1.02.2004

What Should Authors Do With Reviews?

discuss this post at our messageboardMany interesting things about reviews have been said, here and in other places(such as the recent Emerald City collocation), with a bias that is, obviously, from the perspective of the reader ... as readers we want to know which books to give our time to, we want our own responses to the books deepened and our own knowledge enhanced. Which is well and good and is it should be; but I've been wondering recently in what fashion authors should approach reviews. As an author my writing has provoked some very positive reviews and some very negative ones [on balance, I'd say the reviewers who really dislike me outnumber the ones who like me]. But if I pay attention to good reviews and mentally dismiss the bad ones ('...ah, clearly my fiction was too complex and challenging for their limited critical faculties...' etc) then surely I'm on course to becoming a monstrous egotist, and that can't be good for my writing. But if I do the English thing, which is to say, ignore good reviews and dwell dolefully on the bad ones, then I'm going to be discouraged and demotivated, and that can't be good for writing either. Perhaps the best thing would be to ignore all reviews -- but wouldn't that involve a different kind of egotism ('I am above such things, I write not for humble readers but for the Muse, for Posterity')? I've never met a writer who's been able genuinely to assert indifference to reviews: that sort of detachment wouldn't be human: in the same way that everybody who's ever been online has typed their own name into google, just to see what pops up. Besides, I wonder if reviewers don't sometimes sit down to write their accounts thinking 'hmm, Gene Wolfe [or whoever] is sure to read this, so perhaps he might find it useful to know x and y and z'.

I've been pondering this recently because of a review of my latest novel that appeared in the most recent Interzone, in which the reviewer says (I quote from memory) 'this novel is obviously a very considerable achievement, but I didn't like it at all, and I won't be reading any more Adam Roberts novels unless he changes his manner of writing.' I was rather impressed by the honesty of this: most reviewers, I'm sure, would mask their own gut-instinct dislike under the fiction of an Olympian critical detachment: not 'I didn't like it', but 'this author has offended against the following tenets of aesthetic perfection'. But it also left me thinking: what should I do (Other, of course, from just give up the writing business)?