Category Archives: personal

Taking A Moment To Check Myself

A few moments ago I received a message on Goodreads that started out:

I’ve been thinking about messaging you and asking you to check out my book for a few days, but I was quite nervous considering how critical and honest your reviews are. Then, I told myself that I might as well and that every review I read from you had a pretty good and constructive critique, so at least I might learn what to make better next time. The harsh feedback is always what I learn the best from. (Though obviously, I’d still like to think that you would enjoy the book, lol)

And I suppose I could gripe about getting hit up on Goodreads for a review, instead of the request coming through the the process I’ve set up here on the blog. (No, I’ll never pass up  an opportunity to point out how many people don’t follow directions, in the hopes of correcting the trend.) But I almost feel like this wasn’t a formal enough request to warrant it. Or maybe I’m just so distracted by something else in it that I can’t be bothered.

nervous woman-Image by Eleatell from PixabayThe thing that most struck me about this message is the author saying she “was quite nervous considering how critical and honest your reviews areThe harsh feedback…*” Yes, the comment is couched in compliments, but it still really made me stop and think. (For the record, I’m not calling the author in question out in any manner. She neither insulted nor upset me; just caused me to consider her word choice, never a bad thing.)

One would think being honest could never be a unappreciated. But anyone who truly believes that hasn’t spent much time in the book reviewing community while we endlessly debate what should and shouldn’t be included in a review. A large contingent lives by “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.”

And critique has it’s place, of course, even harsh critique. But the phrasing, the admittal of nervousness to ask me to review their work is awful close to implying that my reviews come across as overtly critical, as in primarily focusing on the negative. Is this how I come across, I wondered.

I’ve been writing reviews here on the blog, Goodreads, and Amazon for 7+ years. And it’s an unfortunate reality that familiarity breeds contempt. I don’t mean this to suggest I find books, authors, or reviews/reviewers contemptible⍣. But rather, it would be quite easy to have let myself slip into a mental space in which I throw out reviews easily, without giving enough gravity to how they might be received.

Yes, there are all sorts of caveats here. Reviews are for readers, not authors. I’m not obligated to be polite when saying I dislike something. I’m 100% not required to keep my trap shut if I dislike something. I am allowed to be as rude, churlish, and bitchy as I like, etc. etc. etc. But the reality is that that’s not the real me. I am generally one of those people that want their say (will insist on it), but don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

woman-Image by Eleatell from PixabayAnd the comment above makes me wonder if I’ve let myself be a little too laissez faire lately and come across as an angry harridan with nothing positive to say, instead of a considered reviewer that also happens to be honest when she dislikes a book. That’s not the same thing and not the reviewer I want to be. I don’t want authors to be afraid of me or my words.

I hope that isn’t giving myself too much importance. One person being nervous, does not a tyrant make. But this was a good reminder to be mindful of my general mien, not just each individual review. A reviewer can be judged by the whole of their work as easily as any individual piece of it.

Goodreads stats as of 3/30/3021

So far this year, I’m averaging just about an even 3★ rating, which makes sense. I feel like that’s how it should be. Most books I neither love nor hate, and I would hope for a roughly even number of books I do. But if I stop and think of some of the reviews I’ve written recently, I can think of some that I probably could have been more diplomatic in my phrasing. The question is, should I have been? Or does honest vitriol have a place too? Where is the line that allows for that without tripping the reviewer over into bitch territory?

I’d like authors to know they’ll get an honest review from me, but also trust that I won’t be needlessly cruel if their book and I don’t get along. I’ll probably never be bubbly enough, as a person, to be seen as a softball reviewer (and I wouldn’t want to be). I just don’t think I have enough of the fan-girl in me. But I also don’t want to be the reviewer that everyone knows will trash their book for the sheer joy of it. That really isn’t who I am or why I do this. It’s not where my joy comes from!

So, I’m taking this opportunity to recenter, to step back and ensure that I am more thoughtful and considered in my words and reviews from here on out. Maybe it’s not needed and everything was fine to start with. But honestly, can trying being more considerate ever put you in bad stead? (Can you be in bad stead, or only good…hmmm?)

And yes, in case you’re curious, I agreed to read the book in question above and I hope with my whole heart to love it.


 

*On a complete side note, it’s been my anecdotal experience that this is one of the primary differences between male and female authors seeking reviews. I 100% can’t imagine a male author preceding their review request with an admittal that they are nervous about it.

⍣OK, maybe there is a small, self-aggrandizing subset that I could do without.

Why I Write Reviews

Why *I* Review Books

Before I get the list of reasons I write reviews of almost all the books I read let me give you a little background about why I decided to write this post today. I’ll also acknowledge up front that I’m well aware that the fact that, no matter how much I say I love authors, the fact that I I complain quite so regularly about the book requests I get makes me seem bitchy and extra sensitive. My only real excuse is that something might not bother you (or me) generally, but once you’ve encountered it the four thousandth time you get pretty persnickety about it. You’re welcome to just think I’m a bitch though.

So, this all came up today when I got a book review request. There wasn’t anything really horrifying about it except that it was thin on the particular details I’d use to decide if I actually want to read the book or not. I’m not going to quote it directly, I’m not trying to shame the author AT ALL. But the author basically only gave me the title, release date, blurb, an Amazon link, and the fact that it’s a “Fantasy story of approximately 43,000 words, set in medieval times.” And while that might seem like enough, I like a cover image and there was no mention of what format was being offered for review. I’m currently only open to physical books, and many books aren’t available in physical formats these days, so this needs to be explicitly stated. (This one, for example, has no physical edition listed on Amazon, so it likely doesn’t meet my stated policies.)

But more than that, what I discovered when I when I followed the Amazon link is that the book is book four in a series. So, I politely wrote the author back and declined the review request, stating that I wasn’t prepared to read a fourth book without having read the previous books, nor was I in a position to commit to reading four books (even short ones). More honestly, I’m not going to accept four books from an unknown author, who’s writing I might not like. Even more honestly, I’m gun-shy of male fantasy authors and I’m not going to accept four fantasy books, written by a man, that I might find no relatable female characters in. One I might chance, but not four.

The author wrote me back, saying “Just to let you know, the XXX are a loosely connected series. I have tried to make it so that you can read them out of order without it being an issue.  That said, XXX is the first one in the series where it might be useful to the reader to know what happened in the previous book, XXX“.

And here is where this story becomes relevant to this post. I glanced up at my husband and said, “Why wasn’t all of that pertinent information in the first email? Why make me ask for it?” Of course, I had to then explain what I was talking about. And my husband reasonably responded by reminding me that I’d just recently written a whole post about a bad book review request and here I was raising an eyebrow at another one. Why keep my review requests open at all? I’m accepting very many. Why keep reviewing at all?

To be clear, this wasn’t a bad request on the magnitude of the one I wrote about last week. It was just one that probably didn’t really fit my stated preferences (again, no physical format apparently available) and lacking important information. But the Marital Unit’s question got me thinking, both about why I keep my request queue open and why I review at all. Then I went and took a shower, which meant I had 15 uninterrupted minutes to think on my answer.

So, I decided to work it out on paper (or the blog) while I drink one more cup of tea, before going downstairs to listen to an audio book and fold about four hundred loads of clean laundry.

The first question can be answered easily. I keep my review requests open because I know authors have a numerical dependency on reviews. Good or bad they need numbers, they need reviews. But it’s also extremely hard to find reviewers for indie and self-published books. So, I enjoy the thought of being helpful in this particular regard.

It’s true that I’m not accepting very many these days. But that is largely because I’ve told myself I’m only going to accept physical copies of books I’m truly interested in. I’ve tried many different methods of accepting requests over the years and the end results always seems to be feast or famine. I’m either being flooded with irrelevant requests or lock it down so tight they trickle in (and still only a fraction of that trickle are truly meet my stated preferences and requirements). I’m fairly locked down right now.

The question of why I review in general is much more multi-layered, though perhaps not more complicated.

  1. I write reviews because I enjoy it. I enjoy the distillation of my thought on a book and reading experience, and the sense of conclusion writing a review gives that reading experience. It’s wholly about me. I enjoy it.
  2. I write reviews because I am a bit of a list-maker and collector. I really like to see the number of books read and reviewed pile up. I love that end of year tally. It’s wholly about me. I enjoy it.
  3. I write reviews because it creates a record that I can go back and reference if I’ve forgotten the details of a book (or if I’ve read the book at all). It’s wholly about me. I enjoy the help.
  4. I write reviews because it enables me to compare reviews with my book-friends and prompts interesting book-discussions. It’s all about me. I enjoy it.
  5. I write reviews because I know other readers find them helpful (reviews in general, not necessarily mine) and I like to be helpful. It’s mostly about me. I enjoy it.
  6. I write reviews because I know authors need them and I like to help. It’s mostly about me. I enjoy it.

I do not, however, write reviews to help authors become better writers. I actually really hate this particular point in the ‘why you should review books’ debate. I don’t consider myself in a position to teach authors. I can often recognize flat out poor writing (which is usually due to a lack of editor, rather than an actual lack of skill) and I might call that out, but beyond that, I don’t consider helping authors be better authors in my wheelhouse. I like to be helpful, but I get to decide what I’m helpful about. And that doesn’t make the list.

I also don’t write reviews so that I can get free books. Lord knows I have no shortage of books already. A copy of a book is expected to facilitate my ability to read and review said book, but the receipt of a free book (especially an ebook) is in no way a reason for me to review.

I don’t write reviews to make myself look smart. I don’t write reviews to be purposefully cruel or bully authors. (I’ve been accused of this.) I don’t write reviews because I’m on an ego trip or have any axe to grind. I don’t write reviews to further any political, social, or personal agenda.

I write reviews because I enjoy writing them. That’s really what it comes down to. Everything else is bonus.

How about you; do you write reviews? If so, why? And if not, why not?

nightmare-by TheDigitalArtist:7177 from pixaby

Bitchy Reviewer Being Bitchy…Again

I’m going to have a little rant /slash/ in-the-reviewer’s-head session here. Earlier today I received a book review request (I’m using the term request loosely, there is no actual request anywhere in the email) which I found presumptuous and arrogant. And since I’ve received some variation of this sort of request several times before, I was “all aflutter with not-again-annoyance” (to quote myself).

The first thing I did after receiving the email request was roll my eyes, but the next was to send this tweet out.

Soon after I sent out the tweet, I had poster’s remorse. I figured it wouldn’t actually irritate someone who hadn’t received so many arrogant requests before and, therefore, wasn’t quite so primed to find red flags in it. Thus this post. I’m going to break down why this particular post raised my eyebrow.

Just in case the image above doesn’t generate, I’ll quote the email I received below, though I’m redacting the author’s name and the title of the book. My point isn’t to shame them personally, but to show why (from my perspective) this request will never entice me to read their book. And hopefully prevent others making the same mistake.

Dear Sadie,

I have chosen to send you the first chapters of my book called XXX after reading on Amazon your review of  The Alchemist.

XXX is not just a spiritual or fictional book; it is much more than that. It is one of the most concise and informative books you have ever read. In the glossary, there is a wide range of information and website links for your spiritual awakening. This book will definitely change the way you see the world and yourself, and it can save your life and the people you love.

This is NOT a new marketing strategy. The COVID-19 pandemic is speeding things up, so I’m willing to send you the book for free if I have to.

I recommend that you read the first chapters as soon as possible. You will find a PDF file attached to this email.

Namaste,

I’m just going to start at the top and move line-by-line from there.

I have no issue with the greeting. In fact, they personalized it. No, Dear Reviewer here. So, good start.

My problem starts with “I have chosen to…” This attempts to set the tone of the exchange. They chose me. I should be grateful. This first sentence attempts to place me in a subordinate position. Because when one is grateful they go out of their way to be as helpful as possible in return.

My next issue is with “after reading on Amazon your review of  The Alchemist.” Here’s what I said about The Alchemist.

the alchemist review

It’s hardly a raving review that would suggest I’m looking for similar reads. Perhaps the author of the review request meant, ‘since you didn’t particularly care for The Alchemist you’ll like my book that is different because…’ But as they didn’t say that, I can only go with the guess that they hit up all the reviewers of The Alchemist that had open email addresses. Yes, I feel chosen and important. 🙄

Moving on to “XXX is not just a spiritual or fictional book.” I know some people may not see spiritual and religious as the same. But I think it’s fair, when speaking of book genres, that they fall in the same broad category and my policies state I “would prefer no YA or religious books, please.” It’s even in red….purple….pink…ish so it stands out.

policies screenshot

But even if you read that sentence and didn’t think it included spiritual books, the book pointedly isn’t Science Fiction, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance or an LGBTQ+ title. Thus, my policies already tell this author I don’t really want to read their book. I rather suspect this author didn’t bother reading the policies though.

We’ll just touch briefly on the assumptions about my education involved in the statement “It is one of the most concise and informative books you have ever read.” How do they presume to know what I may or may not have read? I’m a woman with two Masters degrees (and as an aside, a BSc that includes a minor in religious studies) and runs a book review blog. I’ve read quite a lot.

Next, “This book will definitely change the way you see the world and yourself,” This is either pointless hyperbole or a truly bold statement that again presumes to know an awful lot about me personally. And I simply don’t even know what to make of the claim “and it can save your life and the people you love.

This is NOT a new marketing strategy.” Then what is it? It’s certainly a marketing strategy. Is it an old marketing strategy dressed up as something different?

The COVID-19 pandemic is speeding things up...” What things, and how is Covid-19 speeding them up in any way that relates to me as a reviewer or the author’s decision to email me, pertinent?

… so I’m willing to send you the book for free if I have to.” Did you expect not to? Did you expect to request (demand) not only a review, but a purchase as well? Sending a copy of the book is a normal and expected part of the review request process. But I feel like the author included this line to emphasize how dire this mysterious situation is. Again, trying to control and manipulate the exchange, or at least my reaction to it.

I recommend that you read the first chapters as soon as possible.” This is where I really bristled. I did not ask for this author’s recommendation. In fact, I consider this a direct order from a person who should instead be humbly requesting I read the first chapter of their book at my convenience. And that’s assuming they aren’t asking if I’d be willing to read the first chapter of their book. That is a markedly different tone to what is presented. It presumes to have the authority to instruct me and the right to make demands of my time. It’s so certain of itself it has even included the chapter in question.

Then, after speaking to me as a questionably educated subordinate it signs off with Namaste, a sign of respect. Talk about a hollow misappropriation of the term!

Here’s the thing though. I can pick this email apart line-by-line, but it’s not the line-by-line sentences that are the problem. It’s the overall tone and what it tells me as a reader and reviewer. I’ve been doing this for seven years, I’ve learned a few things. Here’s what I can guess about this author already. And I’m pretty confident about it too.

I would normally say they’re almost certainly male (which leads me to wonder if they’d have employed the same domineering tone if they’d been writing to a male reviewer). But Google tells me the author’s name is generally female (and if it’s a man writing under a woman’s pen name I’d never know). Regardless, they are used to a certain amount of entitled pandering.  The book is almost certainly self-published and has probably never been seen by a professional editor. And here’s the real kicker. The author will almost certainly not deal well with criticism. If I give this book anything less than a 4-star rating I will probably deal with grief over it.

I’ll give as an example here the time I gave a someone’s book a 2.5 star rating and equivalent review. Then, TWO YEARS later was informed by a concerned by-stander that the author was having an explicit rape scene critiqued in a writers group and bragging about how he’d written it to avenge the reviewer who panned his book. This is the sort of vibe I get from this review requesta person who won’t take rejection well and then won’t want to let it go.

But Sadie, how could you possibly know that, you might ask. Well, I don’t know. But that is the impression the ‘request’ gives me and it’s backed by a fair amount of anecdotal evidence. Anyone who sends me a request that over-blown and pompous is obviously used to getting their own way, not being contradicted, and will assume they don’t need the help normal people do. After all, they don’t have to follow the social niceties. Not even when requesting a review of a book about spiritual awakenings.

At least that’s what I think the book is about. The email doesn’t actually give me any real concrete information about the subject of the book. After all, I’m not supposed to be deciding to read it because of any interest in the subject, but instead because the author is so impassioned, impressive, and told me to. In that regard, I’m not even supposed to be deciding to read it. I’m just supposed to do it. You’d think someone writing about some variant of spirituality would be a little more socially aware. But, oh well.

All in all, no, I won’t be reading this book. I wouldn’t be regardless of how the request was worded. It’s not within the stated genres I read and, since I can’t find a whiff of it online (Amazon, Goodreads, etc), probably not available in physical form, the only format I’m currently open to, per my policies.

So, while I admit I’ve written this in part simply for my own amusement, I think it’s also a point authors and publishers (or whomever is making a book review request) might take on board. Tone matters, manners matter. Words are not just words, they tell stories and give impressions. And that is as true outside the confines of your book cover as inside. This author burned a bridge pretty badly here. How many times have you (or I) inadvertently done the same?