Monday, July 23, 2012

Can't Authors and Reviewers Just Get Along?

It’s quite possible that you’ve missed the entire brouhaha ricocheting through the internet these past couple of weeks among blogger/reviewers and authors.  If so, good for you but, since I’m going to add my little two cents, you might want to get a taste of what has been going on here and here.  Don’t forget to come back once you’ve scrolled through as much as you can take.

Okay, now you’re more or less up to speed on the opinions and perspectives of the various parties, you’ll have realized that the discussion has become a bit heated.  Creatives and critics have always had differences.  (Read about a famous one here).  It comes with the territory.  A writer, painter, composer, whatever, comes up with a marvelous idea and works hard to make it real.  They think their creation is the greatest thing since sliced bread but, when they put it before the public, somebody begs to differ.  That was okay back in the day when expressing an opinion required sitting down and writing a letter to the editor.  Only the very passionate would bother.

Nowadays, though, we have the internet where opinions on either side can flame through the online community in just hours, pulling hundreds of partisans into the fray.  Given all that, and given the fact that I’ve just released a book and have learned a few things about the experience of being reviewed I’d thought I’d share how things went with me and even offer some advice about how you might want to approach reviewers if a release is in your near future.

While Jessamine was still in the editing stage I started going through the Net looking for blogs that reviewed books with plots similar to Jessamine.  Jessamine is set on a Caribbean island and is told from the point of view of two very different women from two very different eras.  I considered it literary women’s historical fiction so I looked for reviewers who liked books in any one of those genres.  I avoided bloggers/reviewers who concentrated solely on YA, urban fiction, science fiction, etc.  Basically I Googled ‘women fiction reviews’ and also reviews of books I thought were similar to mine.  I came up with a list of about fifty or so reviewers.

Every time I found a reviewer who looked likely I spent time on their blog.  Most reviewers have a Review Policy tab at the top of their page (some put it under their Contact information) and I made sure to read what they’d written carefully.  If they were closed to submissions or if they didn’t review indie authors, they didn’t go on my list (unless I was really, really impressed by the blog and found the reviewer’s opinion on books very similar to mine and hoped against hope they’d take a chance on Jessamine).  If some reviewers have a form on their site they like authors to use or require the inclusion of very specific information, I made a note on my list.

Reviewers, like agents and editors, appreciate knowing that the people contacting them took the time to find out their name so, if that was available on their About Me page or in their profile, I wrote it down.

Then I drafted a short email, very similar in tone and content to the kind of query I’d have sent to an agent or editor.  The email gave a brief summary of the plot, the page count, information on where and when the book would be published and a few details about my own publishing history.  What I didn’t do was attach the manuscript.  Instead, I asked them to contact me if they would be interested in receiving a PDF copy of the manuscript to review.

About half never replied at all.

Of the half that got back to me, a handful responded to say that they were backed up and wouldn’t be able to get to Jessamine by my publication date.  Fair enough.  The rest said they’d be delighted and would I please send the manuscript.  To date, of the ones who said they’d do a review, only slightly more than half have followed through and actually done reviews on their blogs and/or at Goodreads or Amazon.  Why did those bloggers/reviewers ask for a copy of the manuscript and not do the promised review?  I haven’t a clue but I don’t suspect malice – maybe they’ve had a medical or other emergency, maybe they wanted to do it but just haven’t found the time, maybe they started reading it and found it wasn’t quite their cup of tea.  There are probably as many reasons as there are reviewers and I’m not going to lose sleep over it.  Since I sent the manuscript electronically, it’s not as if I lost out on the postage or am out of pocket in any way and, who knows, maybe they’ll do it at some point in the future. 

So what would I advise?  A few things.

1.  Choose bloggers/reviewers wisely.  Research them so you’re not sending historical fiction to someone who mostly reads urban fiction or a thriller to someone who doesn’t often read outside the romance genre.

2.  Take the time to learn the blogger’s name and try to personalize your email, insofar as you can.  Treat a review request as professionally as you would an agent query.

3.  Cast as wide a net as possible.  Most writers send out dozens of queries before they land an agent and you should expect to do the same for reviewers.  Remember, it’s unlikely that everyone you send a review request to will do one, so the more people you ask, the better.

4.  Don’t hound them.  I have not contacted any of those who received a copy of Jessamine but never posted a review.  Maybe they’ll get to it, maybe they won’t but, right now, I’m concentrating on finishing up the edits to my next novel.

5.  Thank the reviewers who followed-through, even when they didn’t love your book or gave you less stars than you think you deserve.  If you’ve got a back-list, consider rewarding reviewers of your latest book with a copy of a past release.  If you’re offering a novel or novella free for a short time, make sure to send an email about it to everybody who has ever reviewed you.  It’s a nice way of saying thanks and maybe you’ll get another review out of it.

6.  Never, ever get into a debate on the merits of your work with a reviewer.  If someone didn’t like your book, never mind, move on.  Even if their review was scathingly over the top, even if you felt personally attacked, move on.  Readers may not notice when you take the high road, but they will certainly notice when you don’t.  Pour all your bile and vitriol into the characterization of the villain in your next book, see if there’s anything at all you can learn from the negative review, and MOVE ON.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've been very lucky in my life that I've had a relatively few reviews that I thought were really wrong or that hurt my feelings. I've never responded to any of those and I'm glad I haven't. Hurt feelings do not make for rational responses.

Eugenia O'Neal said...

Exactly, Charles! I guess this is why some people don't read their reviews at all for fear they may get drawn into a quarrel that does nobody any good.

Liane Spicer said...

Wise words, Eugenia. I know authors who locked horns with reviewers and it always ended badly for the authors.

Like Charles, I've been lucky so far except for one trash review on Goodreads. There was nothing in it to indicate that the reviewer had even read the book. So yeah, I moved on.

Joanne C Hillhouse said...

Couldn't have said it better! Locking horns with a reviewer even when you think they're off the mark seems like a can't win situation to me. Good advice for writers as well on how to approach the process of soliciting reviews in this era of blog hops and blog tours and internet marketing.

Lynn Emery said...

True, Eugenia. It may not seem fair, but authors just can't come out looking good critiquing a reviewer's take on said author's book. Resist temptation is my advice. Just zip it. Vent to your best pal, your dog, the wall. But don't get into a back and forth.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Great advice Eugenia. After reading some of the public fights between authors and reviewers (that I had no idea was going on), I realize an author ony hurts himself/herself by bitching about a reviewers comment.

A reviewer's opinion is just that, an opinion. Opinions are neither right or wrong, they are just opinions and subject to personal tastes and current circumstances.