Monday, 9 November 2015
Responding to Feedback
I'm returning to the topic of reviews, and how authors respond to feedback from people who read their books, a subject that fascinates me whether in the capacity of reader, reviewer or author. There's been a lot of discussion lately about fake Amazon reviews, and of course it's true that one has to assess any reviews with care, especially internet reviews, most especially if the reviewer is anonymous or in disguise. I quite understand why many authors dislike negative feedback from such individuals. But constructive reviews, written in good faith by someone who doesn't have an axe to grind (that's important), and who understands, and is reasonably sympathetic towards, what the writer was aiming to do (desirable, I think), are deserving of attention.
I've been spoiled this year by the wonderful reaction to The Golden Age of Murder, most recently from Jon L. Breen, one of the US's leading mystery critics, who said in Mystery Scene that the book was one of the most important contributions to crime fiction history in recent memory. Very pleased by that. I was fortunate to have the chance, when the book was reprinted recently, to address a few helpful points raised by reviewers and people who contacted me, and was very glad to do so.
I've also been heartened by a review last Friday of my new anthology for the British Library, Silent Nights, from Barry Turner in the Mail. In addition, Barry gave All the Lonely People the thumbs-up in his column not long ago, which was hugely gratifying, so long after the book's original publication.
As regards The Dungeon House, I set out to vary my approach - as I had done with The Frozen Shroud, but even more so. The story was set up differently, and the mystery resolved in a rather different way. This was a conscious risk, and although I'm happy (or as happy as a self-critical author ever can be) with the result, naturally I've wondered how readers would react. Early reviews have been extremely positive - for example on three leading blogs, Kiwi Crime, Mysterious Reviews, Harriet Devine's blog, and Random Jottings. There has, in addition, been a nice response from Publisher's Weekly ("engrossing") and Kirkus Reviews ("Edwards works exceptionally close to his characters"). I've also received a number of emails from readers - some who have followed the series for several years, some who have come to it afresh, and these too have encouraged me. It's nice when people take the trouble to get in touch like that..
One bit of feedback from two or three reviewers is that they noted that Daniel Kind had a smaller part to play in this story than in the others, and they expressed some regret about this. I found this very interesting. I've wondered, in recent years, whether people might be getting tired of Daniel, and might want to see more of Hannah. As it happened, the plot idea of The Dungeon House meant that I focused on two women characters, Hannah and Joanna Footit, although Daniel does make a crucial intervention late on in the story. But I'm pleased that several discerning readers are keen to see more of him, and the plot idea for the next book does mean that Daniel is likely to be much more significant.
To a large extent, this is just happenstance, but I do think carefully about what sympathetic readers and reviewers say about my books. It's quite invaluable feedback, and I'm grateful for it. Ultimately, the writer has to decide how to approach their book, and it is a mistake to worry excessively about reviews, but I am sure that many writers share my view that constructive comments and suggestions are more than welcome. . . .