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"So… what did you think?" Writers are usually terrified of asking that question, and with good reason.
Read: "What do you think of the story I poured my lifeblood into for about a year? What do you think of the characters which I agonised and rooted for?" It’s not exactly a dispassionate query.
A writer, an artist, a musician is emotionally invested in his or her work. Of course we are, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. But that doesn’t take away the fear.
The thing is, artists need reviews, just as B&Bs, restaurants and hotels need them.
As every year, the Highlands are heaving with tourists at the moment, and there is a real buzz. I was in Royal Deeside for a few days recently. Apparently, the Man and I have reached the 25-year threshold. Let’s be tourists, we thought.
It’s only right to celebrate that, after all this time, we still like each other, isn’t it? So I spent half an hour or so looking at online reviews of affordable accommodation before choosing the one with the highest average rating. It’s a no-brainer. Reviews work. They are honest endorsements by people not connected to the product in any way.
The same applies to books. Reviews are crucial. Utterly crucial even, as possible new purchases are often checked against previous ratings. However, opinions on books can be a lot less objective than your average tourist review, which is generally limited to was it friendly, was it clean and was the food good?
We have all adored books and films which were slated by others, and probably vice versa. But let’s have confidence. We, surely, are the supreme authority on our own opinion. Let’s put it out there. Knowing how essential book reviews are to authors and publishers, I now review every single book I read, usually on the big bad online book retailer and on Goodreads, a readers’ social media site. The reviews don’t have to be long, or beautifully crafted. They merely need to convey an honest personal perspective.
One of my most treasured online reviews for one of my children’s novels came from a very young reader after I had visited her school. I do not know the girl or her family, but she clearly felt strongly enough to give my book full marks. Her single sentence of explanation even contained a handful of spelling mistakes – and I loved that! It made perfectly clear that this had genuinely not been messed with by an adult, and for that, it was all the more special to me.
And why not try your hand at reviewing for a magazine or website? I regularly write for a publication called The Wee Review which means that I often get books or show tickets for free, in exchange for 500 words of honesty – can’t say fairer than that!
Local newspapers and radio stations may be worth approaching if you are looking for a regular gig. Had a great meal out? Let the business know. But you’ll multiply the benefit if you let the world know at the same time. Read a great book? By all means, tweet the author. But even better, create a brief review on a relevant website – the one you would check yourself if you were looking for your next read – and get the word out! A sentence or two and a few words of positivity will make someone’s day and will simultaneously tick the ‘good deed’ box for you. Smiles all round.
Look out for:
Local publisher Sandstone Press and its new title We Don’t Die of Love by Stephen May. Fresh from its Booker International Prize win and its two Not the Booker Prize longlistings, the company is on a roll with a shiny new office and this smart novel about a man in crisis.
Luke Greenwood’s wife of 32 years is leaving him for a much younger man, but that’s not all. Local gangsters have set their sights on his café and take an interest in what’s left of his family.
I’m sure you’ll agree it sounds a pretty compelling pitch and I can’t wait to read it!
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