The Inside Scoop on Book Blogs and Reviewers (Part One)

Submitting a request to a book blogger can sometimes feel like shouting into the void. To understand why you might not be getting replies, or why those replies are not as enthusiastic as you’d expect, I drafted a list of questions and enlisted several reviewers to enlighten us.

My first interview is with Sadie Forsythe. She runs an amazing blog @ http://sadieforsythe.com/wp/ and was kind enough to spare the time to answer my questions. I hope you appreciate her participation as much as I do!

(Short disclaimer: This blogger is also an author. You all probably know how I feel about author interviews, but rest assured this is not one of them. Sadie is an established blogger with over six hundred reviews to her credit – reviews she’s written on other people’s books. Throughout this interview, I was impressed by her insight and advice, and truly felt she had a lot to offer both writers and readers.)

Now let’s get to it, shall we?

________________

1. Why do you review?

I have always been a reader, but I didn’t understand the importance of reviews until I published a book. Of course, until I published a book I also didn’t know that there was a whole thriving indie market hidden behind the glossy traditional paperbacks I was used to. This was a truly eye-opening experience for me, one that has changed my reading habits for life.

Once I understood the importance of a review to indie & self-published authors, I vowed to read more such books and review them all. This was initially decided as a way to help out other authors and contribute to the community as a whole. It became so much more, however. It became something I do for me, because I enjoy it, because I learn from it, because I use it as a touchstone of the market around me, because it grants me entrance to a community of readers who find the experience as gratifying and important as I do. Honestly, nowadays, I do it because I can’t imagine not doing it. It feels wrong to finish a book and not sit down and distil my thoughts on paper (or, well, on screen).

2.  Why indies?

It’s interesting. My journey to Indie-reader was both abrupt and arduous. Like I said, I suddenly one day discovered that there were a lot of books on the market, heck a whole market of books, that I hadn’t earlier known existed. And I threw myself in headfirst. (The seemingly limitless free books might have had a little to do with it too.) But over time, the more Indies I read, the less forgiving I became of the utter sameness of the traditionally published books I was also reading. Once I had encountered true variety, instead of the illusion of variety that had previously been available to me, I suddenly saw the formula so many traditionally published books used as painfully obvious. Eventually I found them less and less appealing and read fewer and fewer of them.

http://tonyriches.blogspot.com/2012/07/guest-post-by-sadie-forsythe.html?spref=tw

3. What is the primary reason you might not finish a book?

I very, very rarely don’t finish a book. They haunt me. Just about the only reasons I’ll toss a book on the DNF pile is if it’s obviously not been edited, the dialogue is too stiff to pass for believable (this is just a particularly off putting thing for me, personally) or there is an extremely childish, adult heroine who makes me want to chew through my own fingers to get them to drop it. I’m a pretty vocal feminist and I’m not interested in anything marketed to me, a woman, that perpetuates the myth that women are little better than tall children in need of protection, control and instruction from a godlike man.

4. Have you experienced any backlash from authors after posting a negative review?

Yes, but honestly very little, though it’s infuriating every single time. I’ve also received some classy, if obviously disappointed, responses from authors after a negative review. I think Indie authors, as a whole, are learning to hold their tongue better and it’s becoming less and less common.

What I’m seeing just as much of now is an overcorrection in the reviewing community. As reviewers who have found themselves under attack have become increasingly adamant that they be able to review in any manner they like, without fear of retribution (obviously), a certain cadre have become almost militant about vocalizing and enforcing this idea. To the point that I see the creation and polarization of the camps developing, leaving no room for middle ground or comfortable communication between authors and reviewers in a lot of cases. This can only hurt the writer/reader/reviewer community in the long run.

5. How do you prefer to be approached?

By email…only by email, at the email address I provide (unless I somehow meet you in person). Don’t tweet me. Don’t comment on the review of another book on the blog or on my bio page. Don’t Facebook me or contact me on Goodreads. The address I prefer to be contacted at is buried in my policies for a reason. I want the author to have to have read the policies to find it and if they can’t do that little bit, then they probably don’t deserve my attention in return.

6. What turns you off a review request?

  • Requests that tell me how much I’ll love the book. You, the author, don’t know that.
  • Blurbs that are just indirect praise for the book.
  • Amateurish or overly CG covers.
  • Authors who don’t give me the information I want or the book in a format I request (or don’t send me a copy of the book).

7. Biggest mistake writers make in soliciting reviews?

This:

“Good afternoon,

 I saw your contact on book tweeting service, can you send me more informations about book reviews? Where will you post your review? your blog, amazon, goodreads, Facebook?

this is my new book…

Thank you very much

Looking forward to hear from you

Best Regards”

Yes, that was a real request.

Accepting a review request is doing an author a favour. Reading that book is a second favour and writing a review is a third one. (And that’s before one even gets into what it takes to keep track of and organize all the books in order to provide that review.) There is no reason an author should do anything that creates more work for the reviewer.

Similarly, an ebook (which is all that I accept) costs the author almost nothing to send, if anything at all. It has no monetary value to a reviewer. None. In fact, it’s something that the reviewer has to keep track of, not lose, use and then essentially dispose of. It’s not like we can lend them to a friend when we’re done.

Any author who contacts me with the attitude that they are generously giving me something and thus I’m obligated to return the favor, infuriates me. It’s not the obligation so much as the dismissal of all that being willing to review an unsolicited book entails. I feel like it perverts the power structure of the reviewer/requester relationship and overlooks my goodwill and effort.

8. What pet peeves do you have regarding author behavior?

Arrogance. I try not to get involved in any of the author behaving badly debates. Most of them are just silly, anyway. But there is one particular argument that I see a lot and it irritates me. This is the, “unless you’ve written a book you have no write to judge my work” argument. It comes in a lot of forms. Here’s one I had thrown at me earlier this year, “I personally think that to post a review like this you must also post an example of your own work for critique.”

It was on a 1,000-word review, which personally I would consider an example of my writing. But more to the point it assumes that no reviewer is ever just a reader, that all reviewers must, in order to qualify to write a review, be not only a writer but implies that they must be demonstrably a better writer than the author in question. It insults readers in general and review writing authors specifically. I immediately mark any author off my TBR list that I find saying this sort of thing. (Though to be fair, in this instance it was the book’s cover designer, not the author, who hit me with the above comment on Amazon.)

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1X4M7ORDPS5KN/ref=cm_cr_rev_detmd_pl?ie=UTF8&asin=B00AQPJG0Y&cdForum=Fx7ZP8WHE3JULK&cdMsgID=Mx1YM462XGM4Q6L&cdMsgNo=4&cdPage=1&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx2I9MFEXMU4A5W&store=digital-text – Mx1YM462XGM4Q6L

9. What was your favorite review request, and why?

Honestly, as nice as all the flattery is that usually comes with a request (I love your blog, I enjoy your informative reviews, etc), I prefer a bare bones email. Just a basic, “I’m requesting a review of this book, here is all the information and a copy, thank you, goodbye.” Given the sparseness of that type of communication, I can’t pick a single one out…or rather I could pick ten, with little difference between them.

10. What have you learned from your blogging/reviewing experience?

A lot. I have one book out. It took me years to write and it will likely be years before I publish another one. But I read and review a couple hundred books a year. I’m embarrassed to say that I was not a good review requester before I started accepting reviews myself. I didn’t understand what the other end of the review queue looks like. I know I broke almost every one of my own rules at least once before I knew they existed.

When it comes time for me to step across the line and send requests again, I’ll be more organized about it (lists are your friend). I’ll pay more attention to what bloggers want. I’ll put a lot more time into reading their reviews before I ask them for one, so that I understand what they ask for and what they don’t think to mention. (For example, reading the reviews of a proclaimed sci-fi reader could enable you to pick out that they love lasers and star ships but are apparently pretty lacklustre about technological dystopias. They probably won’t be that specific in their preferences section, but you can discover it. And if you have a technological dystopian novel maybe that’s not the best blogger for you.)

I’ll never assume that a blogger who says they’re not all that interested in X might make an exception for my book and send it anyway. I’ll never email to ask a blogger who only accepts physical books if they’d like a copy of my ebook. I’ll never send an ARC that isn’t clearly labelled as such, so they know if the grammar issues are pre-publication or worth mentioning. I’ll never email them 5 times with updated versions.

I’ll quadruple check I have all the information asked for, my links work, and I’ve spell checked everything before I hit send. I’ll ensure that my e-file is clearly labelled with the title of my book, not BlaBlaBla.azw. I’ll ensure they know if I have a time frame and I’ll let them know by when I’ll contact them again if a review hasn’t been published.

Now, I wasn’t guilty of all of the opposites of these, but I’ve seen them all. Many of these things I never would have even considered if I hadn’t started accepting review requests. Basically, I understand the whole process, start to finish, a lot better.

11. Do you have any general advice for indie authors?

Don’t rush to publish. If you can’t afford the editing service, save until you can. Publishing slots aren’t limited; no one will take yours if you don’t hurry.

  • Covers matter
  • I don’t need or want a story recap in the blurb, just enough (1-2 paragraphs at most) to tempt me to want more.
  • Read the polices before seeking a review. Let me say that again. Read the policies before seeking a review. If you want me to read your ~90,000 word book, you can read my 500 word policy page!
  • Don’t feed the trolls.
  • You should be accepting review requests too. You’ll be fanning your good karma, but you’ll learn a lot more than you ever could expect from it.

12. With reviews, on the whole, losing credibility, what advice do you have for readers who use these to gauge the quality of new authors?

Read more, read from the bottom up and discount anything that’s wholly praise or wholly disparagement. Personally, when I read reviews I start with the 1 and 2 stars. If I’m reading the reviews at all, I’m already interested in the book. I’m not looking to find out how wonderful the book is. I’m on the hunt for what the problems are.

Every book has them. I want to know if they’ll be issues for me. I don’t care if a book is extremely violent, so a one star review from someone who couldn’t handle the gore means nothing to me. I move on. A one star that says the main character is raped on page two and marries his/her attacker by chapter 10 is going to make me run for the hills, while it might not others. Take the time to read enough reviews to get a whole picture of not only the book, but who’s writing those reviews. It will likely make a world of difference in whether you find yourself agreeing with them or not.

Also, for me at least, one review from another trusted reviewer is worth ten from strangers. This is why I love sites like Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, etc. that allow you to follow each other. Spend some time finding people who share your views, outlooks, opinions and tastes. Even if you’re not interested in dialogue with these people, finding individuals whose opinion you can trust to be both honest and similar to your own will make picking books (and avoiding duds) so much easier.

13. Aside from review requests, how do you find new books?

Anyway I can! I peruse the free lists frequently. I’m active on Goodreads and often buy/borrow books on friends’ recommendations. I win them. I go to my local library. (The invention of the e-lending library is a personal favourite.) I have a used bookstore within walking distance of my home. I buy them at yard sales and Goodwill. I trade them with family and have even occasionally picked up the floating BookCrossing books. (I always squeal a little when I find one.)

14. Does price matter?

Yes, a lot. I refuse to pay more than 3ish dollars for an ebook. (It used to be more, but I’m trying to keep my book budget down.) I understand authors have to make a profit and I understand that just because there isn’t a physical production cost doesn’t mean there isn’t cost involved in publishing a book that needs to be recouped. Editing, cover design, ebook conversion, marketing, etc all have an out of pocket cost. But most Indie books I encounter are written by unknowns and I won’t risking loosing more than about 3 dollars on an unknown. Plus, being less expensive is part of what makes Indies appeal to me over traditionally published books.

Additionally, I really resent buying an ebook and not being allowed the single, measly lend. I have, more than once, passed on buying a book that was borderline on price but not lendable. It matters to me.

15. Do technical issues matter? If yes, how much?

It matters what kind of technical issues we’re talking about. If it’s just the occasional odd spacing or blank page, no not too much. I can still read the book, so I will. I might mention it in a review, but I’m not likely to make a big deal of it. But if the file is a PDF that opens on my Kindle in a 4pt font and I can’t enlarge it, I’m never reading that book.

It also matters how the book has been presented to me. If I know I’m reading an ARC and that there may still be small errors in it, then I’m comfortable assuming those technical issues will be corrected prior to release into the wild. I might mention it to the author in an email, but I’m unlikely to point it out in a review. If it’s a final copy, especially if I purchased it, I might give up and return the book to get my money back (if possible).

________

Great articles worth checking out:

Tips for submitting books to ereviewers: http://sadieforsythe.com/wp/?p=5449

How to piss off a book blogger: http://sadieforsythe.com/wp/?p=4595

________

Thank you, Sadie, for taking the time to share your thoughts with us!

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “The Inside Scoop on Book Blogs and Reviewers (Part One)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s