There was one Thing You Shouldn't Say to an Author which I quite forgot: "I haven't seen any reviews of Deathwatch anywhere," said a certain author's elderly acquaintance (possibly related) who lives in a tiny village in Scotland, skims "the" newspaper and doesn't use the internet because, although he technically has broadband, you'd never know, and because his computer is perched in a gloomy corner of a poorly designed room which gives him a crick in his neck after ten minutes peering at the screen. And ten minutes is how long it takes his computer to boot. On a good day, with the wind in the west and the fish beginning to bite.
No, well, you wouldn't have seen any, would you? Yes, there were lovely reviews, even in newspapers, even in a few decent ones, but with 10,000 children's books published every year in the UK, the chances of your young* acquaintance's book just happening to be reviewed in the Pittenweem Telegraph are about as slim as a very slim thing. Slimmer even than the Pittenweem Telegraph. (*artistic licence. Anyway, age is all relative.)
Thing is, we've moved on from a thralled reliance on newsprint and so much grubby ink, haven't we? Not that we'd turn our noses up at a review in the Guardian or the Book of the Week spot in the Sunday Times, of course - far from it: crikey, I'd have a party if that happened, or at least open the bottle of fizz which is waiting in the fridge for such moments and rapidly becoming vintage. But we don't rely on them because we have many more, and equally well-written and important, sources of reviews.
No, no, not Amazon, silly! Everyone knows that Amazon reviews are tainted. Lovely as it is to get four or five-star reviews there, we also know that they can be trusted about as far as a strawberry plant in the Sahara: the good reviews are as likely to be written by our mothers or publishers as the bad ones are to be written by an idiot / enemy / someone who was a bit pissed and bored at 3am. (I hasten to add that as far as I know neither my mother nor publisher has ever done this, but we can never be entirely sure what our mothers get up to at 3am.)
I'm talking about the growing number of increasingly respected and valued websites and blogs where sensible and knowledgeable people write sensible and knowledgeable reviews. Places like Achuka and WriteAway and the Bookbag and the Bookwitch. It feels to me as though, a few years back, readers moved from grovelling reliance on newsprint (when that was all there was) to a gluttonous and undiscerning vox-pop-fest of democratisation (when Amazon felt like the only place you could buy and comment on books), and that now we have something more useful and adaptable: a healthy array of places where serious, knowledgeable, passionate readers can give serious, knowledgeable, passionate views and share them with the like-minded. Because, after all, what's the point of a review by someone who's not like-minded?
I'm doing an article for the Author on this subject soon (like, er, rather horribly soon ...) and I'd love your views on that phrase in red above. "Increasingly respected and valued" - do you agree? How and why are some of them respected? Which ones do you (as readers or writers) value? Or don't you? As a writer, do you still blush with extra pride when you find yourself reviewed on scrunchable paper? As a reader, do you take more notice of a printed review than an on-line one? Do we care whether reviews are by "ordinary" readers, as opposed to "professional" reviewers. (Deliberately provocative adjectives there.)
Seems to me that people have been talking about the review being dead (and that link is only one example amongst vast numbers that you'll find by googling "review is dead") when in fact it's merely shedding its skin. And, though I don't claim to be an expert on snakes, I do know that when a snake is shedding its skin it looks pretty grotty and acts as though its not feeling very well at all. (I apologise for the technical lingo there.) But then it appears all sleek and gorgeous (for a snake), bigger and better and stronger than before.
The review is not dead at all. It's beginning to hiss loudly. And people are listening.