Tag Archives: blogger rant

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?

 

 

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.