Sébastien Bras or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Amazon Reviews
I recently read an article that – although two years old – really resonated with me. Titled “Acclaimed French chef asks to be stripped of three Michelin stars”, it detailed how, Sébastien Bras, one of France’s most celebrated chefs, asked for his restaurant to be removed from the famous food guide.
The article went on:
“Sébastien Bras, 46, who runs the acclaimed Le Suquet restaurant in Laguiole … said he wanted to be allowed to cook excellent food away from the frenzy of star ratings and the anxiety over Michelin’s anonymous food judges, who could arrive at his restaurant at any moment.
Le Suquet had been consistently described by the Michelin guide’s restaurant judges as so good it was ‘spellbinding’.
Bras, dressed in his chef’s whites, announced his decision in a Facebook video with the local landscape rolling out behind him, saying: ‘Today, at 46 years old, I want to give a new meaning to my life … and redefine what is essential.’
He said his job had given him a lot of satisfaction but there was also huge pressure that was inevitably linked to the three Michelin stars first given to the restaurant in 1999. He asked to be allowed to continue his work with a free spirit and in serenity away from the world of rankings, without tension.”
I couldn’t help but be struck while reading the piece at the similarities with authors and the constant need for good reviews and publicity. Everything nowadays is geared towards Amazon reviews and Goodreads reviews. And disclaimer: I’m as guilty of this as any other author. But sometimes, it can become all-consuming.
We become obsessed with getting reviews. The internet is filled with articles outlining ways to get your readers to leave a review of your book. Writer’s groups on Facebook are filled with posts from authors asking – sometimes in desperation – “How can I get more reviews for my novel?” Sites like Netgalley charge upwards of $400 to get those reviews.
Maybe it’s time we took a step back.
Of course, everybody wants good reviews and for their books to be liked. But maybe we should also remember why we started writing. Presumably for the same reason that Sébastien Bras started cooking – for the love of it. Not for Michelin stars or Amazon stars. We all write for different reasons, but I can pretty much guarantee you that none of those reasons started out with the words “Netgalley review”. And, I think, we – as writers – can sometimes lose sight of that in the race to get the all-important 5 stars on Amazon.
And yes, books are a business just like restaurants. But maybe it might be a good thing every now and again if we all took a step back and continued our work – in the words of the Monsieur Bras – “…with a free spirit and in serenity away from the world of rankings.”
Derek Flynn runs Writing.ie's SongBook blog, and is an Irish writer and musician. He has a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. He’s been published in a number of publications, including The Irish Times, and his fiction was featured in 'Surge', an anthology of new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press with the aim of showcasing “the very best of the next generation of Irish authors”. Online he can be found at his writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – and on Twitter as @derekf03