Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Rules of Engagement

I write and the husband writes, and let’s not pretend that the husband isn’t pretty well known in his field, and we have what we refer to in our house and in our corner of our profession as ‘The Rules of Engagement’.

They begin with: the point of the writer is the reader and end with: if you read the good reviews you’ve got to read the bad.

As a result of our rules of engagement we believe that once any piece of work has left our sphere of influence it no longer belongs to him or me or, in some cases, both of us, and, once the reader has paid for his copy it belongs wholly to him.

There is a reason why we believe this and it was very ably demonstrated last week on the internet when a writer, a reviewer and a book blogger became embroiled in a very nasty piece of intercourse.

That’s the problem with the internet, isn’t it? It leads us all to believe that we are part of a global happy family where every one is equal and where anyone can take part on a level playing field.

It isn’t true and it never was.

We’ve seen it before, of course, in the review sections of the newspapers, when some writer or other has written an open letter to a paper that has carried a review that said author has taken exception to. That shit never ends well.

The problem with it is that it is never personal... Except, of course, it often feels that way to the writer.

We are sensitive souls. We work hard to produce what we consider to be our best work. We birth our ideas in a sort of solitary confinement. We labour long and hard in the dark corners of our minds, filling with industry what would often, otherwise, be our leisure hours. Some of us feel that we open our veins and bear our souls only for some superior son of a bitch to spend a couple of hours skimming through our lovingly wrought prose to write some scathing review that entirely misses the point, that willfully skirts our intentions or that ignores the crux of the thing.

So be it.

Books, books and more books!
It is the writer’s job to write and once her advance is in the bank and the final proofs have been OK’ed, her job is over.

The reviewer is paid to review.

Our book is in the hands of the reviewer, who brings his or her, but more probably his own reading to it. He has his own points of reference, his own experience of a the body of work that has brought him to this point in his reading career, his own inclinations and preferences and his own peccadilloes, not to mentions his own prejudices, and, dare I say it, he may have woken up on the wrong side of the bed that day, might not like the cover or the first line, or the last book any particular author might have written, might have had an argument with his significant other or colleague, might have had his own novel turned down by an agent or publisher, might have been woken umpteen times the night before by his teething child, or been stuck in a traffic jam that morning, or missed the train, or heaven knows what might have befallen him, put him in a bad temper, or disinclined him to write a favourable review that day.

None of it matters.

For what it’s worth, the old adage, all publicity is good publicity still holds true. A bad review on Amazon will still get you thirty percent more sales than no review at all, or so I’m led to believe.

The author that engaged last week with a reviewer and with a book blogger lost more fans and more followers than he garnered with his responses, and such a storm was whipped up that, in the frenzy, the woman blogger was sexually threatened (not by the author, I should add), which was abhorrent behaviour in any arena, although predictable in this instance, and, sadly commonplace among the kind of anonymous trolls who frequent internet fora of this variety.

The author has since issued a statement that he no longer intends to take part in public discussions, and, as I have met the man, who is not only a clever and popular writer in his genre, but a witty, thoroughly intelligent man in person, I know that he will keep his word. 

It is a shame that it has come to this, but I am not surprised. The internet is not a cosy, inclusive place, and whoever you are, in whichever genre you write, and however close to your readers you feel, once it is published, and the reader has paid the price of your work, it no longer belongs to you. Be grateful that your work is selling and reaching an audience and that it is considered worthy of a review at all, and, for goodness sake, don’t feel you have to read reviews. I certainly don’t.


  1. I would never comment on a blogger's review comments, but I think he was appallingly treated...his comments weren't terrible and they were polite. There's were less so. All they needed to say was, 'Lovely to have you here, but we feel uncomfortable discussing your book as readers if the author is there with his opinions, so we'd rather you left us to it.' Instead it went full menopausal. I think they lost more visitors to their site than he lost readers...and I imagine they'll be getting a lot fewer proof review copies in from major publishers...

    1. I can't help agreeing with you, Sarah. I thought he was served badly, too. I didn't think anyone came out of it at all well, and, personally, I particularly disliked the tone of the book blogger.

      I stand by the principle, though, of simply not engaging in the first instance, at least not in the fora.

      I've met the author and can't think how anyone could fail to like and admire him. If that wasn't clear in the blog, I hope people will read this comment.

      Thanks for your input.

  2. I've not read the incident you've mentioned but from what you've said here I can guess its pretty much what most Webcomic creators go through (over the last 13 years I've spoken/corresponded with more than a few) and the blogging/reviewers who go about rating their content. Randal Milholland who writes and draws Something*Positive is one of the more vocal about his reviews and fan-mail, though not in a bitter or angry way, rather reading them with a large grain of salt and with no small amount of humour. Some of them he shares on his Twitter Feed of the sites blog-roll to great effect for one reason or the other.

    If you are going to read the reviews, then a sense of humour and thick skin are needed. After ten years of back story and productivity, he has had a LOT reviews and more than a few of them are not complementary. Yet despite all this he holds those bad reviews up as badges of honour, proof that he has done something right and that it is worth carrying on writing more of the ongoing story.

    The worse thing you can do with someone's negative feedback is argue with them, either in public or in private, online or face to face, it never ends well and both sides come off looking like complete arseholes (sorry, tact isn't my strong suit). Its best to read the review, make a note of what they thought was wrong, then walk away.

  3. I'd avoid engaging. if just to avoid lending any credence or import to what is otherwise just another opinion. unfortunately with the rise of the internet and the ability for one's opinion to reach more people than ever before, has come a rise in the supposed importance of said opinion.

    once papers and publications were solely focused on bringing you the news. now you can bring the news to them and share your opinion on any topic the newspaper has to offer, and most of them will completely miss how the process is being used against them. factual articles are slowly being replaced by opinion pieces from a variety of experts, each with their bias, followers (i.e. opinion offerers) and journalistic integrity.

    but then, once upon a time the purview of the journalist was to uncover the facts, today it's to shape opinion. I'm not saying an opinion means any less than it did before, I mean here we are, but that people are putting more value on something that hasn't really changed that much. I mean, garbage in is still garbage out. perhaps people are more willing to accept what they're being told these days, regardless of who, how, and why.

    sweet garbage age.