writing

A Book is Like Marmite

My son LOVES Marmite. I’m not a big fan. We agree to disagree and I make sure there is a regular supply in the cupboard. One jar open, one in hand so we never run out.

A book is a bit like Marmite…

A Book is like Marmite

A book I love you might hate. Likewise a book that I’m not keen on might be the best thing that you’ve ever read. So while I’m happy to have honest and open discussions in private with my friends about books we’ve enjoyed and haven’t, I’m much more careful what I say in public.

The thing is, I’m not hurting anyone’s feelings by saying I’m not mad on Marmite. It’s nothing personal. I don’t know who invented Marmite – they don’t have their name on the jar.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, books are published with the author’s name clearly on the front of the product. And this is why I am more careful when reviewing them in public. Just because a book isn’t for me, I don’t like the story, characters or style, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It would be hurtful, rude even, of me to say unkind things about it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as two of my friends have just had reviews of their books which left them feeling unhappy and hurt. One friend’s book was criticised for an inaccurate plot thread when in fact the plot was fine, the reviewer had obviously missed a bit of the story out. The other had her book labelled as ‘not quality reading’ and having a cover that was ‘rubbish.’ Ouch!

As an author I’m always very excited and grateful when someone takes the time to review my book especially if they say nice things about it. But I’ve had some hurtful reviews too and they leave me wondering why, when there are so many fantastic books out there, the reviewer didn’t stop reading my book and review something they did like instead.

Should authors toughen up? Is it part of the job to have our work ‘rubbished’ in public? Or should reviewers be a little more sensitive? What do you think?

42 thoughts on “A Book is Like Marmite

  1. I agree, I always feel bad when writing negative reviews! I try to make it nothing personal and just say it wasn’t for me, but other might enjoy it. And hope the author never reads it!

  2. Morning Julie. 🙂

    I think that people should, if they don’t like the book their reading, they could easily just put the book down and read and review somthing else insted.

    I’m sorry you have had bad reviews, your books are fab, i don’t know how anyone can write bad things about them 🙂

    Keep warm today all. The news said it’ll be really cold.

    x

    • Hi Laura,

      You always know how to make someone feel better. Thanks for your lovely comments.

      And yes, froz today. You would not believe how many coats I managed to get on just to walk the dog 😉

      Julie

  3. i’m more of a vegemite person than a marmite person 🙂
    i review books on a blog called Cherry Banana Split, and i always try to say why I didn’t enjoy it, as opposed to labeling it ‘rubbish’ and i always try and say it nicely. i also make sure to say which things i liked.

    i’m lucky, i love pretty much all books. there are few books i’ve disliked, which makes me a terrible reviewer in some ways, but it’s honest.

    • Hi Anna,

      You must have a very wide taste if you like nearly all the books you’ve read. I bet that makes for interesting reading too.

      Vegemite v marmite. Now there’s an argument I would NEVER get into especially not with my son 😉

      Julie

      • i’m australian, so no one here eats marmite.
        it’s not so much wide taste, it’s more that i tend to love something or like it. i’m one of those lucky people who finds something to like about it, as opposed to just writing it off entirley. i’m also really enthusiastic about books, no matter what it is.
        though, there are a few books i really didn’t like, coral island which i never finished.

  4. It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? I’ve never been asked to officially review any books so I have only ever written reviews for books I loved – because I loved them and because I think other people might really enjoy them too. I don’t think I would ever post a negative review just for the sake of it but I suppose if I had been asked to review a book and I didn’t like it, I would have to say I didn’t like it and why – though I would definitely go down the route that this book wasn’t my cup of tea (or jar of marmite) but other people might like it. Bad reviews do sting – I can remember every word of some bad reviews I’ve had. Someone once said to me that it takes a hundred good reviews to cancel out a bad one in your mind – and in my experience that’s been true. Good reviews ARE lovely though! Great post, Julie! Lxx

    • Hi Linda,

      Definitely a tricky one. I’d agree with the hundred good reviews to cancel out a bad one. I’ve had some funny reviews too. Someone once described Dora, a hen in one of my picture books, as having post natal depression. That still makes me giggle.

      Julie

  5. Hi, there, Juliexx Ace post!

    I’ve had work ‘rubbished’ quite a few times and been very hurt. A lot of the criticism has been quite childish and sneery, too, and I don’t think there’s any need for that. This is all from ADULTS, by the way. The children and young people I’ve asked to look at drafts for me have been really mature and supportive.

    Yes, part of learning to be a writer is about developing a thick skin . And it’s not good to think you’re wonderful all the time. BUT, there is a way to criticise someone without resorting to nastiness.
    * climbs down off soapbox*
    Sorry, Julie!
    PS: I’m with your son. I love Marmite!

    • Hi Jade,

      Another Marmite lover! Do you collect memorabilia? Son does and I never knew there was so much stuff with Marmite on it.

      I’m sorry you’ve had hurtful reviews too. You’re definitely right about writer’s needing a thick skin. Very thick.

      Good luck with your writing.

      Julie

  6. Great post, Julie. I review a few books on my website and as I only review books I like I write good reviews. If I was asked to review a book I didn’t like I’d be kind. I’m a writing tutor too and was given a tip years ago of doing a critique sandwich, start with something nice, put the negative stuff in the middle, and end with something nice. I think it’s a great tip. There’s always something good you can say, even if it’s you like the title.

    • Hi Karen,

      I LOVE the critique sandwich. It would be great if reviewers took that on board. It would work for lots of other things too.

      It’s a great piece of advice.

      Julie

  7. Eeesh… um… I’d say always make a negative review constructive, only criticise if there really is a problem and it’s not just personal taste, and make absolutely certain that you’ve got your facts right beforehand. And point out the good bits first. Constructive criticism will help the author to improve their work; just going “It’s rubbish” will only get you labelled as a troll, and quite right too.
    (And remember: you never see a statue raised to a critic*!)

  8. Pingback: A Book is Like Marmite « Girls Heart Books | Books Palace

  9. Great post, Julie – and very interesting to me. My first book’s out in May and it’s going to be a bit of a shock to the system finally even having readers (and critics, yikes!) after years of toiling away quierly in my dark corner! As a reader, it can be so confusing too – there are so many opinions online now so personally, I hardly ever read reviews, if I like the sound or look of a story, I read the blurb then the first page or two, to decide whether I want to read it. It’s more fun that way, especially as reviewers – even the professionals – can give the plot away accidentally and I’d rather be surprised.

    • Hi Diane,

      That’s so exciting about your first book but also very nerve wracking.It’s a bit like letting people read your diary isn’t it?

      I choose books the same way as you. Blurb, then first page or two.

      Good luck for May. I’ll keep everything crossed for great reviews.

      Julie

  10. I am 100% AWFUL at writing bad reviews!!! I feel SO guilty!!

    I once had to write a review for the Times, it was about whether the book should have swearing in, and I was told that I hd to write about ehy the book SHOULD contain swearing and the other girl wo uld say why it shouldn’t, and I HATED the book SO SO SO SO SO much!! I truly detested it, but I wrote all positive because the author was commenting on my review on the same page of the Newspaper!!!

    Fab Post!!

    Ella xxx

    PS. I LOVE MARMITE!!! 😉

  11. It’s a touchy subject, I agree – you never know how much effort or love and care an author has put into a book, but speaking personally, there is a lot of “me” in my creations… so is rubbishing a book or creation a bit like picking on a person themselves?

    I suppose what the reviewers would argue is that by publishing a book you are leaving yourself open to negative criticism… but I think that like with all things, the world would be a much nicer place if we respected the authors and creators! Be honest about the book, but don’t confuse a novel with being bad as an author being bad! xx

  12. I would feel awful if I read a hateful comment about a book that I’d write. And I’m sure its not a very nice feeling. Bu also take the critisim into action and work on it in your next book!
    By the way the person who made marmite was a german scienticst named Justus von Liebig!

    • Thanks Shakira. I’m VERY impressed that you found out who made Marmite.

      It is helpful to know what readers didn’t like about your book because as you pointed out you can use it to improve your writing.

      Julie

  13. Yes, I think you DO need a thick skin.

    The haters are just like Simon Cowell; says bad things about others but is hurt when others say bad things about him.

    If they’re being really spiteful, it might be because they’re secretly jealous of you. I bet they have all your books sitting neatly and polishetheir bookshelves!!

    • I’d forgotten about Simon Cowell. Some of the comments made on his talent programmes have been very hurtful. But then again, the people who go on the show do know what to expect whereas not all authors ask for comments on their work.

      I guess a thick skin is essential in this business!

      Julie

  14. Hi!

    I think its important to be honest, as a reviewer – I’m a reviewer for a newspaper, and they send me books. They ask me to be completely honest, and give my opinion and truth to be told, not all of my reviews are positive.

    But I’ve never really thought how the author must feel. Working ages on a piece of writing only to get it shot down by readers and critics.

    Thanks for raising this point.

    I thinks its important to be honest, but not horrible. It’s a difficult situation, because obviously you have to tell the truth about how you found the book. Recently I met an author – her book had just been published, and I thought it was the most terrible book I’d ever read. It was boring, dull and nothing happened, in my opinion – I didn’t tell her this, but when an author asks you if you liked their book, and you didn’t, what can you say?

    There’s a line between rude and honest, and you just have to be careful not to cross it.

    x

    • Meeting an author whose book you didn’t like must have been tricky Orli. But maybe the author wanted you to be honest because she asked for your opinion.

      The thing about reviews in papers is the author’s aren’t usually asked if their book is going to be reviewed so it can be incredibly hurtful is the reviewer is critical.

      Maybe books should publish without the author’s name on!

      Julie

  15. Hi Julie-great post!

    I’m not really a big fan of marmite, for many reasons. One is the taste…

    Anyway, when I write a story or a letter or just a piece of writing that I’ve put lots of effort into, and a teacher doesn’t like it, I get really hurt, so I see where you’re coming from about people giving bad reviews on a book that may have taken you years to write.

    On the other hand it’s good to value other people’s opinions on books, it might help future books to become better. And remember-don’t judge a book by it’s cover! (Though I sometimes do that!)

    • This is all true Hikma but the thing about books (and music and films and the work you do in school) is that people have different tastes and what someone might think is rubbish someone else could love. By giving something a really horrible review you could put someone off who might actually enjoy it. Also, it might put you off from writing anything else.

      It takes all sorts of everything to make up a world and that’s what makes the world great.

      Fab comments. Thanks 😉

      Julie

  16. Hi,
    It is good to have reveiws on your books because it is public feed back and then you can go back and work on it. However when they are spiteful then it can hurt and puts you off sometimes. I don’t like writing bad book reveiws either, it makes me feel guilty as if you are a big meany and you are putting that person and their work down. I really enjoy writing good ones though!!! Oh and by the way I love marmite to!!! 😉

  17. I think a writer has to have a one-way thick skin – sensitive to the world, or you’d be no good as a writer; but not sensitive to reviews! (speaking as someone who had a real killer of a review from the US).

    But – what do you do if a book really IS bad?

    • If you think a book is really that bad then don’t review it! Why waste your time when you could be reading and reviewing something you do like instead 😉

      I like the idea of a one way thick skin though. Sounds like every writer should have one.

      Julie

  18. I’m with you, Julie – if you don’t like a book, don’t review it! Just put it down and find one you do like. I don’t know that I’d want to waste my time and energy creating something negative that I knew the author would see and feel rubbish about.

    PS Team Marmite!

  19. The author might well feel upset, but if the criticism’s been written properly (yes, constructively) then it should help them improve their work – if nobody ever said a bad word about anything, nothing would improve. Orli V was right in her previous comment when she said to be honest but not rude or horrible. It’s like schoolwork – if it’s not up to standard, the teacher is not going to give you an A no matter how hard you worked on it, but they will point out where you’ve gone wrong so that you can learn from that and hopefully do better next time.
    (Both of the amateur authors I know always feel dissatisfied with their work even when it’s finished anyway…)

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