Claire King


No Spoilers Please

Posted on: April 25th, 2016 by Claire - 4 Comments

What makes something a spoiler?

Although my new novel isn’t out until July, it’s been available on NetGalley for a while for reviewers to get hold of, a few uncorrected proofs have been sent out and there was recently a Goodreads giveaway, so it’s now in (very modest) circulation.

A few reviews have started to pop up, and since they are so lovely – and also gratifying for an author with pre-launch wobbles (PLWs) – I thought I would add some of the comments onto my Everything Love Is book page.  You can see that here.

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However, in order to do that I had to edit out a few lines of what I would consider to be spoilers. I don’t believe for one minute that the reviewers considered their (very kind and insightful) words that way. But some of the comments included information that, as the author, I’d prefer future readers discovered at their own pace, through the story itself. And if they learn about it before diving in, well, it could spoil the read. Not ruin it, but still make it somehow less gratifying than I had intended, and tried to achieve through the (meticulous) way I wrote it.

With The Night Rainbow there was a huge potential spoiler, and to start with I was quite obsessive about looking at reviews to see if it had slipped out, and thanking reviewers for their discretion! I knew how easily it could be mentioned when trying to summarise what the book was about.* Thankfully only a few reader reviews ever mentioned it, although one national newspaper mentioned it in the first line of their otherwise glowing review. We couldn’t do anything about the thousands of print editions, although at Bloomsbury’s request they did edit the online version.

*I know how hard it is to answer the question “What is it about?” because I am asked it often and struggle to respond in any meaningful way. With some books it’s not a problem – it’s easy to talk plot points without spoiling the story – but with the kind of books I write, it isn’t and I find it easiest to stay thematic. With The Night Rainbow I would say it was about hope, our human struggles with grief, and the tenacity of children. With Everything Love Is I am simply telling people it’s a love story. I do realise that these are not always satisfactory answers, and I’m sorry about that. This is why I need reviewers, obviously.

I am always so moved by the careful way people phrase book reviews. I think that because book reviewers are book lovers, they  are sensitive to avoiding sharing plot points that could affect someone else’s experience of the book, even when this makes writing a review much harder to do. The question is, where is the line drawn between explaining something that gives a little context to the book, and revealing a spoiler, and as an author, should we just try not to get involved? After all, once our novels are published what people say about them is out of our hands.  We cannot curate readers’ experiences of our books any more than we can govern if they like them or not.



4 Responses

  1. Annecdotist says:

    Exciting that your new novel is already out there, and I look forward to reading it.
    I’m another one who’s made the reviewer’s task more difficult and I’m also very moved by how people have risen to the challenge. Although I haven’t come across many spoilers in the reviews of my novel, I’m not so bothered about them – maybe partly because published by a very small press I’m delighted to get any reviews at all!
    Before my novel came out I followed up the links at the back of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (the Booker-shortlisted novel that got lots of bloggers hot under the collar because the national press published a review with a spoiler) to some research on the impact of spoilers. It was quite a small study, and of short stories, rather than novels, but the results indicated that spoilers actually enhanced the readers’ enjoyment of the text:
    Yet, as with a lot of psychological research, we often prefer to go with our gut feeling. So, to avoid alienating my blog writers, I didn’t reveal the spoiler in my review of WACBO.
    PS. Looks as if I quoted you in that post – must have been pre-empting this one!

    • Claire says:

      Oh that’s really interesting. I like the part you’ve quoted from WACBO too, I think that explains it very well and I would have attributed the sae sentiment to Sugar and Snails. I’m sure that in most cases spoiled doesn’t mean ruined, but what I like about books with a ‘twist’ that is slowly unfurled is the moment of revelation you can offer the reader, and the way they can then go back for an enlightened second reading if they wish.

  2. tu says:

    Interesting post — I don’t always find that spoilers “spoil” a first read but as you say they certainly change it, and quite often ruin the first reread. Particularly with books that contain a twist or reveal, I love to read the book a second time (often immediately I’ve finished the first read) and feel the difference. That difference is the part that, for me, is often most diminished by a spoiler.

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