Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Awaiting Reviews

The imminent publication of The Hanging Wood means that, like any author, my mind is turning to the possibility of review coverage. I say 'possibility' because the days when review coverage was a given have gone - at least so far as newspaper reviews are concerned. My early books regularly received attention from national newspapers such as 'The Times' and 'The Guardian', but the reviewers of the 90s have largely left the stage. An example is the late Matthew Coady, a delightful man who combined political reporting with crime reviewing and who was very good to me and my early Harry Devlin books.

I was very, very lucky with The Serpent Pool to receive good national press coverage, but a number of reviewers have told me that it's hard to persuade editors to allow space to cover mid-list writers like me. I don't believe that's an excuse on their part; I'm sure it's the reality, galling as it is. (Matthew Coady once told me that one of his reviews of my work was spiked for lack of space, and that wasn't the last time this has happened. Frustrating, but that's life.)

Fortunately, the world has moved on, and now the blogosphere provides a good many writers, including (so far!) me, with extensive review coverage. Amazon reviews, too, become more important with every year that passes. And with this book, I'm in the curious position of having had it published first in the US, so that I've had the pleasure of getting some very positive reaction from both the press and bloggers already.

Do reviews matter? After all, I've done well in terms of reviews for a long time, and never really made a massive breakthrough - though I have kept going happily! But yes, I do think reviews matter, and for a range of reasons.

Good reviews are obviously great for morale. Bad reviews need to be considered with care - I pay more attention to criticism from someone who would normally be a fan of my work than from someone who doesn't really get what I'm trying to do, and many other writers have a similar attitude. I do think, though, that you have to be a bit fatalistic with reviews. You can't control what people think, or say. All you can do is your best, and try to fulfil your personal contract with your readers.


Anonymous said...

Martin - I think you have a very healthy attitude about reviews. I try to regard them in the same way; it's just better that way.

Alistair Macfarlane said...

There are some nice reviews on
I have the book but have to admit I've been on a Reginald Hill binge but want to get to it in the next week or so.

Ed Gorman said...

Well said, Martin. When I was starting out in novels (I'd been selling short stories to downmarket men's magazines and minor literary magazines) I lived in terror of bad reviews. I was generally well-reviewed but every once in awhile there'd be a bad one and it would really get me down. I'd be angry, sullen, even oddly embarrassed. I'd walk through a mall feeling as if everybody there would recognize me as the sap who'd gotten the bad review even though they obviously had no idea who I was. I'm still generally well-reviewed but there are bad ones from time to time. A few years ago on my blog I had writers send in and discuss their worst reviews. Some of them, like a few I've had, were savage. I still hate getting the occasional bad ones but after the flash of anger-embarrassment (with the web everybody can read them now) I usually forget about them after a few days.

Bernadette said...

Well I was lucky enough to read THE HANGING WOOD when it was released in the US and I thought it was great Martin and shall re-tweet a link to my review to celebrate the UK release of the book.

On the issue of declining reviews in mainstream media I agree this is sad, but from my Australian perspective the fact it has led to a rise in review-content more accessible to me is a bonus. I had never read your books (or even heard of you) before discovering a review on a book blog (Euro Crime) because mid-list authors of any nationality were not being reviewed in our local papers (heck we weren't even reviewing our own mid-list authors that often).

aguja said...

I agree with Margot that your attitude to reviews is healthy. I wish your book well and hope that the reviews bring you much encouragement.

Jessica Mann said...

The problem is the number of books published (about 50 crime novels a month in the UK) and the shortage of space. In my monthly crime-review column in The Literary Review, I have room to mention at most a quarter of the books I've been sent. Reviewers in national dailies or other monthly magazines have even less space. So - as your other correspondents say - lucky we've got online reviews instead - or as well.

Andrew Blackman said...

I find it very difficult to read reviews without taking them personally. I know I shouldn't, and I know you're right that you can't control what people think or say, but still it's hard to read reviews. Thankfully they've mostly been positive so far, but still I analyse every line and every minor criticism. Wish I could be more fatalistic, but I can't seem to let go of that protective attitude.

Anonymous said...

Yes, in these days when it seems that all and sundry write crime fiction, reviews that remind the readers that you exist must be fairly important.

Good reviews are wonderful, and some of the bad ones are just silly. Like the British reader who didn´t like a fine Swedish novel because the place names were so strange and clumsy. I wonder what she had expected.

Martin Edwards said...

I much enjoyed your comments - thank you.
It's a subject I'll return to shortly - in fact, I'll tell the story of my first bad review!
Meanwhile, Bernadette, thanks very much! It all does help.