I’m a member of my local bookclub. The only male member, if you’ll pardon the expression. We review a different book each month. I owe the bookclub a particular debt because they helped me better understand my target audience as I wrote When the Siren Calls. I’m often amazed how like minded people can have totally different perspectives on a book. It’s not just whether they love it or hate it, though that’s interesting in itself, it’s what they see in the book. Was the heroine likeable or detestable, was she right to betray her husband, can we forgive her for killing her lover?
These differences have something to with “sub-text”, what we read into the words on the page. We all go through life with our own filters which govern how we see the world, and what we take out of the books we read. One reader sees the husband as a loyal provider, another as a neglectful workaholic. Where one reader sees a character as shrewd and thrifty, another sees him as greedy and miserly. It’s part of why we love books, and love talking about them.
Which brings me to book reviews. Any book will elicit a range of responses. The differences I mention above will be reflected in book reviews. What some love, others hate. Take a look at the reviews of some of the most acclaimed novels in the English language (Fifty Shades doesn’t qualify), and you’ll see that even the greatest classics, such as the works of D.H. Lawrence, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, and Hilary Mantel, are rubbished by some; each to their own as they say. (And congratulations to Hilary on winning the 2012 man booker prize for Bring up the Bodies, well deserved.)
As an author, I devour book reviews, both good and bad. Any book I come across with a pile of only 5***** reviews, I know that something is wrong. If no-one dislikes your book, then it is truly mediocre..
But back to those filters. For an author, the great thing about independent book reviews is that they throw up insights into your own story that you as the author were not aware of, at least at a conscious level. And of course they can highlight flaws in your story or your style that help you improve as a writer. And if that is not benefit enough, a further value is that smart reviewers often give you a sound-bite or a turn of phrase which you can put to use in the marketing of your book.
Take a recent review of When the Siren Calls, in this case by Elizabeth Jasper, a gifted writer and published author who these days has the good fortune to be able to pursue her passion from sunny Andalucia. Elizabeth describes When the Siren Calls as “a potent and thoroughly enjoyable mix of sex, romance and big, bad business.” How great a marketing line is that? It’s the sort of tag line grabber that book marketers and PR companies charge authors good money for dreaming up. So my thanks to Elizabeth, and everyone else out there who has ever posted a review of my work. As I often say, if you like my books tell your friends, if you don’t like my books, tell your friends they might