Should bloggers be critical? - an author's perspective

Don't read your online reviews, writers are often told. I, instead, go looking for them.

I'm not necessarily hunting for praise to soothe my delicate author ego (though the feeling of a reader saying "yes! Me too!" cannot be underestimated), I also want to see the criticism.

I used to fear bad reviews until I came across one truly vehement response to Red Ink, attacking my tidy tying up of emotions in the book. I don't doubt that this review gave me license to be a little more real, a little messier, with the ending of The Big Lie, my most recent book, published earlier this month.

Listening to your reviews doesn't mean writing to order. The comments that niggle at me long after reading them are invariably telling me something I already knew about my writing, but hadn't been willing to admit.

Though I'd be lying if I said I took everything bloggers and booktubers say with good grace. Sometimes I have to muster all of my resolve not to hit caps lock and type: "IT WAS MEANT TO BE THAT WAY THAT WAS THE POINT!!!"

But ultimately I am grateful for this breadth of response, as the space given over to books in newspapers, particularly books for young people, continues to shrink.

So if bloggers should be critical (absolutely!), should authors be critical back?

Yes, would seem the logical answer, though accounts of bloggers feeling intimidated when an author rounds on them for a bad review can't be ignored. However, if we are to foster this community that takes books seriously and discusses them intelligently, don't we need to find a way to welcome criticism in both directions, as well as the mutual appreciation?

When faced with a disparaging review, I still return to the advice of my wise writing tutors who would never let students respond to criticism in a writing workshop. If you're too busy saying "yes, but...", they told us, you're not listening. You have to take feedback as a gift, say "thank you" and decide later if it's useful. In other words, step away from the caps lock.

Julie Mayhew is a playwright and author. Her latest novel, The Big Lie, was published by Hot Key Books this month.

Read a blogger's perspective, written by Jim Dean.