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SCREW YOUR VIEW : wrong approach to uncomplimentary book reviews

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Writing a book is a matter of an author’s choice, reviews are a matter of a bloggers discretion.

The Bloggers community has been up in arms these days. The issue being the hostile reaction of an author whose work didn’t receive a favourable review. With the exponential increase in the number of Indian authors, the rising influence of social media and the increasing means of reliance on e-promotions for book sales, something like this was waiting to happen.

Writing is a very humbling experience. In this field, an author starts off as a nobody. No background, no stature, no reputation, no clout, no friends, no enemies.  Under such a circumstance, feedback that one gets is rarely motivated. It is always honest. If someone who is a complete stranger to an author writes a review about his book, its got to be more valuable than what his friends say. The latter will always give carefully worded feedback, which sounds good to hear. In my six-year journey as an author, I am yet to come across a friend who has rubbished my books. In fact some have even told me, “Sir you write fabulous emails, no wonder you write great books.” Rubbish! If writing great emails made you a good author, all the customer service executives at banks, sending out shitload of mails everyday, would have made it to the bestseller lists.

As an author, one must realize that the best feedback invariably comes from bloggers and people who don’t know you and hence don’t have a reason to be particularly nice (or hostile) to you. The only exclusion to this generalization, is your family.

Let me take you back to June 2007, when If God was a Banker was released. The first review it got was in Mint newspaper – an article by Sanjukta Sharma. The headline of the article was “Don’t bank on it”. My first review, ever, in a leading newspaper was a caustic one. It hurt. And hurt badly. But when you write a book, you put yourself out in public domain. And when you do that, you must be prepared for both bouquets as well as brickbats.

Back then it was a lot difficult for me to accept negative feedback. Corporate life can spoil you, particularly if you are a senior corporate executive. People you work with do not always bare their soul to you. They tell you what you want to hear, rather than what they think is right.  Negative feedback is very rare, and the sprinkling of it that you get is often brushed under the carpet – assumed to be a result of some jealous soul who is politically motivated. But probably better sense prevailed and I gulped down that feedback. It was the first of many.

If God was a Banker got me extreme feedback – both good and bad. While most said the story was good, the language was simple, and it was the first book of its kind set in the banking industry, there were three lines of negative feedback which emerged :

  1. The Characters were too simple. They were either black or white. In reality everyone has shades of grey (not referring to EL James). The premise was that it was very easy to create black and white characters.
  2. No strong female character in the book
  3. Unnecessary sleaze which could have been avoided (A man wrote to me saying that he had bought the book for his daughter who was going to join a bank, but thankfully decided to read it first. And after reading decided not to give it to her.)

The feedback was strong. And if I ignored it, I would have been foolish. Would have alienated my reader base. I decided to bring in subtle changes in my writing. As a result, all my subsequent books have characters in various shades of grey (that’s how most humans are). There is no sleaze in any of my subsequent books. And every book thereafter has a strong female character. And believe me, acting on negative feedback from bloggers / reviewers has only improved my books.

Yes, I agree, sometimes you feel bad about the fact that your intense hard work, is ruthlessly rubbished by someone.  But an author should know that you write and publish a book because you want it to be read. When diverse people read it, some may like it some may not. If someone who has taken the pain to read the book, spends an hour writing a review, he/she has done you a favour. And it’s an authors duty to read the review and internalize it. It may not be possible for an author to act on every negative feedback, but if you see a trend emerging, then it is in the authors interest to take corrective action. Rubbishing the guy who has given you a negative feedback doesn’t serve much purpose.

As far as my first negative feedback from Sanjukta is concerned, it still haunts me. But it doesn’t demoralize me. Every time a book comes out, I send it to her with a small note saying that I have acted on her feedback and hope she likes this one better than If God was a Banker. I don’t even know if she has got them or if i am sending it to the right address, but I do my bit. And that was because her negative review mattered.

Having said that I too have had my share of bad days.  A few days after the Mint article, a blog sprung up. The first line of the blog was, “Ravi Subramanian has written a book, worse than Chetan Bhagat.”…and guess what the headline was : Ravi Subramanian must be Annihilated.

I was particularly upset with the blog because it got too personal. It had degenerated into a discussion of Iyers Vs Iyengars. I didn’t respond to it for six months. But one fine day in January 2008 I tipped over. I responded. And responded in a hostile manner. In hindsight what I did then was stupid. I regret it even now and it remains my only indiscretion in this space till date.

For me, blogger/reviewer feedback is sacred. Good or bad, doesn’t matter for both are important. An author’s success or failure is measured in the sales numbers at the bookstores. But his evolution in his journey as an author depends to a large extent on the way he reacts to feedback, particularly negative ones, a lot of which arise from the blogosphere.

Finally, I would like to offer four words of unsolicited advice to all my author friends:

  • Don’t fly in the clouds when you get a good feedback, and at the same time don’t be devastated when you get a negative feedback.
  • Never react on impulse. If you feel that any blogger has been unnecessarily personal or hostile to you, remember it could be your attachment to your book which is making you feel so. The blogger has the right to speak his mind. No blogger gets up in the morning with an intent to mess with an author that day. If you still feel like responding, write one-on-one to the blogger and tell him why you feel he is being unreasonable. Be careful when you write, for emails often sound more hostile than what they are intended to.
  • Never ask the blogger to take off his post or alter it. That’s the bloggers discretion. No blogger ever asks an author to take off his books from book shelves. And remember a blogger is as passionate about his/her post as an author is about the book.
  • Don’t ignore, on the contrary, solicit negative feedback. It will help you improve as an author.

I probably have oversimplified human emotions and reactions to adverse situations, but that’s the way I have approached it, particularly with respect to my writing. Trust me, it works.

Categories: Uncategorized

14 replies »

  1. Sir,

    I understand how it hurt when the Author gets a bad review which is not true you authors are really Great…you sacred your family time,everything and write for us just to entertain,motivate etc

    Thanks
    Sathya

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  2. Hello Sir,
    This article is one good piece of advice spoken from your personal experience you gained and it’s not only for the authors but also for reviewers. As you said that one must always learn from the negative feedbacks as you have and now you are one of the best-selling authors. At the same time a reviewer must not get personal with the review. It should be about the book with proper reasoning. One can write negative review if they don’t like the story but I do not support complete thrashing and the choice of words do matter as ‘ Ravi Subramanian must be Annihilated.’ is bit too much IMO, there are always ways of having your say, but hurting someone’d feelings immensely isn’t a way. I hope that not only Authors but also book reviewer takes up your advice.
    Thank you Sir for sharing this with us.

    Best Regards
    Ankita Singhal

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  3. Dear Mr Ravi – this is an extremely good post especially for those inspiring to write seriously some day. I read your “Bankster” and personally loved it. I also intend to read your other books whenever I can. Good Luck!

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  4. Dear Mr Ravi – this is an extremely good post especially for those inspiring to write seriously some day. I read your “Bankster” and personally loved it. I also intend to read your other books whenever I can. Good Luck!

    Like

  5. Great article Ravi. I have not read any of your books till date, but this post has piqued my interest in your work. Loved your insights into the heart and mind of author as well as book reviewer. Being myself a blogger/avid reader/book reviewer, I just could not agree more.

    Like

  6. And that’s the reason I love you Ravi! There is more meat in your thoughts and the way you look at lfe than Robin Sharma. And why ain’t September coming a bit early this year? The release of your new book…Come September!

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  7. Being an avid reader and having done a number of book reviews on my blog,I was happy to read your views on bloggers ,authors and book reviews.Most bloggers will try and be honest about a book and state their opinions regarding the story,narration,language etc but launching personal attack against the author is just not done!
    Agree completely with you when you say ‘ Never react on impulse’. I think it stands true in every life situation.
    Looking forward to seeing you at the first BAR meet .

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  8. Very useful article. Believe me, whatever review I did for your book Bankerupt recently, it was a honest one :). No buttering involved. I found this article useful both as an author and as a reviewer…..

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  9. Ravi, I am so glad you brought up this point. I have been reviewing for some time and reviewed your books too. I have also written what I felt as a reader. And you rightly said, no blogger wants to get up in the morning and bash up an author. As a reader, I am just saddened with mediocre writing. When we have such good writers like Arundhati Roy, Shashi Tharoor, Chitra Divakarunni, RK Narayanan (those just English writers), it is sad that the end books are not polished. I have seen authors who do not invest in a good editor, or beta reader.. and then just expect all to like a book. It is not fair.

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