Terri Bruce’s debut will be published through a small/med press, Eternal Press. I thought her opinion would also shed some light on the situation, because frankly, it isn’t just Indie Authors that have a stigma…
However, I realized that if reasonable people are afraid to enter into discourse with other reasonable people then we, as a society, have a very big problem. The acrimonious minority are, in effect, silencing the reasonable majority. That’s got to stop. So here I am, hoping that I am, in fact, part of the reasonable and part of the majority.
Of course, then Jodi Meadows had to go and write a perfectly perfect blog post from the author stand point and say pretty much everything I’d wanted to say. So…okay, there’s my post. Done. Awesome sausage! Time to hit the beach.
You knew there was a catch, right? What gave it away…was it the fact that there are still more words on the page? Well, it’s Rachel’s fault. Blame her. I was perfectly content to not weigh in and you were perfectly content to not have to read yet one more post on this subject, but she had to ruin it for all of us by asking these really thought-provoking, interesting, and above all, IMPORTANT questions. Questions that we should be discussing—together—rather than posting either kissy-kissy love letters or “I wish I could quit you” hate-mail blog posts to (at?) each other. Questions that I think will lead us to finding solutions. So, sorry, no beach time after all. Smart people always ruin it for the rest of us. ::shakes head sadly::
So much has already been said, and said much more elegantly than I could say it, by both authors and bloggers, so I will try to keep this short—though I will point out I’m a NOVELIST for a reason.
Tell us about your path to publication. Did you try to get an agent and go through a “big six” publishing house? How long did it take for you to publish?
My goal for HEREAFTER was to get it published. Period. End of story. The reason I sought publication was to find other people who would love the characters and their struggles as much as I do. I queried both agents and small/independent publishers/presses—it took 8 months and 112 rejections total (some of those came in after HEREAFTER was already under contract to Eternal Press) to find a publisher for the story. I was considering self-publishing and probably would have self-published in the end if no-one picked the story up because that’s how much I believe in HEREAFTER and want it to find readers who will love it.
What avenues do you use to market your book? Are book bloggers a big or small part of those goals?
I’m new to all this (HEREAFTER releases August 1st) but I plan to have book bloggers be a huge part of my marketing. I’m in the process of booking my first full blog tour and have been astounded by how amazing all of the bloggers have been. I can’t tell you how gratified I was during the recent cover reveal tour to see reader comments like “This book sounds great. Looking forward to reading it.” That direct connectivity with readers is amazing! BTW, my mind has also been blown by the fact that I have bloggers on my tour located in England, Scotland, Germany, Canada, and Romania! Holy cow! That is AMAZING!
How do you choose a book blog to review your book?
There are a LOT of book blogs—when I first started researching book blogs I bookmarked over 800 that seemed like a possible match for my book (based on accepted genres listed in the review policy)—so I had to set some criteria because there was no way I could contact all of them! So I looked at:
- Frequency of posting—was the blog active and up-to-date? Had the blogger posted within the last two weeks?
- Professional reviewer*(yes, I know this term makes you all froth at the mouth—see my comments to the last question)—did the blog have a formal review policy (that was easy to find on the blog)? If not, I assume it is a new blogger or someone who doesn’t take requests.
- Favorite genres/genre match—though many blogs list a number of genres that they review, some actually only review/read a narrow subset of what they say they review. If what they are reviewing doesn’t match the genre of my book, even if their review policy says they accept it, I didn’t submit a request.
- Overall friendliness/approachability—some blogs have a “Ain’t nobody gets in to see the wizard, no way, no how” kind of vibe. I tend to skip those.
- verall tone/professionalism—I subscribe to any blogs I’m considering and follow the blogger on Twitter and lurk for a while, getting to know the reviewer and his/her style (I promise, I’m not a crazy stalker—I’m just trying to get to know you!). Anyone who seemed really negative, unprofessional, mean-spirited, or prone to uber-“fandom/hatedom” behavior I avoid. I also avoid those with poor spelling or grammar—I see a lot of review policies that “except” requests.
Are you rejected/ignored often by book bloggers?
LOL—define “often.” I’ve sent out about 40 review/blog tour requests so far and 15 have responded positively, 3 responded with rejections (18 total responses) so about a 45% response rate—which is WAY higher than the agent response rate, BTW. I also talk to a lot of bloggers on twitter—I respond to their tweets, I ask them general questions, occasionally will DM them to ask a clarifying question about their review policy or if they are open to requests at this time—and they pretty much ALWAYS respond on there.
Do you read the review policy of a book blog before you query a review request?
ABSOLUTELY! How could I not? In fact, the first thing I check is if a site has a review policy. If I don’t see an explicit statement on the blog that they accept review requests, I assume they don’t take requests and move on/don’t submit.
Do you comment on reviews of your book, whether good or bad? If you do, in which forums? On their blogs? Amazon or Goodreads etc?
My intention had been to publicly thank bloggers who I submitted a review copy to for their review when it was posted (in the comments section of their blog), even if the review was negative—after all, that just seems like common courtesy. The blogger put time and effort into reading my book and writing a review to help me, and I am totally thankful for that and want to show that appreciation. However, I’ve heard many bloggers say that they feel squidgy knowing an author is lurking around their blog, reading the review they wrote of the author’s book. So, as much as it feels like bad manners, I decided that I wouldn’t comment in any way (see revised Golden Rule below). When I sent out my review copies I told the bloggers I was thanking them ahead of time and that I would not comment/acknowledge the review on their blog (to set their minds at ease). A couple of the bloggers responded that I was perfectly welcome to comment on the posted review and so, having their express permission, I probably will swing by and thank those particular bloggers publicly. I want to be clear, though—the ONLY comment I would be making is “thank you.” I don’t think it’s appropriate to argue, clarify, explain, etc. My book has to stand on its own. All the reader has to go on is what I put on the page. Anything I have to explain, clarify, justify, etc. is a failure on my part as a writer because I didn’t get that onto the page.
As for Goodreads and Amazon and the like—I feel that those sites are for readers by readers, so it would be totally inappropriate for me, as an author, to respond to reviews/comments there. I also think, in my heart of hearts, people think what they think/feel what they feel. What, exactly, is the point of arguing with a review? If you didn’t like my book, I’m not going to be able to talk you into changing your mind. That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it.
At what point do you consider a negative review, stepping over the line and baiting the author?
This is a toughie. Two thoughts go through my head whenever I’m asked this question: the first is that baiting and bullying seem to be a lot like pornography—we can’t really define it, but know it when we see it. The second is that someone once told me the real Golden Rule isn’t to treat others as you want to be treated, but to treat others as *they* want to be treated. Everyone has a different tolerance level for when their feelings get hurt, for what they find insulting, and how they respond to hurt feelings (some can laugh it off, some stew, some cry or get anxious, etc.). Some people are gentle souls and some are rough and tumble, and I think we need both in the world. Those who get upset easily teach us to be kinder to each other, while those that aren’t bothered by anything show us how to be strong and roll with the punches. So let’s all toughen up a bit AND not come down like hammers on each other.
If the reviewer gets personal and insults you personally, do you consider this bullying?
It depends. I don’t think there’s a clear cut line or threshold. But as someone who was bullied a great deal as a kid, I can say that I think something crosses the line into bullying when it creates a certain mental state in the victim—dread, anxiety, and/or fear of certain situations (like going to school or work, like going to gym class/the gym, like walking the route between home and school/work, etc.). I don’t think one insult does it, but when it becomes ongoing or when there is an implied threat of violence, then it becomes bullying, because the victim dreads the situation that will put him/her in contact with the bully(ies). He/she is worrying/stressing about the situation even when he/she isn’t in the situation. On the internet, to my mind, this means the point in which an author dreads going to Goodreads or Amazon or a particular forum or to the comments section of his/her own website or reading his/her email and/or fear or dread to enter into a particular discussion online because of the barrage of negativity he/she expects.
Do you find negative reviews that state the reasons they didn’t enjoy the book, helpful? Or do they still hurt?
LOL—for most authors this is not an “or” situation. It’s both. I’ve belonged to peer (author-to-author) critique groups for years and always there’s a sting with any critique because you’re embarrassed that you didn’t get it right, plus there’s a bit of a “Don Music” feeling (the Muppet from Sesame Street who bangs his head on the piano while wailing, “I’ll never get it! Never! Never!” whenever he makes a mistake). There’s a pervasive myth among writers that good writers sit down to write and the words flow effortlessly and perfectly from their brains to the paper or computer. Ha! Seasoned writers know that it’s more like wrestling eels and that “easy reading is damn hard writing” (as Nathaniel Hawthorne famously said). Revisions and editing are a part of life. Reviews sting even worse than a peer critique because at that point there’s no ability to fix the story, to make it perfect—it’s published; that’s it, it’s out of the author’s control.
Personally, I think reviews are more for other readers, rather than for the author. It might be that what someone doesn’t like about my book is outside my control—that person just isn’t my target audience. The book isn’t for them. They like a different style, a different pacing, a different type of character. So, I’d much rather spend my time connecting with people who did like the book—with fans—than obsessing over and responding to reviews.
Good PR or Bad PR can make or break an author’s career. But, we all know from past experiences that even Bad PR can generate a significant amount of buzz. Are there certain things you avoid at all costs to keep yourself in the “white” so-to-speak?
Er…you mean avoiding things like this interview and sticking my nose into contentious discussions. Things like that? O.o
When you send a review copy, do you tend to send eBooks or hard copies? If hard copies, what is the average cost of the book & shipping?
My publisher only produces e-book ARCs. However, I have offered reviewers the option to have a printed, spiral-bound copy if they prefer/need a hard copy (at my own expense) since I know not everyone has an e-reader and/or likes e-readers. Most reviewers accept/prefer the e-book but a couple have opted for the printed version.
Can you give us some statistics? About how many review copies did you send out for your last book? About how many of those books have been reviewed?
So far, 15 people have requested to review my novel or accepted a review request from me (::shameless plug:: I’m open to sending out more so if anyone is interested… ). The ARCs just went out this week so it’s too soon to tell what the end result will be, in terms of how many people actually review it.
When you send a review copy out, what are your expectations as far as delivery date for a review? If you have a certain time frame do you communicate this with the reviewer?
I’ll be honest here, it’s the bloggers who are setting the expectation/deadlines, not me. I’m still at the “OMG, someone wants to read my book?!” stage of my career. The vast majority of bloggers all want ARCs (not published books) and they want to post the reviews around the release date. I know part of this is the publishing industry’s mania for giving books 6-8 weeks to make a splash and then they are yanked from shelves, so I’m sure part of this is actually driven by the demands of publicists at the “big six” publishing houses. However, the one ginormous advantage of being with a small press, like I am, is I’m under no such pressure. In fact, my publisher knows that it can take a long time for a book to find its audience and is willing to be patient, so I’m perfectly happy to get reviews months and months after the book has come out. I just sent a review copy to a blogger who said she probably won’t get to it until March. I was perfectly fine with that. As I said to her, “I’m still recommending books I read twenty years ago to people.” I don’t think there’s a time limit on a recommendation/review. However, I think it bears repeating that I have the liberty to be very laid back about this because I’m not under pressure from my publisher to earn out an advance within six weeks of publication. I know publishers, publicists, and many other authors would faint dead away at being told a reviewer can’t post the review for six months.
Are you aware of certain stereotypes that Indie Authors are saddled with? Are there certain things you do to try to counter these stereotypes?
Would you like someone behind the scenes dirt? Authors absolutely have a pecking order with each other, trust me. “My advance was bigger than yours.” “My publisher is bigger than yours.” “My book got more reviews than yours.” “My book sold more copies than yours.” Etc. It’s no wonder self-published authors have a chip on their collective shoulders—they’re at the bottom of the pecking order and feel they have something to prove. One of my self-published writer friends just hit the New York Times e-book best seller list, but the local chapter of the national (prestigious and well known) writing association she belongs to refuses to call her a published author and list her book in their newsletter because they don’t recognize self-publishing as being legitimately published. O.o
I don’t think readers care who the publisher is. I think they care about good quality reads. Period. End of story. So I’d like to see everyone in the book industry stop squabbling over this hair-splitting about means of producing books and get back to focusing on ensuring good quality books make it to market and get into the hands of readers. I do my part by hosting author interviews on my website every Wednesday and most of the authors I feature are published by small/independent presses or are self-published.
Are there certain stereotypes that you have heard about book bloggers (please be honest we promise to not hold it against you! We understand you are just telling us what you’ve heard ! ) and try to avoid when you notice those trends?
I hadn’t heard any stereotypes—when I started researching bloggers and getting to know the community (via twitter and such) I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Then there were some “things”—the plagiarism thing and the unhappiness over Veronica Roth’s Divergent contest thing and the ARC-gate thing. Some of the bloggers seemed REALLY snarky/belligerent/lynch-mob-esque and I ended up unfollowing those people (and became really wary of trying to approach any bloggers because it seemed like there were a lot of politics I didn’t really understand going on). However, then I met a bunch of bloggers on Twitter and through Armchair BEA and a few approached me, offering to be a stop on my blog tour and I was so surprised and flattered. That made it so much easier to approach other bloggers after that—those first few bloggers who initiated contact made me realize that the majority of bloggers are just super nice people who really love books. They gave me the courage to jump in with both feet and I’m so glad I have. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with bloggers.
Now…we’ve all been getting along so well up to this point and I’m about to ruin it. Sorry! However, I have something I want to say/a point of discussion I’d like raise/throw onto the table, and it’s this: book bloggers claiming they aren’t professional reviewers. This puzzles me a lot. You look like professionals, you act like professionals, you do a professional job, and yet insist that you aren’t, in fact, professionals—which leaves authors like myself totally confused as to what you are and what your role is and what our relationship is. Are you formal marketing outlets? Are you fans? Do you like/are volunteering to help authors get the word out about our books or are you reluctantly doing it because you have to (for some mysterious bloggy reason)? Are we all friends or do you consider us authors an annoyance?
From where authors sit you look like you are choosing to be part of the formal marketing strategy for books (you purposely puts yourselves into the way of receiving ARCs or published books (by requesting them from publishers, publicists, and authors) expressly for the purpose of reviewing them, you ask for and receive press credentials specifically for being a book reviewer/blogger that allows you to attend book industry events, and you voluntarily engage in a variety of activities expressly created to promote authors and their works (giveaways, interviews, blog tours, etc.)). So then it’s very confusing when you say things like “I’m not a professional reviewer” and “authors need us more than we need them” (which, by the way sounds a lot like “bugger off authors and leave us alone”). So I guess this means a stereotype I have of book bloggers is that they are professional reviewers/formal marketing outlets. I don’t know what else to call it. At the very least, it creates an expectation (not an obligation, yes, I entirely agree it’s not an obligation) in the mind of authors. Especially when you all put more time and effort (and resources) into your sites than many people put into their jobs. You produce high-quality work that you take a great amount of pride in. You don’t just produce for yourself and/or your own entertainment—you have readers (consumers, if you will) and you feel an obligation to deliver your services (and deliver them well and in a timely fashion) for their benefit. You feel honor-bound to honor your commitments, agreements, and have good follow-through. This all seems like the very definition of a professional to me! What’s even more amazing is you do everything a professional does even though no one makes you do it! You don’t earn a salary, you don’t have a boss, you don’t have a code of conduct you’re required to adhere to by law…you do it all—responsibility, standards, conduct, quality work—because you WANT to, because you’re the kind of people who take commitment, responsibility, and quality very, very seriously.
Now, perhaps when you say you aren’t a professional you mean you’re an “unpaid” reviewer. Okay, agreed—bloggers are not paid for their time. We all agree on that.
Or perhaps you mean “independent” reviewer—that is, you are not beholden to anyone in the publishing industry—you read what you want, when you want, and write a fair and unbiased review that’s based entirely on your own opinion. Agreed on all points. We know you are “independent contractors” sort to speak. We know, too, that there is an implied agreement that you’ll review a book received but we know, too, that there’s no guarantees. We know that we give you the book “at our own risk”—that is, there is no remedy if you don’t review it, unlike a formal, legally binding contract with a paid service.
Maybe you mean that you aren’t writing a “literary criticism” type critique, but rather simply a review of your enjoyment of the book as a private citizen and as a reader/consumer. Yes, we understand that as well (in fact, that might be why we like you so much—for most authors, literary merit is nice, but it’s readers’ opinions that really count).
Perhaps you mean this isn’t your full time job and that you also have other obligations in life—dutifully acknowledged. We (authors) know you do this in your “spare” time. This is something we all have in common—very few authors get to quit their day jobs and write full time—so believe me, we understand and sympathize with this point!
However, none of this means you’re not a professional (I think all the above things are stereotypes that bloggers *think* authors have of them, but rest assured, the majority of us don’t think this way); from where we authors sit you meet every requirement / qualification of a professional, and we can’t see any difference (just like most readers can’t see the difference between a self-published, indie press, and “big six” press published book). I don’t think that’s a bad thing—if, for some reason, it is bad that we mistake you for professionals, then book bloggers need to educate authors about what the difference is, because we really don’t see it.
What could we, as a book blogging community do better in our relationship with Indie Authors, from your perspective?
What could Indie Authors do better in their relationship with book bloggers in general?
Finally, what advice do you have in generally to promote good author/blogger relations, so we don’t see more of these “no more indie books” from bloggers?
I’m lumping my answer to the two questions above and this one together since I hate giving advice and am not sure I’m qualified to give it on this subject anyway. So, instead, I’ll just share one opinion and one piece of life advice/wisdom I’ve learned along the way.
First the opinion: The “no self-published books” guideline does seem a little broad. It’s like saying “no books with green covers.” If what you really mean is “I don’t want to deal with authors directly” then say so (“I only accept books submitted by a publicist”—which I’ve seen on some blogs). If what you really mean is “I don’t want unedited crap” then say so (require a short excerpt so you can assess quality). Target the REAL problem, rather than just creating a broad, sweeping policy. Let’s stop making this about a certain type of author (self-published) and reframe the discussion to what we are really talking about which is “people in the book industry (authors and agents and publishers and bloggers) who behave badly” and how to deal with them. Of course, if you really mean “no self-published books” (because, for instance, you think self-publishing is an abomination) then okay, keep the policy.
Now the advice (for EVERYONE): most grievances in life are not the result of evil intent on the other person’s part. The vast majority of times it’s mistake, miscommunication, or misinformation. Author sends you a review request with the wrong name? Maybe it’s laziness or maybe he/she was working on several review requests at once and put the wrong name with the wrong letter (I’ve done that—with agents! Whoops! ::head desk::).
Author doesn’t appear to have read your review policy? Maybe it’s egomania or maybe your website doesn’t load correctly on the author’s browser and he/she can’t access the page (this has happened to me) but he/she really likes your blog and wants to submit to you (yes, the page that wouldn’t load was of a blog/blogger I really love ), or maybe he/she is a huge fan of your blog and is hoping maybe you’ll make an exception for him/her (this has also happened to me—two bloggers who I really love mainly read paranormal romance. I toyed with submitting anyway but ultimately decided not to. However, later, through mere serendipity (and the joy that is Twitter), both ended up offering to take a look at my book, even though it’s not in their usual genre. I can’t even tell you how flattered I am—I fully expect them to not like my book because it’s not their usual thing, but I’m still amazingly awed they are even taking the time to look).
Blogger refuses to accept your book for review? Maybe it’s a negative judgy-judge attitude toward your work or maybe the blogger is just too busy—with college, with a new baby, with a sick spouse, a new job, moving, or a million other things—to take on any new authors at the moment.
Blogger never posted that promised review—maybe they’re a lazy, evil bad person or maybe they didn’t like your book and don’t know how to tell you; maybe they got busy with…see above; maybe they got hit by a bus and are in traction in the hospital.
Blogger wrote a mean, snarky review of your book and attacked your worth as a human being? Um, yeah, they’re just a mean, nasty, degenerate person who wasn’t your target audience anyway. Go find some new friends—find the people who will like and appreciate your book. The other bloggers will eat the meanie anyway—they’re fierce when riled (did you see them during the plagiarism and ARC-gate things?!).
The point is, we never know what’s going on with the person on the other end of the email/twitter/facebook, so let’s cut each other a little slack. Yes, clichéd, possibly trite, but oh so powerful as a way to reduce conflict and misunderstandings. It’s that Golden Rule in action again—most of us want to be given the benefit of the doubt, so let’s give it to others.
I’d like to close by thanking Rachel for creating a format for bloggers and authors (and other industry professionals, hopefully) to talk about the issues together, and I want to thank all the people who are putting their time and effort and reasoned discourse skills towards making “the system” work—for so called “non-professionals” you all spend a lot of time and effort tackling very serious, substantive issues in a serious, dedicated, and professional manner.
Terri Bruce, debut author — should get a standing ovation for that interview! Check out her advice to fellow authors here.
Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats.
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