When the Reviewer Gets Reviewed

I’ve been reviewing books for more than ten years, mainly for my own book review site, aussiereviews. I love sharing the word about books with readers and, along the way, promoting the work of wonderful Australian creators and publishers. But it wasn’t until my own books were published and, subsequently, reviewed that I understood the impact of a review.
Reviews are important, in my opinion, for several reasons:
  • They help sell books. By reading reviews, people hear about the book and might go out and buy it (or, online, click through a link and order it).
  • They are free advertising for a book. (If they are positive reviews)
  • For potential readers/teachers/librarians and booksellers they inform them about new books, highlighting their appeal, strengths and weaknesses, so they can make informed purchasing decisions
  • For authors, they can make you feel good (if the review is positive) and (whether positive or negative) they provide feedback.

Note that I’ve put the benefits to the author last because, in the end, reviews are not written for authors – or, at least, they shouldn’t be. They should be written for potential buyers and readers.Along the way that means they help authors to sell books and to learn, but that’s really incidental.
So I knew all this, of course I did. But then, having written a couple of thousand reviews of other people’s books, I started to get reviewed. My earliest trade titles, Doggy Duo, Floatingest Frog and Pemberthy Bear garnered a few reviews. But when my first verse novel, Pearl Verses the World, was published, suddenly lots of reviews started coming in. My little book was reviewed in newspapers, magazines, on websites and on blogs. It is still being reviewed, almost three years after it was first published.

Before Pearl was released, I’d had lots of people tell me how good it was – my mum, my kids, my editor, my friends. But then it was released intot he big wide world and I had to face what people who DIDN’T know me would say. Waiting for those first reviews was scary.

But then they started coming. And reviewers seemed to like it. They said things like:
This slender little book is, like its heroine, a treasure.
                                    (Magpies, May 2009)  and
Expertly written.
                                    (Coast Kids, June 2009)  and
A poignancy that is truly touching.
(Reading Time, August 2009)

Reading these reviews made me feel pretty good. They stroked my ego and made me feel like a real author. I printed them out. I showed them to anyone who’d read them. I cried tears of joy when I read them.

But then…

I got a bad review.

And it  wasn’t just a little bit bad. The reviewer (in a big name newspaper) hated my book. She said the verse was clunky and that she just didn’t feel moved to care about Pearl.  Added to this, the title of the book was misspelled and I wasn’t attributed as the author. Instead, the poor illustrator copped the criticism for her writing skills. (Note, I’ve not named the paper or the reviewer because I do not wish either of them ill-will.)

It was not a good review. There was nothing nice said about the book. Interestingly, the first thing that happened after this review, was that no one wanted to tell me about it. I knew my book was being reviewed on that date, but being interstate couldn’t buy the paper. But friends saw it, and didn’t know whether they should show me it. Once I did see it, I had an email from my publicist trying to reassure me. And my Mum and Dad were very cross on my behalf!

But me? To be really honest, I was a little cross at the misspelling and the mix up over the author, but as for the comments, I was able to get over them pretty quickly. I guess I was lucky because there had been lots of nice reviews previously, so I was able to focus on those instead.

But did I learn anything from this bad review? Yep.

  1. Not everyone will like every one of my books – just as they may not like my new haircut, my new dress, or (shock horror) me.
  2. Clever titles get misspelled (and the verses/versus thing has been a recurrent problem for this book)
  3. Reviews matter to the person being reviewed – but they aren’t FOR that person.
  4. Stuff happens – and then you move on. I couldn’t change the review. I had no right of reply, so worrying about it wasn’t going to do a thing.

In the three years since then, I’ve had lots more reviews – for Pearl, for Snowy’s Christmas and for Toppling. There’s been lots more good ones and, I’ll admit, others that were not so good.  I read them, I smile (if they’re good) or feel a bit sad (if they’re bad) and then I try to move on. With a new book coming out next month, I know I’ll be waiting eagerly for those first few reviews especially which tell me how my book is being received, but then I’ll get busy with my next project.

Reviews do matter – but they can’t rule a writer’s life.

Want to see what two other Aussie authors think about getting reviewed? Head over to Meg McKinlay’s blog As In Egg and then to Anna Branford’s blog. As you can see, we’ve all got together and blogged about the same topic on the same day, so we’d love to hear what you think about our varying perspectives.