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Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Open Letter to Book Bloggers

Update 7 July at 2pm: I have posted a follow-up to this post its related comments here. Please consider reading both posts before commenting, as many points of contention are addressed in the follow-up.


Dear Book Bloggers:

I am setting up a blog tour to promote my independently published novel, The War Master’s Daughter. Through this effort, I have had occasion to visit many of your sites to learn about what you do, how you connect readers to great books, and what your reading interests are. I think, by and large, what you do is a really terrific service. However, I must say that I was particularly dismayed to find so many sites where I read this or a similar line, sometimes bolded or underlined for emphasis:

"I will not review self-published books."

Dear bloggers, while I understand the source and continuation of the stigma on independently published work, I do not understand it coming from you. And this is why:

Traditionally published book reviews appear in established magazines, journals, and newspapers. Book reviewers are paid for their work. A team of publishers, editors, graphic designers, and support personnel work together to put out a high quality product, leveraging traditional methods and channels of operation. Because of existing infrastructure and fickle audience tastes, traditionally published book reviews tend to focus on the same general crop of books—traditionally published ones (and even then, only those with a relatively high profile).

Book bloggers, however, are different. You are mavericks. You love to read and to help other readers find new books to love, and you didn’t get hung up trying break into tough traditional markets. You chose to go it on your own. But more than that, you are entrepreneurial and multifaceted. You are your own editors, your own designers, your own marketers. You work every day to build your audience and you strive to put out a quality product. You are leaving behind traditional methods of reaching an audience in favor of a model that is more flexible, more dynamic, more democratic and personal. You chose direct ownership over your work AND over your own failure or success. That’s incredible.

You know what? That’s what independent publishers and authors do, too.

That you would close your hard-earned doors to people who have the same entrepreneurial spirit as you is at best disappointing. At worst, it’s duplicitous and condescending. You chose to go the non-traditional route. So why do you only review the same books the traditional reviewers are looking at?

I’ll keep this part of the rant short, but suffice it to say that when you hold The War Master’s Daughter in your hand, you will find it impossible to differentiate it from a book that went through the legacy publishing machine. What is a “self-published book” if you can’t tell that it’s self-published? If a tree falls in the woods . . .

I’m not going to lie about my book and tell you that it was legacy published. I’m not trying to put one over on you. “I accidentally read, loved, and reviewed a book that the author put out herself! I was DUPED!” But if I didn’t tell you I put it out myself, you wouldn’t know, short of looking me up on the web and seeing me proudly proclaim it.

Dear book bloggers, you ARE self-publishers. Don’t forget that. The next time you are laying in bed at night trying to think of your next post, considering a new platform, wondering whether you should hire a professional to design your site, or worrying your audience is too small, remember the other people who are doing the same thing: authors. Consider not rejecting us outright and consider considering each book on its own merits of first impression. Is it available in print? Does it have a nice cover? Are you hooked after two pages? That's what mattersnot the imprint.

After all, if all the authors and publishers suddenly said, “I do not give my book to self-published book reviewers” where would you be?

Respectfully yours,

Elly Zupko
Publisher, SMLX Books

P.S. To all those bloggers who do consider “self-published” work, and especially those who don’t even differentiate books based on publisher, thank you for all that you do. (A special shout-out to my very first blog reviewers, The Action Prose and Alien Red Queen!) Please help others to see the light.

24 comments:

Ellie Warren said...

Sorry but at what point is it OK that you expect people to give up their spare time to read and publicise a book they're not interested in? I don't need review copies, I have hundreds of unread books to keep me going. I do read self published books and I review everything I read it's just...well if I accept requests from self-published authors I'm swamped with books that don't appeal to me. It takes time to go through their requests and a lot treat us like we owe them something. It's easier for me to say a blanket no and buy books if someone else recommends them to me. I get a lot of flexibility from publishers to read what I want when I want, so I am happy to continue considering their books. You assume that we're against you when we are most likely just short of time.

kara-karina@Nocturnal Book Reviews said...

Dear Miss Zupko, I totally agree with Ellie. First of all, it's a simple lack of time. Secondly, people who stated in their policy that they do not review self-published novels stated it for one reason - they got burned when they posted few negative reviews and received nasty letters from the authors. They just decided that it's not worth the hussle. Generalisation? Yes. But they are not paid for what they're doing and why take a chance of getting bullied?
There are many more reasons, but these two you will find most often. There is nothing condescending about it. It's a matter of survival. Blogging is extremely time-consuming just like writing. We do not read to promote, we read because we love doing it.
I receive a lot of review requests, accept maybe 20% of them and finish and review 5% our of them. Not because I'm lazy, but because I don't want to waste my time on book I don't like and make an effort reviewing it. Again, time issue. So even if a blogger accepts self-publishing novels, it's absolutely no guarantee they will review you, like it can happen to any other book. It makes no difference. If the book is good it will find a way to be known, no matter who published it. Regards

Erastes said...

I have to admit that in the last few months I have considered my stance regarding self-published books on www.speakitsname.com

This is not because of any stigma - not thinking that just because it's self published, the author isn't good enough to be published traditionally. In many cases it's not at all the case. But the amount(and I'm speaking purely from the perspective of my reviewed genre here--gay historicals) of badly presented self-published books is sometimes overwhelming. They might have a good plot, but the typo rate is so appalling that I can't relax into it. It might have few typos but the whole thing is so bloated any editor from any house would have red-penned it into size and sometimes they are just purely shoddy.

I still do review self-published books, but they are on a warning. If I have to wade through another ten horrors where even--it's obvious--a cursory Word spell and grammar check hasn't been done--I'll seriously have to consider shutting the door.

And that's a shame because underneath the ten horrors there's generally a little gem like The Painting by F. K. Wallace.

Elly Zupko said...

Ellie, Kara, and Erastes - thank you so much for sharing your opinions as a part of this conversation. Believe me, I understand where you are coming from. I understand 1) the time issue, and 2) the continued rampant low quality of indie-published work. I also appreciate that you are looking somehow to staunch the deluge of books and queries.

I am not asking that you and other bloggers promise to review self-published work. I would never ask you to review something that doesn't interest you; that wouldn't be good for anyone involved. I am only asking that you not issue a blanket moratorium on indie published work. To me, such a broad prohibition is as arbitrary as saying "I won't accept books with red covers, because I've read a lot of books with red covers that have been terrible, and I just don't have the time."

As I stated in the post, there are other ways to make quick quality judgments about books. For instance, if a book has a terrible cover or if it's not available in print--that's a good indication that care was not put into the publication and it is not worth consideration. If it's got a typo on the first page, out it goes. But those rules apply to legacy pubbed books, too. The later Harry Potter books had typos, because they were rushed to press.

But I also want to take this moment to apologize on behalf of my fellow independent authors for any mistreatment you've experienced. We should be a unified community that benefits mutually from one another's work. I think it's really awful that so many people put out crap products and then get aggressively indignant when someone calls them out. And it hurts people like me. I put 5 years of work into my first book only to find that it's basically wearing the scarlet letters "SP" and many reviewers won't touch it--not because it's a bad book, but because other books are bad.

Aubrie said...

I'd love to be a part of your blog tour. I don't have time to review, but I can do a guest post or a promo post.

If you're interested, email me at aubriedionne at yahoo dot com.

Coral Russell said...

I'm on my second year of reviewing nothing but self-published, Indie, small press books and I can't take any new requests until 2014.

By the end of 2013 I'll have read over 200 books and you know what? I couldn't be happier. I've found some must-read series and ethnic diversity and genre-busting that isn't even considered in traditional publishing.

Lots of authors are turned down because their book isn't marketable NOT because it's a bad book.

Burned by bad reviews? I don't finish books I don't like and post it. I used to do it monthly but now I've had to move to once a year. I've had disappointed authors but not mean ones. If they did I can be mean right back.

Because of being swamped by requests I've had to change to not being able to give a time frame so I understand authors might be frustrated but it is simply not enough hours in the day, not anything malicious.

What's great is getting to know some of the authors and working with them because I loved their story. I found I missed that interaction when I picked up books from other sources.

It's the road less traveled by and it has made all the difference.

Elly Zupko said...

Aubrie - Thanks! I will definitely be in touch this evening.

Coral - What you're doing is a great service! I'm really glad you've had a positive experience with indie publishing; thanks for sharing your perspective. I totally agree with your point that many self-published books haven't found homes because they are non-traditional or genre-busting--not because they are bad.

Grete said...

I think you make a valid point about book bloggers being self pubbed. We advertise our reviews whether it's on Facebook or Twitter or our own blogs and try to get more readers; that a review is short and a book is long is irrelevant really.

Here at www.bookthing.co.uk we read anything that interests us, regardless of the publishing model.

A good read is a good read and that's why we do it :)

SQT said...

This seems like a topic/post that comes up somewhat cyclically. I've been reviewing for six years or so and gave up reviewing self-pub awhile back. I've been burned too many times by promises of "best book ever" only to find it's an unedited mess. I don't have time to be the slush pile so I stopped accepting self-published books.

Many of us already have piles of books from the publisher and can't get to them so there isn't any kind of lure that can draw me in to read a self published book. The quality is generally less and the author tends to be so personally touchy about their book that the risk of getting nasty comments from the review is, frankly, quite high.

I'm a cynic when it comes to self-publishing anyway. That venue has become so saturated that I think success through self publication is just unlikely as it is through traditional avenues. A few people got in at the right time, but I think the Amanda Hockings are going to continue to be extremely rare success stories.

Elly Zupko said...

Grete - Thanks for the comment! I agree that a good read is a good read. Did you know John Grisham self-published his first book? I wonder what risk-taking reviewer helped him break out. :) I had actually bookmarked your site earlier this week. I'm glad you were able to get your copy of The War Master's Daughter!

Theresa - I'm really sorry you feel that way. It's hard for me to hear there's nothing I could say to you that would make you interested in my book. You say you don't think self-published authors will become successful. This is a part of the reason why.

SQT said...

You say you don't think self-published authors will become successful. This is a part of the reason why.

I disagree. The lack of quality control will always be the biggest issue. Everyone who couldn't get over the barrier to entry in traditional publishing is going the self-pub route. There are just too many people out there clamoring for attention and very few who deserve it.

I know it seems like I'm being rude to self-published authors, but my experience hasn't been that great. It's not just the books that are the problem, but the author meltdowns too. Every so often you'll see a link to a review that has the self-pub author spewing hate all over it. That almost never happens with "professional" writers, so bloggers learn pretty quickly to stick with established writers. We're not being obstinate for no reason. We've learned from experience and I doubt the tide is going to turn back in the direction of favoring self-published work.

You also have to understand that if we've been around a while we're getting multiple requests a day for reviews. When that's the case we're going to go with writers with a good track record.

Chris said...

I agree with a lot of what you’re saying.

Trying to break in from the ground floor armed only with your will power and a manuscript is an incredibly daunting task, one that becomes even more discouraging when you find out that your work has been unfairly stigmatized before someone even cracks the cover.

But I think you’re being a little unfair when you suggest some bloggers are being duplicitous and condescending by choosing not to review self-published work.
On the whole blogger/reviewers are in the game because they have a passion for books.

Choosing to chastise them without knowing why they don’t review self-published material is doing them a disservice.

Christa @ Hooked on Books said...

I have to take issue with this comparison you're drawing. bloggers are not self published authors. Why? Because our blog content is free. We are not expecting anyone to pay for what we put up on the site.

I used to accept a number of self published books and while many were in need of an editor. But not all. Some were really fun reads. But be that as it may I am drowning in books to review and I do not need another 10-20 emails a day about self published books. Not when there are so many books I really want to read.

And I need to echo the concerns of some of the people above. We've been burned by the authors. Angry emails. Constant messages on Twitter, FB, Goodreads etc. I would never say never to self published books but they are less likely to grab my attention.

Virginia Llorca said...

I do not solicit books to review. I rank or review every book I finish if there is a place to do that. You can rank or review almost anything on Goodreads. I read as many epubs as I do bound books. I have too large a backlog to promise a review to anyone. I appreciate every review I get, but I have never asked anyone to please review my work. I think that skews the persons viewpoint immediately. If they offer to review that's fine.

If someone asks you to review their book, I think it would be a professional courtesy, after you have read a portion, to tell the person the book is not ready to review and needs editing, rather than post a negative review based on format or other errors. Once, a person asked me to read their epub and I commented on the story and on the formatting, but it was in reply to the person, not a posted review.
Some people think a review is so important. When someone posts a negative review on your work and their only other review is for a pizza ordering app, you realize you need to take it all with a grain of salt. You write your own stuff your own way. You can't expect it to be everyone's taste. Reviews of my work are usually polar opposites, seldom in the middle ground.

Elly Zupko said...

Theresa - I do see what you're saying. It's eye-opening to me to see so many bloggers having been burned by their personal interactions with self-pubbed authors. I'm really shocked and dismayed at that lack of professionalism and couth.

I can see where a lot of your points are true for a lot of authors, but I can only speak for myself. I am a "professional" writer, and I am "established" (but not with a legacy-published novel). I get paid to write on a daily basis. I've had my short fiction published traditionally.

I've been paid to edit over 20 books, at least 12 of which went onto publication. I am thanked in the acknowledgments of two published books. I can't really say anything else to convince anyone to open my book if they don't want to.

It seems a chasm has opened up here between independent reviewers and independent authors, and I wish I could see a way for it to be mended.

Chris - Thanks for joining the conversation! You are absolutely right: I chose my words poorly when I said "duplicitous and condescending." I would say instead that I feel as if I am being held to a double-standard by people who are in a business/hobby that's very closely related to my own.

As I say in the post, what if it was backwards: what if traditional publishers patently refused to send books to independent reviewers, because they have received so many badly written or poorly formatted reviews? Bloggers wouldn't have very many books to review. I still contend that there are other ways to sniff out bad books other than throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Christa - Thanks for joining the conversation. In regards to your issue, I hadn't thought of it that way before, but I disagree. The act of publishing is to make textual and/or graphical content publicly available. Whether or not money is involved, bloggers are publishers. It's the same as someone who prints up zines and passes them out for free at coffee houses.

Especially because your content is freely created and freely available, you are not beholden to traditional standards of publication. You have the freedom to move beyond what has traditionally been reviewed. You have the power to give a platform to new voices. You have the freedom not to be a gatekeeper because of the lack of financial risk.

It makes me sad that you've been burned like that, and it sucks that I have to be lumped in with that crowd. But anyone who publishes their opinions also has the responsibility to stand up to criticisms of that opinion (look: meta). We all have to have a thick skin in this field.

Kriss Morton said...

I totally understand and agree in some way shape or form with this.

I review what is presented to me in a way that makes me want to read it. If an author approaches me and engages me and says please and all that jazz and it looks interesting I will say yes let me check it out. I choose to do primarily indie books. THIS IS DIFFERENT THAN SELF PUBLISHED> Let me clarify. To me when I see self published I Am thinking, they did it all. So I am prepared for possibly a bad cover, or copy problems, why? Their talent is in the story telling not in the design, or the copy editing, which will kill a book btw, bad editing. SO what do I do? I do just what I want to do which is review it, and I ALSO help market it because if it is going to grace my site, I am going to make it and the author look stellar, as some of you already know.

Great piece, great comments and no one is wrong. No one is also spot on! Including moi!

BookWormInBarrie said...

Hi Elly, I would consider being part of it, I am just a very new blogger, but I would be willing if I had an interest in the book, anyway you can email me a synopsis of the book? hollyewarner at gmail dot com

Hannah @ Once Upon A Time said...

I think there are valid points from all sides here. I agree with both Miss Zupko and the other side.

I'll personally go through each request individually, judging whether the book premise intrigues me, and then whether the writing style works for me. If there's a no to either of these, there's also a no from me and that goes for any book. If the premise interests me and the excerpt - and yes I REQUIRE an excerpt because it's the only way I can think to accept self-published books and avoid the tat - grabs me, then I'll say yes, however it has been published. I don't think a book has to be available in print to prove the author cares, as long as editing is bothered with..

But on the other hand, bloggers receive A LOT of emails per day. Consider this. I get maybe 2-5 emails per day. Amongst all of those there might be one or two per fortnight that catches my interest but I also have a backlog to get through as well.. I have accepted books from self published authors and sat down happily to read them, fully expecting to love them only to discover that I was wrong, they weren't really edited or revised very well at all and I don't have time to sit through 25% of a novel only to decide it's in fact not worth my time. You know?

So yes. Both sides of the argument, and other bloggers have the same yays and nays, and then some. Some decide they're happy to put up with the hassle, some don't have the time because hey, sure we are self-published but we also have jobs and home lives and not the time to read what we don't specifically want to. It's annoying, yes, but it happens. This is why there are directories for people who DO accept indie authors. Find them, use them, love them. :)

One day I'll decide which side I'm happiest on, for now I'll keep trying with the self-published and say: Great post.

Elly Zupko said...

Virginia - I think it's interesting that you don't ask for reviews of your work. That must take a lot of the stress off the process for you! I find that reviews are an essential part of marketing a book successfully; there is so much content out there, readers really want some advice from a trusted source before they'll buy something. I understand this is also the conundrum facing book reviewers: what are their "trusted sources"? For many, the answer is traditional publishers. For others, they trust a solid pitch, a sparkling synopsis, a gorgeous cover, or something else.

Kriss - I love this: "I review what is presented to me in a way that makes me want to read it." That's all I'm asking for--the open-mindedness to approach reviewing that way. I'm also super-intrigued by the way you differentiate "self" from "indie." I had always thought of them as synonyms with different "spin." But I totally agree with how you define the terms. And I agree that a lot of authors NEED help from editors and graphic designers. You have to know when you can't go it alone.

Book Worm - I appreciate you reaching out. Good luck with your new blog! I will certainly email you the synopsis later this evening.

Hannah - The more people's comments I read, the more I realize the giant gray area here, and the problems we face on both sides of the equation. There are definitely valid points on both sides, and I'm so grateful I have had the chance to get more perspective.

I recently had an experience with [a very well-known book that shall remain unnamed] that was supposed to be SO GOOD, and I got 50% through it before I realized I hated it and didn't want to finish it. What a colossal waste of time. (It is a thick-ass book.) But knowing who the publisher was would not have helped me make a more informed decision about whether or not to read it. For me, that's really what it comes down to.

And thanks for the tip about the directories. I am knee-deep in my indie-loving research and finding plenty of blogs to approach!

Brenna said...

My viewpoint is pretty much on par with Christa's.

Here's the thing: the FREEDOM that we have as independent book bloggers means that we have the freedom to choose which books we review. I really don't see the generalization of "no self-pubbed books" as any different from "no erotica" or "no non-fiction". Book bloggers control their blogs - they get to choose. You may not like this, but you DON'T get to choose. I also don't think you get to call book bloggers out on this.

And this is coming from a blogger who DOES review self-published books. I've read some fabulous ones. But I've also read some bad ones, and I've known bloggers who had really terrible experiences with self-pubbed authors. I also know from expeirence how many review requests a blogger can receive.

It's a huge amount of effort and time. But the main thing comes down to this - you don't get to dictate or choose what I review. no one does. Or how I review. That's what I LOVE about book blogging. And I do see a problem with any person trying to determine what book bloggers should or shouldn't review, much like your post here.

Because for every one book blogger that doesn't review self-pubbed books, there's another that does.

insatiablebooksluts said...

I do have one tiny point to make here (since someone already covered "duplicitous and condescending")--if publishers decided to stop sending us books . . . it really wouldn't be a big deal. I would just do what I have always done, being a lifelong reader: head over to the library or the bookstore. Which is what I did when I started blogging, before I had any followers to speak of . . the followers came *before* the reader copies, if you can dig what I'm getting at? It's not a make-or-break point in what we do, because the books are still out there to be read.

In any case, if there's an independent book blogger out there with a following, a publisher won't refuse to send them books in most cases. Free reader copies are more beneficial for the publisher or the writer than they are for the blogger in the long run (because, like I said, we would be reading *anyway*) because it's making them more than it saves us buying books. I think this may be the crux of why some people are having such a bad reaction to this post.. it's not a two-way street in the sense that you implied. And I'd honestly rather spend the extra $20 - $40 a month to purchase the books I want to read (if they aren't at the library for free, of course) if it came down to a choice between that or having to open up my reviewing preferences to books I may not want to read.

Tree Turtle said...

Bottom line: support independently published books (if they merit it) and corporately published books (if they merit it).

bibliotropic said...

I can see where you're coming from, but I think you're doing many blogger's a great disservice by making broad assumptions about us. We don't consider ourselves mavericks with the guts to break the boundaries of an existing market. We consider ourselves fans of books who enjoy sharing our opinions. We don't get paid, and we do this as a hobby. It isn't unfair to allow us to set our own rules when it comes to our own hobbies.

I didn't try to break into a traditional market. I started reviewing because I had the revelation that I read a lot and have opinions about what I read, so why not put them online and see what other people think too. Not exactly gutsy and full of entrepreneurial spirit...

I've been burned by a couple of self-pub books. I gave some a chance and found myself disappointed. Let's face it, there are a large number of self-published authors out there who think only of the price tag and not the quality of their product. It's hard to find the gems amidst the crap, and I have plenty of other books in my reading pile that I'm far more likely to enjoy because I personally picked them. I don't currently review self-published books, but it's largely because I simply don't have the time to seek them and pick and choose. But I'm also currently not accepting pitches from traditional markets (with rare exceptions) at the moment either. Does that make me more or less insulting and duplicitous?

If a book is good, it's good, and I don't really care who published it. I don't care if your book has the Tor logo stamped on the side, or a little smiley face variation that you designed to represent yourself. Trad-pub books can suck just as hardas anything self-pubbed. I bristle at being called condescending when you have no idea WHY I set my rules as I do. Disappointed? Go right ahead and be. But to judge me and so many others because you don't like the rules that we set for our own hobbies and on our own blogs? How is that any different from assuming that people only self-publish because they're not good enough to get their books taken by a "real" publisher?

See what I did there? I made a broad assumption and just ran with it. And it's as full of BS as the assumption that you made, ignorant of the reality and tarring us all with the same brush.

There are plenty of blogs that specialize in self-published books. My blog specializes in fantasy. I've had authors call me names because they try to pitch a historical romance to me and I say I'm not interested. Is that my fault for being too narrow? Or is their more responsibility on them to pitch their books to people who will read them rather than complain about all the people who won't?

I realise that I'm coming off a bit a rude here, but it's always been a sore spot with me when people make insulting generalizations about me and what I do. I don't like being called duplicitous and condescending just because you don't like my rules. You seem to feel that we as book bloggers have an obligation to read self-published books, using the logical fallacy of, "You're just like me, so you must like what I do." You act as though we don't have the right to set our own policies just because they don't benefit you. I can understand that it makes book promotion a pain. But it's a relationship, not an obligation.

I want you to know that I do respect what you do. You took a different road when it came to publishing. You took the hard path, because now you've got to do all those things that traditionally publishing houses normally take care of. You're following your own path, and I can respect that. Even envy you, because I've been tempted more than once by the self-publishing road.

But I ask that you also respect my path, and my choices, when it comes to what I read and review.

Lydia said...

I love to read. That is why I started my blog, to read and write about books I love to read. Then I started accepting books from self-published authors because I wants to help them and that love of reading? It became a chore because of so many books that needed a thorough going over, at the least, by an editor. And I really like fantasy so we are talking thousands of pages here.

So I closed my blog to self-published, and I get hate email for it two-three times a week. I still get some good pitches, generally from people who acknowledge my policy and present a good argument why my time won't be wasted... But comparing book bloggers, who are not in any position to benefit monetarily (most of us make under $10/yr in affiliate sales) to authors who want to sell their books is a bit unfair.

The end result is that posts like this make me believe, even more so, that I need to guard my time. I don't owe it to anyone, and am not reviewing for fame or followers, but rather to provide a service people can partake of, for free.