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Monday, September 25, 2006


Somebody stop them!

I hear (a few days ago, but hey, I've been away) that Amazon is going to let authors post comments to their reviewers.

Please tell them to change their minds.

I mean, gosh, it's hard enough as it is. Actually everyone's who's reviewed my book on Amazon so far has been positive. Possibly this means I'm a genius, but I'm taking it as a sign that I'm not yet big enough to provoke the 'what's all the fuss about' response; the day I get a negative review, I'll assume it's a sign that there's a good amount of fuss. (Which isn't an invitation to start. Not that you would, right, dear readers? Right?) But I've been following newspaper and website reviews so closely that I'll be growing hair in the palm of my hands any minute, and while they've been fine for the most part, yes, a few of them provoked the 'you don't get it, you foooool!' response. I've taken to systematising them, classifying different varieties of Not Getting It. It's a pathetic attempt to exert control. But do I blog these, even though blogs need to come up with new material all the time? No. I've come close; there was one negative review I ended up loving, that basically . . . oh, and there I go. I've just had to delete a description of it. Twice. I kid you not. I deleted a description, then wrote another without realising what I was playing at. Because that's the principle: answering reviews makes you look stupid. But it's so bloody tempting.

I think I'm going to have to paint it on the inside of my glasses: Answering Reviews Makes You Look Stupid.

If I ever do it, please remind me to put myself in the Publisher Dating Dictionary. (See The Other Side, newbies, hello and welcome.)

You say: You idiots, you just don't get my book.
Dating equivalent: Bitch, you just don't know a real man when you see one.

The principle you have to keep reminding yourself of is that the book is your communique to the outside world. People will either like it or they won't. But if you have to write them a letter to explain it, then it hasn't worked for them. Maybe it'll work for someone else, but footnotes won't help.

It reminds me of a sculpture I saw over the weekend. I was going around a beautiful ornamental park, where the proprietors had decided to add some modern sculptures to the elegant landscaping and pretty temples around the place. A very nice idea, I thought. But then I spotted the old-tyres-and-junk sculpture in the middle of the elegant artificial lake. Now, that sculpture was ugly. It was dull to look at. Doubtless it was making a point about pollution, but the point was banal and could have been made without disfiguring the park, which was a far superior work of art. But the thing was, the placard explaining it said 'please don't misunderstand the nature of this artist's work: this is not an arrogant piece'. I'm serious.

Now, wasn't the audience free to think it arrogant if they wanted to? Surely if you choose to work in a visual medium, then your primary method of communication ought to be visual? If your visual work gets a negative response from everyone - not 'oh, how shocking, my bourgeois world is tottering' but 'ugh, what a cruddy piece' - and if you need a written explanation to make sure everyone understands it, then it's a failed work of art. Nowadays a lot of bad conceptual art is basically an illustration of the manifesto, which is the main point, and that's a disaster. Art works visually. Antony Gormley puts his work in landscapes, and it's arresting and beautiful, you respond to it with your eyes, not your theory-processor - I don't see him making special pleading to everyone who sees his stuff. (http://www.antonygormley.com/ Here's his website - it's a bit slow, but there's lovely stuff on it.) If he can make it work, so can - well, maybe not, given that he is very very good, but you ought at least to try.

So Amazon or not, I shall think of Antony Gormley and resist. (I might just think of him anyway. I love his stuff.) I urge others to do the same.

And if any of you spot me breaking this rule, I'm relying on you for an intervention.

I am a huge Amazon geek but am not a fan of this. I like the opinion pool. It allows us to make our own decision without a third party yelling at us because we make a spelling error, or got a character's name wrong.

I can tell you one thing ...if I see an author spam all the negative reviews of his book, I will consider him a dolt and most likely pass on his books.

I am a top 1,800 reviewer on Amazon, btw. Not quite to 1,000 yet.
Pretty good...

The thing is, I reckon, authors can already weigh in if they want to - Anne Rice did, after all, which proves it's possible. But the website actively encouraging it? That's just putting too much temptation in the author's path. There are enough opportunities to make a prat of yourself as it is. Amazon is just laying down another banana-skin on an already slippery path.

How does the opinion pool work? I'm more of an Amazon shopper than social caller, I'm afraid.
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