Opinions. Everybody Has 'Em.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog! Very blunt and very true ...