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 :
- 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.
- No strong female character in the book
- 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.