“There are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement.” ~ Charlotte Lucas, Pride & Prejudice
Charlotte may have been speaking of courtship in the quote above — Jane Bennet’s and Mr. Bingley’s in particular — but she could almost be talking about writers as well, as there are few of us who have the fortitude to press on with our writing without having had some encouragement from somewhere. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to find that support in our loved ones. Other times we find it in the words of wonderful creative writing instructors, or possibly in the help of good friends and critique partners. But, often, it’s readers who give us that extra gift. Readers that make us want to keep going, keep on creating stories despite all the challenges…
This post is for every single reader who has ever taken the time to write a positive review for an author or send him/her a fan letter. You do not know how very special you are!!
I don’t mean to say that the only value of a review or a note is one that’s loaded with praise and nothing else. There may well have been a few story elements you might have liked better if changed. I, personally, find it really interesting when a reader tells me about scenes he/she enjoyed in one of my novels, like According to Jane, despite the fact that, for instance, the reader tends not to like first-person narration or read paranormal stories in general or even remember ’80s music. The very fact that this reader took the time to pick up the novel, read it all the way through and share his/her thoughts on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, in a blog post or with a personal email…that is like literary gold…like a declaration of affection from a lover. “You may not be perfect, honey, but I love you anyway, and let me tell you why!!”
When I got my first reviews for my debut novel, they ranged from Laurel Ann’s lovely 5-star Austenprose review that said, “What an unexpected, uplifting, and urbane debut novel! To paraphrase Jane Austen’s character Lady Catherine, Marilyn Brant has given us a treasure…Subtly powerful and amusingly acerbic, you will be gently reproved into agreeing in the power of love to transform us all,” to an angrily written 1-star Amazon review by some woman I didn’t know who suggested that I must not have ever had sex in my life because the steamy scenes in the book were, in her words, “unnatural.” (My husband of nearly 20 years found this almost unbearably funny. )
Some writers have the strength to stay away from reviews altogether — good or bad. But, since I don’t have that kind of will power, I had to learn to put a negative review in its proper place and to always keep a sense of perspective. There are different literary tastes in the world, are there not? As proof, I printed out some reviews of another novel, one I dearly love, where a number of reviewers said less-than-encouraging things about the author and her writing:
**This is without question the worst book I’ve ever read in my entire life. The style is clumsy though the author strives to impress with an aristocratic pompousness so typical of social climbers of her day. The characters are cold, their development dull and boring… I would rather endure a daily root canal than read this book again. It was almost as inspirational as witnessing a mountain top removal to mine coal. It doesn’t surprise me that her original manuscript was rejected as it should have been and now I wonder to what extent politics played a role in her eventual success? Perhaps zero of five stars would be more accurate…
**The story-line is predictable – you know how the whole novel is going to play out after the first couple of pages. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that there would be some little twist… Unfortunately not. Each of the female characters are shallow, self-centred…and vacuous.
**The book is really sort of a nightmare that never ends. It is not romantic or charming in the least bit. The main character comes through as arrogant and at times even stupid. It is a completely forgetable book, and I have no clue as to why so many people find it romantic.
**I am forced to read this book for my lit class and I find this book repulsive. I have never read such a novel that is completly incompetant, complete nonsence, the smallest talks of all the small talks in the world, it is about nothingness, and how several nothings trying and wanting to get married to other nothings for all the wrong reasons in the world. It is about people pretending to be inteligent and pretending to be civilized. It is a book where they compliment women as being handsome and men as being well…also handsome. It is quite contageous I might add because I find myself helplessly imatitating the language that it was written in. I am offended by every paragraph that I read. I have never felt such contemt for any work that I read. I pasionately despise this novel and I could write an entire paper on why. (Marilyn is compelled to add: It is my hope that the anonymous “reviewer” in question will check his/her spelling prior to writing such a paper, LOL.)
Of course, I’m sure you’ve already guessed that the novel in question is Pride and Prejudice. Yes, these words were written about our beloved Jane’s literary masterpiece (unbelievable, I know!) but, thankfully, she did not have to read them on Amazon. However, on her behalf and on the behalf of all writers who’ve ever read what’s been written about their novels online, let me just say THANK YOU to readers everywhere who write evenhanded reviews of books, send thoughtful notes to the author and/or find something they can honestly praise within the pages of a novel! You may not realize the preciousness of your gift, but we novelists surely do. Some of you have given that gift to me, and my gratitude cannot be measured.
Marilyn is an enthusiastic saver of favorite reviews and keeps a list of them on her website , where there are individual review pages set aside for each and every one of her books! Her latest addition is the Publishers Weekly review of A Summer in Europe: “Brant’s newest…distinguishes itself with a charismatic leading man and very funny supporting cast, especially the wonderful elderly characters with their resonant message about living life to the fullest.” Marilyn would like to hug that reviewer, and it is likely such hoped-for displays of affection are the reason PW reviewers remain anonymous.
Question for everyone: What are your favorite sites to read reviews??