Okay, I give up. There’s been much debate amongst author forums as to whether customer reviews are a good or a bad thing, and I think most of us were kind of on the fence about it. When you get good ones they’re a massive incentive; when you get balanced and constructive criticism they can be extremely helpful. But then there’s the bad ones that are unimpressed because they’ve misunderstood something, and that can be damaging.
I’m afraid it’s happened again today. I got a lukewarm review because the reader basically assumed a thing was out of place when it simply hadn’t been explored yet. We’re encouraged not to reply to our readers when they review negatively, but so much of me wants to explain that these things they took for irrelevant time-wasting are actually major plot points later on. The first was the use of thematic colours – particularly peach – which the reviewer took to be laziness and repetitive on my part. The fact is, I’m a synaesthete, and a mighty strong one. My sensory equipment is cross-wired: I see people’s auras, or colours, and I attribute colour to letters and numbers and words and smells. Even days of the week. 1 in 27 people is reported to be a synaesthete; I’m one, and so is Alice, as we will learn later. She sees people’s auras just as I do, and one of Dark’s is peach – the colour of lifeblood under skin. When you can see auras as we can, they somehow become tangled up with the person in our minds until we can’t think of that person without recalling their aura, or colours. For Alice, Dark is irrevocably entangled with the colour peach. The reviewer assumed it was laziness on my part because they didn’t wait to find out the reason.
The other was the references to Lovecraft and Poe. To the reviewer they were another irrelevancy, something that was indulgence on my part. But again, this is going to be a massive plot point in the next books. Again, the reviewer simply didn’t think that the answer may be coming along later.
I distinctly remember when I first saw the film Prometheus. I liked it overall, but one or two things didn’t quite make sense to me. Instead of flying to a film website to review it and complain that those things made no sense, I said to my family and friends: “I hope they explore that if they do a sequel. Maybe there was a good reason for it.”
I guess this brings me back to the subject of this post: Is the Internet Review System Flawed? In many ways I’m starting to lean “yes”. Everybody has an opinion, of course; but not everybody that reads a book understands enough about the process of writing and publishing it. A professional reviewer, in a newspaper or magazine, would likely know from experience of the business that apparent plot holes may be covered in future books; that cliffhangers are common, sometimes unavoidable, devices; that mundane things such as print costs or financial concerns may dictate creative ones on occasion. They form their opinions with these things in mind. But much of the reading public might not realise some of the practical problems that can hamstring an author, and, more importantly, some seem to want everything explained immediately without the bother of having to wait for future volumes. I’m the first one to accept criticism when I’m wrong, but in some instances, when it’s not a matter of taste but cut-and-dried fact, I’m afraid the reviewers are wrong. And it makes me look bad.
I hate to talk about this again so soon, but it’s getting to the point where I wonder why I’m even writing if this is the sort of thing I’m up against. I would never abandon a project in the middle like this, and those of you who have enjoyed Dark and want more will definitely get it – but keeping myself motivated is getting harder in the face of things like this. So many days now I just want to give up because so many readers out there aren’t willing to give me the benefit of the doubt until they know more. Sometimes I wonder if tag-team torpedo reviewing has become an Olympic sport and none of us stand a chance anymore.