I was utterly devastated last week to read the most beautiful reviews, with really nice things said about my latest release, only to realize the reviewers had summarized my sixty-thousand word novel in the space of the half-page review. Before I had a chance to react, I got a text from my publisher: “Who’s going to read the book after this?” with a link to the review.
Yeah. There are very good reasons it takes us fifty thousand or more words to tell our stories, and to have it summarized so neatly in two or three paragraphs is really hurtful. When we write our blurbs, we try really hard (and it is extremely difficult I’ll have you know) to give the potential buyer a good impression of what the book is about without telling the story, without giving away everything. Feel free to watch my book trailers; even there, while the pictures may give away details of the story, no reader will actually understand the significance of a certain detail until they have actually read the story, just like movie trailers do. I work really hard to make sure that is the case and that a reader can come back to a book trailer, after having read the story, to sort of recap and re-live the story, once again.
I understand that some readers really want the executive summary, and I also gather that some reviewers feel they are doing the public a great service, but no, we didn’t want to know that xxx dies halfway through the latest Star Wars movie (I removed the name, as it seems it’s not as common knowledge as I thought it was.), and we didn’t want to know what happens at the end of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, or what happens to Frodo at the end of Lord of the Rings. Even decades after those books are published, I can’t bring myself to give away something so crucial, not even after both books have been dramatized for the movies. I’m sure there are ways for reviewers to give a hint about what is going on in a story without giving it all away? All I ask is that you consider the ramifications of what you do.
For me and my publisher, to write the blurb for Jonathan’s Promise was almost impossible. Because whatever we’d say, it might give away the ending of the previous book, which so many people still haven’t read, and in doing so, we’d take away at least the enjoyment and the climax of that book for any new readers. As in the movie Sixth Sense, in doing so, we’d take away much of the reason to read that novel. And even when I wrote the blurb for the final part in the trilogy, we did our utmost to keep the end of book two under wrap. You should be able to read each book as stand-alone.
Little did we consider that the second reviewer to write about the book and the third, on release day, would give it all away, and then some… Both reviews that were, for all intents and purposes raving about how great the book was.
Reviewers, I am really curious to understand how you reason when you do that? Why you do it?
A second request, if I may, and then I’ll hold my peace, for now. To expect a review, to wait for it, is very nerve-wrecking. Will I be trashed, will they like the book? Will they expose me as the fraud I’ve always believed myself to be? Will they finally see the emperor’s new clothes?
When a review is published, and it contains no more than eight to ten lines of text, I’m left dumbfounded. What happened? What about the book, and the months of work we put into it, the fact that we most likely provided you with a free copy, resulted in what is roughly 20% of what I’ve written in this post so far, approximately 200 words.
Did you not have anything positive to say? or some constructive critique? Or were you simply stressed out? Here are a few things you could’ve talked about:
- how the character(s) had come to life in the book, whether they were credible or not
- how the descriptions of places, situations, emotions pulled you into the story
- how the plot was novel, captivating, or had interesting twists and turns
- how the story was built
- how the story was told (first/third person, POV etc.)
- how the dialogue was structured
- what the moral of the story is about (without spoilers)
- what you liked the best about the story
- areas you struggled with… (and please give examples, so that we, as authors, can see what it was you had trouble with, generic comments like “at times xxx was yyy” are not constructive)
Each of those points warrants a couple of sentences at least, and should help reviewers structure a text to provide not just the reader, but the author as well, with valuable information and feedback about the book, preferably without spoilers. Because if you don’t, it’s just a cold shoulder, and it makes you wonder if maybe you even read the book, or care about what you do… Or maybe you simply read too many books to be able to do them all justice? How about that?
Thank you all, keep up your astonishing work! Have a wonderful week.