Between The Covers: 03/04/2011

Your weekly guide to what's really going on inside the world of books

Sunday 03 April 2011 00:00

The most reviewed novel in the past week was David Lodge's A Man of Parts, but the most talked about author has been Jacqueline Howett, the author of the self-published novel The Greek Seaman. Ms Howett's reaction to an innocent and largely positive online review of her book has gone, what the internet generation calls, viral, meaning that readers all over the world now know that she responds to mild criticism (of her spelling and grammar) with tirades of misspelt, ungrammatical abuse. "You are a big rat and a snake with poisenous [sic] venom," she began, ordering the reviewer to retract his comments and eventually telling her critics to "fuck off".


Ms Howett is not the only author to respond badly to critical reviews. Here at the IoS, our loose policy is that a great number of wonderful books are published every week, and that it is more helpful to our readers to direct you to these than to tell you cattily what not to read. It's particularly unkind to trash a debut writer when the decent thing to do would be to skip a review altogether. But sometimes a book just turns out to be a stinker. In recent weeks, an IoS reviewer has been pursued on Facebook by a young novelist who said that his review "hurt my feelings"; we've had a major intellectual writing offering "pity" to a critical reviewer; and plenty of self-published lunatics berating us loudly for not having reviewed their books because we're "afraid of the truth".


And it's not just the authors. Recently, a writer contacted the IoS offering to pen an unsolicited review and was given a polite "thanks but no thanks". He replied: "Why not? What do you like? What are you looking for? A mind reader? Give me a break, here – I made the effort; throw me a line!" A slightly less polite "really, no thanks" was offered, along with best wishes for his future career. "You reap what you sow," came the ominous reply. "I don't think we'll be hearing much from you either." For advice on how to be a book reviewer, look no further than the blog by this paper's brilliant former Literary Editor, Suzi Feay, at In her blog, "How to be a great reviewer", Suzi, inset left, offers some sound and straightforward advice that should be obvious, but apparently isn't. (No: deadlines aren't just for fun.) Is it too late to add: "Abusing the books editor won't help"?


Perhaps the solution lies with a new online initiative, BlueInk Reviews: "A website devoted exclusively to reviewing and highlighting self-publsihed books." The radical idea here is that the authors of the books will pay a fee to the reviewers, who will nonetheless remain completely impartial. "Authors pay in advance and will not be refunded if displeased with the reviewer's assessment," say the founders. "They can, however, opt to remove their review from our website."


On the other hand, all of this could be completely irrelevant, according to a survey of 91,500 readers by the Book Depository. When asked what makes them buy a book, 63.1 per cent said that price was critical. "Range" was "very important" to 51.5 per cent. But reviews (6.2 per cent) and recommendation (6.6 per cent) were considerably less important. But please, nobody tell that to our Literary Editor. It would be horribly poisenous and probably hurt her feelings.

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