You've all read 'Righting the Left Hand of God', right?
If not, go do that. You'll also want to read the review of Paul Hoffman's eagerly anticipated fantasy debut that preceded it. Don't worry; it's not too much to get through, and hey, what better way is there to spend another dreary Monday than by shirking more pressing responsibilities?
Let's push forward on the presumption that if you're here, however, you're already familiar with the two posts Google Analytics tell me now reign supreme on The Speculative Scotsman - although before we do, let me thank everyone who's read the article, as well as those who were moved enough to tweet about it, link to it, or follow it up on their own blog, with their own thoughts. In the end, it's all about the conversation - the power that arises from this speculative collective - and I'm chuffed to bits to have contributed something to the endlessly stimulating dialogue that's followed.
But let's get on with the show.
In 'Righting the Left Hand of God', I discussed how the reception to my negative review of said novel had left me feeling a little conflicted; or, at the least, I certainly meant to. One way or another, to cut a long story short, I didn't launch The Speculative Scotsman in order to bully readers into buying or not buying a book - any book - based solely on my say-so.
Now far be it from me to suggest that any of the readers who said in the comments section of said review that they would no longer be buying The Left Hand of God made that decision based on a single blogger's opinion. I'm sure that wasn't the case, but equally, it's not impossible that in some cases, my thoughts on Hoffman's much-hyped novel represented the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. And no wonder: that camel's got to be exhausted by now, trotting back and forth with all the world's expectations on its shoulders like the first man to set foot on the moon, albeit with humps. And straw.
So. Tome of the Undergates author and seemingly frequent TSS visitor Sam Sykes posted his thoughts on the questions raised in part in 'Righting The Left Hand of God' on his own site, which I'd advise you bookmark or add to your RSS readers right this second.
I don't want to repost his entire blog, so go read his response, 'Do Y'all Wanna Talk About Reviews?' - and then, dear reader, return to me, for I have things yet unsaid to say.
To surmise: Sam - perhaps a little nervous over the perception that if bloggers don't like his highly anticipated debut, people might be dissuaded from buying it - doesn't think that a single recommendation, or indeed a warning not to go near a certain novel, is worth overly much. I find myself agreeing with Sam disturbingly often, and this surely isn't the ideological crossroads at which we must part ways; he's right.
I'm not the magical Scotsman that has been suggested elsewhere, nor need my English degree be any sort of validation of the opinions I presented here on the blog; assuredly, the university I studied at is no universally renowned bastion of education, though I suppose it's a step up from the drive-through colleges you can buy diplomas a dime a piece from. That said, there's nothing more or less valid about my reactions to a novel than any other blogger's. TSS is but a single voice, and though I'm not afraid sing a different tune here than other writers and readers might, that's only because, at the end of the day - as they say - beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What makes a book great to me isn't necessarily what would make a book great to you; my opinions are my own, and I promise you, I'll think no less of you if you do not share them.
Anyway, never one to say a little when I could say a lot, I've only really written all of the above to somehow justify with sheer verbosity my reposting of the lengthy comment I made on Sam's blog, as follows:
"Be it good press or bad, if people are talking about your book, if there's buzz of any sort surrounding its release, there's got to be a greater chance that the average Joe or Jane will recognise it when he or she is window-shopping in Waterstones or browsing in Borders. People aren't like lemmings - as Sam says, we can and should be making up our own minds about whether or not a particular thing appeals to us, be it a book, a film, new food or fashion. As far as books go, a review, whether positive or negative, serves firstly to give people who otherwise wouldn't look twice that first incentive to pick up, say, The Left Hand of God, or indeed, Tome of the Undergates, and make their own decisions according to their own criteria.
"And though a part of me rebels against it, there is that other point that no-one's quite making. The Speculative Scotsman may only be a month and change old, but I've been lurking amongst the community for years, and as such I don't think I would be far off-base to say that a negative review on a blog, any blog really, seems to be an uncommon thing. It's not like there's a chance Orbit or Gollancz would stop sending ARCs to The Guardian or The Times if either made a habit of ripping their publications to shreds - the exposure is just too valuable - but as far as blogs go, I imagine things are quite different.
"Bloggers are in the unenviable position of either buying just the books they want to read, and therefore leaning necessarily towards covering only those novels that they're likely to react positively to, or relying on publishers to send them a selection of the good, the bad and the ugly alike. In that latter case, the bloggers in question must then decide how important the relationships he or she has with those publishers are before publicly savaging a book they've particularly disliked. There's certainly bad press to be had in the blogs, but largely I think it's a case of good press to be lost.
"Now I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that blogs which rely on ARCs and the like are dishonest - I'd only be shooting myself in the foot, let's be frank - but I feel there's an important point to be made in amongst all that thinking-out-loud. At the end of the day, I don't necessarily trust a good review in the way that I do a negative perspective; a reviewer has nothing to lose by saying nice things about something, and much to gain. A bad review, on the other hand, will do him or her no favours - it's akin to biting the hand that feeds. Suffice it to say I don't imagine any attempts I make to establish a working relationship with Michael Joseph, the UK publishers of The Left Hand of God, will meet with much success. For a book to be met with indifference or outright negativity, therefore, there have got to be some real problems for a blogger to take that chance.
"Of course, none of that changes the fact that ultimately, readers must make their decisions for themselves. Better that they're informed decisions, though, and better still that they're decisions made bearing in mind the advice of bloggers whose reactions in the past have been similar to your own.
"But for me, for the reasons outlined above, when I'm looking to add to my collection of books, a single bad review carries substantially more weight than a single good review."
Of course, the larger part of that comment is a story for another time, and that time is not now. I've burbled enough for one day.
But do, dear readers, let me know what your thoughts are on these issues in the comments. Are bad reviews bad things? Do they impact your perception of a book more than a good review might? Can bloggers be considered a source of legitimate criticism if there's anything to the above-mooted opinion? At that, is there anything to it?