Review: read on before you react

I know it’s tough: you’ve spent years writing, editing and honing your first book, which you believe in utterly. Maybe you’ve collected a few (hundred) rejection slips, maybe you just decided that since Faber and Faber aren’t interested, you’ll self-publish. You’ve scoured the typesetting for typos and agonised over the book cover. You know getting reviewers to look at self-published work is hard, but you believe in your book so you take the plunge, send out review copies, type the title of your book into a search engine and discover….

a review!

But don’t break open the champagne quite yet. It might be better to read the review first. And read the review properly. And read it again just to check. And whatever you do, do not fire off a response.

Pause. Reviewers often have limited space to write a review. Some poet who objected to the review I’d written, kindly sent an example of what he considered a review should be. Problem was, his example was actually a 2,500 word critical essay and impossible for me to reproduce in a 50 word review. A review is not generally an essay. A review is a short response to a book that gives the review reader enough information to decide whether or not they want to read the book.

Reviewers often have limited time to actually read. Life, family, jobs, other writing commitments have a habit of stealing time for reviewing. With many years (often decades) of reading experience behind them, reviewers can skim a book and form an opinion. I can generally tell from the blurbs and any listed publishing credits whether I’m going to find any decent poems in a collection or not. Reviewers are often giving up time to review and aren’t always paid. On Me and My Big Mouth, Scott Pack took the trouble of giving a brief comment on a book he didn’t have time to give a fuller review.
The author complained. An author complaining about a positive comment is going to get short shrift from any reviewers reading Scott Pack’s blog. Believe me, reviewers read more reviews than authors. Also believe me that some comment is better than no comment.

Don’t complain, unless the review is factually inaccurate or contains typos. Enjoy the fact that someone bothered to look at your book and comment on it. They might not bother next time.

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