There’s quite a lot of advice around on how to handle – and how not to handle – negative reviews… don’t take it personally; don’t bite back; take it constructively, if possible; negative reviews are better than none (not sure about that one!), etc…
There are, however, more daring alternatives, with some writers having sought to turn a bad review into an asset.
For example, writer Ernest Swanton, reviewing a memoir, Shadows on the Grass, by author and screenwriter Simon Raven called it ‘the filthiest cricket book ever written’. Raven responded by requesting Swanton’s permission to quote this on the book’s cover. Raven, it seems, took his craft lightly, at least on the surface. His attitude to writing was perhaps echoed in the words of a character, Fielding Gray, in Raven’s novel Places Where They Sin (Alms for Oblivion series, 1970), who said: ‘I arrange words in pleasing patterns in order to make money.’
Then there was the sometimes controversial writer Irvine Welsh, who used negative reviews of the stage version of his novel Trainspotting (1993) to promote the play when it transferred to London’s West End in 1999, saying: ‘We were happy to use the negative review to publicise the play, working on the premise that condemnation from the out-of-touch is as valid an endorsement as praise from the hip’. In doing so, of course, he turned the criticism onto the out-of-touch reviewer, whilst neatly transforming negative comments into positive marketing aimed at the play’s target audience.
In a similar publicity ruse, Iain Banks’s publisher MacMillan placed bad reviews of the author’s debut novel The Wasp Factory (1984) on the book’s cover, to capture the interest of potential readers. The book had been called, amongst other things, ‘a work of unparalleled depravity’ by the Irish Times and ‘a repulsive piece of work’ by the London Evening Standard.
We may note, then, the words of author Hugh Barbour, who wrote: ‘There is nothing like a good negative review to sell a book.’ Though we may disagree on what a ‘good’ bad review means.
Main photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash