Saturday, 10 September 2016

Ellis or Emily? Does Your Writing Name Matter?


At last someone (Professor Michael Luca) has come out and said what we've always known: there is absolutely no difference in the quality and accuracy of a book review by an 'ordinary' reader on Amazon, and a professional book critic. Moreover (and we all knew it as well) professional critics were more likely to praise a book when the author was well-known/a prizewinner/had garnered press-coverage/ was connected to some media outlet.

For proof of this, we only have to consider the reception of one Robert Galbraith, who barely got a mention in the mainstream book review pages until 'he' was outed as J. K. Rowling. After which every critic in the land was falling over themselves to praise the very things they had failed to notice previously. Laugh? I nearly started.

I have also suffered from the 'critic with an agenda'. I remember Dark Side of Midnight the first in my soon to be reissued YA Spy Girl series was compared unfavourably on Amazon to a certain well-known children's writer in the same field. As was the second book. And then the third. This happened so many times, that the words 'stitch-up' came to mind. I have also read fulsome reviews of books by writers whom I know share the same publisher/agent. Or awful reviews where some personal spat is being used to exact revenge.

Charlotte Bronte was equally sceptical of the so-called 'prof'We had the impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes used for their chastisement the weapon of 'personality' and for their reward, a flattery which is not true praise.'
essional book critic'. She wrote in 1850, over the sisters' decision to adopt the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell:

Interestingly, when Wuthering Heights was first published in 1847, Ellis Bell was praised for the strength and passion of 'his' tale. As soon as it was revealed, however, that 'Ellis' was in fact 'Emily', the same reviewer slated the book as being 'odious and abominably pagan'.
Nul points, that critic!

As a corollary: the importance of the 'lay' critic cannot be overstated. Amazon (responsible for over 89% of online book/ebook sales) bases much of its online placing of a book on the amount of reviews it garners. I will leave you with the following poster. If you read, do please consider reviewing also.


13 comments:

  1. So much to look forward to!! I rarely review books unless I love them - maybe I should start! Have to admit to struggling with the new Jonathan Franzen - not a patch on Freedom - which the critics LOVED

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    1. I make it a matter of principle not to read the 'critics' choice' books. It's pretty well always a case of 'you scratch my back'. And as you say, the unconditional lurve extended t writers who don't deserve it is most annoying.

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  2. Great post, Carol. You can tell the honest 'reader' reviews on Amazon as they are mostly heartfelt and truthful, and as a writer I know how important they are. I hope more readers opt to leave a review after reading your post.

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  3. In defence of the professional critic: Imagine a professional would have published a bad critique of the Galbraith book AFTER it was known that it was written by JKR. When every one else praised it. He (or SHE) would loose his reputation. Even worse if it wasn't a well-known critique. Thus, forget the pros and read RBRT critiques ;-)

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    1. I think you have just proved my point, Homski!x

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  4. It can be a dog-eat-dog world, making it all the more important that those who read and write and just love it are kind to each other!

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  5. Carol, this is Autumn (don't know why google is pulling up an old ID-lol) You know that I review, so here's making my skew public. This is my take on the situation: Unaffiliated reader reviews can be illuminating, because they're often honest, sometimes brutally so. "Professional" reviews are often illuminating as well (though I have seen fawning epics that make me want to hurl. Or reviews written by famous authors who obviously have not read the book they're reviewing). Here's where I see a difference: Blog reviews by friends of the author. Glowing, fawning, with no criticism whatsoever. Those are the ones authors often choose to spotlight, and often the ones a casual reader will encounter first and most often. Though they look good at first, I think they do damage to writers in a couple of ways. First, the disappointment of buying a book that one has seen reviewed in glowing terms and finding out that the writer has issues with cardboard characters or many anachronisms. Second, a writer loses the opportunity to see their book objectively. We're so close to our own babies that it's easy to look at the toothless smile and miss the snot running down its upper lip. An objective view reminds us to clean that mess up before we trot the child out again. A real review should look at the book as a whole, the positive facets and the negative, and not be afraid to inform the reader of both. I don't mean skewer the poor parent--those reviews are as terrible as the derriere smooching ones. A gentle reminder that it all matters.

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    1. Thanks Autumn! I agree, the fawning friend review is offputting ~ but I think readers are wise to them.I find blog reviews helpful in highlighting the existence of the book. The BEST reviews are both illuminating and instructive. I try, when reviewing, to make sure I am 'honest' ..though aware that what I like/dislike may not be for others.

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    2. Thanks for your excellent post Carol. I review books on my blog all the time and quickly upload my thoughts and comments to Amazon and Goodreads for the exact reasons you've highlighted. (madmikeswritingblog) if you're interested.

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  6. Terrific post Carol. I'm convinced most readers don't understand about the ability to leave reviews (or of their importance) at all. Yet a few words from someone who has just finished a book can mean so much. (Can I used this fab 'leave a review' photo?)

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    1. Thanks Georgia..and of course you can! x

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  7. I can't help feeling, be it professional reviewer, reader or, indeed, friends and family, that friends say nice things and people with 'axes to grind' don't. This makes a mockery of the reviewing system. I have no suggestions for remedies. I just have a problem with it and because of this I have never reviewed a book. Sorry for sounding so negative but it is a toughie and one which causes me much consternation.

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    1. I agree. There is a lot of 'manipulation'either by mates, or by writers 'buying reviews. It skews sales. I recently noticed a writer who'd just brought out a new book had over 200 reviews on Amazon and was at the ''top'' of various charts. Looking at the reviews, they all seemed to have been posted on 3 days. Nothing one can do, sadly.

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