Category Archives: up for discussion

Closing out 2017

It’s New Years Eve, 2017, and another year is gone. How? HOW? I remember being a kid and hearing my parents talk about how fast time goes and being baffled. I mean summers seemed to last an eternity and Christmas took a decade to get here. But I’m all grown up now and I get it. Time slips by.

I know not everyone does it, but I mark its passage with books. Have I read ten so far? Twenty? Two-hundred? Three? This year it was 301. Granted, a few of those were children’s books or short stories and this was the year I really dove into audio books. But I still consider that a pretty good number. More than I expected, honestly. I set my initial year-long goal at 250 books.

As I’ve said in the past, I generally use Goodreads to keep track of things—books I’ve read, mean to read, own but have decided not to read but can’t bring myself to trash (gasp, the horror), etc. And while I don’t use star rating here on the blog, so that readers pay more attention to the content of a review than the numerical marker of success or failure, I do rate them on Goodreads; who conveniently produces a nice little graphic about them. Tada!

That’s a lot of freakin’ books and looking at it makes me feel incredibly satisfied. I’ll just take a moment to bask in it, thank you very much.

So, what were the highs and lows of 2017’s reading, or even just what stands out? Blue aliens. Seriously, at one point I started collecting book covers with blue aliens on them. I gave up at about 130. Once I started looking, I saw them EVERYWHERE! Thousands and thousands of blue aliens, apparently they don’t come in other colors anymore.

OK, more seriously. I didn’t have a lot of standout books this year (I read a lot of fluff, I admit it), but those that struck me as especially worthwhile were All Systems Red, The Hate U Give, Peter DarlingThe Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic, and  Vick’s Vultures;

with The “Wonderful” Wizard of Futhermucking Oz , Resistance, Shifting Dreams, and Twelve Days of Fairy maybe not topping the list, but sticking with me as memorable for their own reasons.

I won’t do a worst of list, but I will note two particular rants I found myself making several times this year. Spinoffs, I cannot tell you how many times I picked up a book thinking it was book one in a series, only to discover that it was actually book one in a spinoff series. Sometimes this was readable—The Crown Tower, The Stone in the Skull and The Way of Shadows being examples—but sometimes I felt like I was picking up book #14 in a series. Sometimes that’s actually what I was doing, the publisher just thought it would sell better if called a new series. I’m getting increasingly sensitive about this, because it just keeps happening to me.

Secondly, I discovered the phrase Book Stuffing/page stuffing. This is something I’d noticed and been irritated by, but didn’t know there was a name or reason for it. The idea being that an author or authors take a cluster of stories or books, makes one of them the title of the “book” and calls all the others “bonus material.” They then take the same stories, call another one the title and mix up the order of the rest and call it a second “book.” Doing this for every one in the collection, such that there are several “books” containing the same material.

The idea is apparently, as I understand it, to have a high page count. This is important because Amazon KU pays authors by the number of pages read, not books sold. The author then includes a link at the end of the primary book to a ‘sneak peak’ or some other enticement that bypasses all the bonus material and leaping to the end, thereby marking them all as read and gaining several hundred page reads and a high payout.

So, these book stuffers are breaking Amazon’s rules to essentially rig the system, sucking more than their share of the KU earnings into their own coffers. They also regularly snatch the monthly KU bonuses and usurp all the top spots on the charts, such that authors playing by the rules are payed less and struggle to gain any visibility.

I don’t have any books in KU. So, on a personal level this doesn’t effect me. What does is the fact that before I learned what this is, I picked up a couple of these stuffed books and read at least some of several of them. They were just terrible. They’re not written to actually be read, after all. The title story was crap all by itself, before I even got to the idea that I thought I was in for a 400 page book, but instead of ten 40 page stories. As a reader, I felt cheated and manipulated. I felt like I had been taken advantage of and lied to. This feeling only got worse once I realize it wasn’t just an annoying way to sell short stories with bad writing, but an actual scam.

It’s my understanding that Amazon is trying to get a handle on this, so maybe it’s no longer a valid complaint and won’t matter for 2018. But it sure was something of note for me in 2017.

Let’s see, what else? Challenges? I didn’t do anywhere near as many challenges as I have in the past. I did an alphabet challenge, where I read a book by an author who’s last name starts with each letter of the alphabet. I did an Action Heroine challenge on Goodreads. I started a mini challenge to read all the paperback novellas on my shelf. I promptly forgot about it though. It’s amazing how I can look over a stack of books on my desk for months. So, I’m calling this one ongoing, I’m about halfway done.

I tried to read more local authors, though I never made this an official challenge, and I made a concerted effort to read more diverse books. But, while I started the year planning to do an actual Diverse Romance Bingo card and a Read Diverse 2017 challenge, I didn’t keep up. I didn’t remember to go back and check the card and the Read Diverse blog hasn’t been updated since April, so I haven’t been able to post there. (I believe the blogger got married and priorities changed. Fair enough.)

I have also had the honor of reading several books or stories by people I’ve gotten to know online. Ladies, you know who you are and you are amazing. Not all the genres are in my wheelhouse, but it’s been amazing to follow the creative process, especially since (despite my intentions) I did very little writing this year.

All in all, 2017, while rough in other ways, was a good year for reading. I look forward to more of the same in 2018. Here’s hoping.

B*tchy Blogger being B*tchy

I seem to do this about once a year, have an encounter that just rubs me the wrong way. I’m never entirely sure I wouldn’t let the same thing slide at any other moment than the one it happens in, but at the time it usually leaves me thinking, “How do people feel so entitled to my time or that they’re in any position to tell me how I should do things in my own reviews?”

I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve gotten on reviews subtly telling me that my opinion is wrong and I should be saying something else or saying something differently or in a different tone, etc. Sometimes I just roll my eyes at them, sometimes I thank them for mansplaining my opinion to me, which never goes over well, just so you know. People then seem to want to police how I communicate with said commenters. It’s a truly odd scenario that I’ve seen a couple times now.

And I’ll be honest, this post is mostly just me venting. But maybe it can be used as a cautionary tale about how you (authors requesting reviews) come across to bloggers (or this blogger, as I’ve just basically been told I don’t do it right, since I don’t do it like everyone else). Because often something that seems benign is actually annoying to a blogger (me), be it because they’ve seen it a hundred times or it reads differently on the receiving end than the requesting end.

This will take a little set up, going back almost 2 years. But first let me remind you of a couple passage in my policies and procedures. They say, “Sending me a book does not guarantee that I will read or review it,” and “just to reiterate this, I may never read YOUR book,” and most importantly for the point I wish to make today, “I love, love, LOVE getting to know other authors…However, I aim for a truly objective review and I find that too much conversation upfront impedes my ability to be impartial. So, please don’t take offense if you hear little from me prior to reading your book.”

What this comes down to is that, with few exceptions, I don’t respond to review requests. The whole system is set up for books to flow toward me and reviews to roll away from me, with no stutter in the steps, no need for any back and forwards between us.

I set it up this way because in the beginning of this blog’s existence, I listed very clear preferences about what I was open to accepting and what I wasn’t, along with the directions on how to submit requests that I would agree to or not. At that point in time I responded to each request. The idea was that only so many authors would be sending them, as only so many would match my stated preferences. I found that the vast majority of authors making requests to me ignored my preferences completely, most obviously hadn’t even read them. I got so tired of it I set up a trick email so I knew who had or hadn’t read the policies.

It’s not a secret, I’ve mentioned it several times. I simply put this paragraph at the top of my P&P page.

If you would like a book reviewed please email a MOBI file to 2lazy2readP&P@sadieforsythe.com. My policies follow. Please read them. Ireally is in your own best interest. I will ignore emails that patently haven’t followed even the most basic directions. Additionally, here are some generalisable tips.

I get so many emails to this address, you guys! I even got a tweet once asking if it was still my email, since he hadn’t gotten a response. And I just looked at it and thought, “You had to cut and paste that and you still didn’t actually read it, let alone the policies that would tell you not to expect a response.”

If you take nothing else way from this post, please hear me when I say it’s exceedingly annoying and borderline insulting to ask someone to read your 300 page book and write a several hundred word review, if you won’t even read a single page of policies in return. The arrogance in that astounds me. I promise you, from a bloggers perspective there is no monetary reward for doing this, not even the copy of your book counts. I work in ebooks, it costs nothing to send them and once read they just sit on my computer taking up space. They do not count as payment for my time or effort. So, you should expect to show a little respect when requesting it.

It got so bad that I just gave up on listing preferences at all and said, in a somewhat desultory way, fine, just send whatever and I’ll just choose among them. This is when I went to ebooks only, so it wouldn’t cost anyone to send a book I might never read. But I digress. I never miss an opportunity to say it though, because apparently people need the repeated reminder.

Back to today. I don’t respond to review requests. That’s my practice. In July of 2015 I got a request to read a particular book. I went through my normal process when I get a request. I uploaded the file to Caliber and marked it on Goodreads as a request. (That’s how I keep track of what has been sent to me.) Then in November, I got another request. I went to upload it to Caliber and realized there was no file attached. But I recognized it was a repeat, so I already had it anyhow. This was a stutter in my process, but mistakes happen. I got on with logging other books.

Then three months later I got a third email. Stating that the sender had made a request and not added the file. Since I was still open to reviews, they’d add it here. It was followed by all the same information from the first two emails.  A little over six months later, I got a fourth one. I recognized it this time. A fourth almost identical email, tends to stick in mind, even over a years time.

You’ve probably realized by now that if I haven’t read it in a year, I’m probably not going to. It isn’t a book that appeals to me. This didn’t appear to occur to the author, as I had this twitter exchange with them today.

[As an aside, I wonder how many more emails I would have gotten if my spam filter hadn’t identified the email address as a repeat and bounced it.]

This final exchange is what I want to talk about. Yes, I was curt with this author (and to their credit, they did not respond in kind), certainly not as polite as I would normally be. But from my perspective, here’s why: As this author (whose identity I have obviously obfuscated because this whole thing is close enough to a subtweet without me calling them or their book out by name/title) points out, a simple response would have let them know I got their book. But, as I said, it’s not my practice and it takes a little while to push someone out of their normal routine.

More than that, the emails were obviously a cut and paste deal—quite long, with an intro, blurb, sample passage, discussion of what the work utilizes, a bio, discussion on target audience and the amount of gore/violence, purchase links, and previous review quotes. So, not something they wrote just for me. In fact, one of the emails still had the email interaction between the author and another reviewer they requested from, with all the same information attached (obviously from having been cut and pasted). So, if the format wasn’t enough to prove it was a cut and paste deal the author’s mistake would, which is fine. I don’t mind a form email, but it doesn’t grab my attention. More to the point, it makes it a lot easier to think, when you receive a second one, that the author just doesn’t realize they’re hitting the same reviewer up a second time. Which is exactly what I thought.

By the time I got the third email, I realized this was an author who intended to be persistent. And this is important, it’s where impressions come into play, because if I’ve come to the attention of someone who is willing to hound people until they get what they want (and I’m not saying this person is like that, just that from the email chain it was looking like they might be) the last thing I want to do is encourage it by engaging them, which discourages me from contacting them.  Further, right there any chance I might read their book is drastically reduced, because, in my experience, those are the same authors who go nuts if they get a bad review and I avoid those authors like they have the plague.

By the time I got the fourth email, a year after the first, I was feeling hunted. I recognized the book on sight and was irritated to see it in my email again. Do you want to be the author reviewers avoid? Probably not. Is it logical to feel hunted from four emails, also probably not. But the darned thing just kept popping back up with the same cut and paste information, nothing new. Just another identical request, liked a kid that keeps asking for candy after they’ve been told ‘not until after dinner’ four times. It’s exactly as effective as my six-year-old’s begging and exactly as annoying.

So, by the time I got the Twitter DMs asking me how to better contact me to request a fifth review from me, I’d had enough. Authors, if you’ve emailed someone four times, you are no longer sending a friendly, helpful reminder email. You just aren’t. It’s time to move on.

I wholly acknowledge that this author did not set out to become a canker sore in my contact box. From where they sat they had five attempts at communication over a year and a half. That doesn’t sound too bad. And honestly, they’re not the only one I’ve gotten multiple emails from. In terms of frequency, they’re not even the worst. One particular duo sent me 18 emails about reviewing their books, none of which followed the directions and included the file to actually review. But on the receiving end it feels like Bible thumpers you just can’t get to stop knocking on your door. You don’t want to answer to tell them to go away, because then you have to talk to them. But if you don’t talk to them, they’ll come back. It’s not a good position to put anyone in.

There are other, smaller things effecting me in this case too. Things that are really just personal quibbles. I, for example, think a book gets six months as a new release to be eligible for sending out for review requests. After that it needs to be set aside to garner attention on its own. There are more authors seeking reviews than there are bloggers to review them and if older books never step out of the request/review line, no new books can find their way into it. I think it’s selfish to still be petitioning reviewers so long after a release, unless there’s a reason for it (new edition, as a promotion prior to a sequel’s release, etc). Not everyone agrees with this, obviously. But it comes into play here as, “Why is this author still emailing me about this book at all? It’s no longer a new release.” Which just compounded my annoyance at getting several requests for it.

Like I said above, I’m venting here. I’m being b*tchy. But I think it can also benefit authors to be reminded that bloggers get inundated with review requests. I have a paragraph at the beginning of mine saying that I’m currently only reading one requested review book a month, and I still get several requests. Admittedly, the number has fallen off as authors are discouraged by my rather terse statement, but they haven’t stopped. And when I had no such note, I was receiving hundreds of requests, literally. I read a lot, but that’s far, far more than I could handle. This is why reading policies is so important. Imagine trying to keep track of all that. Anything that tangles up the system is problematic.

But it also means that in these circumstances, your one little email—be it a first, a reminder or a fourth—is never just one little email to the person who is getting it. It’s one drop in a flood. Some things so easily compound into big things when you’re talking about that sort of volume. Be respectful, be patient, be diligent and be willing to take no for an answer (even an unspoken one) and walk away. And for goodness sake, don’t think your unsolicited advice on how things should be done, no matter how subtle, is welcome or appreciated! I promise you, it’s not.

OK, I feel better. Sometimes a venting session is necessary. If I’m lucky maybe it’ll be helpful to someone and not exist as little more than a vent. But it is what it is.

Edit:

June 25, 2017 and I just got another request for this book.

Aug. 26, 2017 and I just got ANOTHER request about this book.

What’s with all the blue aliens?

OK, so this may not be something you know about me, but I have a weakness for the Mars Needs Women trope. It goes against so many of my ideals, often involving dub or non-con, the woman invariably learns love ‘submitting,’ women are valued for their sex and ability to breed and for little else, and the males are overbearing and frequently violent. I shouldn’t like the trope, but I do. I do, in a snicker-at-the-cheese sort of way, but still I enjoy it.

And earlier today, I was looking into a couple of books involving this trope and noticed a pattern. I know aliens are often referred to as ‘little green men,’ but what’s with all the big blue men lately? Seriously, a casual scroll through Google netted these. It literally took me about five minutes to copy them all. Imagine how many I’d find if I really went looking or included those with blue-toned covers, and not just blue aliens. And, yes, I do realize some of them are series. That’s totally fair, but a lot of these aren’t. So, my question stands.

Honestly, it’s not even that I have anything against ripped, blueish alien beings. I like Avatar, after all.  But this seems a tad homogenized. A whole universe out there and all the planets needing females are populated by humanoid, blue males? What’s up with that?

Yeah, this is the sort of thing you find yourself thinking when you are a visual person with a tendency to pick out patterns, but where’s my chartreuse alien, or mauve, or red? They can’t possibly all be blue.

Just a thought really.

Edit: Since I wrote this, I’ve seen blue aliens everywhere and I’ve added a couple covers to the original list. Plus, I’m noticing Aliens all seem to be warriors and Alien Princes seem to do a lot of claiming. LOL