On this morning’s ‘A Point of View’ on Radio 4, Adam Gopnik shared some amusing thoughts about how authors deal with negative reviews. He described how many authors write fierce late-night responses and reubuttals, which they’re usually dissuaded from sending. He concluded that it is much more elegant to wait a while and then write to the reviewer, innocently complimenting them on whatever they wrote next. Recognising the sender’s name as that of an author they were mean about, the reviewer will suffer a subtle torment as they start to read between the lines.
I was struck by one big difference between book reviews and concert reviews. With book reviews, an author can rely on his readers to make their own minds up about the book. The book marches on into the future.
Concert reviews are different, because a concert is over by the time the review appears. If a reviewer says it was rubbish, who is to disagree? Only those who were actually there. Most readers just have to take the critic’s word for it. The performer feels horribly powerless as they read a negative review, because the concert is in the past. There is nothing to hold up and say, ‘Well, dear readers, here it is. Make your own mind up!’
Of course, listeners can come to another concert, and a performer usually gives concerts more frequently than an author writes books. But if you disagree with what a critic writes about your concert, there’s nothing you can do about it, except to hope that it won’t deter people from coming to the next one.