I’ve got lockjaw. Ok, slight exaggeration but several weeks of teeth clenching anxiety has left me with muscle spasm and a clicky TMJ. What’s the problem? Book reviews!
First thing to say is that I’ve had some absolutely phenomenal reviews for The Backstreets of Purgatory. It started with a fabulous review from Zerofiltersaurus (‘unbelievable, incredible and all those other words that meant the same thing’), followed by a great blog tour where the words ‘audacious’ and ‘original’ were freely bandied about. And I’m still buzzing from the brilliant reception Backstreets received from Alistair Braidwood of Scots Whay Hae (‘She has written a Scottish novel of significance and I cannot recommend it enough’). Then the lovely folk at Undiscovered Scotland described the novel as excellent (‘the ideal book for someone looking for something just a little bit out of the ordinary’) and most recently it was chosen as one of 17 Degrees Magazine‘s Autumn Reads and described by the magazine’s books editor, Jill Adams, as ‘The One That I Can’t Stop Talking About’ (‘Fascinating and incredibly funny — this is a bold new voice is Scottish fiction’). To read that was thrilling beyond thrilling.
Why the teeth clenching? Because for weeks now I’ve been writing emails to magazine and website editors asking if they would consider taking The Backstreets of Purgatory for review. Teeth clenching because I might not get any response. Teeth clenching because I might get a response and it might be no. Teeth clenching because I might get a response and it might be yes. All that teeth clenching and I haven’t even got to the bit where I continually refresh web pages to see if the review is live.
By the time I’d worked myself up into this frenzy of panic, I’d actually forgotten to worry about what the review might say. It wasn’t that I was so conceited as to think that everyone would love my book, but my stress had become simply about getting noticed in the first place. And if an editor agreed to take it, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude it didn’t occur to me to worry that they wouldn’t like it. My adrenalin-primed brain cells would probably have exploded if I’d given myself leave to take that on too. Plus, as I mentioned above, I was on a roll of absolute blinder reviews. So it was a bit of a shock to me at the weekend when Backstreets didn’t get the wholehearted endorsement of the reviewer from The Fountain. Understatement. Darn. (I sound casual. I was actually nearly sick.)
There are still several reviews in the pipeline. At this rate (and with this concern now at the forefront of my addled mind) I’ll have ground my teeth to paste before any of them are published.
Today however, I gave myself a good talking to (while massaging the muscle spasm out of my masseter muscle (try saying that with your finger in your mouth)). The main points of which were as follows (I’ve removed most of the offensive language):
- Not everyone has the same taste in books.
- There are loads of books that I love that my friends dislike.
- There are loads of books that have had brilliant reviews that I didn’t take to.
- The Backstreets of Purgatory has had some excellent reviews.
- The Backstreets of Purgatory has had one not as excellent review.
- It is The Backstreets of Purgatory that is being reviewed, not me. Emphasise. Not ME.
- This is NOT a matter of life and death. It is a book review.
- I have had messages, emails and letters from readers telling me how much the book meant to them, how beautifully written it is, how they couldn’t put it down, how it made them laugh and made them cry (and how it makes a great prop to keep their new baby’s Moses basket at a wee incline).
- I have not heard from some people who bought the book, which might mean they hate it or think that it is crap but they are too polite to tell me (or perhaps that they just haven’t read it and maybe don’t intend to read it).
- With the help of mentors and writing friends, I wrote, rewrote, rewrote and rewrote the novel.
- With the help of Unbound’s editors, I edited and edited.
- At the end of it all, I had the novel I had hoped to write.
- At the end of it all, I had the type of novel I would choose to read.
- The Backstreets of Purgatory might be the centre of my world at the moment, but it isn’t the centre of everyone else’s.
- Get over yourself, H.
- Not everyone has the same taste in books.
Here endeth today’s lesson.
There will be another one shortly about measures of success.