Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Reviews that help or hurt

A few months ago, I went looking for people to review my books.

It was a bit scary, because a long time ago, my first novel, Wild Dog Summer, was trashed by a reviewer in a highly-respected journal of children's literature. It was a terrible review - paralyzed me for weeks! - but I got over it, and my book continued to resonate with young readers and their teachers. In fact, the publisher continued to print and sell Wild Dog Summer across Canada for ten more years. During that time, many envelopes stuffed with enthusiastic reader responses arrived in the mail.

So does a review really matter? Well, yes, I think it does. A review gets readers' attention, for better or for worse, and after a few years of being less than noticed, I figured it was time. I put the word out on this blog and in the Twittersphere: I'm looking for reviewers.

CM: Canadian Review of Materials, a publication from the University of Manitoba, agreed to review my two novels, Wild Dog Summer (now re-issued by my own imprint, Pugwash Publishers) and The Toymaker's Son. The review appears in the current issue, and while the reviewer didn't gush, she certainly picked up on the important themes in the books and pointed out their goods points. And their bad points. Unfortunately for me, the "Recommended with reservations" falls far short of my expectations.

This isn't a completely sad story, however.  I was also approached by Sarah Butland, a writer, blogger and reviewer from Moncton, New Brunswick, who wanted to interview me and review The Toymaker's Son for her blog.

Sarah is a writer herself, with a particular interest in promoting literacy, writing, and a love of reading. Her website is full of prompts, suggestions and information for kids, parents, writers - anyone who gets a buzz from the written word.

Here's Sarah's review of The Toymaker's Son, and here's the interview (which includes my strategies for avoiding procrastination, views on how to hook reluctant readers, opinions of school reading lists, my 92-year-old uncle's description of the role of e-books...and more).

Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my writing life, Sarah!

So the good (getting some positive attention), the bad (reviews not meeting expectations) and the ugly (Recommended with Reservations): such is the life of a writer. Imagination, talent, discipline, and a very thick skin required.

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