Some authors tend to be a bit tight lipped when sharing their opinion and some share a bit too much. If you've been following Mark Charan Newton you'll know he skirts close to the second camp and often takes the contrarian point of view just to stir up good conversation. When Mark was talking about online reviews a little while back it made me wonder what authors think of all the reviews that happen nowadays. 30 years ago reviews came from major publications or your local newspaper and most authors hardly ever got a chance to see them and most were not in-depth. Now with so many book bloggers and publications online reviews are plentiful for even lower level authors. So it was with this in mind I asked Newton:
Do you think the proliferation of book reviews online makes authors better writers since they get more feedback on their work than ever before?
The blogosphere. Innumerable readers and reviewers. We all know how good it is for word-of-mouth on the Next Big Thing, for news and gossip, or for offering bon-mots on cover design.
But lets get back to that first point: innumerable readers. It naturally follows that there exists a resource out there for authors to receive feedback on their output. It's true that bloggers are skilled, experienced readers, who are able to give opinions on what worked or what didn't in a novel's construction. So is it viable that collectively they can form a base from which an author can glean feedback?
It's something I've thought about quite a bit recently. Whilst the most useful thing for a writer is to receive opinions on something currently being crafted, there is merit to seeing what did or did not work previously. You can get an idea of what people generally love or hate about a particular approach to characterisation, or even to prose style. This is most useful if you're writing a series – because many of those qualities will continue for another book or three.
Here are some reservations though.
Firstly, you have to assume each writer reads all their reviews… Some do not do this for the sake of self-preservation. Some pick and choose the venues they trust to give certain levels of depth to reviews. Others will read everything the blogosphere ever says about them – thank you, Google Alerts.
So, moving forwards on the assumption authors are in fact reading their reviews (and I'll also make the assumption we already know that giving feedback is different than writing a review).
Many people who write blog reviews seem to also want to write novels, and this is an absolutely valid quality. But one problem is that so many writers who discuss books often (albeit subconsciously) project how they would have written it. Which is something that differs on a "what does or doesn't work" reader reaction - it's tainted by some other authorial bias, so what their review might pick apart is not completely a valid criticism on the grounds that it is that particular blogger's prose fetish. You would need to look where that bias is or isn't being expressed (and yes of course, all readers have bias) in order to find information that isn't simply someone's gut reaction according to their own designs on novel writing. You're not writing my novels - I am, just as I am not writing yours, and would not tell you how I think work of yours should be written according to my tastes.
But what's most important to me, is depth. Is stating that something is simply good or bad likely to help me as a writer? Not really. The review needs a special kind of insight, to dig deep into the meat of an issue, with examples, perhaps. Some reviews offer little more than a plot synopsis, and very few go to essay length, so for an author to benefit, he or she would need the reviewer to go into a depth that many simply can't or won't offer in a blog review – and that's absolutely fine, because many different reviewers cater for different needs. They're not reader reports for authors. Reviews are content for their site.
Then there's the issue of white noise – there are so many bloggers, with so many opinions, each of them valid, none of them objective, and if you listened to them all, you'd quite simply go mad. But what I will say, though, is that if there is a general consensus across several blogs on something that really didn't work, I think it's worth the author keeping that in mind, though I am wary of any utilitarian approach to constructing novels.
So I'm not sure, at the end of this, whether or not I'm hugely in favour of an author studying blog reviews for feedback. I think I am, in essence, but the opportunities for this to be truly effective are few and far between. What I'm more likely to do is – if I am impressed by a reviewer or a blogger because of the skills they show in picking apart a novel – ask them, behind the scenes, for some critical feedback on a current project. That's a resource I'd be happy to have.
Then again, bloggers keep complaining about how much they have to read as it is – how could I possibly cause such a gaucherie by asking them to commit to my current work-in-progress? :)
For more information on Mark Charan Newton and his recent US debut Nights of Villjamur, check out his website, twitter feed, or highly entertaining blog.
You Might Also Like:
REVIEW | Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
GUEST POST | Ekaterina Sedia on Anthology Editing
GUEST POST | Mark Teppo On the Spectacle of Magic
GUEST POST | Exclusive Deleted Scene from Blake Charlton's Spellwright
GUEST POST | Lavie Tidhar on The Weirdest Book