You may have read my review of Lyla El-Fayomi‘s novel Terminum about ten days or so ago. As I mentioned in the original review, I wrote it for Reedsy Discovery at their invitation. Today, my review went live. I was surprised at the response.
Ms. El-Fayomi made her name unavailable on the review and presumably in Discovery. She wrote this comment by way of an explanation:
IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Despite the large area it occupies, the lengthy review of Terminum featured on the Reedsy book page WAS NOT written by a professional in the field. It is simply one man’s opinion. Please treat it as such. You may find your reading experience to be entirely different from his.
In spite of her obvious intelligence and education, I don’t think she understands what a book review is.
Of course, it’s one person’s opinion. And unless you’re writing for an academic or other highly selective audience such as geneticists, then yes, your average person, who is not a professional in that field, but nevertheless, who reads copious amounts of science fiction (which is what her book is), doesn’t have to be an expert.
It’s not like I panned the book. However, there’s a difference between being a scientific expert and a good writer of fiction. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. Being a professional technical writer doesn’t mean I’m automatically good at crafting science fiction. I really have to work at it and I don’t always succeed.
For a generation, Carl Sagan was the person who made complex topics such as cosmology (study of the origin of the universe) and astrophysics accessible to the average human being.
In spite of the fact that Sagan’s novel has received 85% of 4 and 5 star ratings on Amazon, I thought it was only so-so. I might have given it a three-star rating, or four if I was feeling generous. It was slow, plodding, and just didn’t “grab” me.
So when I gave Ms. El-Fayomi’s book three out of a possible five stars, it was nothing personal. It was my opinion of her novel, how it was written, the pacing, the use of English, the confusing scene shifts, none of which required me to be a scientific expert in her field.
In fact, if she can’t make her field accessible for the average reader of her novel, assuming she is intending for the wide, wide world of science fiction fans to consume her work, then she may not reach those of us she intended to reach.
I haven’t been reviewed very much, but to the degree that other authors in anthologies are praised but my name isn’t mentioned, it probably means I didn’t really shine. That’s my fault, but that’s also a matter of the reader’s taste.
I recently had a lengthy conversation with a new editor of a magazine who had rejected one of my stories. He has a background as a newspaper reporter and a trial lawyer, so he’s accomplished. He’s also an indie writer like me, but his style and tastes run in a different direction, which is why he rejected my story.
That should be a lesson to all of us. I’ve had short stories rejected three and four times before they were finally accepted. No, I didn’t edit them in the slightest. I just found an editor who decided my story fit what they were looking for in their publication.
The same goes for reviews. Not all readers are going to resonate with what you write. Sagan’s novel was reviewed by 712 people so far, and while, as I mentioned, 70% gave it a five star review, and 15% gave it four stars (total = 85%), 8% gave it three, 2% gave it 2, and 5% gave it a one star rating.
You can’t please everyone. Just don’t take it personally.