You’re Going to Write What? – Part 6

scribbling-152216_640This is an ongoing series about BigAl’s first experience writing a book. Join him as he flies by the seat of his pants and figures things out as he goes. For a more complete explanation about the book and this series of posts, you can read the series introduction here.

In the introductory post to this series I promised (maybe threatened?) that some of my posts might be a sample of the work-in-process. This post is going to carry out that threat. One chapter of the book (which is a how-to for people wanting to set up a book review blog) will cover establishing a submission policy, even if that policy is that they’ll find the books to review on their own, meaning without the help of friendly and eager indie authors. The meat of this particular chapter contains the elements of a good submission policy: things like if you are willing to accept books to review from authors, publishers, or others. It’s only a portion of the chapter, but the most critical part.

If someone is thinking of starting a review blog, I hope this is helpful. However, this series of blog posts is aimed at the newbie author who can hopefully learn from my struggles trying to write a book, as well as those more experienced authors who can feel nostalgic over when they were first starting out as they laugh at my blunders, fears, and doubts. This post is especially aimed at the latter group, whose opinions I’m soliciting. If you don’t mind, could you put on your critique hats and help me out? (Please keep in mind this is a FIRST draft.) I’ll let your read the excerpt now, and then, at the end, I have some questions. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test.

The Elements of a Good Submission Policy

The purpose of a submission policy is to inform interested parties (usually an author, publisher, or publicist) of the process to submit a book for review. This normally includes what books are appropriate for your site, and what they can expect to transpire after submission. It allows you to set the ground rules under which you operate and set expectations for all involved. A good submission policy will do this clearly and thoroughly.

As administrator of The IndieView, I’ve read hundreds of submission policies. Some fall way short, giving submitters little more than an email address and the equivalent of a note saying, “Call me sometime.” Others are well put together, but commit the blogger to much more than they can live up to if the number of submissions exceeds their expectation. In this section, I’ll discuss the things you should consider including in your submission policy and try to help steer you clear of potential problem areas.

Easy to Find

Your submission policy should be on a page, probably by itself (or at least at the top of a page with other information aimed at the same audience), with a link to the policy from your home page that is easy to find. If the link is on every page of your site, like on a menu bar, that’s even better. The page title should be clear and obvious, leaving no doubt as to where the link goes. “Submission Policy” or “Submission Guidelines” are both good. “Authors: Get Your Book Reviewed” couldn’t get much more clear. But a link that says “Book Reviews” could mean “come to this page to see how to get your book reviewed” or “come to this page to read book reviews.” I’ve seen it used both ways.

While it may seem that the easiest way to make a submission policy visible is to display it in a sidebar on all pages, if the text to explain your policy fits in a reasonably sized sidebar, it doesn’t contain the information that it should. You’re better off erring on the side of too much information than not enough.

What Kind of Books?

Give submitters enough information to determine if their books are a good fit for you and your site.

If you only review specific genres, say so. If you’re willing to review several, provide a list. If you’ll consider going outside that list, but absolutely not for certain genres, spell it out. If non-fiction is not an option or only specific kinds of non-fiction, give all the details.

How about Book Content?

If you specialize in books that fit under the umbrella of women’s fiction (romance, chick-lit, etc), but are not interested in books with explicit sex, let them know as clearly as you can where the line is drawn. If you aren’t interested in sweet romance and want to know the details of the hero and heroine getting down and dirty, you can say that as well. I’ve seen sites that have gone in both directions.

Are you sensitive to certain kinds of language? Say so. Other areas to consider are religion, politics, and any other instance where even a well-written book with a good story could cross your personal line. If there is no way you’re going to like a book due to content, you do yourself, the author, and potential readers a disservice by setting yourself up to unknowingly read and review it. This should minimize that risk to everyone’s benefit. (i.e. maybe you never want to read about an animal dying or pet abuse.)


How about book format? Will you accept eBooks, paper books, or both? If eBooks, are there specific formats you require? How do you feel about the PDF format which is okay to read on a computer (desktop, laptop, and some tablet computers), but may be problematic on an eReader? (Personally, I don’t like the PDF format because my eyes prefer a bigger than normal font and it is difficult to increase the size of a PDF file on an eReader without causing other readability issues.)

If you’re requesting paper books, you should keep in mind that the cost may be prohibitive (both of the book itself and shipping) so some publishers and authors won’t be willing to provide those. This becomes a bigger issue if the shipment would be international. At a minimum, you’ll want to ensure your submission process is such that by the time a paper book is sent to you for review, that you’re sure you want to read and review it and that you’ll be able to do so in a timely manner.

How to Submit

What’s the initial process to get a book considered for a review? At a high level this comes down to a choice of an open submission policy (assuming the book fits your other requirements) or a query first policy.

The majority of bloggers use the query first method and for most this is going to be the best way., With this method you have the author send you the pertinent details about a book, either using email or by filling out a form for this specific purpose on your blog. The information you request could be as little as the book’s title and author (possibly with a link to the book’s page at a retailer or on Goodreads so you can investigate further), or title, author, genre, description, publisher, release date, and any other specific details that you’d use to make a decision.

Last, if you use the query method, you’ll want to let the submitter know what to expect. Will you respond only if interested or will you let them know, even if you aren’t? How long, on average, will it take you to respond? If you are interested, what will the next step be? What happens after that next step? Even if you are interested and have them send you the book, are there situations where you might decide not to review it?

An open submission policy is inviting the submitter to send the book if they believe it falls within your parameters. I’d caution against this policy unless your blog fits certain criteria. First, it’s important that you run a high volume of reviews and have kept up this fast pace for a decent amount of time. Six months is good. A year or more is better. By high volume I mean three or four reviews a week if not more. This leads to the second condition which is that you’ll almost certainly need to be a multiple person operation. Keeping up that kind of pace, not only reading the book, but writing the reviews and taking care of the other operational details involved in running the blog, all by one person, might be achievable. But that’s if you have no other life, no day job, never take a vacation, and unforeseen emergencies never make a demand on your time.

There are a few reasons for my recommendation against the open submission policy for most sites. The main one is that you could become inundated with submissions, finding yourself buried in books overnight. Literally. Although odds are against it, having one of your reviews go viral, assuming it isn’t for a reason that reflects negatively on you, is almost certain to cause this. (And yes, it did happen to me.) Other reasons are that it allows you to limit expectations while you’re still getting your feet wet (would you rather have ten authors waiting on their books to be reviewed or hundreds?) and also minimizes the amount of administrative work required to track submissions.

It is also unfair to authors if you have an open submission policy and an overwhelming majority of the books aren’t ever going to be reviewed. As it currently stands with my site, we review in excess of 300 books a year with at least one post every day (sometimes a review, sometimes a guest post). There are six active reviewers. Some review a book or two a week, others one a month (the minimum I ask for). Yet we still are only able to review about one out of three or four books that are submitted to us. As you can imagine, tracking the submissions and who, if anyone, has asked to be assigned to review each book, is time consuming.

What Happens Next?

After you’ve received a book, what can an author expect? If the book was sent after a positive response to a query, do you read and review books in the order submitted? How long does it usually take for you to read and review the book once received? If for some reason you decide against reading the book or reviewing it, will the submitter be informed?

If your policy is open, that means you’ll receive more books than you’ll be able to review. Authors and other submitters will have the same questions under this submission method. Will you make a decision about reading the book soon after submission or is it possible you’ll come to that decision months or longer down the road? For example, on my site with multiple reviewers, I maintain a list of all books submitted. This list is accessible for each reviewer to look at and select books they’re interested in reviewing. If no one has chosen a book a year after submission, that book is dropped from the list. This means that a book could be reviewed within a week or two after it is submitted or, after allowing for time to read a book, write the review, and work the review into our publishing schedule, a book chosen just before it is due to drop from the list could still be reviewed thirteen or fourteen months after it was submitted.

If you publish a review, will the author be notified before, after, or not at all? Any information you can give the submitters without painting yourself into a corner will help set expectations and minimize status questions.

writing snark moustache cigar-362183_960_720Since I was planning on using this excerpt in a post, Kat was kind enough to give it an initial line edit. (Pretty sneaky of me, wasn’t it?) All the virtual red ink on the page drove home why most of us need editors. One thing I’d known in theory, but hadn’t experienced in such a dramatic fashion before, was how easy it was to read what you meant to say, not what was actually said. It also prompted some doubts and questions. (Is that normal or am I some kind of a freak?) I’m hoping some of you experienced scribes will weigh in with your thoughts and opinions on a couple things.

First, what’s missing? If you’re considering submitting one of your books to a review blog, are there things you need or want to know that I haven’t addressed here? For those that have been addressed, is what is needed and the reasons why explained well? Are there parts that were unclear? Would an example policy or two be useful or would  that be going too far? How about screen shots showing examples of a link to the submission policy page so the reader can picture what I mean about link placement? (I’m actually wondering about screen shots in general, but that’s one example in this section where I think one might be warranted.)

Second, I’m concerned about my writer’s voice. In real life, I tend to be a snarky smart … oops, I don’t think I can use that word at IU. (It’s a compound word implying that the part of your anatomy you sit on is intelligent, for those who can’t read between the lines. Yes, this is an example of that quality of mine.) Believe it or not, I tone this down for my IU posts. For the book, I think I’ve been toning it down even more. My justification is that the tone should be appropriate for the audience There’s also a trade-off between being entertaining and being professional. My concern is that in many sections of the WIP, I’ve gone too far in suppressing my snarkiness. In the excerpt, I can only see one place where I let a little snark creep in. (I’m referring to the second paragraph’s “Call me sometime,” in case it is too subtle to find.) So the question is, should I let my freak flag fly more to spice up what is sometimes dry reading, or am I right to tone it down for my audience? If I mention that I often question the reading comprehension of authors, have I gone too far?

I’ll be over in the corner quivering nervously, awaiting your thoughts. Would it make me a hypocrite to ask you to please be gentle? Yeah, I was afraid of that.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

25 thoughts on “You’re Going to Write What? – Part 6”

  1. Re: “So the question is, should I let my freak flag fly more to spice up what is sometimes dry reading, or am I right to tone it down for my audience? If I mention that I often question the reading comprehension of authors, have I gone too far?” –

    Judging by many of the Dummies series books, playful snark might take a reader further into your pages 🙂

    But then, I’m a person willing to work to let my “voice” come through. Harder than it’d sound to most people who know me 🙂

    Generally, I think playing the audience guessing game is too hard for me, so I opt to try to enjoy being creative and be expressive. Some folk don’t like the idiom or syntax or style of sentences and punctuation. But I realize that and choose to be as clear as possible yet as much of “me” as possible.

    And I find I tend to enjoy work from writers who feel the same way about their own voice. The authenticity carries more for me than dry information alone.

    Besides, if you hid your “voice” especially, too much, how’d we know it’s really you? (smiles)

    1. Thanks for the comment, Felipe. I’ve (possibly obviously) been pondering this question for quite a while. (This post was written a long time ago.) I’m waiting for reaction from others like you before I act, so I’m keeping my thoughts to myself for now. However, I wanted to say that the Dummies books you mentioned have entered into my thinking while wrestling with this.

  2. I would say you should not edit yourself. Leave it to your second draft, your beta readers, or your editors to decide if you’ve gone too far with it. Your unique voice is going to be what makes it interesting, so… Okay, I’m off my soapbox now. 🙂

    1. To clarify the term, “edit yourself.” I assume you don’t mean this in the usual editing sense (grammar, etc), but in the sense of manipulating your form of expression, usually to conform to perceived norms. You can edit yourself to complete blandness if you’re not careful, like a second-rate classical singer who has edited every note to point that her voice sounds exactly like every other singer’s voice, and hence she can never rise beyond the ranks.
      Being an anti-bland sort of person, I prefer to edit myself less, and count on others to catch me up as you suggest.
      Of course, on my IU posts I push it a bit, because I have an editor I can trust to keep me semi-normal 🙂

      1. You make an excellent point here, Gordon. Using the singer analogy was spot-on! Even I understood what you were saying. 🙂

  3. Speaking as the author of a snarky social commentary book, I suggest that, like all other aspects of your writing, you need to find a way to polish up (and maybe tone down) your snarkiness and leave it in. You may not realize it, but half of your snark is sarcastic and the other half is witty. You just have to figure out which is which. Do I need to tell you which to drop? (That’s an example of gentle snark, I think. It’s highly subjective.)
    But you are competing with so many other people writing similar books, all of which lean to the dry (and I don’t mean wit) side. A bit of entertainment helps the medicine go down.
    Another comment; the section on “How to Submit” is five long paragraphs long. It’s mostly about open submissions policy. Perhaps you could break it up somehow to keep our attention. Or drop in a few granules of snark to spice it up and keep us reading 🙂

  4. Oh, yes, please–snark away! While the information you’re providing is excellent and I’m sure there are plenty who will benefit from it, letting your personality show through makes it unique, funny and infinitely more interesting. We may not all enjoy learning about new things, but if that education is sprinkled with humor, it makes it all much more palatable. I have a feeling the finished book is going to be a great success, and a lot of fun. Write on, Al!

    1. Thanks, Melissa. Success is relative and my expectations are realistic. (That means actually releasing it will be a success in my mind. Selling the first copy will exceed expecations) 😀

  5. I am going to have to agree with what everyone else has said so far. You are going to have to be yourself BigAl. Although I had no problem reading what you have written here, I would have enjoyed more of your wit. I think letting beta readers suss out when you have overstepped that invisible boundary. You are going to use beta readers, right?

    Now, I am wondering if you will submit your book to Books and Pals for a review… Hmmmm, I don’t read much non-fiction normally. (Ha! I just used the word I and normal in the same sentence!)

    Also, I have no editing credentials but…Shouldn’t your be you? Here in the third paragraph. “I’ll let your read the excerpt now,…”

      1. Imagine if it had been a 50K book. (That’s more than eleventy-gazillion, right?)

        And ?wazi, of course I’ll have beta readers. I think one of them might be named ?wazi, but she doesn’t know yet. Don’t tell her. 😀

  6. Big tick, Al. 🙂 It reads well and covers all the points I could think of. As someone who understands things best when given examples, I’d vote for some examples as well, but really, everything you wrote makes sense.

    And now for the snark. Do it! Seriously. Ahem, or not. The bits where you are /explaining/ concepts can and should be snarky/funny. The best way to get a point across is to make people laugh. By contrast, the bits where you are, say, giving step-by-step instructions should be played straight. You do not want to distract your readers when they’re trying to follow instructions. 🙂

    Congratulations. This book looks as if it’s going to be good.

    1. Thanks, AC. That’s an interesting contrast. I find that snark can sneak in anywhere, but I suspect it is more rare (rarer?) when I’m giving detailed instructions like you say. Thinking about the Twitter tutorial I did a few months ago, it had a lot of snark, but the majority of it was in the introduction and explanation, not so much in the step by step stuff.

  7. Snark is good, especially since that’s reflective of your personality. Think of Janet Reid’s blog. Think of Chuck Wendig. People go back again and again to read their stuff because they impart great information, each in their unique, snarky way. It’s not the same snark. It’s *their* snark. You have your own Big Al snark, and that will be a tremendous attraction.

    I love what you’ve written so far. Needs a bit more snark. It’s like you’ve created a wonderful dish, just needs a bit more salt. Welcome to the world of angst. 🙂

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