Opinions. Everybody Has 'Em.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Reviewers Behaving Badly - The New Edition

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Writers vs. Reviewers debate will never be resolved, but will simply rumble on and on, becoming an endless - and ultimately pointless - argument as both sides continue to refuse to either listen to each other or to see their own faults in the matter. So this is my final word on it. From now on I’m steering clear of all and any debates on the subject because they rarely are anything like grown-up, reasoned debates. But before I do that, I felt it necessary to re-jig and update this post because some of the points seem to have been lost on the folks on at least one side of this fence.

Some book bloggers behave badly. Some authors behave badly. Therefore, some bloggers and some authors are ass-clowns. But not all of either are ass-clowns.

Authors give free review copies in the expectation that they will receive a review. They have a right to expect this review to appear in a reasonably timely fashion, or to be informed by the blogger that there will be an extended waiting period. Or indeed no review at all. We all have offline lives. We all need 48hrs in every day to get shit done. Bloggers don’t have a monopoly on that, although given the way some of them carry on, they would seem to think that writers just click their fingers and little magical elves appear to write their books for them, giving the writers time to sit around and do bugger all but dream up ways to be nasty to those poor, overworked bloggers. If your offline life is overtaking your online commitments, you should at least put a message on your blog/website to this effect.

A simple “ Events in my offline life have necessarily taken precedence over reviews for the moment. My apologies to anyone who is still waiting for a review then. I will resume reading and reviewing as soon as possible and I would sincerely appreciate your understanding and patience on this matter. Thank you” would suffice.

And if you ultimately find that you don’t want to review a book? Let the author know this. You don’t have to tell them the whole truth, i.e. that you thought their book sucked donkey balls, you can tell them a white lie. But just know that leaving them without either a review or an explanation it isn’t an acceptable I’m-taking-the-cosmic-high-ground-here way to do things. It’s fucking cowardly. You want to be “nice” to everybody and give everyone “positive” reviews and get all itchy-scratchy when you can’t do that? Oh boo hoo. Pull on your big-kid panties and deal with it, or fuck off out of the kitchen if the heat is breaking you out in hives. Sure, you will continue to get authors who freak out at you. There are, and always will be nut jobs in this world. Again, either put on your big-kid panties, or get out.

As for authors, if the blogger you intend to approach has guidelines, read the fucking things and abide by them. If you get a bad review, well, you can just put on your big-kid panties and deal with that, or don’t seek reviews at all. But don’t start an online war with the reviewer over a bad review. And don't let your well-meaning but misguided fans / regular readers start a war on your behalf either. It just never ends well for anyone. Of course, neither should authors feel afraid to make a polite approach to bloggers or reviewers who have not lived up to an agreement and it's a shame that their whining has made many of us just so afraid to speak up, not even when we get royally screwed.

Personally, I’m sick of seeing book bloggers in online writing groups moan about how all authors are evil and all treat them like shit, and I’m even more heartily disgusted by seeing authors leap to agree with this, flagellating themselves for being horrible people, and kissing the asses of these whingers until they are shiny enough to see their faces in. And I hate seeing authors go off the deep-end and start online wars with individual bloggers. However, authors and publishers do have a right of expectation when they send out books for review. It’s not enough to send out hundreds of free review copies in the mere hope of scoring a couple of reviews from that, and then just shrug off the non-responses. It costs money to send out books and promo materials, often the author's own money. If I want to give my books away free, I’ll do it on my terms. As part of KDP Select, or a giveaway within a blog or magazine that I’ve chosen to deal with. Otherwise, I’m making an agreement with a reviewer and I don’t care if it is “some kind of gentleperson’s agreement” as one author put it, it’s still a fucking agreement. What are we if we allow ourselves to become people who don’t honor their agreements? Maybe our governments and industry leaders are guilty of not honoring their agreements, but do we not shake our heads in disgust at this behavior and use our vote to oust these dishonorable types from positions of power?

And yet, we shrug and mumble about how it is okay to dishonor our own agreements. Bullshit it is. An agreement is still an agreement, doesn’t matter if it’s written in blood, or merely on a handshake or your word alone. Bloggers, if you even have the slightest inclination that you are not going to be able to fulfill that review agreement, let the fucking author know! Because given all the bad publicity we get, many of us are actually reluctant to make even the politest of inquiries to even the most super-tardy of reviewers...you know, just in case our "Excuse me, I understand that you are busy [ well, so the fuck am I ] and have many things to do [ditto ] but I was just wondering...that review we agreed upon six months / one year / a fucking lifetime ago...has there been a problem with it? It's fine if there is, I would just like to know so that I can move on and not keep wondering whether you have A. changed your mind B. forgotten in the rush of daily life or C. are just a greedy little shit who likes to gather up as many free books as you can with scant intention of ever reviewing more than a couple of them in your entire 'career'...but really, no harm done, just wondering!"

Both sides have their bad points. Both sides have their good points. But instead of seeing things from both sides and having a reasoned discussion about it, people merely want everyone else to agree with them. “ You’re so right that bloggers are bad/authors are bad/whoever you want me to say is bad…I agree one hundred percent with every word you uttered!” and to pat them the back with a “ There, there, there, you poor soul, you’re so hard done by and so perfectly saintly to put up with it!” And if they don’t get this? If - gasp! shock! - a post results in an actual discussion? Well, they simply putt their lip, grab their ball and march off the playing field in a huff, deleting the whole post on the way. Oh, grow up. The last man on this earth who was allegedly perfect was nailed to a fucking cross for it. But don’t worry - none of us mere mortals are in any such danger because none of us are perfect, nor blameless, nor saints. The best we can do is try to see each other’s points of view, have reasoned discussions about our differences and grievances, and do our level bests whenever we humanly can to act in ways that are honorable.

Or maybe one possible solution is that bloggers should start charging for reviews? Entering money to the equation creates an actual contract between people. The author or publisher then would be buying the blogger's time ( not buying the review ) and the blogger would be obligated to either deliver a review in timely fashion, or to refund the money, as with any contract. The author would be contracting their willingness to accept whatever kind of review they got - good, bad or indifferent - without recourse to complaint...unless the reviewer very obviously did not read the book and wrote a factually inaccurate review, or failed to provide the agreed-upon review within a timely fashion ( I'd put that at six months, personally ). Pretty soon the reviewers who are just in it for free books, or who disappear without explanation, or who are just plain lazy and distracted ( of course, being lazy and distracted is fine, just don't do it on someone else's time ) will stop getting custom, thus allowing the responsible bloggers to rise. 

...and waiting now for the howls of protest about "paid-for reviews" because people haven't properly read the above paragraph...

Too bad then that most people will continue to simply cherry-pick the parts of posts like these that suit their own view and disregard the rest; and so the whole debate will rage on ad infinitum complete with its frequent tendency to degenerate into schoolyard name-calling and capital-letter threats of everything from litigation to dismemberment. Well, what the hell. I'm tired of looking at both sides of this fence. Actually, I'm tired of the whole fence - let it fall down and rot. Personally, I won't be volunteering any more books for review, not without a cast-iron agreement either as part of an pre-arranged blog tour, or whatever. If my publisher wants to give out free copies for review, then fine, that's at their time and expense. But either way I won't be sweating this any longer. Now, I'm off to have a drink in that great spirit of "Write drunk, edit sober!"

"Cheers to no more reviewer tears!"

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Belgian Waffling...Or...Exploring The Annals Of My Accident-Prone Life

It’s all been getting a bit serious up in here lately, so to lighten the mood let’s have another rummage through the ruins of my accident-prone life…

This weekend I had a telephone conversation with my mother during which Mum was on a bluebottle safari. Apparently said bluebottle had the brazen cheek to follow her Home Help into the house and Mum hates bluebottles with a passion approaching the psychotic ( I must confess that I share this dislike of bluebottles with her - they are nasty, dirty, buzzy creatures which need to die immediately ), so that our conversation was peppered with the intermittent thwack-thwack-thwack of a rolled-up newspaper hitting walls, windows, lampshades etc. Anyway, it reminded me of the first time my parents took me abroad on holiday…

I was around 13 yrs-old, and we decided to take a coach tour which encompassed France, Holland, and Belgium - because my parents thought I’d enjoy these countries ( which I did ) and because the tour was based in Ostend where my parents spent part of their honeymoon and they thought I might find this sweet and nice ( which I didn't ). Two rooms had been booked for us by the tour company, a twin for my parents and a single for me. I was excited to have a room of my own.

Except as soon as we arrived that went out the window. Almost literally.

Our luggage had been deposited in the twin room, so we entered there first, to find a half dozen bluebottles buzzing in circles around the ceiling light. Dad and I left Mum wearing a grim expression, clutching a rolled-up Daily Express newspaper, and muttering “ Right. Come here, you dirty little bastards!” as she chased the offending insects around the room, and we fetched my luggage to what was meant to be my room.

There is no delicate way to put this so I’ll just say it…the tour company had booked a hotel smack in the middle of Ostend’s red-light district. And my room looked directly across a very narrow street into one of its licensed houses of ill-repute. Dad and I walked into the room to be greeted, via the wide open window, by the sight of a very buxom and somewhat under-attired lady of the night ( and the daytime too, it seemed ) leaning out of a window in the building opposite. She spotted Dad and his expression of I’m-horrified-but-fascinated-at-once-by-this-cultural-difference and gave him a big smile and a little finger wave, and he promptly whisked the curtains closed, turned to me and announced that I’d be sharing the twin room with my mother. No arguments ( bless him for being an overprotective father, he wasn’t quite so horrified by the thought of me seeing naked ladies as he was by their clients seeing me - and any other motive on his part I refuse to think about ).

Later, after dinner, enjoying a drink in the hotel bar, I realized I need something from the room, so off I went. Of course I got off the fucking elevator at the wrong floor and wandered down the wrong corridor…why would I not? This was also the first time I’d ever come across lights that were on a timer - you hit the switch at the start of the corridor and the light came on for a set time before going out again, necessitating that you hit the switch at the other end. All very energy-saving and noble except that I don’t think this particular hotel was thinking about being eco-friendly so much as they were struggling to pay the utilities bill. Anyway, there I was wandering down this corridor - identical to every other bloody corridor in a hotel that generally had about as much decorative feature as one of those slabs of fucking concrete in the old USSR - unable to figure out where the damned room was, and poof! out went the lights. Since the corridor was an internal one ( meaning it had no fucking windows ) I was plunged into pitch darkness and my nerves have never been exactly solid in darkness…

…five seconds later I burst out of that corridor, shrieking in panic, having dropped my room key ( of course ), and ran into a very startled French couple exiting the elevator, who tried their best in their limited English and my even more limited French to comfort me, help me find my room key, and guide me toward the right floor. By this time I was wondering what kind of weird, masochistic peoples were these bloody Belgians?

But it could still get worse. Surprise, eh?

Just before going to sleep that night, I decided it might be a good idea to mess with the radio alarm clock. I have no idea why I thought it would be a good idea to do this since my jinx with all things electrical was already in full-swing by that age. Maybe it was the Continental air or something - who knows, and who gives a rat’s ass? I tinkered with a radio alarm clock that was all written in fucking Flemish and the result was…well, it was BAD.

I panicked when I realized that I didn’t know shit about the language I was tinkering with, so I did the only sensible thing I could think of - I switched the radio alarm clock off. Honestly, all the wee LED numbers went dark, and I was pretty sure I’d switched it off completely. And so Mum and me settled down to sleep.

About an hour later we were awoken by the most unearthly screeching sound emanating from the radio alarm clock that I’d been so sure I switched off. And I mean this was a screech. This was like no normal alarm I’ve ever heard before or since. Maybe Flemish people are hard to wake in the mornings? Anyway, the LED lights were on and flashing, too, like some kind of emergency fucking Bat signal. Mum leapt up out of bed, covers all going everywhere, eyes like saucers, and she yowled “ What is it? What’s happening? What’s that bloody racket all about?” whilst I was frantically trying to trace the cord to the electrical outlet behind the bed and yank the damned thing out of the wall. I tried to reassure my panicked, half-awake mother that the hotel wasn’t really on fire, it was just some fuckwitted Flemish design of a radio alarm clock ( yeah, absolutely nothing to do with me, the Queen of Electrical Jinx, tinkering with something written in a language I had zero understanding of )...by the time I got the instrument to just shut the hell up with its unearthly screeching, Mum was looking at it like she was wondering whether she might be able to find a Belgian priest amenable to exorcising electrical equipment on short notice. I thought it prudent to deposit the offending item in a drawer, first wrapping the cord firmly around it for what purpose I’m not sure…and there it remained for the duration of our stay. Dad became our morning wake-up call. And yes, he laughed himself silly over the whole incident, and yes, he offered to “fix” the radio alarm clock…an offer which was greeted by a chorus of “ No! It’s fine! Really! Don’t touch it please!”

I’m happy to say that the rest of this holiday went relatively smoothly…well, unless you count the ‘beer incident’ in Brussels, and maybe UK HM Customs & Excise suspecting us of smuggling drugs ( that was their fucking problem, not ours ), and there was that thing with me nearly falling out of the window in the hotel room and don’t even ask me why I partially-flooded the bathroom…faucets in Belgium are different from those in Britain, okay!?!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Authors, Five Steps To Healthy Relationships With Your Reviewers!

It’s undeniable that some authors act like egomaniacal chimps when it comes to sending their precious tomes out for review, and equally that some reviewers act badly. Here’s my five cents worth of hints to authors for enjoying a healthy, respectful relationship with book reviewers:

1. Read the Submissions Guidelines. Please. There is a reason I made this No.1 on the list. It drives reviewers crazy when authors don’t read the damn guidelines. Pay attention to which genres the reviewer wants. If they only review YA and romance, they are not going to read your zombie hippos vs. vampire giraffes horror novel. It doesn’t matter if you think that you are a modern-day Poe with a Kingesque twist and that your novel is the most innovative offering ever to have been birthed from the imagination of a scribbler…if it’s not on the list, it ain’t getting in. If you write in cross-genres and you are uncertain whether your fits the criteria, a short polite email inquiry will serve better than ‘just taking the chance’. If a reviewer doesn’t reply within a reasonable time, take that as a sign of disinterest and move on. Oh, and if the guidelines say SUBMISSIONS CLOSED and yet still you send your book winging their way, laboring under the illusion that they shall make an exception just for you, then you are an egomaniac. And an idiot.

2. Don’t hassle the reviewer once they accept your book. If they have been gracious enough to state that they are backlogged by reviews ( granted, not all reviewers are at all gracious in this respect ) and reviewing your book will take 6-8 weeks, there is no point contacting them before then. Give it 10-12 weeks and if still there is no sign of a review, make a polite email inquiry on how the current situation stands ( note how the word polite is emphasized ). If they haven’t mentioned anything about backlogging, you might want to wait for about 6-8 weeks before querying them. If they don’t reply within a reasonable time, take it as a sign of disinterest and move on. It’s annoying to think that someone has gotten a free copy of your book without upholding their end of the bargain to provide a review in exchange for it, but yes, Virginia, there are greedy little people in this world who want the free stuff but who don’t want to fulfill the obligation attached to it. Just note that blogger’s name and site in a little black book, never allow them to have a free copy again, and fuggedaboutit.

3. Always offer to provide a free copy for review. Some reviewers buy the books they review. They may do so out of personal preference, or because they feel less obligated to produce a good review if the book is purchased, or even because they understand that every book sold will help a writer to stave off starvation in their little garret. Regardless, you need to offer the book free to reviewers. Again, there may be a certain number who fail to, or never had any intention of fulfilling their end of the bargain, but…see above, Virginia.

4. If you are given a good review ( and why wouldn’t you? Your book is the greatest thing since sliced bread, is it not? ) thank the reviewer for it. Do it on their blog Comments section, an online book group that you share, your own website or Facebook page…just do it somewhere. It’s polite. If you get a bad review ( and why would you? Your book is blah blah blah ) but it’s a fair bad review, please resist any urge to start a battle with the reviewer over it. If it’s evident that the reviewer has not read a single word of your book and yet produced a wildly inaccurate and stinkingly unfair bad review, well, use your own judgment on how to proceed with that. But whatever you do, don’t become a troll. Leave that to those sad little want-wits who haunt the Amazon Forums.

5. Instead of only seeking reviews, try getting a bit creative in how you get your name out there. Find blogs that deal with subjects relevant to your writing i.e. if you write Dan Brown-style adventures, seek out conspiracy-theory blogs, find out if they accept guest posts, and if they do, write one for them. Do I even need to say don’t make your post a blatant advertisement for your book? As a guest blogger you should get a credit at the end of your piece anyway i.e. “Thaddeus Titus Rumpelmeyer is the author of the hilarious and touching murder-romance ‘Honey Badger and The Big Bad’ available from market stalls in the seedier parts of London”. Or join some of those social networking sites where they give you the chance to write blogs which members can read ( or anyone who visits the site if you make the blog public ) and start writing blogs there. Again, do not write blatant puff pieces for your own damn book. People won’t read those. Seriously. They won’t. Try to be relevant instead. Or funny. Both even, if you can manage it.

Anyway, all of this isn’t to say that I blame authors entirely for the miscommunication and occasional ill-feeling arises between them and reviewers. On the contrary, I hold reviewers just as responsible for their part in the miscommunication and ill-feeling ( please read below to get both sides of the story ). But if we all just bore our p's and q's in mind a little more often, kept to our promises, and stopped acting like egomaniacal chimps on a rampage, we might succeed in getting along to a greater degree...
Okay, that might be taking the idea of
'getting along' a little too far.

And because, sadly, book reviewers are indeed not always lily-white in this issue either, here's another of my five cents worth of advice to them on how to keep their end of bargains made and treat their writers right!

1. If you accept free copies of a book on the specific agreement that you will write a review in return for it, you take on an obligation to actually write the review. Yes. You do. Authors do actually work hard to bring their books out. If they are indie authors they may well have spent their own money on things like cover design, formatting, marketing etc. So although it may seem like a harmless, victimless thing to do - take a free review copy and not give it a review - you are essentially stealing that author's labor and, more to the point, the revenue right out of their mouth. The publisher's, too. At the very least it isn't fair play. If a free book is offered in one of those "cattle calls" for reviews that publishers often launch on sites such as Goodreads, but it isn’t to your taste or isn’t in a genre that you prefer to review, please don’t waste everyone’s time - not to mention the author’s potential revenue - by accepting the copy just because it's free. Better to pass and let that copy go to someone who is likely to review it. 

2. Please, please don't be one of those horrible reviewers who doesn't actually read the books they review! Remember how wild it makes you when authors don't read your Submissions Guidelines? Well, nothing makes an author wilder than to see a review written by someone who patently did not read the damn book. If you find that you just can't get through the book, better to tell the author/publisher that and decline to review it at all. No review is better than one which is full of glaring factual inaccuracies.

3. If you are “backlogged” with reviews, please tell this to the author/publisher when you accept the copy. Tell them that there will be a wait to see their review in print ( so to speak ). Try to give them some idea of a timespan in which you expect to be able to get to their review. By all means overestimate the time it may take you to get to it. This will let an author know that you aren’t just ignoring their review but will get around it, and it may help to prevent you , dear reviewer, from having at least some of those flaky authors pestering you by email about when their precious review is coming.

4. If you are backlogged by reviews that doesn’t mean you can “forget” entirely to review a book and then, as time goes by, shrug it off and think, oh well they must have plenty of other reviews by now, they won’t need mine. Your obligation remains. Yes. It does. And FYI? If you're claiming to be backlogged by review work, it might be an idea not to be futzing around on Facebook posting pics of your pets, your five-years-ago civil partnership ceremony, or Aunt Mamie's 80th birthday party. If you can find the time to futz around on Facebook, then you've got time to be fulfilling your obligation to review those free books you were eager enough to snatch up.

5. Finally, don’t be too surprised if you don't get away forever with taking books for free without delivering on your part of the deal. Authors have as much right to complain about reviewers who are acting badly as reviewers have to complain about ill-behaved authors. And if enough authors complain about reviewers who deliberately don’t do as promised without explanation, eventually all the authors and publishers will stop handing out free copies to those particular reviewers. Sadly, it can result in authors - indies in particular - becoming unwilling to give away free review copies. And that's a shame for all.

Like so many things in this life, complaining cuts both ways. Authors, too, are often expected to put up with bad behavior from people: agents, publishers, reviewers, Amazon. And if they dare to complain about bad treatment, they're often accused of whining. But why should authors, any more than reviewers or anyone else who puts their time and effort into producing something, meekly accept less than fair play? Drawing attention to the bad reviewers will hopefully result in their sinking to the bottom where they belong, and allowing the good reviewers to rise to the top. And give authors one less excuse for berating reviewers in general!

Again, I say we can respect and treat each other fairly - but we can only achieve this if each side is willing to recognize its own flaws as well as those of the other side, and to work together to make right what has been wrong. Hence the combining of these posts - you can't read the arguments of one side without reading those of the other side, or the whole issue just remains unbalanced.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Get Your Knockers Signed By Me!

Got your attention, have I? Uh huh. Well, read on. You just might find mention of knockers again...

But first, look up the Urban Dictionary definition for the term ‘magic toaster’ and you will find this which describes me so perfectly that it might well have been coined with me in mind.

Hi. My name is Devon Marshall and I’m a raving technophobe.

My relationship with technology - with all things which depend upon electricity to operate - is more often than not shaky at best. Which was why I took myself by such surprise almost two years ago when I sent a manuscript to an electronic publisher. Me! Submitting to a purveyor of those e-booky thingies! It was a wonder that the world did not promptly fall off its axis.

Now I have a website ( okay, a few websites ), a blog, a Facebook and a Twitter. I’m on a bunch of other social media sites too, but time and space are still finite so I won’t list all of those. I have 3 books ( okay, 2 ½ because one of ‘em is a novella ) in e-print and I’m working on converting one of those to print through Lulu. I have business cards with QR codes and I’m working on other promo materials with the same. And I joined Kindlegraph so that I can put my precious electronic signature stamp to your copy of my e-book ( do we still call it a ‘copy’ when it’s an e-book? I don’t know that much about this electro-techno world yet ). I am, to say the least, well chuffed with myself for these small accomplishments.

However, I continue to have - shall we say - difficulties with technology and because of this I thank God everyday for booze and that no one has ever been stupid enough to call for Prohibition again. And I continue to treat these difficulties with the same short-tempered, intolerant, hand-wringing and eye-rolling attitude of why-do-I-bother-because-technology-and-the-world-hates-me? that I have always done. Because technology continues to frighten the bejeezusmaryandsweetjoseph out of me, quite frankly. Just because I finally purchased a Kindle doesn’t mean that I won’t break the fucking thing within a week. It won’t change the fact that I can’t wear a digital watch at all, or keep a vacuum cleaner for longer than it takes the sonofabitch to overheat, go on fire, and blow half the lights out in my house. Nor will it prevent me from setting the VCR all wrong and recording a field of TV snow instead of the latest episode of Rizzoli & Isles. Yes, I do still cling to my VCR, despite the fact it’s almost an antique, and no, I still haven’t figured out how to set the fucker to record properly even after 100 years.

But know this…

If a technophobe like me - who still minces around a new portable DVD player eyeing it with the same fear and suspicion that the first caveman probably eyed fire when he accidentally created it - can build herself blogs and websites and put QR codes to be read by mobile phone apps onto bits of card ( despite not having the faintest bloody notion of how any of these ‘magic toasters’ actually work ), then take heart each and all, because anyone can do it. Seriously. Anyone.

Oh, and if you want your e-booky thingy Kindlegraphed by moi, please do the necessary - which I think might involve clicking on that logo whatzit in the sidebar here. Or something. Anyway, I’ll be glad to put a wildly inappropriate message on your Kindle for you alongside my electronic paw-mark.

And because I promised you knockers...
So there ya go. Knockers. You shallow lot.

NB. Or if you are a good-looking woman with a nice pair of knockers, I’d be just as happy to come along in person and sign my moniker under a wildly inappropriate message on those! ;-) Just sayin’.