Reviews are absolutely fundamental, not just for other readers, not just to help sales, but for authors, publishers and agents - they help them to understand the work and how readers perceive it.
It’s been fascinating to see how readers and reviewers bring out elements of a novel you don’t see yourself – facets that, even as the author, you hadn’t fully appreciated or understood. In fact, it got to the point where I rewrite some of my cover blurb and marketing material for my first novel Beat The Rain based on reviews.
I now understand that reviews aren’t only a tool for readers to understand whether a book is for them – although of course, this is their primary function – they also inform the writer and their publisher how readers actually see the book.
Truth be known, with both of my novels, I wrote the books I wanted to write. That didn’t mean I fully understood them or how readers would perceive them.
So much of writing is unconscious or, for me at least, organic. For Beat The Rain, I started out with a simple premise: an unhappy relationship. The rest came out of exploring that – why was it unhappy? Why couldn’t they fix it? Could they fix it, perhaps?
The Pursuit of Ordinary was the same: a homeless man with mental health issues witnesses a fatal car accident and starts hearing the voice of the man who died. What would that feel like? Would he believe he was possessed or think it was his mental illness? What if he went to find the man’s wife? Would she believe him? If she did, why?
The difference with my second novel is I’ve learnt just how powerful readers and reviewers are in feeding back what my novels are actually about – and I’m using that knowledge in advance to work out how to pitch it.
With Beat The Rain, I only learnt after publication how readers and reviewers described it: ‘women’s fiction’ and ‘a unique psychological thriller’… neither of which I would have pitched it as when approaching agents and publishers, I was going for ‘literary fiction’.
I’m at the stage of approaching agents for my second novel – and writing the synopsis for it has been an excruciating experience. Asking a writer to strip out all the nuance, the sub plots, the essence of their work to pare it down to a functional page feels horrific to me, it probably always will. However, this time around, I’ve given my manuscript to some of the readers who reviewed Beat The Rain – their feedback on The Pursuit of Ordinary is proving invaluable in how I describe it.
In short, reviews are absolutely fundamental, not just for other readers, not just to help sales, but for authors, publishers and agents – they help them to understand the work and how readers perceive it. So to everyone who rates and reviews, thank you. Keep on reviewing.
Beat The Rain was JHP Fiction’s Bestselling title of 2016 and was a semifinalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Debut Author.
It is available in paperback and ebook format online and off.