It’s sometimes said that getting a bad review is better than getting no reviews at all. Some readers like checking out what a book is really like if there are loads of one and two-star reviews amongst higher ratings. As Oscar Wilde advised: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.“
Criticism can be succinct. The pithy humorist Ambrose Bierce was asked to evaluate a sleep-inducing tome and apparently, he handed in a caustic one-line review: “The covers of this book are too far apart.“
That doesn’t mean to say that harsh words don’t hurt. As Thomas Mann has written:
“Our receptivity to praise stands in no relationship to our vulnerability to mean disdain and spiteful abuse. No matter how stupid such abuse is, no matter how plainly impelled by private rancours, as an expression of hostility it occupies us far more deeply and lastingly than praise. Which is very foolish, since enemies are, of course, the necessary concomitant of any robust life, the very proof of its strength.”
Jean Cocteau took a sanguine approach to critics:
“Listen very carefully to the first criticisms of your work. Note just what it is about your work that the reviewers don’t like; it may be the only thing in your work that is original and worthwhile.”
I was prompted into starting this thread, after reading a witty review of a 1973 British science fiction film, called The Final Programme, which was on the Talking Pictures channel of Freeview recently. Based on a novel written by Michael Moorcock, strangely, it was the only one of his books to be filmed. From the outset, it’s a mess, and curious about its history, I looked online. One critic found the film “an almost unmitigated disaster”, with “an ending so inane that you will want your money back even if you wait and see it on television.“
A poor review for a film can mean box office disaster, though there are plenty of movies that were savaged by critics, but loved by audiences. This tends to happen with a series of films, where the standard deteriorates: Scary Movie 5 was detested by the critics, but still filled theatre seats, making a profit of $58.4 million.
I thought that with books, readers would pay more attention to reviews, as it’s certainly one of the ways that I choose what to read, but according to several surveys I looked at, a tiny percentage, about 2%, cite reviews as being a determining factor. Rather, people choose by browsing within a genre they favour and look for authors they already know.
This should be encouraging, though there’s still the problem of how to get known in the first place. As unknown authors, if we’re self-publishing, we’re advised that it’s vital to get favourable book reviews, and hustlers made a lucrative living offering pay-for reviews.
I admit, that when looking for books to read, by requesting them from my public library, a bad review will put me off, though I retain loyalty to authors that I like so I may try a title that gets panned. Some fans of best-selling writers don’t care either way. At the time of writing, in April 2019, E.L. James has just published her first novel outside the 50 Shades series. Called The Mister, I’ve yet to see a good review of it.
Will that affect sales?
What do you think?