Friday, 12 February 2016

A book should be more than the sum of its parts

Some like it...some don't!
You learn all the time, from criticism as well as praise. That’s why I like getting reviews. Even the critical ones. Of course I’d prefer to have nothing but five star reviews but that ain’t gonna happen. No book suits everyone and the odd poor review, as long as it isn't personal/vindictive, keeps you honest.

This week I got a three star review on Amazon for No Time Like Now. In many ways it was a lovely one. It was full of praise. “As far as the technical side of the writing is concerned, I couldn't fault this book; it's grammatically sound, no proofreading or copy-editing errors, it flows well and I didn't find any plot inconsistencies; it's very well put together,” said the reviewer.

The review went on: “I don't mean this to be a bad review, as the book is extremely competent, contains much to commend it and I am sure others will enjoy it more than I did”. So what was wrong with it? For this reader it lacked that certain je ne sais quoi that makes a page turner. “Sadly, I couldn't see the chemistry…for me, it was a little bland”.

Is that fair comment? Of course it is. Writing well isn’t about competence but about touching the hearts of your readers. I can console myself by turning to one of my favourite reviews of the same book. “I downloaded this book by accident. But what an amazing stroke of luck. The story had me gripped from the start,” says someone. (No, not my mum or my daughter or any of my friends.)

Swings and roundabouts, this game.

What that most recent review does is make me think a little more about the next book. Previously I’ve managed to make my stories work for some but not for others. My focus now has to be on what I can do as a writer to appeal to more. I don’t mean in terms of something obvious, such as changing genre (vampires are pretty popular at the moment, or so I’m told) but about improving the interaction between my characters.

As it happens I thought the relationship between the protagonists in No Time Like Now was one of the stronger ones in the books I’ve written; so much so that I’ve an idea of writing a follow up. Maybe I still will, because some people seemed to like it.

What my reviewer was saying, I suppose, is that a really good book has to be more than the sum of its parts. What makes it unputdownable isn’t the grammar or the structure but the story and the characters at its heart. No book, no matter how great, will appeal to everyone — and I say that as someone who’d rather read Georgette Heyer than Jane Austen. But if a writer can capture that extra bit of soul, the book becomes a page turner.

And for me, the quest for that elusive something goes on.


  1. Thanks, Daithi. Some "bad" reviews are worse than others but this one cheered me very much - and gave me something to aim for!

  2. Good morning, Jennifer Young and Daithi Kavanagh. I agree with both of you on the topic of reviews. Some are great, some not so great, and we write for a particular genre. We can't please everyone. A mixed set of reviews is a good thing. All the best and happy writing.

  3. Hi Jen... you can only write for you! Everyone else is secondary. If they don't see your vision it's on them , not you. I got a 3 star review because there was no romance in the story... I have a flying saucer of the cover !

    1. This is true - but I think we can always still learn from what our readers are looking for.

  4. Very interesting post, Jennifer, and that was a very well thought out review you received.

    1. Thanks, Rosemary. Yes - I'm all for constructive criticism!