Anxious wait for reviews – Genevieve Gannon

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By Genevieve Gannon

The process of creating a book is riddled with anxiety. Plot holes keep you up at night. The fear of rejection is constant. When I signed a contract to have two manuscripts turned into ebooks I thought the stress would subside. My work was being published. This was supposed to be the fun part. But as the launch date drew near I found myself having nightmares. The reason? Reviews.  ♥

A recurring bad dream involves me being pulled into a small room for a review by a Melbourne newspaper (delivered orally because of dream logic). The timid woman, dressed like a high school examiner, is nervous and doesn’t want to tell me the outcome.

“What is it?” I ask. “Is it bad? Is it two stars? They gave me two stars didn’t they? One star? Don’t tell me it’s only one.”

The woman wraps her grey cardigan around herself and says, without meeting my eyes: “They didn’t give you any stars. They gave you a possum in the gutter.”

“A possum in the gutter?”

She nods grimly, eyes on the floor.

This doesn’t make sense. But it can’t be good.

Ebooks rarely receive newspaper reviews. This nightmare of a newspaper paying any sort of attention to my work is far more than I can hope for. But it’s precisely because newspapers won’t pay attention that I’m nervous. Any reviews the book garners will come from the internet. The amorphous, grumpy, indignant, unrestrained internet.

To be clear, I’m not talking about bloggers. My ebooks are chick-lit and I’m yet to find a blogger in this genre who isn’t passionate and fair. I’m talking about customer reviews.

If you’re a debut author looking to introduce a little terror into your life, scroll through the reviews on a site like GoodReads or Amazon. Whatever excitement you’re feeling about your forthcoming book will vanish faster than dignity at buck’s party. The reviewers on these websites are savage. If they do not like your book, they will hack it to pieces. Customer reviews can at times be akin to the comments section in a news article: “Crap!” readers blast in a single-word response. Then they go to the kitchen to make some ice-tea, oblivious to the eager, hopeful author scanning their Amazon book page to feedback.

I recently read a book by a woman whose work I admire and adore and hurried to GoodReads to assign it some stars. I gave it a score of four out of five. (I reserve fives for books so compelling they force me to retreat from life until I’ve finished reading.) This book was not a five, but I thought it was funny and heart-warming and clever. The internet disagreed. One reviewer labelled it a “sour, muddled defensive screed against anyone who has pissed the author off in the last thirty years”. Another described it as “insecure ramblings … sugar-coated by weak, insecure meta-analysis”.

Of course they weren’t al like this. But as a first-time author the prospect of one such review is terrifying. Particularly when you consider the critical napalm rained down on authors like Elizabeth Gilbert. As her most popular book is a memoir, her reviews are troublingly personal.

“Get over yourself you juvenile dimwit,” one reader hissed.

Another describes the book, East Pray Love, as “the monologue of neurotic American princess Liz” and suggests it “should have been printed on softer paper (about 3 ply would do it)”.

It’s true that Gilbert’s supernova star power is likely to attract significantly more criticism (good and bad) than other writers. But even the most obscure of us are not immune to the anger of the internet.

If you’re a debut author looking to introduce a little terror into your life, scroll through the reviews on a site like GoodReads or Amazon.

I once wrote an article the Sydney Morning Herald published online about cheaters’ website Ashley Madison. The piece opened with a line about how my future husband’s wedding ring would be soldered to his finger, to prevent infidelity. The internet did not get the joke. It did not like what I was implying and it let me know in no uncertain terms. The comments section was peppered with judgements and pointed personal comments.

The internet, I learned firsthand, has no restraint. It insulted me and made insinuations about me because I’d written an article. I knew about trolling, of course, but hearing about something and feeling a wave of snide outrage crash into you are two quite different things. And at least with the article I could comfort myself that it wasn’t me they were reacting to but the subject I had written about.

This is not so for a work of fiction. From the first keystroke of your novel to the final full-stop, every moment is one you created.

About three weeks from P-day I was on GoodReads doing research for this post. I was feeling grim. HarperCollins had just told me my ebook was up on NetGalley and reviews would soon start flowing through. Was my humble novel going to be eviscerated? Worse, would anonymous reviewers start making inferences about me because of what I told my characters to do?

I clicked through to my GoodReads author page where a handful of users had started to add my book to their virtual shelves. There was something new. Four little yellow stars lit up next to my work. I sat up straight, surprised. Somebody had read my story, and they had liked it. My anxiety drained away. I had been so worked up about the bad reviews I’d forgotten that there was every chance I would receive good reviews. I remembered how much pleasure I’d had from the book I’d recently given four stars on GoodReads and realised someone else felt the same way about my story. I thought about this anonymous reviewer laughing at my characters, and perhaps nodding along as they recognised feelings and situations from their own lives. A warm feeling filled my chest and I remembered why I had started writing in the first place.

I realised even though I would have to take the bad with the good, when it comes to reviews, the good is wonderful.

Genevieve Gannon is a Melbourne-based journalist and author. Her writing was first published in the St Monica’s Primary School newspaper, The Monical, in the form of a mince pie recipe she completely made up. She lifted her standards of journalistic integrity and wrote stories for music and fashion street press magazines while at university before moving to Canberra to do a journalism cadetship. In 2011 she joined the national news wire, Australian Associated Press, where she covered crime, politics and entertainment. She currently lives in Melbourne where she is a court reporter. At night time she writes romantic comedies. Husband Hunters is her first novel.

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