Arguing with the Reviewer

I was brought up never to argue with the referee, and, although I’ve never played enough sport for this advice to apply much to actual referees, it’s a good piece of advice.  Many other positions fall into the same category, you see, including reviewers.  You don’t argue with reviews – ever.  It’s just common sense.

I read a flame war on the internet not so long ago with an author digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole.  “Just stop” you almost said aloud to the writer as their defence became increasingly delusional and mad.  Reviews are subjective opinions.  For example, I don’t like cheese.  It’s no good coming up to me and saying, “oh, but you do like cheese.”  No, I don’t: I just don’t.  “Yes, you do,” you might say.  No, I don’t… and quite soon we both sound very childish.

I had a recent review, which ended like this:-

Although this book deserves a wider distribution because of the bleak future it depicts and that we seem to be rapidly heading towards, its niche is probably amongst the small press and independent publishers as its intensity would overwhelm the average mass market reader (as the chapters are numbered in binary this in itself would be found off-putting by some). As a thought provoking book tempered by the farcical elements it is certainly worthy of consideration.

Brum Group News, June 2013

Now, to be honest, the quoted points, and the previous page of comments, are completely fair.  More than that, it’s always appreciated when someone takes their time to read and think about your fiction.  It is a good review, I’m not arguing (and why would anyone want to argue with a good review), but I’m building up to making a point.  (Actually I would argue with the word ‘bleak’, but only with the reviewer over a drink – PM, drink sometime?)  I am in a niche market and I’m very happy to be there.

Legacy Publishers (note the terminology) have editors who go through a novel and suggest changes.  I know of several authors who’ve had to bite the bullet and make those changes even against their better differing judgement.  The opinion of those editors is, of course, a trump card, and for good reason.  Traditional editors do know the market, they do understand publishing and their suggestions are improvements, but… yes, there’s always a ‘but’… the author’s voice has been changed.  We are on the slippery slope to Fiction by Committee.

Blended whiskies sell more than single malts.  They are smoother and more palatable to the general drinker.  But a single malt, even a bleak one, has an intensity of flavour: it is a unique taste.

Similarly Indie Publishing (note the terminology) has a purity.  That might not be as ‘good’ or as ‘accessible’, but it is what the author intended.  (Or if it isn’t, then it’s the author’s fault).

So, do we really want endless blends?  Of course, we do.  And more, because readers want funny books, light books, heavy books and even thought provoking books tempered by farcical elements.  Small press and independent publishing gives readers more choice, and I for one like discovering a new single malt.


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