One can write a terrific book (in one’s own opinion); get some wonderful cover art done; work out all the ins and outs of formatting one’s novel for the e-book market; get it all together and offer it to the world, then sit back and watch some arsehole torpedo you.
When one looks at downloading a particular title from the Amazon Kindle ebook catalogue one has the opportunity to view some of the reviews given it by those who have read it and taken the time and trouble to pen their opinion for others to peruse and be influenced by. RJ Ellroy – a now infamous as well as popular, award winning and best-seller writer – has recently been exposed and vilified for assuming identities and ‘bigging-up’ some of his own books with five-star reviews while simultaneously panning the writing of some of his peers (allegedly). I’m not the first to say shame on him. I now use his books for bog paper, if I can get them for free.
In the name of research and because I am more than a little interested to see what others have made of some of the books that I’ve read and formed a strong opinion of I checked out some of the reviews of a couple of titles…and I learned something else. People can be arseholes. Actually, I knew that already. I’m a teacher after all.
The personal opinion of readers is as wide-ranging, baffling and difficult to understand as religious faith. Take a favourite author of mine, CJ Sansom. I think that his Shardlake series is outstandingly researched and written. I love them all. And it’s not just me. He is critically acclaimed and an award winner. And yet, there are people giving his books one-star reviews on Amazon!!! And they are idiots (you can tell from the way they write) with idiotic opinions and stupid world views. Read some of them if you don’t believe me. Some of his critics can barely string a sentence together.
Another example is Hilary Mantel the double Booker prize winner. She has must have some talent to win that twice (or some bloody good connections or some bloody good photos of the judges involved in practices that they’d rather not have plastered all over the www and would do anything to make that not happen like award her the Booker – twice) but she gets lots of negative reviews alongside her scores of five-star ones.
Mind you, it’s not just Joe Public who are guilty of this. Even judges in literary competitions are prone to bouts of literary blindness (or blackmail/corruption). A couple of years back one of the Shardlake books was beaten in the CWA historical thriller (I think) competition by a book by Rory Clements in his John Shakespeare series. I’ve read the first two in Clements’ series and if you ask me he isn’t fit to sharpen Sansom’s pencils. I only read the second because I couldn’t believe that it would be as bad as the first. It was worse. They lack the qualities that the Shardlakes have in spades: substance and depth. They are shallow and obvious in comparison. The characters are just too stereo-typical and the dialogue isn’t in the same league as Sansom. If I had them on my kindle they would be in my ‘shite’ folder. But they’re not free to download – yet.
The point I’m labouring to make is that these negative reviews that any Tom, Dick and Harry can post on the internet can hurt an author’s reputation and sales immensely. They go up on the website forever and for all to see. Alan Cambell the fantasy writer says on his blog that one of his books was doing quite well on Amazon’s Kindle until he got a one star review. And that, he bemoaned the fact quite justifiably, was from someone complaining about something that was nothing to do with his writing. People are arseholes. Did I mention that?
I’m also reminded of another berk who gave an author a one star review because when he was reading his book on his Kindle he dropped the device and broke it. Cock. What was the author’s fault there?
Why am I concerning myself with all this? Well, when I’m in my deepest of sleeps I dream of people downloading and reading and then reviewing my books on the Amazon Kindle page and I’m afraid that idiots will pan me for nothing to do with my writing, which I’m quite sure is excellent and in so doing will scupper my literary ambitions to get rich and famous and quit work and live in the sun off movie deal options.
As a bibliophile the acid test for me is how the book collecting world judge a book. That’s not by its cover but by its price in the second-hand market. Actually, the cover is very important, but not in the way that you might think. Fine condition Sansoms command good prices and in my opinion represent a sound investment for the future. Signed copies can double the price at least. Copies of Rory Clements John Shakespeare series can be picked up relatively cheaply, even signed and lined.
Just saying, this is my blog where I can speak my mind, but I wouldn’t dream of writing so candidly about another author’s work where people will see it (I’ve already established that no one reads this). It would be very unfair and churlish. After all, who am I? Who are you? Who are any of us to piss on dreams and creativity? As my dear old nan used to say, if you haven’t got anything nice to say button it.