Tag Archives: up for discussion

In defense of reviews that say, “I don’t generally read this genre, but…”

This is one of those, probably ill-advised, posts in which I consider my own opinion. It came about because, the other day I was scrolling through Twitter and passed a tweet in which someone was disparaging reviews that say something along the lines of “I don’t generally like this genre, but I gave this book a try,” and then give it a negative review. There were several responses, vehemently agreeing.

As someone who has written reviews that say exactly that, I was perplexed. I considered responding, but decided to let it go. It wasn’t someone I knew enough to be certain debate on the subject would be welcome, and it’s just too easy to write what you think is a balanced polite comment, and have it come across as aggressive. In the end, I didn’t want to be that person who rolled up in someone else’s space and says, “But…”

But the tweet has stuck in my mind. The poster—who I assumed was an author, but I honestly don’t know**—is 100% entitled to their opinion. This post isn’t directed at them specifically, but the thread so reminded me of one particular review I wrote in the early days of this blog—This one—that I’ve been kind of ruminating on it ever since.

I’m not going to rehash the whole review. You can follow the link to see it on Goodreads.* But the review starts with this:

Oh God, I wish I hadn’t read that. Historically, I’ve not been a fan of contemporary romances. I often find the female leads weak-willed and the plots too sappy for me. I know that’s what some people like most about the genre, but me not so much. Despite my hesitations about the genre, I was tempted by the sarcastic tone of the book’s description…

I went on to say that I did not, in fact, like the book. And I promptly got this comment:

Then, as now, I’m confused by this opinion. Ok, that’s not true. I was then. I even spoke to someone in real life about the comment, only to have them say, “Sorry, but I agree with the commenter. If you don’t like the genre, don’t read the book.” Now, I understand where the opinion comes from, I just disagree with it.

Which is where the meat of this post comes in, why I disagree. To say that people who don’t generally like a genre shouldn’t ever read books in that genre is exclusionary and ridiculous. Life simply isn’t that black and white.

People’s opinions change, and if they never try something they might not like, they’d never know it. (Not to mention other reasons to read a book you might not like: to expose yourself to opposing opinions, book clubs, school, friends’ recommendations, cross-over, etc).

Let me give you a personal example. For most of my life, I thought I hated romance books. Every time I tried to read one, I was dissatisfied. But I was often tempted by the blurbs, especially if there was a fantasy element. So, every now and again, I’d give in and read one. 99% of the time I finished them unhappy. But there was always that one, which kept home alive.

As I got older and my understanding got more mature, I realized that I don’t hate romance. What I hate is the type of gender politics that are so common in romance books. So, if I was careful about which authors I read and/or read LGBT+ romances (which have their own problematic aspects, but not my particular rage triggering ones) I could happily read a romance book…or 400. But If I’d given up and said, “I hate romance” and never read another one, I’d have never realized my mistake and would have missed out on some of my favorite books.

So, I dislike being told I shouldn’t read a book in a genre I generally dislike. There are always exceptions, and I’m always hoping the next book will be the one. Which brings me to the original Tweeter’s point about reviewing books in genre’s you don’t like. Which is subtly different that reading them. No one would argue with, “I generally dislike this genre, but took a chance on this book and loved it.***” No one would tell that reviewer that they shouldn’t have written their review.

Reviews of such books is a topic that I take a related, but different issue with. Telling reviewers that they shouldn’t review books in genres they don’t generally choose to read presumes that reviews are written for a single purpose. What’s more, I’d assert that it positions the review in the perspective of the author and/or fans of a book/genre. It suggests “the review space about book X is only for people like us, and if you don’t share our view, you’re not welcome at the tea party.” It forgets that, while a review’s primary purpose may be to inform readers about a book’s quality (and we could argue if this should be objective or subjective quality), it isn’t a review’s only purpose.

I for one, write reviews as a sort of book journal. It’s my personal closing out the book ceremony. And as such, with very few exceptions (usually latter books in long series, in which my opinion hasn’t changed since earlier books), I review every book I read. Good, bad, indifferent, they all get a review.

So, how should I handle books from genres I generally dislike, took a chance on, and found they were not the exception to the rule? I’m going to review them. I say, “I generally don’t like this genre, but…” Why? Because that flags all readers of that review that it’s being written by someone who was not predisposed to like the book. It says up front, that the review could be considered bias. It warns readers that are fans of that genre that they can disregard the review as an outlier. I consider that sentence, and ones like it, to be a favor to future readers.

So, when people take issue with it, I’m always like, “Well, I guess I could leave it off and just let the review stand, unaccompanied, as a negative review.” Would that be better, you think? I don’t.

That single sentence also speaks to other readers who might not be regular fans of that genre, but are considering taking a chance on the book, just like I did. Maybe they’ll decide against it. Maybe they’ll see the points I make and decide they’re not the ones that bother them and read the book anyway (or because of the review). Either way, the review is still serving it’s purpose. It’s still a valid review.

I feel like telling readers that they should only read books in genres they particularly like, and should only be allowed to review books from such genres (and yes, I feel like this becomes a prescriptive, allowance issue) is akin to people claiming you shouldn’t write reviews of books you don’t like. Which means the only reviews to be written are positive ones. Which means review spaces lose their critical edge and instead become fuzzy praise boards.

This is something I REALLY disagree with. If someone chooses to only write positive reviews, that’s their choice. But the moment they say someone else shouldn’t write a negative, one I start to grind my teeth. Similarly, if someone chooses not to read or write reviews of books from genres they are not pre-established fans of, that’s their choice and I welcome to it. But as soon as they try to tell me I shouldn’t do it, we have friction.

* I don’t actually remember why I reviewed it on Goodreads and Amazon, but decided not to post it here. Maybe because it was my first year as a blogger and I wasn’t certain how to handle poor reviews yet. I don’t know, 4 years later.

**I didn’t at the time realize the tweet would still be in mind two days later. So, I didn’t think to take a screenshot. This post simply wasn’t that premeditated…or even meditated.

*** Which is basically the review I wrote last week for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Pie Society. I read it for book club, despite having no interest in it.

Tips for submitting Ebooks to bloggers for review

ID-100207548This is an on-going list of things that help make submitting an ebook for review flow smoothly. I’ll be adding points as they occur to me. It’s written to be specific to me and my blog, but in all likelihood would work for any number of bloggers. I’m trying to focus on specific tasks—the mechanics, so to speak—not the request itself. So I’m going to skip over the obvious be polite/professional, don’t SPAM or harass the reviewer, and other such basic etiquette. The Bookish Brunette and Lindsay Buroker do a good job of breaking that down, if that’s what you’re looking for. This is about the nuts and bolts of getting a book into my hand and a subsequent review on the net.

To start with,

I know this sounds too simple for words and every blogger to ever write a tips and hints page starts with it, but people really don’t do it. In my case, I don’t just assume they don’t, I know they don’t. I set up two email addresses, one labelled 2lazy2readP&P@sadieforsythe.com and the other, further down the page, labelled ereview@sadieforsythe.com. A full 1/3 of the requests I get come to that first email address. Of those that manage to read far enough to spot the trap, many still don’t follow the directions (point #2), so I’m forced to wonder how well they read them. But it’s a start.

I know, I sound like a first grade teacher. But my case makes an excellent example of why this is important. I strive to write an objective review. And, as much as I love meeting authors (and I really, really do), I find that too much conversation upfront impedes my ability to be impartial. This means I’ve set the whole system up so that I don’t actually ‘meet’ authors prior to reading their work. After—great, but not before.

lady-face-angry-mdSo, if you send me a ‘request’ that says ‘write me back if you would like a copy’ (which is me requesting your book, BTW, not you requesting a review) you’ve A) not followed direction and probably annoying me upfront, but more to the point, B) just collapsed my system. Don’t expect a response (not that you’d know that, since you probably didn’t read the policies or you would know better). And…

Under no circumstances write me this email and expect me to comply.

Good afternoon,

I saw your contact on book tweeting service, can you send me more informations about book reviews? Where will you post your review? your blog, amazon, goodreads, Facebook?

this is my new book…

Thank you very much

Looking forward to hear from you

Best Regards

Not only because all of that information has already been provided in the Do it Yourselfpolicies he/she obviously didn’t bother to read (yes, it came to the 2lazy2readP&P address), not to mention it’s listed on Book Tweeting, but also because I get several requests a day, have more books available to me than I can read, and therefore don’t need to work for more. I don’t need to make my case to you, just the opposite in fact. You make my job easier if you wish me to do you a favour, not the other way around. I don’t work for you. In fact, this gets me so riled up I wrote a whole rant on it. I know this really falls under the etiquette umbrella, that I wasn’t going to address, but it’s just so basic it needs repeating. 

I know this really falls under follow directions, but it deserves it’s own point. I ask for a title, synopsis, page length and cover image. I love it when authors include genre classifications too, but I don’t specify it. I ask for this information for a reason. It helps me decide if I’m interested in your book or not, but it also helps me in another way. I use Goodreads to keep track of my TBR list. If you’re book is too new to be on Goodreads I often add it so that I can place it on the appropriate shelf. To do this I need some basic information. Yes, I can search Amazon for this information (this is now acceptable by GR policies) and I do. But having the basics to begin with helps me help you.

man and kindleThis is something I never would have thought of if I wasn’t running an ebook review blog. Think it through. You send me an e-file. I then log it on my TBR list and plonk it onto my Kindle, to be read at some future date. When that time comes, I search my kindle for one of two things, the title or the author’s name. If the file is called something else, god forbid Unkown (of which I have several), I’ll never find it and, therefore never read it. So take that extra second to ensure that the file you attach to your email will show up when searched for.

If you send a Smashword’s coupon include the Smashwords link, not the Amazon one. I see this all of the time. People send me a coupon for one site and then link me to another. It’s usually Amazon. I think authors want me to know it’s available there. I promise, I’ll always look. But the logistics of the problem is that I still end up having to search for the book before I can actually use that handy-dandy coupon you’ve provided me. And as anyone who searches Smashwords regularly knows, their search engine is a bit of a pain. So just providing the link upfront instead of the higher profile Amazon one makes me happy. Honestly, I would prefer no link to a useless link. I’m just saying.

listI have on more than one occasion, received the same book from the same author 2 or 3 times. I’m assuming this isn’t harassment, so much as poor bookkeeping. This wastes everyone’s time. You waste time posting a duplicate email and I waste time trying to log it only to discover I already have it.

If a book is 2nd, 3rd, etc in a series, I will need the previous books. This admittedly runs the risk of my reading/reviewing the first one and not continuing the series to the newest book. If that happens at least you got one review from me. But without the beginning of the series I’m almost guaranteed not to read the book you send me.

I know those first couple reviews are the hardest and most nerve wracking to find, but I’m unlikely to choose to read your book until you have them. The reason is that I’m going to be honest about my thoughts. That means if I disliked the book I’m going to say so. I’m not heartless though. I want to know going in that if I dislike the book and rate it poorly there are enough other reviews to balance everything out. There are a lot of dissenting views out there on the use of acquaintances for reviews. As long as they actually read the book before reviewing it I have no issue with it.

Like I said, this is an on-going list. Expect it to grow. But it’s a start. I’d be really interested in hearing from others. Have I forgotten something, missed something, mangled something? Let me know. 

How to Piss off a Book Blogger: Treat Them Like an Employee

Gift horse I blog about books. I do this for the sheer joy of it and part of that joy comes from doing other authors a good turn. Because make no mistake, if I review your book on request I am doing you a favour. I am passing up the opportunity to read any number other books. Books I’ve chosen because they appeal to me. Books I may, perhaps even will probably, like more than yours for just that reason. Books that sit unread because I am kind enough to take requests, your requests.

And, while I don’t expect to be cajoled or senselessly flattered, I do expect to be treated with the respect due someone doing something nice with very little expectation of return. I expect to be allowed the power in this particular relationship. I expect to be the boss. And I don’t think this is unreasonable of me.

That’s why I’m always surprised and a little appalled when I get emails from authors who forget (or maybe never knew) this. I’m going to illustrate this point with a series of brief emails I recently exchanged with an author who shall remain nameless. (Though, not doubt, they’ll recognise themselves.) The issue really comes in at the end, but it won’t make a lot of sense without the background of the proceeding exchanges. It started out with a pretty standard email request.

Hi there Sadie,

I read your policy on your blog and I have to say that I have no time frame for my novel to be reviewed. Whenever you can do it is fine (if you decide to that is). I understand how busy people can get. I can go months without reading and then read loads in a small block. Life is funny like that. Below is all the bits of info you need. I’ve also attached a mobi file of my novel.

listen-carefully-and-follow-directionsGood job so far. It’s personalised, even goes on to create a little rapport and ensures that I know they read the policies. (You’d be surprised how many obviously haven’t, as they don’t follow the directions. I ignore these BTW. If you can’t be bothered to read and follow the directions, I can’t be bothered to correct you so that I can read your book. That onus is on you.) Granted, there is no actual request in there, but that’s fine. It’s implicit. I get that. No problem. Why else would they be emailing me?

The email went on to include all of the requisite information–page length, genre, blurb, etc. I like having that. I appreciate it. Thank you. If this had been the only communication between the author and myself I wouldn’t have thought anything about it. But the whole thing fell down when they failed to attach the Mobi file. Now, this is a mistake. A mistake we’ve all made at least a million times in our lives. No big deal. And since I thought the book looked interesting I shot the author a quick email pointing this fact out to them. In fairness I’ll include my own communications.

Thank you for contacting me about a review of XXX. I’d be happy to add it to my list, however I don’t think the actual mobi file was attached, just a jpeg of the cover.

This is where things started to fall apart, just a little bit, and they didn’t have to.

That’s odd! It says it is there when I’ve opened it. Anyway here it is again. Let me know if it works. I may have to try something else if it doesn’t. Thank you so much for agreeing to read it. I hope you enjoy it.

There is a thank you in there, so I’m all good with the politeness. Again it’s always appreciated. The minor problem, which wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t in conjunction with the next email, which I’ll get to in a minute, is that it suggests that I’m mistaken and the file is actually attached. Shifting blame is unnecessary. It could have been corrected without comment or conceded to. It’s all together possible that some technical mishap resulted in the file getting lost before arriving in my inbox. I don’t know what it could be, but it could happen. But obviously I wouldn’t send an email back unless I’ve checked and double checked that the file isn’t there.

My whole system is set up for a single communication between authors and myself. Anything more than that does two things I dislike. One, it takes a lot of my time. Two, it creates a familiarity that I find clouds my own willingness to be honest in my review. I don’t like disappointing my friends and the more I communicate with you the friendlier I feel about it and the guiltier I feel if I have to give you a poor review. Incidentally there is also an assumption that I’ve agreed to read the book, when I only actually agreed to put it on the TBR list to possibly read. But that’s an easy misinterpretation, so no biggy.

As a social grace I was willing to admit that I may have made a mistake though. So I responded thus,

Worked this time. It’s possible I missed it the first time, though I checked more than once. Either way, all fine now.

I don't work for youHere is where everything started to crumble for me. Here is where I said, ‘WTF? I don’t work for you.’ And in all fairness it was almost certainly unintentional on the part of the author. Email is the least formal of formal communication and we all know how easily it can be misinterpreted and that we have to be mindful of our tone.

Great! Don’t worry about it. Let me know when you’ve done the review and send me a link to it on your blog. Thanks. If you do author interviews/spotlight etc I would be interested in that if you like my book enough to do it. Take care and thanks again.

Still polite. Great. But there are two major issues here if you stop and think about it. That first sentence, “Great! Don’t worry about it.” is what you say to someone in order to forgive them for inconveniencing you. I should not be treated as someone who was done a favour. Please refer to paragraph one of this very blog post. Multiply it by the value of X since I was kind enough to go to extra effort to make sure I could, in the future, do the favour you are asking me for.

Second, and more to the point, “Let me know when you’ve done the review and send me a link to it on your blog.” is a direct order–not a request, not a solicitation, not a suggestion, an order. I don’t work for anyone any more. I’m not accustomed to being told what to do and, let me tell you, I do not appreciate it. Especially when, again, it breaches my standard single communication rule.

I’m sure this author wasn’t trying to pull a hierarchal coup. They weren’t trying to insult me and they probably weren’t even aware that this single, brief email takes incredible advantage of the goodwill I offer authors. It makes assumptions about the use of my time that they have no right to. It assumes that I am willing and able to remember a special instruction for one of hundreds of requests I receive in a year. It presumes that their book is important enough to deserve special treatment. It isn’t. No one’s is. I treat all request that come to me equally.

So, the point of this post is to…ok part of it is just to vent a little bit, but it’s primarily to remind authors looking for reviews to be as careful of the wording of their requests as they would be in any other professional exchange. Remember that you are seeking favours and, unless otherwise stated, not entering into any kind of obligated contract. Following direction is imperative. Being polite is appreciated. But not assuming you have a right to make demands is too.

volunteerI’ve seen such demands come in any number of forms. Almost always accompanied by a lack of understanding of the book blogger’s process and the effect of the sheer number of request received. Finding reviews is hard work. Finding reviewers who will accept indie and self-published books even harder. Stop and think about how much research it has taken you to find bloggers willing to accept you book. Stop and think again of how many other authors just like you are doing the same thing and then stop and think what it feels like for a blogger to get swarmed by all of you almost everyday. Then stop and remember that to us you and your book are just one of many, many we see.

I don’t mean to diminish how special you or your product are. You are each amazing. You wrote a book after all! But this isn’t the forum to be anything but modest and unassuming. Making demands not only won’t get you what you want it might just compromise the likelihood of being considered at all. The squeaky wheel doesn’t always get the grease. Sometimes it just gets discarded.

For the record, the above book is still on my TBR. It looks interesting. I’ll probably read it at some point. I’m not trying to pick on or punish this particular author for something tons of authors do in one way or another. (Hell, before becoming a blogger I probably did it myself.) But the point deserved some attention. When you’ve sent dozens, maybe even hundreds of review requests out it can be easy to fall into abbreviated actions that come across as just plain rude on the receiving end. I’m just throwing out one rather long winded reminder of that.