Last week, I inadvertently caused something of a minor “Twitterstorm” when I grumbled about the uncritical nature of online book reviews. Not on Amazon and Goodreads—where they can be unthinkingly negative—but in blogs and YouTube videos. I ended flippantly with: “Books can’t all be good can they?”
Most people were supportive and some others politely disagreed, but Twitter being the swirling cauldron of intensity it is, two or three others got a bit heated.
It may not have been the best PR tactic in the world, for an author to appear to be against positivity in reviews. So can I just say, I’m not. I am an author who remembers and cherishes every good review. I am also aware that online culture has made it far easier for a book to get coverage. As someone who writes Young Adult and kids’ novels, I know that for some books, this is the only publicity it will get.
But as a book lover, I want there to be an open discussion.
During the course of the debate, I heard things about authors harassing people, of bloggers scared to upset authors. This is awful, clearly. All of us—authors, bloggers, publishers—should understand that it is passion, not just positivity, that sells books. A book should be the start of a debate, and a debate requires different opinions.
Bloggers tell me that if they read a book they don’t like, they don’t review it. I think that is a bit sad, as critical reviews are as valid as positive ones. If they are well written, they don’t even put anyone off a book. The thing that stops people reading a book is not knowing about it.
I have had bad reviews. I don’t want them but I get them, and over the course of my 10 books, they have sometimes helped me. This is how culture raises itself. This is how books improve. We need to have a culture in which we can write books and review them in exactly the way that we want to. We don’t want glorified advertorial. If everything is great, nothing is.
Let’s never patronise books—they are not endangered baby pandas. Let’s allow for honest reviewing. No reviewer should ever feel intimidated or under silent pressure.
Let’s talk, let’s argue, let’s praise, let’s criticise, let’s learn. Let’s love books enough to criticise them.
Matt Haig‘s fifth novel for adults, The Humans (Canongate), is out now