Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - Jonathan Allen

An interpretation of Norvin, the main character in 'The Great White Man-Eating Shark' by Margaret Mahy

One thing an author and/or illustrator will encounter when they have the good fortune to be published, is other people's opinions about their work, publicly expressed and very much in the public domain. Mainly in the form of reviews, but not always. When all your concentration has been on trying to get published, it's easy to forget the the additional stuff that goes with it.
These public expressions can be loosely put into three categories,-
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
(Aaah-eee-aaah-eee-aah. . .Wah wah wah. . . as Ennio Morricone put it so well)

The Good -

If you are very lucky, you might get reviewed in a national publication, a Sunday Paper for instance. If that happens, it tends to be a good review, for the reason that reviewers are usually engaged in the recommendation of a few books they feel readers might want to consider this Christmas, that sort of thing. I have been lucky enough to have that happen two or three times over the (many) years and it's a good feeling to see your work in the Sunday papers ;-) Something for your parents to show the neighbours ;-)

I have also been in my local paper once or twice, but I find that just a bit embarrassing so I try to lay low and not tell the local press about stuff being published etc. . . Come on, you all have local papers, you know where I'm coming from ;-)
Another really nice thing that can happen is being sent fan mail. Sometimes from parents, sometimes from children. Children's fan mail is usually sent via their school, as sometimes schools ask a class of children to pick an author each and write to them. Sometimes it's the whole class that writes. Especially after a school visit you might have done, as a kind of thank you. The best part for me is seeing their illustrations of my characters. I love children's artwork anyway, but seeing their interpretations of your creations is really magical. These are from a very long time ago, but they were the only ones I could lay hands on without much tedious rummaging, as they were already scanned and jpegged up. . .

Another cool thing that happened with 'Mucky Moose' was that a Japanese puppet group made a puppet show of the story and sent me some photos. That was great.

The Bad -

Occasionally, a negative review crops up in a newspaper. I illustrated a few books by the late, great Margaret Mahy, and one of them was in a list of picture books being reviewed by a very well known children's author and illustrator, namely, Raymond Briggs. He was quite snotty about my illustrations. The nerve! ;-) Fah! Oh well, at least it allowed me to unashamedly name-drop years later on Picture Book Den. . .
The growth of sites like Amazon, where people can leave reviews of your books, without having to have journalistic or any other credentials, though a mixed blessing, has meant the democratisation of the reviewing process. Anyone can leave a review. This is a good thing I think, but people can 'miss the point' of a book, and leave an unfair review just as easily as someone can leave a thoughtful and well considered one. The good usually outnumbers the bad, but it's still odd reading a bad review from someone who doesn't seem to 'get it', or is just being rude. Of course they may be pointing out flaws in your work that need pointing out, in which case it's constructive criticism and to be welcomed, but they might not. it makes you understand why many writers and performers feel it's better not to read any reviews, good or bad. After all, if a book is selling well, who cares about a bad review?
And of course, some reviews are just plain odd. A review on Amazon of my version of 'Chicken Licken' just said,
"Chicken Licken? Isn't that illegal? This book is poo."

The Ugly -

This is something decidedly unpleasant that happened to one of my books a year or two ago.
I received an email from somebody I didn't know, containing a link and the advice that I 'May want to look at this', and that the publisher should be concerned. After due pause, I clicked on the link and could immediately see what they were on about.
Somebody had taken the cover of a pop-up book I did years ago called "Don't wake the Baby!" and changed it to read "Don't Rape the Baby!". The site it was on seemed to be some kind of American anti-gay hate site, that wanted to imply that gays were paedophiles. I was shocked, as you can imagine, and left a strong message for the perpetrators, telling them to remove it immediately. I also contacted the book's publishers, who were also appalled and promptly contacted the ISP to get the site taken down. The site owners meanwhile replied to my message, denying that their site was a hate site and claiming it was put up to 'promote hetrosexual love'. Yeah, right.
Anyway, after nearly sending several very angry replies, I responded to the feeling I got from them that they were enjoying the attention, and decided not to feed the beast, but to ignore it, as the publisher was very much on the case. The site was taken down shortly afterwards.

So you never know what proportion of Good, Bad and Ugly you may find coming your way. May it be mainly good, may you take the bad with a pinch of salt, and may nothing ugly crawl out of the woodwork and bite you!

I leave you with my favourite bit of fan mail to cheer you up after that bit of unpleasantness.
(from a good few years ago, it's been on my wall ever since, hence the blu tack and general grime)
And I extend it's wishes to you all, pausing only to wonder how old the writer is now and what she is doing now?


Lucy said...

That last picture is just lovely - and what an interesting post -oh my goodness- the ups and downs of writing eh? I don't know how you do it. But am very glad you do - I have been reading Bringing Down the Moon for the past twelve years to my children - and enjoyed it every time.

Lucy said...

Oops, I am so sorry - just read the top of this post and realise that its by Jonathan Allen not Emmett - actually, my nine year old was reading over my shoulder and pointed it out - he did add that he knew your name as he has read The Witch Who Couldn't Spell in school and enjoyed it. Apologies.

Jon Burgess Design said...

No need to apologise ;-) there are just too many talented Jonathan's around not to get them mixed up from time to time. .

Jonathan Emmett said...

I've seen some glowing reviews of my books and some damning ones as well. It's hard not to take a bad review personally, but it helps to remember that even the most successful authors and illustrators have their detractors.

To encourage authors to "embrace the reality that not everyone likes every book", US children's author Mark Nobleman asked other authors and illustrators to make short videos of themselves reading their worst reviews and then edited them together and put them on his blog.

Paeony Lewis said...

You've had some weird stuff, Jonathan A, thanks for sharing. I wonder what your repulsive 'Uglies' would have made of the fact that all my delightful fan letters for 'Cinderella's Wedding' have been from boys!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Aren't children wonderful artists! Such a shame that something closes down most of us on the drawing front as we grow up.
Yes, I've had lovely reviews, sneering reviews and bonkers reviews, and I read them all. I don't believe the people who high-mindedly claim not to read them. Surely they're interested in people's reactions to their work, whether or not those reactions are what they'd hoped?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your adventures! May your "Badies" and "Uglies" be drowned out by the laughter of the children your stories touch.


Jon Burgess Design said...

That's a nice idea. I'll try to find time to check that link out, (DIY duties notwithstanding. .) thanks.

Jon Burgess Design said...

They'd probably say you were corrupting our youth ;-) Well, carry on corrupting is what I say. .

Jon Burgess Design said...

Kids are wonderful artists. I agree absolutely. Picasso had something to say about that, I'll take a vague stab at it - he said something about how it takes the rest of your creative life to unlearn all the stuff you learned about drawing and get back to the purity of childhood vision. Well, that was the gist anyway.

Jon Burgess Design said...

Thanks Michelle ;-)

Jane Clarke said...

I have had one angry correspondent asking what right I had to make a child cry (interesting one, that), and a couple of bad/weird reviews, but they pale into insignificance compared with your ' ugly' anecdote. Wise not to feed the beast. Lovely fan letter to end on! Here's to the goods rather than the bads and uglies.

Moira Butterfield said...

Thanks Jonathan! I had a wry smile this week when I heard Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree is to be filmed. How slated she was years back! Don't read those bad'uns!