New website is under construction.

Jan 23, 2011

5 Things A Writer Learned About Reviews and Reviewers

It's that time in my novel's lifecycle that it has to go out into the big wide world and plead for reviews. It's both terrifying and gratifying, when I thought it would merely be terrifying. Already, I've leared so much I never would have guessed about reviews and reviwers, and I'm only beginning.

1. People who read and review books are awesome.
I admit, I never used to think this. I thought of book critics as obnoxious wannabes who enjoyed tearing down writers for the malicious sense of self-importance it gave them. Now I am ashamed of myself for thinking that.

Who are the reviewers? Well, among those who are interested in my book, which is a coming of age story, a fantasy, a romance, a fairytale, there tend to be a lot of young reviewers. College kids, mostly, a few high school and a few just out of school, who find time for fiction around school semester schedules, math tests and English degrees. Then there is a whole slew of SAHM (Stay At Home Moms) who balance a house of small hooligans with very slick, semi-professional review blogs. Among the professionals, librarians and teachers predominant. We mustn't forget there are also a few grandmas out there, boldly braving the new technology to remind readers of classic tales, and also to read new releases.

Some of these reviwers do three to four reviews a week! Some reviewers work in teams. Others work alone. They challenge each other to read X number of Y kind of book in Z amount of time. Not surprisingly, they get burned out. Some reviewers whose beautiful reviews of other books moved me were sadly not taking on any new projects. Others were eagerly still filling their calandars.

2. Not every reviewer will love, or even like my book... and that's okay. Really.
Of course, I've gotten nothing but 5-star reviews for The Unfinished Song: Initiate so far, so it's easy for me to say this now... but I know not every review is going to be 5-stars. Some reviewers I've contacted have already declined because they didn't think it looked like their kind of book. I thought that kind of response would devestate me, but you know what? It didn't. I didn't feel bad about myself or the reviwer in question. It was acutally (gasp) no big deal.

3. There are, in fact, more readers than writers in the world.
I have a lot of friends who write novels. In fact, sometimes it seems like everyone I know writes novels. A great many of my friends on Facebook and Twitter not only write novels, but write much better novels than I, and have been publishing them for years. This is all very intimidating, and it sometimes feels like it's pointless to put any new novels out there, because there are more novels than people to read them...

...and it turns out, this is completely myopic. There are actually lots and lots of people out there scouring the world for books, desperate for books, in love with books.

And it's ridiculous I have to be reminded of this, because I am actually such a reader myself. I was, long before I wrote anything down, and remained, even after I began earning money as a published author. Readers are abundant, they love books, and they make this whole thing worthwhile.

Not surprisingly, some reviewers are also writers, or aspiring writers. Rather than see this as a bad thing, I see myself in them, especially the young girls who are busy devouring 8 books a week while also puttering away on their first novel. I was once in their shoes.

4. Reviewers need ereaders.
There were some reviewers whose blogs I loved, whose reviews were a delight to read, but whom I did not ask to review my book. Why? They didn't want an ebook version, only a print ARC.

I remember going through this with agents and email. Originally, I mailed all my queries. Agents wrote scathingly on their websites that authors had better not try to email them. Then, a few agents began to accept email queries. Naturally, I queried them first, but still wrote paper letters to the others. After a while, it became tiresome to write paper letters, when the more reasonable agents accepted email, and I procrastinated. Finally, long after this should have occurred to me, I realized I didn't even want an agent who couldn't figure out to use email, and I didn't care what their excuse for preferring paper was.

I could see myself about to go through the same thing with ARCs and reviewers. I understand that some reviewers haven't bought an ereader yet, some still prefer paper books, etc. But the fact is, if you are in this industry, and if you review, even as a hobby, you're in it at least by a toe, you owe it to yourself to move past paper. It's just dragging you down. It makes it more expensive to send an ARC, unnecessarily so.

I did note the names of reviewers I liked who had a "no ebook" policy. In a year, I'll check in on them again. I bet many of them will have changed that policy.

5. Reviewers have gone indie too.
A lot of reviewers state explicitly that they won't review self-published books. I'm going to restrain myself from injudicious comparisons to refusing to serve certain people at lunch counters because of the color of their skin rather than the content of their character, because that would unfairly trivialize a loathsome historical situation. I will say that I wish all people would judge books by the content of their character.

Here in the real world, though, some people still turn up their noses at small third party presses and indie books. The most obnoxious so-called fantasy/sf review site I saw actually listed the only publishers from whom it would accept books, and it wasn't a long list.

The publisher of Paeolo Bacigalupi's award winning The Windup Girl, Night Shade Books, was not on that list.

Dude. Whatever.

However, there's a most delicious irony lurking in all this, namely that reviwers themselves are independently published. Think about it. It used to be rather difficult to be a reviewer of any importance, to be anyone publishing houses would send ARCs. You had to have a journalism degree and a job at a newspaper or a magazine or some such, or perhaps a syndicated column. High school girls, and college students and stay at home moms and grandma librarians probably needn't have applied.

Now all you have to do is set up a blog -- self-publish. You don't need credentials, you just need cred, and you build that by providing content. Simple as that. Make it look professional, put the work in like a professional, and you will be treated as a professional, you'll have publishers sending you so many books you have to turn them away in droves. If you're lazy or inconsistant, that shows in the blog, in the number of followers and readers, and probably you won't be as overwhelmed with eager authors and publicists sending you books. Either way, it's all up to you. You can do a professional job without making it your professional job. You have the control.

I love living in a tech revolution that actually helps decentralize power rather than hoard it.


Unknown said...

Looks like a post full of truth to me! Especially the part about how a great book can come from anywhere.

Jai Joshi said...

What a great post, Tara Maya! It's nice to know that reviewers can be looked at as something other than ogres. They're people too.


David Ebright said...

Good points. I haven't done much with getting reviews for my stuff. It's YA but (gasp) I'm of that OTHER gender & my name's not Rick Riordon. I've found plenty of terrific self published authors. Frankly, I don't look at who pubbed a book & rarely look at reviews. Guess I'm strange.

wannabuy said...

I'll take awesome (as a reviewer). ;)

Reviews are key. Most of my purchases are based on the *negative* review. I love finding a book where someone says "I didn't like it for *blaa* blaa blaa.

When I happen to be a fan of *blaa*. :)

Actually, I dropped by for one reason. How am I the only review on the painted world's novel?!? (I'm about to go on a trip, so I was seeing who had written what and was loading up the Kindle.)

Good luck with Initiate! I bet it will sell even better with a few follow up novels.


Kim said...

I'm one of those SAHM reviewers, and I own an eReader, so I'm good! Frankly, I generally prefer the indie, self-published authors, so I don't get that refusal. You never turn down an opportunity to read a great story!

Bookworm Lisa said...

Well said. I enjoyed your post. I came to let you know that I have posted a review on my blog for your book. I really enjoyed it and I am looking forward to the second book. Thanks for being a great writer. You can find my post at