Category Archives: reviews

Reviewers vs writers

I’ve been thinking a bit about reviewers lately.  Mostly it’s because I’ve been sending out oodles of requests for people to review my book (Awfully Appetizing).  There’s a longstanding love/hate relationship between writers and reviewers.  It’s kind of a parallel between the love/hate relationship between writers and publishers.

By the nature of what we each do, we are dependent upon one another.  Obviously reviewers need writers so that they (the reviewer) has something to do, while reviewers are able to present a book to a group of people who, otherwise, might never have even heard of it.  One might assume that there was a symbiosis between the two, and in a way there is.  But there is also a rivalry.  The rivalry is, I think, based upon an imbalance of power.  For every reviewer out there, there seems to be a thousand authors.  Or perhaps its just that every author is trying to contact every reviewer.

Whatever the reason, the effect is the same: the reviewers are inundated with requests from desperate authors.  When, inevitably, the reviewers find themselves unable to read every single book, the result is a collection of annoyed authors who feel that they’ve somehow been stiffed.  Not all of us, some of us have been around long enough to know that it isn’t personal, but when nine hundred people didn’t make the cut, some of them are bound to be resentful.

It’s an interesting situation.  And, frankly, it highlights some of the problems with the way the writing world works.


Reflecting as I promote

So, one of the great conundrums in the world of promoting art is how you seek out your audience.

There are places, both real and virtual, where fans of particular kinds of art congregate.  For the sake of this blog, I’m going to focus on the fans of my kind of art.  Science fiction and fantasy books.

The problem is that the places, both real and virtual, which have the largest gatherings of potential readers are well aware of their potential value.  Places like comic book conventions, and io9, where my possible readers come together regularly and in droves, know that have created the perfect place for writers and the like to peddle their wares, so they charge for the privilege.  I don’t begrudge them that, after all they put a lot of time and energy into what they do.  It makes sense that people looking to take advantage of it should have to pay for it.

The problem is that for writers who don’t have an established fan base and can’t count on a certain number of sales, or cannot easily come up with the money required to rent a table, each purchase is a calculated risk.

So instead, when you don’t have the cash flow to buy a spot at one of the big places, you have to look for the little places.  Like blogs.  A few days back I found a list of blogs where people reviewed urban fantasy stories.  I went through them, checked each one out, and whenever I found an active site that looked like they were interested in my kind of story, I sent them an e-mail asking if they’d like to review my book.

The thing that interested me was just how many of the sites were defunct.  You had to keep your eyes open, check out how long ago the last post had been put up.  There were places that looked perfect for my kind of book, it just happened that the last time they’d done anything on their site was 2011.  Funny.  And kind of sad.  A bunch more just weren’t taking reviews at the moment, so, all told, of the hundred and fifty blog sites that I looked into, I think I sent off just a little under twenty five requests.

But man, there were a lot of dead sites.  In a way, looking at all of the review sites reminded me a lot of writers.  There are a lot of writers and would-be writers out in the world, trying to make a go of it, desperate to be seen, desperate to be heard.  We tell ourselves that this is our calling, that this is what we want to do with our life.  But somehow, the longer you go, the more ‘bodies’ you start seeing on the side of the proverbial road.  Eventually most people quit.  And I can’t fault them for it. Pursuing your dreams is a rough road to travel.  You take a look around you and you see the people who’ve made it, you see the io9s and the comicons, and you know where you want to end up, what you want to be.  But at a certain point you just sort of realize that you’re not going to end up there.  You can do well for yourself, potentially you can become  a great niche artist, but your name will never reach the acclaim of, say Stephen King or Jim Butcher.  It’s a bit troubling, when you have to readjust your aim, shoot a little lower.

Delayed Reaction

Woo!  Sorry about that last post.  As  rule I should avoid blogging when I’ve been up for more than twenty hours at a stretch.  I know people who can function after a couple of days without sleep, but let’s face it, I need eight hours a day or I’m delirious.

Anyway, after finding out a couple of days ago that I’ve sold all of seven copies of my book over the last three weeks (SEVEN?!?), I’m going to be spending quite a bit of time over the next couple of days focusing on promotion.

But one of the problems I have with promotions is that the best forms generally take a lot of time, and are incredibly hard to attribute directly to the source.

For example, the form of promotion I think is most effective is word of mouth.  If somebody reads your book and loves it so much that they start telling everybody about it, that is probably the single most effective method of reaching a wide audience that you will ever find.  Now, it’s true that if the person who read it and loves it has a platform, it’s even more effective, for example, if Oprah Winfrey loves your book, that’ll get you more sales than if Ms. Bennett from apartment 3A loves your book, but either way, if you can make somebody a fan for life, then you’ve got an advertisement that will keep on working for you for years to come.  Not to mention the fact that an endorsement from someone who is obviously not being paid to endorse your work will carry more weight than any paid advertisement.  Oh, and by the way, you also have somebody who wants to know when your next book comes out.

But getting word of mouth going requires time.  After all, you have to get the book into the reader’s hand and wait for them to actually read it.  Plus, who remembers the name of a book recommended to them in a casual conversation?  You have to tell it to them half a dozen times before they remember that it was Storm Front by Jim Butcher, not the Butcher Store by Jimmy Front.

And attribution is a bitch as well.  Promoting is a lot like putting on a blindfold and throwing darts at the board.  When you finally take the blindfold off and see that one of the darts got you fifty points, how the hell are you supposed to know which throw it came from?

So even if you find the perfect way to promote your book, once you’ve done it, how the hell do you figure out which of the techniques is actually responsible?

I’m sending review requests to a bunch of book reviewers over the next couple of days.  I’ve done this before, when I was promoting a book under another name.  I sent out reviews to about a dozen bloggers and exactly zero of them replied.  But hey, maybe this time…

The Reviews Conundrum

I have long held that writers should not read reviews of their books.  What it comes down to is that reviews are not written for the author.  A review is simply a conversation between one person who has read a book, and someone else who is thinking about reading it.  As such, a review is not meant to contain information that is useful to the writer.  Where a good critique, which is intended for the writer, will note both positive and negative elements within a book, a review is essentially an argument for or against reading the work, and will mostly contain information designed to support the initial argument.

A critique, generally, will be specific in its points, identifying, not simply where the story fails to work, but why it fails to work, and what can be done to make it work.  A review doesn’t have these elements because there’s no reason for it to do so.  When an author reads a critique they will hopefully emerge on the other side with an idea of how to better themselves.  When an author reads a review, they will emerge on the other side either thinking more highly of themselves, or pissed off at the person who wrote it.

It is a no-win situation.

But authors, especially new authors and authors who have not achieved the level of success that they want, will inevitably read their reviews.  Because reviews are one of the best indicators of a books future success.  Did you just get twenty praise-filled reviews in a row?  Well, chances are those people are telling their friends.  Did you get a dozen one star reviews?  Good luck getting someone who stumbles across your amazon page to randomly purchase that.

So our eyes are locked on it.  We are fully invested in that next review.  that next comment.  that next X-star….

Every once in a while, one of my writer friends will post a story about a writer who replies to a bad review.  Inevitably, things go poorly.  No matter how bad a review is, how much we think that they just didn’t understand, writers have to learn to keep their thoughts to themselves.  The truth is, we’re listening in on somebody else’s conversation.  They aren’t talking to us, so bursting in and screaming at them is unacceptable.  After all, if they bought a copy of the book, then they’re entitled to share their opinion of it.

Sorry, just had all of this running through my mind while I wait for Awfully Appetizing to get its first review.  I have to remind myself that I may not like what they have to say.

Then again, maybe I will.

Either way, the truth is, I shouldn’t read it.

But I will anyway.