If you hang out in certain online forums or read particular blogs, you’ll be exposed to a lot of author horror stories. Some pertain to publishers, both large and small. Bad covers, no proofreading, or all kinds of financial shenanigans are a few I’ve heard. Just a few weeks ago Melissa Bowersock had a story about the publisher changing her title. Then there are the agent complaints (unresponsive, lack of follow-through, and wouldn’t negotiate for fear of upsetting the publisher are some examples). I sympathized, even though I’d never experienced these things. Or at least I hadn’t until Kat Brooks changed the title of this post. Her explanation was something like, “Come on Baby, sex sells. It’s just a title.” I’m embarrassed to even tell you what my original, not-at-all sexy title was.
But if I’m going to be completely truthful, there are times I sympathize … no, make that empathize, with agents and even publishers. Sometimes I Feel Like an Agent. Oh yeah, that was my original title. Not sexy at all. It’s a long story, but here goes.
It happened in the wake of a review going viral. The review submissions came pouring in. Before it registered what was happening, my inbox had more books than I could read in two or three years (and for those who don’t know, I read A LOT of books). The obvious first step to take care of the flood was to turn off the flow, so I closed to unsolicited submissions.
Within a few days I discovered a post on a writer’s forum. (I won’t mention which one, but the initials are AW.) The contention of the post was that I was “the new gatekeeper” and that if my review blog and others like it could close to submissions then this new-fangled indie thing was no better than the old way. My first thought was, “I ain’t no stinkin’ gatekeeper.” (My thoughts could really use a good editor.) His contention was easy to knock down. First, I’m sure it seemed to some people that I was the only review blog around. I suspect if I counted there were almost as many blog posts about the fiasco I’d just experienced than there have been on the Amazon/Hachette squabble, so that’s understandable. But I wasn’t. Not by a long shot. Plus, there’s the fact that nothing I did or didn’t do would prevent anyone’s book from being published. Nah, I’m not a gatekeeper.
I got some more reviewers to help me out, whittled away at the stack of books, and about a year later re-opened for submissions with a policy that was workable. Even if I got hit by another flood like the first, I had a way to handle it. But in the back of my mind was the seed that had been planted. Was I a gatekeeper? While I wasn’t looking, someone or something had fertilized that seed and it had grown. I started noticing things I did that were, at least if I’m to believe the horror stories I’ve heard from traditionally published authors, just like an agent. We’ll get to the true confessions about what those things are and why you as an indie author might care after a short tangent.
I’ve been interviewed by several author and writing related websites. Virtually every time I’m asked a variation on, “have you got any suggestions for how to get bloggers to review my book.” My answer is consistent because it is the only thing that will improve your odds with every reviewer. Follow the submission instructions.
Now it is time for true confessions. I’ll get the excuses out first. My submission policy is different than many book review sites which ask an author to query first and, if they’re interested, they’ll let you know to send the book. The short version of my policy is, “send the book and maybe we’ll review it.” With multiple reviewers and a high volume of reviews, I think this is actually more efficient for all concerned, but it still requires a non-trivial amount of time each week to check in new submissions and maintain the list of books available for review. So I do what I imagine the poor agent wading through the slush pile does. Look for reasons to exclude. In short, if they don’t follow the submission policy, I toss it in the virtual garbage. My justification is that in order to get the email address to send the submission, it required the author to ignore a clear message directing them to the submission instructions or (even more likely) disregard the entire set of submission instructions while searching for the email address. I’ve also found that responding to these with a “you didn’t get it right message” starts a conversation that wastes way more time than the time to send a single email. Time I should be using to read and review books.
Once I started thinking about this, it got worse. I realized the reviewer who checked out Amazon samples to find a book that clicked for him before asking me to assign that book to review, was doing the equivalent of reading the slush pile. I imagined him reading a paragraph or two and tossing it aside. At least in that case, there is a chance for another reviewer to give the book a chance. Then there’s the nickname one reviewer has for the submitted books database. But talking about that might be too much true confession.
Ahhh. Now I see what they mean about confession cleansing the soul. I feel much better, although I’m also not planning to change. Go ahead. Savage my post. But please, do it with love.
23 thoughts on “Love’s Savage Post: A Reviewer’s Confessions”
Al, your system sounds a lot like the system I used, back in my assignment editor days, for going through press releases. Hunh. I guess that made me a gatekeeper, too. 😉
(Nice cover, Melissa. 😀 )
Thanks, Lynne, altho I can take no credit for it!
Thanks for the comment, Lynne. Speaking of press releases, I got on some list (I didn’t ask, someone just added me) to get those and now I’m getting several additional emails a day to go into the not interested pile. :/
I think your method is only natural, Al. I received a review once from a site that made it clear in their submission policy if your synopsis didn’t look like 3-star material, your submission would be rejected for review. I had no problem with that. The only drawback was that I once heard someone say no one took reviews from that site seriously because they never gave “bad” reviews. I think if a site has that policy, it might be a good idea to make it known publicly so readers know why the site never gives 1 or 2 star reviews (protecting the integrity of the review site).
Thanks for the comment, Melinda. I know what you mean about reviewing books with low ratings. Even if you do review those rather than discard them once the writing is on the wall (what a lot of reviewers do) there are a lot of things that tend to week those out in advance. Plus, a lot of sites take the approach you mention of not reviewing those books at all. I’m torn, but generally fall on the side of the readers of the site need some examples of what you don’t like to gauge the others.
If that system makes you a gatekeeper then all of us who read are gatekeepers, and if we read with the goal or reviewing, even more so. We want to read what appeals to us – plain and simple. If a book doesn’t grab us upon reading the blurb or first few pages we don’t want to read it and are likely to throw it on our own proverbial slush pile. Nor does the label “reviewer” change compel you to read everything that comes across your desk. We don’t wear everything the clerk wants to sell to us. We don’t eat everything the server at the restaurant recommends. We are selective there as well. I see very little difference. I could take that comparison further to make it more sexy but …
No, being selective for what you want to read and review is not gatekeeping.
Thanks, Yvonne. You’re right. We’re all gatekeepers to some degree, even if just our own TBR pile.
I would never dream of knocking a reviewer. Firstly, I couldn’t do your job; Oh, I’ve reviewed one or two books along the way; in fact one time I did ten or twelve over the space of a couple of months but it was so time consuming and, quite honestly, kinda thankless. Your policies make perfect sense and well done for getting through the number you do; you deserve the reputation you have built up.
Nice post, Al, and keep up the good work.
Thanks for the comment, TD
Al, you have a tough job, my friend. Fun but tough. I’m not good at writing reviews because I realize how much goes into a book, and if I don’t care for an indie book I’ve read I don’t review it.
You have a well run site, and it is easy to follow your submission guidelines. I was recently on a site and no matter where I looked I couldn’t find the submission guidelines. I’ll visit the site again and look, but they shouldn’t be so difficult to find. Unless they have a TBR list exploding from their Kindle and it’s a delay tactic. 😉
How true, Lois. If I didn’t love reading, I wouldn’t do it. Thanks for the comment.
Al, it’s unfortunate that you get so many submissions that you and your team can’t review them all, because I’m sure there are a ton of new authors who could benefit from your appraisal, but of course you guys only have a finite amount of time. It’s interesting that you provide a service that’s clearly helpful to authors, yet your process is so similar to a publisher’s; you’re rather a middleman or hybrid. And therein lies your next post: Love’s Savage Hybrid. Thanks for all you do.
That’s it, Melissa. Everyone has a finite amount of time. With so many new books, I guess that means more review blogs are needed.
I remember that kerfuffle and also remember being bummed you were closed to submissions. But oh holy bajeezus I can’t imagine the amount of interest that kind of exposure created. You were perfectly entitled to stop accepting books. Lots of reviewers do this when they’re overwhelmed with submissions. With the quality of the reviews on your site, I would think writers expect a high bar.
And who knows why folks have a hard time following directions (pressed for time, thinking figuratively, special snowflake syndrome, whatev), but it sure makes it easier on the selection process. Several agents mentioned that as one of the top 5 reasons for rejecting a query.
Interestingly, I’ve noticed that indie publishing is normalizing — a settling back into a groove, so to speak, and many processes are beginning to resemble the old pubbing paradigm–but without the publisher/agent middleman (which is apparently normal after such a huge institutional disruption). Is this a good thing? Personally, I’d still rather have control over my work and being an indie is all that and more. But I do foresee it becoming harder and harder to make a living as an indie (it already is, but will become even more so) just as it became harder and harder to make it through the trad pub gatekeepers (according to several traditionally pubbed authors I know the golden age for traddies was in the 80s). Those with the $$ for a fantastic cover, top-notch editing, formatting, publicity, etc. will have (do have) a distinct advantage over those who don’t. Thankfully the indie community is a great resource for those starting out, so that avenue won’t look quite as bleak to the newbie.
I’m looking forward to the next disruption.
I agree, DV. I think when an old system is disrupted initially parts of it that are good or needed may be discarded, but then the good parts come back, often in a different form. Thanks for the comment.
I count it as a privilege when someone chooses to review my books, especially if they like them and explain why. Submission guidelines are part of the deal: the author is offering her or his book for consideration (not guaranteed review) on the terms laid out. If they’re not met by the person submitting the book, it doesn’t deserve to be read, let alone reviewed. That’s not being a gatekeeper, it’s sticking to the deal. Simple. 🙂
Excellent point, Ian. I like your description of it “keeping to the deal” much more than being a gatekeeper. Can I steal that as needed? 🙂
One man’s gatekeeper is another man’s valet.
LOL. Getting past the golden rope, Pete? Thanks for the comment.
Reviews are so subjective.
I don’t mind doing reviews if they are for the author to read and learn from. I hate the GoodReads/Amazon system where my personal reviews, used as a reminder to me about an author, are used to rate the author and so affect the sales.
PDR, I agree, reviews are always going to have a subjective element to them. Some are completely subjective and some a mix of subjective and objective, but there is always going to be some element of the readers tastes and expectations. The trick is to give enough detail so that a reader can tell whether it fits or doesn’t fit their taste.
Although an author learning from a review is a nice side effect, that’s not the reason reviews exist. They’re for readers. Ideally they’ll affect sales in that they’ll help readers find the book that is right for them. In that exercise there will be some winners and some losers. However, I also take exception to those who think a bad review will cause sales to decrease. Depending on the reason for the negative review, it might help and will certainly help attract the right readers and repel those who aren’t. I see that as generally a win for everyone.
-cough- Mine was one you rejected -cough- but I forgive you because the one, immutable truth in life is that you can’t make someone else like you, or your book, or your painting, or your music, or your whatever, especially when you only get a paragraph or two to make a good impression.
We all have an internal slush pile of one sort or another. I seriously dislike horror, and zombies. That bias kept me from reading an excellent dystopian, psychological, sci-fi horror story [with zombies] for a very long time. Now it’s one of my favourites because it was so well written and well balanced..
So hold your head high, Al. If you’re one of the hated gatekeepers then so are we all. 🙂
I don’t think I ever rejected a book of yours, AC. And I do like you. 🙂
Thanks for the comment. I think you’re right, we all have our own likes and dislikes. Since I started reviewing and even before when I started reading more indies, I started pushing my normal reading habits and have discovered many genres or at least subgenres I like. For example, I’ve always avoided science fiction, but have found some subgenres (dystopian for one) that I like a lot.
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