Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How not to respond to reviewers

angry dog

The Author’s Big Mistake is responding defensively to criticism from reviewers (or worse, trying to sue them). But there’s another kind of mistake authors can make in this regard, and that’s reacting less than professionally when a reviewer declines to take a look at their books. It happened to me on a discussion board.

I mentioned that I’d once read and reviewed certain self- and vanity-published books, but hadn’t enjoyed most of them. In fact, I wasn’t even able to get through two of the books that were sent to me. So I decided not to review self-published books unless they were by an author I was familiar with or they had received fantastic professional reviews.

I didn’t think this decision was offensive, but here are some of the responses it got.

1. The guilt trip

“If you have a blanket policy against reading self-published books, you are not doing your job as a reviewer, and you are doing self-published authors a great wrong.”

The only job description of a reviewer is “Write as truthful as possible a review of whatever book you read”. It isn’t “read everything regardless of publisher”. And there are some review websites which will only look at self-published books – are those reviewers doing commercially published authors a great wrong?

There are far too many books out there for any one person to read them all, therefore most reviewers set standards. Some don’t read certain genres, some don’t want certain formats and so on, but it’s nothing personal against the authors.

2. The challenge

“I challenge you to try the first ten to twenty pages of any self-published book that someone recommends.”

I feel as though I’ve already taken this challenge once by reviewing some self-published books. And there are a lot of commercially published books I’d like to read, books which have been vetted by agents and/or editors. Shouldn’t I take the challenge with these books first?

Plus, I’ve visited many authors’ websites that didn’t provide excerpts (or didn’t subscribe to Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature). Even the author giving me the challenge mentioned that “I do have a page and a half on my authorhouse.com site...but only that, they don't allow the 20 page challenge”. What to do under those circumstances?

Most of all, though, the only challenges I feel a need to respond to are the ones I set for myself.

3. The request for help

“Honest reviews help self-published authors improve.”

That depends on the author. If a writer went into self- or vanity-publishing, chances are they’re not accustomed to specific criticism of their work from agents or editors, and may not react well to that from reviewers. There are self-published writers who have editors and who accept critical feedback graciously, but I’ve also seen enough unpleasant reactions to make me cautious.

But even if every author behaved professionally under those circumstances, I could still not agree that reviewers are under an obligation to help any authors, no matter how they’re published. It’s nice if they do so, but it’s not the primary reason I read or review books.

4. The insult

“I guess broadening your horizons is not for you.”

Alas, this didn’t make me want to check out the writer’s book.

It’s best not to react this way when someone turns you down, even if you’re disappointed. I sometimes bend my policy for a polite and professional self-published author, but I have no reason to do so for an author who’s defensive or rude.


Unknown said...

I review books - not professionally but I share books on my blog and have been asked to review a new book by an author I had already read. I read what I read. I have tried some that are widely popular that I can't sit through. Sometimes it's my mood and sometimes I just don't get the authors genre or style. I think it's naive of those authors to dump on a reviewer because they won't review their book. It gives authors a bad name.

Maria Zannini said...

That picture just makes me laugh. :)

All this recent internet banter between authors and reviewers is getting petty.

If one reviewer won't review your work, then find someone else. What's the big deal?

On the other hand, if someone wants to call himself a reviewer, I expect a balanced analysis and not snarky jibes for the benefit of entertainment.

I rely on reviewers a great deal to help me choose the books I read. I don't have time for a dog and pony show.

You can count on this argument showing up again and again. Sorry to hear people took issue with your stand. Sad.

Marian Perera said...

Sara - As you said, taste is subjective.

And if an author can't take no for an answer, I'd be even more reluctant to review their book. What if I didn't like it? How would the author react then?

Good solution, Maria : "If one reviewer won't review your work, then find someone else." It's not pleasant when someone refuses to read your book, but arguing isn't likely to make them change their minds.

And I'd rather my work wasn't reviewed by someone who was annoyed with me!

I did engage in lot of snarky jibes in my misspent youth. :) But I tend to keep them off the blog.

BookMarc Blogpants said...

Interesting post...enjoyed reading it.

Donna (Bites) said...

I have it written in my review policy that I don't review self-published or vanity press books. After the first couple requests from those authors leaked through, I upped the attention to that particular line by bolding it, enlarging it and setting it in bright red color. Care to guess how many requests from self-pubs I still get? Then at the beginning of the year I expanded by policy because I was overloaded. I wouldn't even consider books from publishers or authors I haven't previously worked with. Want to take another guess as to how many requests I get?

I ranted about this in my writing blog when it was still up and I had a commenter chastise me for berating a self-pub for not following my guidelines and I should have given her a chance anyway. You know, you're right. Those ARC guidelines are just for show anyway. They don't actually MEAN anything. O_o

I won't read self-pubs for vanity press books because, in my experience, they suck. Why should I keep subjecting myself to them? It's my prerogative what I review and what I don't. I'm not obligated, as a reviewer, to review every single book I'm asked to review because that's "my job." No, it's not. I am my own boss and I'll review, and not review, whatever the hell I want. I don't review romances. Should I prepare for the coming romance author stampede at the injustice I'm doing them? Doubt it.

It was a self-pub author that went ape shit on two book bloggers because she didn't like their reviews. Holy crap. If that's what we're going to get from self-pubs (because let's be honest, one rotten apple can ruin the bunch), why would we take on the risk of reviewing a self-pub when the consequences of a less than stellar review are so high?

I actually had a self-pub author try to argue with me over my own review policy. That I should just read his book because it's so much better than the rest. I'm sure.

No thanks. There are plenty of people out there willing to review self-pubs. I don't need obligated to. Just like I don't feel obligated to review sci fi, romance, steampunk, paranormal romance, uber-hip YA ala Gossip Girls, etc. My blog. I do whatever the hell I want. Period. Pressure me all you want. I'll just shove my finger up your nose.