All writers know that they mustn’t respond to negative reviews on Amazon, in public forums, or on other sites, we must just bite our tongues and move on. But then I read an article by another author who found himself in my same position, and allowed himself the freedom of his own blog to write his feelings about the situation. And I thought, what a great idea! My blog, my space, my chance to answer. So here goes:
When I released my debut novel, Walls of Silence, I read that one of the best ways to get publicity was to ask bloggers to read and review it. After asking several, I found a blogging team willing to help out. I sent off my copies to two reviewers, happy that my book was finally going to get some exposure.
What I didn’t expect was the hurtful negativity that came out of the experience, and the way that it would have such an effect on my book.
Don’t get me wrong. I know my book isn’t perfect, I don’t expect glowing reviews from everyone, but I certainly didn’t expect the sort of reaction I got. The first reviewer wrote every detail, every plot twist, everything that might surprise the reader, in their review. Which went up on Amazon. Not the end of the world, but as a reader, I like a few surprises…knowing exactly what happens in the book isn’t really what I want to see. Never mind. But while the review had many positive points, the negatives seemed to outweigh them by far. And the comment ‘I am afraid I could no longer suspend my disbelief at this point; I thought of at least three more convincing ways to end the Matteo section even as I was reading it’ could have been avoided, in my opinion. I wrote the book, I included a scene that was full of adrenaline, cars racing through the deserted streets of Milan at the dead of night while it was pouring with rain – I had so much fun writing that scene, and I have had no complaints about it. On the contrary, people have told me how they have sweated reading it, wondering how it was all going to end. Yes, I could have written other endings – if you like boring and mundane. I don’t.
And this comment, about a drug scene: ‘I suspected that Ms Pryke knew little about her subject at this point.’ You’re right, I have never taken drugs in my life, I used my imagination to write that scene, and the only thing I got wrong was the type of drug Maria took.
At least the second reviewer didn’t give away the entire plot, but they had problems with my pacing. ‘I love Prologues and this one was strong…But then the abrupt change to Maria’s story; the flashback, left me a bit stranded. I kept wanting to know the reactions of both Pietro and Antonella…I have to be honest though; I’m not at all sure how else the author could have written it.’ Thank you, you wanted me to add something, and even you could not imagine how to accomplish it. So why mention it? And 160 pages of adrenaline-filled scenes on every page is hard for any writer to maintain, and for any reader to cope with, I imagine.
But what hurt the most was a comment I found today, agreeing with the reviewer’s point that ‘Part of the proceeds from this book will go to a women’s centre in the UK. This kind of statement always gives me a problem; I feel guilty if I don’t rate the book higher.’ The comment seems to imply that I am playing on emotional blackmail to get the reader to buy my book. I wish that would work, as it would probably be a No.1 bestseller by now! It has never been my intention to emotionally blackmail, convince, or in any other way influence the reader. I merely thought that someone who buys my book might like to know that some of their money will go towards helping abused women; women who live in fear of being beaten or killed, of seeing their children being beaten or killed, not being able to sleep at night, afraid of what their partner might do to them or their children. I wonder if the reviewer’s reaction would have been different if it had been for, let’s say, an animal charity?
I envy those people who have obviously never found themselves in an abusive situation before, but I do not envy their inability to empathise with, or comprehend, those women who have. I have lived this situation personally, and believe me, it’s not something you should take lightly. Or try to ignore and pretend it doesn’t exist.
The two reviewers will probably never read this article, but if they should I would just like them to know that I have found their comments deeply hurtful. And I find it even more incredible that no-one, not one other woman, has tried to defend me. Having been abused most of my life, it is hard for me to accept being abused for something that I have written from my heart, from my soul. I’m sure that they will be able to justify their words, both to themselves and to others, and not feel any guilt over what they have done to someone who is just trying to find their feet, as insecure and anxious as they must have been when they started out writing.
Most people who read my book understand its message of abuse, of courage, of hope for other women. Unfortunately, a small minority don’t.
And while you’re thinking, so what, it’s only a couple of negative reviews, what harm can it do…since these articles did the rounds on Twitter this week, I have not sold a single copy. Many people have seen the article, it has been retweeted countless times, and my sales are at zero.
So this is why I won’t be rushing to ask any more bloggers to read my book, now or in the future. I am still writing, my next book should be published towards the end of the year, and I will leave it up to the readers to decide whether they want to buy it or not.
And if anyone should be interested, this is a donation I made to a women’s centre in Milan, thanks to people who bought copies of my book in Italian at a book signing.
Translated: In the name of everyone at Cerchi d’Acqua and all the women we help every year and accompany on their journey away from violence, giving them free support, we wish to thank you for your donation of €100. Your gesture of solidarity is a sign of your generosity and your sensitivity.