Reading Rage Tuesday: When authors attack book bloggers kamikaze-style.

10 July 2012 by 120 Comments

“You don’t owe me anything,
You don’t want this sympathy,
Don’t you waste your breath;
Monty, this seems strange to me.”
–”Monty Got a Raw Deal”

The Reading Rage is back, y’all. Did you miss ranty me?

I actually hadn’t planned on writing a reading rage until next week, but some dramz went down over the weekend and I wanted to blog about it. I followed a link from Twitter to the Hey Dead Guy blog responding to an open letter written by author Elly Zupko. In her post, Ms. Zupko put forth a zomgcrazy idea to book bloggers: Hey, book bloggers, since YOU are independent and self-published, and self-published authors are also independent and self-published, maybe you should reconsider policies that state that you don’t accept pitches from self-published book bloggers! Le gasp! If only book bloggers had thought of that before!

Ms. Zupko went on to discuss why book bloggers should open their doors to self-published authors, but she did so in an admonishing tone. This? Is not a good way to persuade anybody, even if you’re trying to be logical about it. The following was one of the most hotly contested passages in the post:

That you would close your hard-earned doors to people who have the same entrepreneurial spirit as you is at best disappointing. At worst, it’s duplicitous and condescending. You chose to go the non-traditional route. So why do you only review the same books the traditional reviewers are looking at?

She also tried to turn the tables on book bloggers, asking us where we would be if publishers decided to stop sending us books. (My guess: we’d be in the same boat that most book bloggers and readers are already in, in that we’d still be fine because books are widely available in libraries and bookstores.) The post, in my opinion, was poorly argued overall; there are great responses at Hey Dead Guy and Caveat Lector, so I’m not going to re-argue it here.

Ms. Zupko, having been inundated with comments and trackbacks arguing her points, replied with another post both apologizing for and defending her original post (which really kind of reads, to me, as “I don’t really think I was wrong, but since I want you to review my book, I’m totally sorry… can this go away now?”). She clearly doesn’t understand some of the rebuttals to her earlier post, such as when she tries to re-emphasize that, even though authors are trying to sell their work and book bloggers aren’t, we’re both “not in it for the money”–which misses the point entirely about profit motive. She also says things like, “So while it seems like [book bloggers] are being indiscriminately strafed by indie authors, that’s not the case for a lot of us [authors pitching books].” Many, if not most, book bloggers would disagree . . . and in any case, how would she know what we experience? Her concessions didn’t read as sincere to me. The post read as an attempt at damage control.

Most rankling about her “apology” post was the assertion that book bloggers have “all of the power” and that we have a “power/peon” mentality instead of an “we’re all in this together” mentality; according to her, we were using our position of power to tell her to “sit down and shut up” when we responded to her claims. I found that insulting, but it makes a lot of sense as to why Ms. Zupko wrote such an admonishing post in the first place. I feel gross about the implication that we’re on a power trip. We don’t accept books because we want to be kingmakers or reject books to give them a death sentence; most of us, on our own, we don’t even have the ability to launch a book out of obscurity all by our lonesome. There’s really no scenario where we’re lounging around on our nonexistent thrones, knighting some authors and beheading others–nor is that the intention of any of the book bloggers that I know. We choose the books we want to read and review because we’re hustling our asses off to write good content for the people who read our blogs. If we think a book would make good content, we choose it. A rejection isn’t a show of power; it’s a message that the book probably won’t be agreeable to the collective audience of the blog, or that the blogger herself wouldn’t be inclined to read and write a favorable review of the work. The smart thing to do is move on and find the ones that will.

I think what happened here was that Ms. Zupko doesn’t really understand marketing herself to book bloggers; this isn’t uncommon in the writing community. She doesn’t understand how book blogging works or our motivations for putting out content; she also doesn’t understand that book bloggers aren’t beholden to the industry any more than the average consumer. She even admitted that she didn’t understand how deep the issue of not accepting self-published authors goes (“It’s eye-opening to me to see so many bloggers having been burned by their personal interactions with self-pubbed authors. I’m really shocked and dismayed at that lack of professionalism and couth”). Yet, she still insisted that her criticisms were accurate. It’s her prerogative to put her opinion out there, of course, but Ms. Zupko had an objective: to try to get more bloggers to review self-published books, such as her own. I think we can safely say that this goal was not achieved, and she may have damaged her chances of getting onto some blogs in the process.

What could Elly Zupko have done differently to get her point across and possibly reach her goal? I can think of a number of things. The first thing that she might have done would be to e-mail a few blogs that would have been likely candidates for her book if they accepted self-published works and ask (politely) why they have that policy. She would have discovered before she wrote her post that many self-published authors don’t take the time and care that she claims to have taken with her own pitches, something that she admitted that she didn’t know until she started getting responses.

The next thing that she could have done, if she still wanted to write the post, was frame it in the positive. Her post chided us; the post read to a lot of us as “you guys are hypocrites for not accepting self-published authors since you are also independent. You’re just like us, so why are you kowtowing to traditionally published authors?” Even if that is how she feels, the reaction from book bloggers was less-than-great when she chose to take this avenue. It would be better to sell bloggers on reviewing self-published work by offering reasons that it could benefit their work as a blogger and their blog audiences; book bloggers who have “no self-published authors, please” already know why they don’t want to get those submissions, and she didn’t really offer any enticing reasons to change their minds besides “hey, this is something you should be doing.” But why?

Any good salesperson would recognize where she went wrong there: she was trying to convince us, as a community, to do something she wanted, rather than selling us on why we should want it. Being able to effectively sell bloggers on changing their policies loops back to understanding why bloggers write and why they choose the works that they do. As SQT said in the comments of Ms. Zupko’s original post, “We’re not being obstinate for no reason. We’ve learned from experience”. Taking this experience lightly doesn’t help form a good counterargument.

Finally, when she had a chance to smooth things over, Ms. Zupko stuck to her guns. In some situations, sticking to one’s guns is a good thing; in this case, though, Ms. Zupko wrote her post from the point of view of some incorrect assumptions about book bloggers and why they don’t accept self-published work. She then continued to defend those ideas instead of listening to the people who were trying to explain (albeit a bit angrily at times–but when you call people “duplicitous and condescending,” you have to expect an angry response) why, in fact, they should not have to change their policies, or why that wouldn’t be in their best interest. Her non-apology did nothing to smooth over her earlier post and, in fact, made things worse in my opinion.

I think everyone in the business of self-promotion can learn from this incident. What do you think about all this, fellow book bloggers? If you read Ms. Zupko’s post, how did you feel about it? Readers of book blogs, would you rather that bloggers rescind their policies about not accepting self-published works, or do you want the bloggers you follow to keep doing what they already do? If you don’t care about any of this, tell me about the latest book you read. Leave it all in the comments!

Susie

Susie is the Bitch-in-Chief at IB and is also a contributor at Food Riot. She's an ice cream connoisseur, an art fanatic, a cat-mommy of three, and a wife. She runs the @thebooksluts Twitter account and may be slightly addicted.

120 thoughts on “Reading Rage Tuesday: When authors attack book bloggers kamikaze-style.

  1. Well.

    Here are my feelings on the whole self-pubbed review thing. I’ve had many people suggest free/cheap stuff from the Kindle store for Trashy Tuesdays, but I’m not really willing to do that. Not because I think the books’ll be terrible, but because I don’t want to carry that weight.

    I know I don’t have the ability by myself to sink someone’s possibly rising star BUT, I might cost them a few sales. And when the author is only getting a portion of the sales price anyway, I don’t want that on my head.

    Crap, I have more things I want to say, but I haven’t had enough coffee yet.

    I’ll be back.

      • Right. [sips coffee, glares pointedly at Susie over the rim of the mug]

        Okay, so here’s why this whole thing makes me so mad.

        1. Pitches are already annoying and make me uncomfortable, which is why I don’t have a specific review policy/don’t really accept any books for review. Honestly, with few exceptions, I’d rather find the things I want to read on my own than accept a free copy and feel obligated. I understand that accepting a book for review does not guarantee a nice review, BUT sometimes I read REALLY BAD SHIT and I end up ripping it apart. That’s kind of what TT is, yes? Look, if you submit your book to me for review, I’m going to feel like the world’s biggest asshole for saying that I got something for free and then talking all kinds of smack about it. I know the name of my blog may be misleading, but it’s supposed to be tongue in cheek. I’m not really a snob (most of the time) and I REALLY don’t like feeling like I’m being a dick. Really, really.

        2. I think this author needs to spend a little more time looking into ways of promoting herself to make people seek out and want to read her books. As it stands right now, even if her book was about a faerie librarian who kicks ass at night (what? shut up), I’m not going to read it. Bad Author Behaviour is one of my biggest pet peeves. I keep notes of authors I will never read ever, mostly because of the idiotic shenanigans they get up to online. Guess what, Ms Zupko? You’re on my list now. Sorry – except I’m not.

        3. PUT YOUR EFFING BIG GIRL PANTS ON! There are SO MANY blogs out there who review self-published books. Just because it’s not a higher profile blog – look, if you’re not going to put effort into just promoting yourself, do yourself a favour. Find some newbie blogger whose style you like. Approach them nicely AFTER you’ve spent some time in their comments section. Ask them if they’d be interested in a copy of your book. DO. NOT. insist upon a review. Guess what? If it’s any good, they’ll WANT to write about it. Also? It will help them build up a little credibility, so it’s win:win for both of you.

        4. I just read and LOVED the upcoming Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher, and I’m currently reading vN by Madeline Ashby. It’s pretty damn good so far. The transitions are a little rough, but I think the story makes up for it. What? You asked!

  2. “You won’t play with me because you are all just big meanies who will die alone. With no books.” Sounds like the best marketing plan ever. I wonder why she doesn’t have an agent.

    • I really feel bad for authors who flub it up for themselves… idk, you’d think they’d do some research before saying stuff in public like that?!

  3. Sigh. I was going to stay out of the fray but this rankles. All I can can say is Wow, really ? I get what she’s going for – as a self-pubbed author you’re kind of the red-headed stepchild of the publishing industry (sorry any red-headed stepchildren out there, no offense) but this is embarrassing. Bad strategy to start, but bad manners as well – and it brings the rest of us down a notch by association. I may not like some bloggers’ policies of not looking at self-pubbed books but I understand it. Like Books I Done Read says, it’s your sandbox. For the vast majority of you it’s for the love of it, not the money. So Elly, grow up, strap on a pair and move on.

    • Sadly, it sort of reinforces why many bloggers won’t look at self-pubbed books…and even small press books, in many cases. There’s just too many people who’ve gone that route who Don’t Get It, and/or have an entitlement mentality. They send out mass email blasts pitching their book to blogs that don’t read that genre, or that aren’t open for submissions, or whatever, and then get cross – or even nasty – when they’re declined, because somehow, they figure the world owes them something.

      It’s a pity, because there are some gems out there that are being tarred with the same brush.

      • That’s why I won’t close ours off to submissions unless it just becomes completely unmanageable. I would love to see those gems. But if I start getting totally inundated…. I might rethink that.

      • You’re exactly right–I decided to accept NO books for review because I was put off by this kind of crap. I read for pleasure, there’s just not enough time in the day not to, and I’m uncomfortable by the solicitations. Especially because so many new authors seem to feel it’s ok to lash out at book bloggers who blog for fun.

        • I respect your decision, Mandy, still it’s too bad. I would hope most new authors play very nicely with others and can be permitted to wander about the internet talking to strangers without adult supervision. Am I naive ? Do bloggers really get inundated with verbal lashings ? I truly hope not. It’s unfortunate when the occasional passive-aggressive spoils it for the rest of us. And if I may, ‘solicitation’ sounds like an indictable offense. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is in most countries. I prefer the word ‘request’. You blog for fun, we write for fun. There should be no harm in asking, and certainly no harm in you saying ‘No’.

          • There are quite a few delicate flower authors who DO behave badly on the internet. It’s enough to make one want to avoid it when writing reviews.

            As far as the word “solicitation,” using that word for salespeople or promoters is not uncommon in the US. (In fact, it’s somewhat common to see “No Solicitors” signs in businesses and homes, meaning, please don’t drop by if you’re selling me something.) The harm in asking comes with the volume of requests that one gets when one opens the doors, especially from authors who don’t do their homework (or worse, send out mass e-mails)–bloggers blog for themselves, not for authors. Some don’t want to deal with requests, and I think that’s their prerogative.

  4. “Any good salesperson would recognize where she went wrong there: she was trying to convince us, as a community, to do something she wanted, rather than selling us on why we should want it.”

    That right there is a GREAT point. Any time you want to pitch something to someone, sell them something, sell them ON something, or bring them around to your way of thinking, you need to show them the benefits to THEM. People are inherently selfish; show what your product/service/idea does to make their life easier or more fun, and you’ll win them over.

    Make them feel attacked? Nooooot gonna get the reaction you wanted.

    • Can you imagine if Ron Popiel had taken that route? First of all, we would never have “even makes julienne fries” as a way to make a list of sterling qualities even more sterling. And second, those late-night infomercials would be all about “Why aren’t you buying my product, you assholes!” Sure, more entertaining for insomniacs, but would you actually own a whiz-o-matic kitchen utensil?

  5. Without sounding too elitist (I hope), I would add, this is one of the huge tasks self-pubbed authors set themselves up for: PR and marketing. It’s HARD. When there are roadblocks like “We don’t review self-pubbed books” it’s even HARDER. But if, for whatever reason, you choose not to go the traditional route to publishing your work, you either have to have serious PR savvy (some do) or hire someone who does (few can afford this). Either way, shouting at the system (as if it is one homogenous group of bloggers) is the wrong way to do it.

    • It is totally hard. I definitely agree. I don’t think of blogs that don’t accept self-published authors so much as roadblocks, though . . it’s more like, the wrong demographic? Part of successful marketing is finding the right demographic for your product. It’s part of what puzzles me about people sending me genre fiction.. I get romances, fantasy, thrillers, stuff our audience clearly isn’t geared toward as a whole. It seems like a waste of time and resources on their part.

      • That right there is the meat of it, isn’t it? Seeking out the right demographic. If only more authors (and sometimes publishers) did a wee bit more homework before sending out pitches… to sniff out and woo those who would be the best fit and most appropriate to review a book.

        I adore small press and self published authors. Now, that said, I do not accept every small press and self published novel that is pitched to me. Very many of them are, to Susy’s point, not something my readers – nor I – would be interested in.

        I think it takes a very smart-business minded author to realize that their book is not going to be right for everyone. No matter how badly they want us to review it, it’s best to listen to what we want and what we are willing to review. We know what we like more than they do :)

        • Personally, I would rather get fewer reviews, but get the book in just the right hands, than throw a ton of pitches/requests out there and see what sticks.

        • Agree agree, of course. It’s not like bloggers (well, MOST bloggers–probably there are a few who do) are trying to be dicks about rejecting pitches. It’s sort of like book recommendations from people you don’t know very well; if they haven’t bothered to talk to us about what we like, their recommendations are going to miss a lot of the time. The pitches miss a lot, too.

          I’m going to do some posts on this topic. Maybe we can do a blogger’s roundtable discussion to help more self-published authors. I don’t want them to fail, but I also don’t want to make their success my obligation. That would make book blogging suck, and I love book blogging :(

          • I’ve only had one blogger be a bit of a dick about rejecting a request and I just moved on – clearly NOT my target market and honestly, if that’s how she is, would I really want her reviewing (shredding?) my book? I don’t understand why authors have such a hard time moving on. Yes, it can be disappointing when a blog you are a fan of rejects your book (as also happened to me) but it’s not a reason for a tantrum. If you really are a fan of that review site, find another way to connect with them.

      • Sadly, I think a lot of the philosophy is “throw a pitch at the wall and see what sticks.” It’s not exclusive to self-pubbers, or to the book industry, either. You would be shocked to see the sort of utterly untargeted PR pitches I get on a regular basis.

      • Yes, I should have mentioned that, too. “Book bloggers” is not a genre, nor is “self-pubbed,” really. A self-pubbed book in a given genre, say romance, could well find coverage and review at a book blog that specializes in romance, regardless of publishing method.
        It’s a bit like saying, “There are book reviews in newspapers” and then getting upset when you send your self-pubbed novel to all the newspapers, and are surprised when few, if any, pick it up.
        A book that gets covered by an outlet (online or in print) whose audience is looking for that kind of book is going to get a more meaningful response than some hoped-for coverage from all the blogs/newspapers out there.
        It IS frustrating to do your own PR, and drum up attention for your work (as any Fringe theatre company) — but that’s why you have to do so much research first on who is likely to be interested in covering it. That agonizing process of finding an agent/publisher you were able to skip by self-pubbing? Guess what: you get the same fun experience in finding media to cover you (which a publisher might have been a huge help with).

  6. You’ve all covered the points so well I’m just gonna turn REM up a notch and bob my head.
    Now, here’s a rhyme that you can steal
    Put this on your reel to reel
    Mischief threw a rotten deal….

  7. I don’t like anybody who tries to make their point by first telling others how wrong and stupid they are. Especially when the catalyst for the argument is “No one is paying enough attention to me and I’m butthurt about it.”

    That said, I do kind of wish that more blogs reviewed a wider variety of books. There seems to be a definite leaning towards literary works in the book blogs that I’ve seen so far. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this…but they’re not usually the type of books I read or am interested in. (Now, having said this, there are a few that I have *gotten* interested in because a book blog reviewed it, but this has so far only happened twice.) As such, I tend to skim over a lot of reviews, or not read them at all.

    I like hearing about and supporting new authors and self-pubbed authors a lot. It’s kind of my thing. But I also understand that sometimes, bloggers are afraid of shooting down someone’s rising star with a bad review. My counter-argument would be there really isn’t any such thing as bad publicity, especially not if the review is well composed. (Even if it is negative.)

    So while I would love to see a wider variety of reviews in the community, I also understand that most book bloggers are doing this out of a sense of love for books and the blog community, not to make big bucks or to decide Who Lives and Who Dies. They’re also not really beholden to their readers beyond providing content for them to choose from, and I certainly don’t agree with anyone who tries to make them feel guilty for that.

    Also, I may or may not have clicked on the link to this review just to see the picture of Captain Picard and Commander Riker. >.> <3

    • Hee! I’m sure there are book bloggers out there who review the kind of books that you like. There’s a book blog for every niche, I’m sure.

      I don’t personally accept a lot of self-published books because I know I would end up panning them… as nicely as possible, but still panning them. I look at the pitches and the sample chapters and a lot of them just aren’t great. I don’t want to put someone through that if I don’t have to; also, I really just don’t want to spend my time reading it. I’d rather read something that looks AMAZING so I can (hopefully) have a great time reading it and give people a recommendation for a great book if it turns out good. That’s one of the promises I made myself early on, that I would read what I wanted to read; it’s one of the things that keeps a book blogger from experiencing burnout, I think.

      • And you know, I can absolutely respect that attitude. I always respect anyone who tries to choose positivity over negativity, for both themselves and the other party involved. :) I think my desire to explore these likely “meh” self-pubbed works comes from my background as an aspiring writer and being surrounded with other aspiring writers, where criticism and constructive feedback is our lifeblood. We need people to give us those poor reviews–albeit kindly–so that we know how to grow and change. And, yeah, it also helps with exposure. So I think my problem comes from being able to see both sides of the argument. (Though I definitely am not willing to side with anyone who makes a whiny, self-congratulatory argument) I also need to explore and see if I can find blogs that are more about what kind of books I like to read, instead of getting distracted and addicted to all of the book blogs with an intelligent, snarky bent. ;)

        Also, Zupko is now following me on Twitter, presumably from my comment on this blog post. I lol’ed. A lot. I was going to follow her back, but then I saw her linking to this thread and saying “Lots of stuff here I disagree with and/or is very unfair to me.” and decided if I wanted to watch somebody whine, I’d just go babysit for my neighbors. =P (If she thought I’d be sympathetic just because I want to find a blog that reviews self-pubbed works, she was sadly mistaken.)

        • Unfair to her, eh? I really don’t think she gets how she sounded. I really don’t think she understands at all.

        • More thoughts–

          “I think my desire to explore these likely “meh” self-pubbed works comes from my background as an aspiring writer and being surrounded with other aspiring writers, where criticism and constructive feedback is our lifeblood. We need people to give us those poor reviews–albeit kindly–so that we know how to grow and change.”

          I can respect the need for constructive feedback; I totally can. I trade feedback with fellow bloggers regularly. Here’s my whole thing, though–that’s not really what I do as a reviewer. I’m not reviewing for the author, but for other readers; when I pick a book to review, I want it to be finished, polished, and not need feedback. I’m glad for the author to read my reviews and accept them as feedback to help them grow as authors, but it’s not my personal goal as a reviewer.

          If an author wanted to hire me to be a beta reader, I would give ALL the feedback. I would give so much. As it is . . . there are people who get paid to do that for writers, so it makes me sad that some people expect bloggers and reviewers to do it for free. We shouldn’t be the first line of critique; we’re the end of that line because we should only get to see the finished product. I don’t want reviewing to become a job for which I don’t get paid; the only way I can really keep that from happening is to try to read the best books that inspire me to write reviews. So if something doesn’t look like it’s going to wow me, I don’t really have time to critique it.. unless an author wants to hire me ^_^

          (Also, I think if more writers would hire editors, or at least Beta readers, bloggers would accept more self-published manuscripts. As the quality went up, the number of reviews of self-published works would go up.)

          • I can definitely understand how you would make that distinction. I guess I see beta readers and reviewers as giving different kinds of feedback. I expect my beta readers (and professional editors) to provide constructive criticism. I don’t expect reviewers to do the same thing – just say what they liked and/or didn’t like about the book. Just do what they do for every other book, no more or less.

            And just to play devil’s advocate here: how will bloggers know that the quality of self-pub goes up if they don’t read them?

            That said, greengeekgirl, looks like you read them on occasion, on the recommendation of friends. Which is totally cool. Again, I don’t want to ask anyone to read a pile of books that aren’t fun to read. Thoughts?

          • Well, that assumes no bloggers are reading self-published books. That’s not the case, though ^_^ we accept pitches for self-published books here, and many other bloggers do, as well. If there’s an uptick in quality, word will get around, I think.

            I don’t think I’ve had too many friends suggest self-published books, now that I’m chewing on it–SJ recommended one to me, and another one I read through a pitch (we reviewed it–The Earthquake Machine). I tend to stick to small press books, which is kind of a happy medium for me–they’re interesting and they’ve had a team of professionals bringing out the best in the work.

            • Cool, thanks! With people talking about so many books to read, I wasn’t sure how much outside reading got done. And I’ve seen great evidence of blogs/bloggers communicating with each other, so (from what little I know) I’m sure you’re right about the word getting out. I hope self-pub books get better, but I think it’ll always be a mixed bag!

          • Anne, you’re absolutely right – beta readers and reviewers do offer different types of feedback, or they should in an ideal world. The problem here is that if a book hasn’t been proofed/edited properly, the reviewer ends up having to provide that type of feedback.

            If I can’t get past poor grammar/spelling/homophone usage, I’m not going to be able to concentrate on your (not you personally) story enough to provide the kind of feedback that a reviewer should be providing. Instead, I’ll be completely hung up on those things that should melt into the background. That’s not to say that some people don’t notice those things, but I think you’ll find that the majority of the people who are able to look past/not even notice the copy-editing errors don’t exactly write the most eloquent reviews.

            I take chances on self-pubbed stuff all the time, but as I said above, I’d rather find it on my own than have it pitched to me. And, um…I haven’t really found much I’ve liked, to be honest. If I do find something I like, I have no problem with shouting it from the rooftops. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that often.

            • I get that – and if a book was THAT bad, I wouldn’t expect you to review it at all. That said, I’m not entirely sure about how agreements are made as pertains to this, so I don’t know how actually feasible that is.

              I feel like I have a better understanding of your policy now. I guess my only hope for review bloggers would be that they would not completely turn their backs on self-pub just b/c it is self-pub. If it’s only on the recommendation of friends (or a random desperation download), that’s fine by me.

              And my hope for self-pubbed authors is that they get their s*** together – get editors/beta readers, learn some business sense, do some research, and especially act professionally!

          • What’s kind of funny is that it’s not our policy here :D we do accept self-published authors.. well, we accept their pitches. Whether or not we follow through and read the book is a different matter, but we do at least give them the chance to sell us on it.

            Until I don’t have time to deal with pitches, we’ll keep accepting them.

          • You know what, you’re absolutely right. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. =D Yay for learning new points of view like healthy adults!! Wooooo!!! /peasants rejoice

            Also, fledgling authors–especially ones looking to take the self-pub route–should totally think about hiring bloggers they respect or admire as beta readers. That is an excellent idea, one which I may follow up on at some point if I ever get a novel together.

  8. She actually addressed you as “Dear Sluts.”? That is hilarious.

    I’m somewhat torn on the issue. It’s not as if being “professionally” published is an automatic indicator of quality. Fifty Shades of Grey was published by Random House, and I think we’re all aware of the “professional” quality of that turd. Likewise, not every self-published author is self-published because of a lack of story-telling ability, or lack of writing ability, or mental instability.

    I know that not everyone can or even wants to use traditional publishing channels, but from what I’ve seen, in my (admittedly limited) experience, is that most self-published books are riddled with errors. I finished one such book recently, and it was obvious the author didn’t even have a second party read it. There were mistakes on every single page—threw instead of through, shinning instead of shining, waste instead of waist, incorrectly-used apostrophes… I could go on all day. These are all things that would have been caught by a professional editor.

    Elly might be the exception to the rule and actually run spell-check on her books and let someone else who is literate read it over, but a blanket rule like this just makes sense for most book bloggers. Why should you have to take time away from reading and writing to let yourself be inundated with review requests by every Joe, Dick and Mary who can create a PDF? It’s your blog, you have every right to choose what goes on it.

    Erin Mitchell had it exactly right: “Many book bloggers choose not to review self-published books. That’s their choice. Respect it and move on.”

    • That’s basically how I feel about it. ^_^

      And you know, she’s not the first person to do the “Dear Sluts” opening. I don’t know why people do that–I think they think it sounds hip and funny and what not, but coming from someone you don’t know.. it doesn’t come off that way at all. It comes off kind of used-car-salesmany at best, arrogant at worst.

        • Hey wait.. I deleted that bit from the post before I ever published. Sherri, where did you see that–or was it on Twitter? Because I did talk about it on Twitter. Now I’m all paranoid that WordPress is doing crazy things to my posts, lol.

          Elly Zupko did pitch us the morning of the day that I saw the post. She opened her letter with “Dear Sluts,” so I immediately deleted it. OH WAIT, I talked about it in the comments of the Hey Dead Guys post, maybe Sherri saw it there :D I wouldn’t have accepted Zupko’s pitch regardless.. it was like a 16th century re-imagined historical setting, I don’t really read a lot of that kind of stuff so it didn’t strike my interest.

          • I suspect people are doing it to create the following impressions:

            1) We love the name of the blog.

            2) Your blog shows you have a sense of humor. We have a sense of humor too. See, we’re sympatico, no?

            You’d have to read this blog pretty carefully to see that you always use “booksluts” as one word, and take the lesson. Way more carefully than standard responsible due diligence should demand. The people addressing you this way would probably be very surprised to find out that you find this mode of address off-putting.

            I’d recommend mentioning your dislike of this in your review policy, and specifically mention that pitches starting this way will be deleted unread. It will cut down on the behavior, and give you a quick signal that an author didn’t read the review policy carefully.

          • I really think it should be common sense not to address someone you don’t know as “Dear Sluts.” Slut is an insult coming from strangers and refers to sexual promiscuity. “Bookslut” is a play on words that refers to reading promiscuity. I expect authors to be able to understand nuances of words :)

          • It’s common sense, yes. But I think the two bare-chested pinup models at the top of every page might be confusing things with their “come-hither-and-read-with-me” gaze.

            Just chalk it up to miscommunication. You’re doing something clever and interesting, and the people who address you as ‘sluts’ want to show that they recognize that, but execute poorly. Don’t dock them too many points for it.

          • Even the bare-chested pinup models aren’t necessarily sluts. It’s kind of a heavy word to use on its own. Like I said, nuance–writers I want to read know it.

          • Personally, I’d like to see the word “slut” lose its negative connotation. The stigma around it seems like an attempt to use shame to control women’s sexuality. But more to the point, I’m a guy. I don’t really know what it feels like to be called a slut, either playfully or with derision. I’ll admit to being basically clueless.

          • I’d like to see the word lose its negative connotation as well. I wish the women organizing the Slutwalks good luck.

            Being called a slut is about the same as being called a cunt, since they’re both normally used by men who want to put women in their place. I’m not against either word, but I definitely wouldn’t use either as a salutation in my first correspondence with someone.

  9. Hmm. I read Ms. Zupko’s original post, and, for the first few paragraphs, she seemed to be on an ok track with her argument. She started off on a mostly positive note with statements like this: You are mavericks. You love to read and to help other readers find new books to love, and you didn’t get hung up trying break into tough traditional markets. You chose to go it on your own. But more than that, you are entrepreneurial and multifaceted.

    If only she’d continued on that track instead of swerving into more condescending, finger-wagging territory. Even in her reply to three of the earliest commenters (who were very diplomatic themselves), she had some good points — yeah, I can see how it would be frustrating to feel like one’s book has a “scarlet letter of SP” on it before anyone’s even read it.

    But, like you say, the answer isn’t to get all indignant and throw blanket scoldings at the book blogosphere. You have to find a way to show bloggers why your book is different from the ones that made them so skeptical about SP works in the first place.

    • I think one thing that kind of bothers me is that it’s not like there aren’t options for her. Plenty of blogs will take self-published authors, or she could have done a giveaway on Goodreads for people to review her there. Someone had said in the comments there was an index of blogs that accept self-pubbers. So while there’s that frustration, I felt like there were a lot of more positive avenues she could have taken.

      One super easy thing she could do, for instance–go on Smashwords and find similar self-published titles to hers, then search Google for blogs who reviewed them. Maybe I’ll write a blog post on how find blogs to review you for the self-pubbers out there.

      • I think that would be a SUPER-USEFUL post. Not just for self-pubbed authors, but for any author. Because, let’s face it, small press doesn’t have a huge marketing budget, either, and even at big houses, authors are expected to shoulder more and more of the publicity work.

        • I shall make this happen in my artistic ability. It’s probably about time for another Author’s Guide to Social Media post.

    • How would you go about doing that? If the book blogger has stated “we don’t review self-published fiction,” I think it would be rude to treat it any differently than any other part of the guideline. If it says “we don’t read historical fantasy,” and I want them to review a historical fantasy novel, the answer isn’t to try and convince them that hey, this is a really great historical fantasy, you’ll love it. The answer is to find another person to pitch to.

      Because honestly, nine times out of ten, when somebody makes a pitch based on, “I know it doesn’t technically meet the guidelines, but this one is different!” well, no, it’s not different.

      The point is, you should treat the guidelines as ironclad. Which is why a rule like “we don’t accept self-published books” is so frustrating: there really is such a huge variation in quality that some books that the blogger would truly love are going to get cut. That’s unfortunate, but unavoidable. There really is enough crap out there (and enough authors who have an inflated sense of their own book’s merits) that I can see the upsides of such a policy.

      • It’s a good question worth posing. If it were me trying to sell a blogger on my self-published book–one who doesn’t accept self-published books, but that I think is really right for my book–I’d start by sending them a brief conversational (not pitchy) e-mail being upfront about what I was thinking, and exactly why my book was different. If I, for example, have done research to find out why self-published authors aren’t always accepted, I might reassure them that my book has been edited by a professional (which is a biggie, and something I would do if I were to self-publish). I’d acknowledge that they have the rule and that I was respecting the rule, but wanted to request permission to pitch my book because of xyz reason. That way you’re not just foisting a pitch on them, and since it’s a short e-mail you’re not wasting their time with all kinds of summaries and excerpts and blurbs.

        BUT–I would only do this IF I thought my book was truly an exception, and there’s the rub. Lots of authors tend to think that their book is the exception when it’s not.

        • I’ve actually recommended this to several people and in an article Terri Long posted on HuffPo and IndieReader. If a self-pub author really wants me to read the book, then he or she should include editing info in the pitch. I know it sounds sort of awkward, but it really would make me take a second look (if it’s the type of thing I read).

          Because I edit, I expect a book to have been through that process. No, not every Big 6 book is perfect, but they’re a heck of a lot closer than almost any self-pub I’ve come across. Again, for me, it’s quality control.

          But yeah – don’t rely on “but MY fantasy paranormal business self-help book is different” – not gonna work for me because I don’t read that stuff.

  10. Yeah, the original post wasn’t all that bad except for some of the (to me) missteps with word choice and faulty argument.

    My policy never stated no self-pubbed, so I’m not one of the ones she is addressing. However, I just updated my policy because none of the self-pub authors follow it (publicists and publishers do 95% of the time). I get hit up to read absolutely all types of books when I am pretty clear that I don’t read paranormal, fantasy, self-help, or business books. Plus, most of the self-pub authors who pitch to me have really horrid email etiquette. Like it or not, when you get a bunch of these, you paint that group with a pretty broad brush. Most authors do not good PR people make, but that’s not my problem. When you self publish, you know these are things you have to do yourself. If an email is riddled with errors or is unprofessional, I’m not going to take that book on. Period. It is indicative of the book and possible future behavior.

    I think a lot of people use “no self pub” as quality control and as a way to cut down on incoming emails. It’s overwhelming. I work on my blog anywhere from 30+ hours a week for no pay. I do it because I want to, and I enjoy it. And the things that detract from that enjoyment, I remove.

    I never wanted or attempted to be a reviewer for a mag or newspaper. I just wanted conversation about books. Through the massive machine that book blogging has become, that has changed. There are expectations & rules. I still do what I want. I know that the publishers/authors have different motives than I do, but I’m ok with that, and I attempt to talk about any book, whether it’s an ARC, library book, or book I’ve bought. Doesn’t matter to me, which is where her biggest argument fails. I blogged before I got review copies, and I’ll continue to blog without them. It’s my choice. I don’t exist for authors. I don’t exist for publishers. I exist for readers. My blog exists for me.

    And lastly, I’d argue that without book bloggers, most self-pub authors would have virtually no exposure. Most of the big guns don’t review these. Websites exist that focus on indie & self pub, but for the most part that’s like placing a butterfly bandage on a gaping wound. There are so many self-published authors. So when whole blogs exist that focus on indie & self pub, I think it’s a bit wrongheaded to indicate it’s my or any other blogger’s duty to provide a service to self-pub. Nope. Not buying it.

    • “I never wanted or attempted to be a reviewer for a mag or newspaper. I just wanted conversation about books. Through the massive machine that book blogging has become, that has changed. There are expectations & rules. I still do what I want. I know that the publishers/authors have different motives than I do, but I’m ok with that, and I attempt to talk about any book, whether it’s an ARC, library book, or book I’ve bought. Doesn’t matter to me, which is where her biggest argument fails. I blogged before I got review copies, and I’ll continue to blog without them. It’s my choice. I don’t exist for authors. I don’t exist for publishers. I exist for readers. My blog exists for me.”

      That paragraph right there says it all. I agree wholeheartedly.

    • And now I want to write a paranormal self-help business book. “Unleash Your Inner Werewolf in the Boardroom: Why you’re just one gypsy curse away from making partner.”

      Not enough to write it, of course. If anyone wants to run with it, more power to you.

  11. It’s none of Zupko’s business why some of us choose not to review self-pubbed books. End of story.

    However, if she must know, I choose not to review self-pubbed books for a few reasons. First and foremost, I have A BAZILLION books to read in my lifetime, and I must have a way of determining which books are worth the time and effort I put into them and which books aren’t. Every reader has to do this, whether consciously or not. I choose not to read (most) self-pubbed books.

    Secondly, with the exception of a few books written by a friend, I have had bad experiences trying to read self-pubbed works. My experience has been that they have too many typos for me to be comfortable with (and that just interrupts my reading flow and makes me stabby), and they don’t sound or feel as polished in most cases. I personally can’t handle that without getting ragey. There are plenty of folks out there who will read those books with relish and be able to overlook those things that I can’t, and so let them do it and leave me out of it.

    Third–and sj already brought this up in her first comment–if I don’t like a self-pubbed book and I review it, I’m going to be honest about my feelings. I am going to bring up everything I didn’t like about the book, including things like typos. An author who has gone through the process of hiring an editor and getting a deal with a publishing house is going to be making more money (I assume) than a self-pubbed author, and their sales will better handle someone like me saying I didn’t like the book and telling folks that I don’t recommend it. I really don’t want to have to do that to someone who is taking it all on themselves and who’s book sales would probably take a hurting because of it.

    • Agree. It all kind of comes down to… I am not going to apologize for my taste in books? I’m not a book snob like some are–like my husband who basically only reads Hemingway, Maugham, and dead Russian authors–but I do have fairly high standards, I think. So… if someone’s self-pub isn’t up to the standard of at least a very high midlist author, I don’t really want to read it anyway.

      • “I don’t read self-published work” is trying to say something about your tastes, but it does so rather indirectly. “Typos make me stabby” says something direct. “The book needs to pull me in and never let go” says something direct. “I appreciate good cover art” says something direct. IDRSPW really says more about how much dreck you’re willing to dig through to find the books that would be to your taste. And if that’s a blogger’s preference, it should be respected.

        There are perfect-for-you self-published books out there. It’s a shame that there’s no easy way to figure out which ones they are. The trouble with Zupko’s thesis is that, if you open your door an inch, you’ll get inundated.

        • Yes, this is exactly so. It’s a river of shit that you have to wade through to get to the few gems–which WOULD be worth it, except that I can avoid the shit and go directly to the nice shiny gem store and stay clean and dry and not smelly.

          • This seems to reinforce the idea that the deluge of self-pubbed work out now is just forcing the reader to wade through the slush pile. If you’ve ever had to do that at a small press (or bigger!), you know it’s something you’d never do for fun, and certainly nothing you’d PAY to experience. In light of that, it seems as though Zupko is advocating turning the role of slush-pile readers over to book bloogers — which I would not do.

    • Just to address the last paragraph: Don’t let the fear of hurting someone’s sales. Most self-published books aren’t earning more than beer money anyway, and those that are are going to get reviews elsewhere.

      My policy (I’ve recently started reviewing self-published books exclusively) is that I only post reviews of things I like a lot. Maaaaaybe I keep the door open for books that I only kinda like, but might have a potential following. I’m not afraid of hurting anyone’s sales. I just figure that if a book is bad, I’m not doing anyone any favors by telling people about it.

      My standards are different for posting reviews on Amazon, because the people who see the review are very likely considering purchasing it. In that context, it’s easy to see how a tough-but-fair review could help someone avoid regretting a purchase.

  12. While I appreciated the flattery at the beginning of Zupko’s post, I didn’t feel like it was truly addressing me or the majority of book bloggers. I am not a maverick, thumbing my nose at the professional journalism routes of reviewing books. I am not a failed journalist. I’m just this girl who has always liked to read books and talk about them. Blogging is just a fun hobby that branches off from my real passion of reading.

    Thus, for me, Zupko’s post ultimately failed because she doesn’t really understand book bloggers at all. Sure, there are some maverick book bloggers (Susie), but the majority do it for fun. This isn’t a job, I’m not getting paid for it, and I’m certainly not going to put up with some bullshit from some Joe Schmo author because I don’t want to read her book. For me, it’s the equivalent of following me around at the bookstore, criticizing me because I’m checking out the latest Stephen King novel instead of Her Little Indie That Could.
    Back off man! I do what I want!

    As a suggestion, though, I really appreciate the authors who engage in blogging and get to know other bloggers. There are a few self-published authors I’m interested in reading simply based upon the engaging conversations I’ve had with them about other books. Get involved in the community, make connections on a non-intimidating level, and everyone wins. I’m terribly interested in reading Nicole Hamlett’s self-published books (SJ’s buddy) simply from what I have heard from SJ, and from what I have learned about her own reading interests, based off of Goodreads and her blogging comments.

    It really is a shame that these types of riffs constantly seem to arise between book bloggers and new authors.

    • Hee, Little Indie That Could!

      And, yeah, Nicole is super engaged on her blog AND her fb page, which I think is outside the norm, sadly.

        • Indeed. EssJay’s talking about what a generally cool person Nicole is has made me want to check out her books. I know that 1. Because of EssJay they won’t be typo orgies and 2. EssJay has generally good taste so 3. There is a good chance I might like Nicole’s books even if they’re not the kind of stuff I generally like to read. I’m willing to take a chance on Nicole because she has been wise in her choice of ambassadors.

          Dooin’ it rite!

    • I just almost blew Pepsi out of my nose at “Little Indie That Could.” Hahaha!

      I agree with what you said about connecting with people on social networks/blogs and building some form of connection–one of the self-pubbed books that I’ve really enjoyed came from someone who I had been chatting on Twitter with for quite some time. We had a mutual interest in books and when she wrote hers, I automatically agreed to proofread it for her, and review it (and it was really good).

  13. I think this is a really interesting and thoughtful discussion of Elly Zupko’s letter. I feel like I have a little bit of a different perspective as an author (although not self-pubbed) – full disclosure!

    I think there’s a good argument to be made for reviewing self-pubbed books. Not all, not even most, just the occasional one that catches your fancy and sounds good. If, 5 pages in, it’s terrible, you can put it down (I am a compulsive reader so I know that can sometimes be hard). If not, keep reading. I go to book bloggers to figure out what to buy next when I’m out of my favorite authors, and I love to be the first one of my friends to recommend a series that then goes viral within my friend group. Maybe you can help me do that with some self-pubbed books.

    I’ve seen a few comments that have indicated that bloggers don’t want to be responsible for bad reviews of self-pubbed books. While I appreciate your kind-heartedness and I won’t lie that my fingers tremble every time I click on a review of my book, authors ought to be able to handle it. Personally, I temporarily considered going the self-pub route as a “can I cut it?” test. Feedback at that point (and even now) is helpful – how do I make my second book better? Should I continue to pursue this profession? No “crushing your dreams” excuses. I want to know, and I’m an adult. Once I read a bad review, and after I curl into a fetal position and bawl my eyes out, I’m going to put my big-girl pants on and get on with my life.

    No author should behave badly. And we should be able to work together well, especially since you’re providing an amazing (and honest) service to not only us authors, but to the people we both care about: the readers.

    • Yeah.. authors *should* be able to handle it :) really, I don’t do it AS much for sparing their feelings as I don’t really want to read most of the books self-published authors submit, either because it doesn’t look good or because it doesn’t fit our blog. I read all the pitches; after culling out the ones that don’t fit our blog, don’t look interesting, and don’t completely turn me off in the e-mail… yeah, in the year I’ve been at this blog, I’ve read exactly one. Er, one and a half–I got halfway through another one as a favor to someone. That was as far as I could go :\

  14. I hope Miss Zupko is still reading these comments, because this is for her. Clearly, if you’re biting the hand that feeds you, perhaps you have some things to learn about the publishing industry.
    There’s a reason that self-published authors have such a bad reputation in this community. The complaint with them is usually that their work is poorly edited, that their pitches are done badly, and even if their creative writing is good, their communication writing is awful. Traditionally published authors have an entire team of editors, marketers, cover designers, etc. working to turn their writing into a marketable product. Each member of this supporting team has a specific job to focus on, and they can do it much better than even an above average self-published author. The only way for a self-published author to truly succeed and succeed consistently is to learn how to perform every single job that an entire staff does at a traditional publishing company. Few people are that capable.
    If I were an author, I would figure out how to get traditionally published. If you can’t even sell your work to a publisher, what make you think you will sell to an audience?
    I’m not saying this to crush anyone’s dreams or kill their hope. Quite the opposite; I want authors to succeed! But you have to realize that publishing is a lot more than just writing, and if writing is your job, then you must learn how to do the business ends of the job as well.

    • One tiny thing to add (and I am in agreement with everything you said)–a self-pub author can also contract out some of this work, like cover art design, editing or proofreading, or even public relations. I know, writers are broke, but it’s an investment in your work that can pay off incredibly if you look like you have your shit together.

      • In fact, most self-pubbed authors SHOULD contract out for things. ALWAYS for editing (you cannot edit your own work. Period) and often for cover design, book design and pagination, eBook conversion, etc. It’s rare that someone has the wherewithal to do all of this themselves, and to do it well. Spending a bit up front to get it done professionally and correctly increases your odds of success by so much it’s not even funny. Just look at this discussion – people really DO judge a book by its cover…and typos or lack thereof.

        • In fact, most self-pubbed authors SHOULD contract out for things. ALWAYS for editing (you cannot edit your own work. Period)

          This. Absolutely this. I like to lurk in goodreads threads A LOT (like I have so much time on my hands, but still), and I see many self-pubbed authors asking other self-pubbed authors if they’re willing to proofread.

          Look, I don’t want to sound like a dick, but what makes them think that someone who is in the same boat they are is going to be able to catch the things they miss? Not to mention that there is a HUGE DIFFERENCE between proofreading and editing, but most people seem to think the two are synonymous.

          In this case, they get what they pay for, and what they end up putting out is usually unreadable.

          • I am a copy editor for a living. I do edit my own drafts, because that’s my habit. But I would NEVER think I could be the only set of eyes to edit my manuscript, either in macro-substantive edits or micro-copy edits. You just don’t, do not, can’t catch everything yourself. Half the time as you reread your MS, you’re remembering what you meant, not seeing what you wrote.

          • I would like to point out (though its obvious, and I’m not accusing SJ of conflating these) that writing and editing are two totally different skills. Getting a writer to proofread your work is not necessarily going to get you a great proofread.

            • Thank you for pointing this out (I’m a freelance editor). It’s so true.

              I think often (and not you, SJ) people conflate editing with reading well when the former is a very difficult, time-consuming process, depending on the writing.

              Editing is a job. It isn’t something I want to do when reading for pleasure. I’m critical in my reviews, but I’m not editing when I point out my criticisms. There’s a big difference.

      • This is another area where effective use of social networks can help, too. I know people who trade design/editing/voice acting/formatting services with each other and refer new clients to each other, because they know the rising tide floats all boats and because, well, it’s good to be nice. So if an indie author has another skill that might translate into some sweat equity, she might find that cover design or typesetting or professional editing isn’t quite the pocketbook killer she thought. But first, she has to put the time in on Twitter or G+ or GoodReads and made the connections and make them real!

    • I object, sir!

      Objection the first: while the traditional publishers may know how to do their jobs, their jobs can be learned or outsourced. And while they may have assembled a crack team of twelve Marketing/Typesetting/CoverDesigning Avengers, that crack team is probably responsible for putting fifty books through the process. How much of their time are you going to get?

      Take, for example, J.K. Rowling. She got twelve rejection letters, followed by a $1500 advance from a small publisher, along with a genuinely kind note saying, “You’ll probably never make any money at this, so don’t quit your day job.”

      Let’s set aside the slush pile fiasco that would let Harry Frikkin Potter slip through twelve publishers’ fingers. Given the $1500 advance, how much time could her superhero team have really devoted to editing and marketing her book? I think it’s safe to say that the services she got from her publisher helped, but that what mostly sold the book was the book itself. [Just an aside: their marketing decision to take half the first (thousand copy) run of books and get them placed in libraries was brilliant, and not something a self-publisher would be able to pull off.]

      Objection the second: The crack team doesn’t really know you, only a couple of them have read your book, and so the team may not have any idea how to market it effectively. That’s why publishers so frequently pass on books that live in the no-man’s land between genres. If it’s clearly sci-fi, they know how and where to market that. If it’s clearly romance, they know how and where to market that. If it’s nanotech-based dystopian fantasy with AI gods and a pseudo-classical gothic writing style… um… “We don’t feel this book meets our needs.”

      Lack of understanding can also lead to cover art disasters. The most infamous one I can think of is Liar, where the book is about a young black woman who is a compulsive liar. The initial cover, they put a young white woman on it, either out of habit or out of fear that “books with black people on the cover don’t sell.” After going the rounds with her publisher, she eventually had to hit the blogs and summon the Internet Hordes to get it fixed.

      It’s not fair to judge the entire industry by one gruesome disaster. But compare this to my own experience: I spent an exhausting amount of time coming up with ideas for my cover, and trying to execute them myself. Result? Disaster. Then I found someone who actually knew Photoshop, went back and forth for a while, hired a friend to act as the model, and eventually got a cover that I was very happy with. It took a long time, and it was more expensive than I’d have preferred. But the book truly feels like it’s mine in a way that it wouldn’t had the cover been under someone else’s control.

      Objection the Third: The way I see it, traditional publishers are going away. The signs indicate that they’re running way leaner than they once did. There was a time when they would invest a lot more effort in books that they didn’t expect to be bestsellers. Now, you have to come to them with a book that’s 98% ready to print to even have a chance. And they’re investing less energy in discovering books, treating the self-published world more and more like their slush pile. Amanda Hocking has pulled one series of books in preparation for a print publication debut. The awful Fifty Shades got picked up entirely on the basis of prior self-publishing success.

      I think this strategy is a mistake, because it’s redefining the publishing world in a way that lends Amazon a huge competitive advantage. They have CreateSpace, and access to detailed sales figures on every book in it, so they know better than the publishers do which ones are worth taking a gamble on. To me, it smacks of desperation on the part of publishers.

      Even their role as curators could easily go away, and that’s the one competitive advantage they have left. It’s not as though people don’t have options for finding out which books might be worth their time. Book blogs, topical forums, Amazon reviews/suggestions/sample chapters, all of that takes the place of the publishers’ traditional role of connecting people to the books they’d enjoy.

      Which I think is a good thing. After all, before a publisher will start trying to connect people to a book, they have to decide that enough people will be interested to make it worth their while. This means that if the topic is very obscure or has a niche audience, they likely won’t make the attempt. Books that would be absolutely wonderful for a few thousand people — an expert’s guide to dumpster diving, or a novel about drag racing that’s thoroughly obsessed with the mechanics and physics of racing — are either never going to see the light of day, or are going to receive pressure from the publishers to make them more inclusive or easier on casual readers. That’s kind of a shame, since there are other motivations for writing a book than gross sales, and “the respect of the community I’m a part of and writing about” is a pretty good one. That’s one of the places where self-pub can really shine: everyone’s tastes are so unique that a very imperfect book can nonetheless be perfect-for-you.

      • I stand by what I’ve said about self-publishing. It takes a true renaissance man (or woman) to be successful at it. In my opinion, the only valid reason to self-publish is because you enjoy the challenge and you’re into DIY.
        I don’t think traditional publishers are going away. Their industry is undergoing major changes due to technological advances, but at the heart of it, there will always be the written word, and publishers will find ways of extracting it from writers and providing it to readers.
        Publishers are like every other business: some of them are very effective and good at what they do, and others are awful. They all have a specific customer they’re trying to reach. When you mentioned niche audiences, there are publishers who specialize in that, and they’re going to have a much easier time tapping into that audience than you are, especially if your business sense is too weak to sell your work to a traditional publisher.
        Part of the writer-as-a-business-professional concept is doing your research to find publishers who are right for you (and avoid the ones who are wrong for you). After that, your work is still not done. You have to find ways to make your manuscript stand out. Following submission guidelines are a necessary start, but you also need to give the editors a reason to pick your manuscript. Your J.K. Rowling anecdote above just goes to show that it doesn’t matter how brilliant your work is; if the publisher doesn’t know who you are, you’re just dropping another manuscript into their slush pile. You will be subject to the moods and tastes of whomever picks it up whenever they finally getting around to picking it up.
        But if you network and build rapport with the right people, someone may put in a good word. Do whatever it takes for them to see your name on the cover letter and say, “Oh, I recognize that name. I’ve read his blog! I’ll take a look at this one.” The writing doesn’t even have to be that great as long as it will sell. Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games are both great examples of successful books that sucked. Not that I want sucky writers to be successful, but if they can succeed, so can you.

  15. I am self-published. I was able to gain a lot of success without the help of book bloggers, but it’s only because I’m really good at making websites/apps/and marketing stuff.

    Everyone needs to learn to play nice in the sandbox. It would be nice if book bloggers just made a general disclaimer like, “If you’re self-published and I find a typo within the first 50 pages, I’m throwing the book into the circular file & you’re not gonna get a review.” I think it’s really about the quality of the books that come across your desk/slushpile/inbox. John Grisham’s first book was self-published. There are some case studies. But all in all, this gal has gained some notoriety. Maybe (just maybe) someone will offer to read her book – even if it’s just to bash it. What is it that they say about publicity?

    • It really all depends on the reviewer, too. If a self-published book that was every bit as good as John Grisham came into my inbox, I still wouldn’t read it because I don’t like his writing. ^_^

      I don’t know that the disclaimer would help. We’re all serious when we say that almost nobody follows directions. (Elly Zupko actually did follow directions, to her credit–something I would have enjoyed but for “Dear Sluts”.) I have what I think are pretty clear instructions, plus other helpful posts on how to get reviewed by us. I even defined what I mean by literary fiction vs. genre fiction. I still get tons of misplaced, badly-worded pitches for sci-fi or fantasy epics or thrillers. :|

      It’s awesome that you’ve been able to go it on your own. I love that you are making your talents work for you.

  16. I used to read and review a lot self-published fiction, but had to give it away. Life’s too short. I read because I love books, not because I want to drag myself through vomit. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s my experience. There were a few self-published titles I read that fell into the excellent-but-too-weird category, the too-weird being the only thing that prevented their authors getting mainstream deals, I’m sure. But the rest ranged from not-quite-there through plain bad to utterly abysmal, with a strong leaning towards abysmal. I’m a big reader, but at 41 I will read, what, probably another 1000-2000 books before I die? I refuse to commit any more of that number to fantasists’ attempts to find the books that clearly aren’t inside them. My loss, possibly. But I’m willing to risk it.

    That said, there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of book blogs that specialise in self-published work. Zupko should stop whining and focus on them, and be aware that she might need to pay a small fee for their efforts. She’s asking people to commit hours of their personal time to deliver her what she hopes will be lucrative publicity. That’s worth $20-40 a pop, I should think (which was the going rate last time I was asked to review one). These blogs aren’t backwaters read solely by other self-published authors. Plenty of mainstream publishers watch them closely because they’re keen to snap up the next Amanda Hocking before their competitors do. These blogs can be a pathway to the mainstream deal for that rare self-published work that is strong enough or entertaining enough to find a wide audience, despite what risk-averse publishers might have thought when they rejected it.

    • I’ve never heard of blogs that charge you a fee for getting a review. I’m sure there are also plenty of free ones, if someone can’t afford or doesn’t want to pay.

      • Self-Publishing Review (selfpublishingreview.com) charges $75. There are others like it. There are also service sites like BlueInk Review (blueinkreview.com) that charges a few hundred dollars, but check out their (alleged) list of subscribers to see what that price might be getting you. Caveat emptor, of course!

          • I hope not. Sounds like a quick way to get ripped off. Even if the intentions are good, once there’s money on the table, there’s incentive to be more flattering about the review while simultaneously spending less time reading it.

            In traditional publishing, there’s a rule that says, “Money flows in the direction of the author.” Agents and publishers don’t charge up front for the services they provide.

            We self-pubbers are going to have to be more flexible on this rule, at least for a while. I did see a startup dealie whose goal was to create a community of writers, editors, graphic designers, marketers, etc. who would form ad hoc teams based on book projects, and split the profits based on sales. It could be a pipe dream, or the future of publishing.

            But please, folks, take care. Don’t get ripped off.

          • Some of the money flows toward the author, anyway–publishers do have to recoup expenses ^_^ so I think an investment in at least some people (an editor, a cover designer) makes sense in the long run for a self-published author.. especially since they’re going to see a larger percentage of sales without a publisher to take a cut. These investments should bump up sales, if the author is savvy enough to hire the right people and market him- or herself correctly.

            • In re) Susie’s comment:

              Some of the money flows toward the author, anyway–publishers do have to recoup expenses ^_^ so I think an investment in at least some people (an editor, a cover designer) makes sense in the long run for a self-published author.. especially since they’re going to see a larger percentage of sales without a publisher to take a cut. These investments should bump up sales, if the author is savvy enough to hire the right people and market him- or herself correctly.

              This is what I always tell authors, from my perspective as a professional editor and publisher who also happens to work as a freelance book designer and editor. You are paying for these services no matter which route you go (or you should be…PROFESSIONAL EDITING YOU NEED IT *ahem*). It’s just whether it’s coming out on the front end or the back end.

              When you go with a traditional publisher, you’re paying on the back end for services; that royalty you get for licensing? Look at it as the cost you’re paying to get your book edited, designed, marketed, etc. You’re not paying up front; you’re getting the money when the book sells.

              When you go the DIY route, you have to pay up front for these services (most of the time), but then you get to collect most of the list price of the book.

              It comes down to what you’re comfortable with, in large part.

  17. Long, grumpy comment. I was really floored by this one. I’m with Kate on zeroing in on your observation that “she was trying to convince us, as a community, to do something she wanted, rather than selling us on why we should want it.” Bingo. And she still seems unable to grasp that that’s what she’s doing.

    Does she honestly not understand that the book bloggers who have the policy she’s trying to get them to rescind haven’t somehow “overlooked” something? As has been pointed out, she’s given no new reason for bloggers who have made the no-self-pubbed decision to reconsider, other than Yes But MY Book Is Good! and We’re All In This Together, which simply isn’t true, although I’m sure she’d LIKE it to be.

    (Although I doubt she meant it to come out this way, all of her complimentary words are poorly chosen, in that they sound like precisely the kind of blanket flattery used by somebody who doesn’t know you very well and is only complimenting you because they want something. Just like in Cruel Intentions when Ryan Phillipe’s character tells Reese Witherspoon how great she is, and she laughs in his face! I love that scene.) (It comes out as well in her original comment on Caveat Lector, where she says “Thanks for this response. I can tell you are really passionate about what you do, and you challenged me on a number of really good points.” Apparently Ms Zupko is unaware of how forced it sounds when one tries to turn an obvious truth into a conciliatory compliment – like she couldn’t think of anything better to say. Um, OBVIOUSLY the Review Lady is passionate. Telling her that won’t make her nicer to you.)

    I DON’T think she did it to get attention, as has been suggested; in all honesty, I think she’s much too clueless for that. No, I think she honestly believes that if she can just spin it right, book bloggers will realize that they’re Just Like Self-Pubbed Authors, and there will be a magic click and some fairy dust and suddenly everyone will realize They’ve Been Wrong and thenceforth open their slushpiles.

    I mean, where she says in her “Reconsideration”: “There are some really beautiful book blogs out there, and there are some really, really horrible ones—riddled with typos and “creative” grammar choices, terrible formatting, flashing ads, etc. But I don’t judge all book blogs based on the bad ones. I judge each one on its merit and policies, and I go through each one.” (Yeah. Of course you do. You know why? BECAUSE YOU WANT THEM TO REVIEW YOU. Unlike bloggers, who really don’t want anything at all from you. Especially now, sadly.) She’s working so hard to make the parallel, and I think she just really and truly doesn’t get that it doesn’t stick.

    The whole “I was only asking to be judged by myself and not by my peers” thing? Yeah, see, the thing is that bloggers have to get through your peers to get to you. Why should they? IN CASE you’re awesome and we MISSED it? Lady, in the meantime, I’d advise you maybe write an open letter to other self-pubbing authors telling THEM they’re entrepreneurial and whatever and could they please start using spellcheck so more bloggers will review your book.

    Final growl: she told Erin Mitchell that “this industry is a quickly changing landscape, and we all need to be flexible and open to changes that can affect what we’re doing.” Oh, dear. By we, Ms Zupko, I’m assuming you mean the Royal We, because by now it is uncomfortably transparent that you are trying to flatter, wheedle, and now scare bloggers into siding with you and the rest of the Dinky Non-Trad Writers you imagine having with you to fight in the war against Big Evil Publishing, or something, because you are Very Uncomfortable about the stigma around the way you’ve chosen to publish, and you want book bloggers to make it go away – and if they don’t, it’s because they’re closeminded! and mean! not because they have reasons behind their choices, oh dear me no. Oh, if only Douglas Adam’s SEP field was real.

    /growl
    .

    • Lady, in the meantime, I’d advise you maybe write an open letter to other self-pubbing authors telling THEM they’re entrepreneurial and whatever and could they please start using spellcheck so more bloggers will review your book.

      This, I think, was one of the things I found more baffling/frustrating–that it somehow became our fault! Like we just.. magically decided that self-published books weren’t good enough for us, for no reason except that uh.. that’s what we decided? It did not make sense to me. I don’t think those who don’t accept self-published works are the bad guys in this scenario, I really don’t. … because if the books were awesome, we wouldn’t care if they were self-published or not. Okay, maybe like, a small percentage would care–people like my hubs who won’t even read modern authors who are legacy published. MOST people wouldn’t care where a good book came from, we’re just not getting the good books.

  18. Well, this has been an eye-opener for me. I’ve been in my awesome little corner for too long now, apparently, because I had no idea there were all these indie authors running around hitting up book bloggers for reviews. Keep outing those people because they truly are doing it wrong.

    For my money (and that’s where a lot of it goes — and btw, everything I write about on my blog is stuff that I have gone out and chosen to acquire myself, just like EssJay), the indie authors who are doing it right can very easily be found in one place: Podiobooks.com. Yes, they’re doing even MORE work than just writing the things, they’re also recording (usually themselves narrating) them as audiobooks and giving those away for free to build a fan base (who is pretty generous at the PayPal tip jar because they appreciate the effort, the stories, and the fact that the product costs WAY less than Audible) who is then all ready to snap up snazzy paper or ebook editions of those works (for money) when those are available later on.

    If the work is at all good, it does find those fans, and if the author also happens to be a quality follow on Twitter (which all of my favorite podiobooks authors are), engaging, talking about the rest of the world and not just “buy my book” and, yes, playing hashtag games with fans, then that snowballs. There are only a few Scott Siglers, but there are some Nathan Lowells, too, and they seem pretty happy to be that.

    And they NEVER, EVER bother book bloggers for reviews. They might every once in a while ask their fans to say a little something on Amazon or Smashwords, but that’s pretty much it.

    And those people get ALL MY MONEY now. There’s a tiny handful of name authors whose books I still buy, but these indies who feel like my FRIENDS are who I buy the most.

    • I think having some way of giving your work for free is so smart in today’s market. Not necessarily ALL your work, but I’m far more willing to take a chance on an author if they have a blog or something I can browse, or short stories available for free. Not just an excerpt because you can never tell how the book is going to go after a chapter or two, but a whole (probably short) work so I can experience character development, voice, etc.

      • I’m sitting here looking at my Kindle, which is CRAMMED full of books that I originally discovered either as Podiobooks or via the recommendations of other Podiobooks people (authors and fans), about to go home, which means I need to pack up my messenger bag (!) that announces to the world that “PHIL ROSSI SCARES ME” because he DOES. His was the first book I listened to on Podiobooks (and it’s a sexyscary listen, let me tell you. Something about that growly drawl, MRWAR), and I immediately bought a copy, and all his other stuff as it has come out, and when I needed a new messenger bag, I remembered that he had a store, and so he got even MORE of my money because why wouldn’t I advertise my favorite indie author (who is also a nice guy, a good drinking buddy and fun to dance with, as I discovered at Balticon) on my bag?

        So yeah, he gave his book away for free, but I might put his daughters through college.

        • You kind of make my point here: audiobooking isn’t for every author. Phil Rossi has a sexy growl. I have a halting, high-pitched nasalness. I’ve tried audifying stories before, and dear Lord in heaven, I can’t stand to listen to myself.

    • “And they NEVER, EVER bother book bloggers for reviews. They might every once in a while ask their fans to say a little something on Amazon or Smashwords, but that’s pretty much it.” “Keep outing those people because they truly are doing it wrong.”

      I don’t understand your criticism here. Most of the book blogs I’ve found have submission guidelines. What’s wrong with “bothering book bloggers for reviews” when you’re following their submissions guidelines?

      Every book blogger should have a prominent link to submission guidelines. Even if the text being linked to says, “I find my own stuff. Please don’t pitch books to me. Full stop.”

      Re: Podiobooks.com. Your post seems to say, “This is how I find my indie authors. Therefore, this is how indie authors should be marketing.” It may be a valid strategy, but there are others. I personally don’t have the voice talent, and mostly write female protagonists anyways. Nor do I have the recording equipment. I’m not willing to pay the sort of money or social capital needed to audify my book.

  19. I’d just like to make one point about the “don’t worry, there are other book blogs out there.” I’m not a connoisseur (thanks, spellcheck!) of book blogs, and I’ll admit I don’t know the landscape. But in most niches like this, there’s sort of a power law in web traffic. That is to say, the ten most successful blogs might have twice the readership of the next ten, who themselves have twice the traffic of blogs 21-30. So for the same amount of publicity, you could successfully place your book with:

    1) One of the top blogs.
    2) Two of the next group.
    3) Four of the third group.
    4) Every blog in the fourth group.
    5) Every blog in the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth groups.

    On the other hand, I suspect “number of pitches received” would correlate well with readership, and hence exhibit the same power law. So if one of the top blogs opens themselves to selfpub even a tiny crack, they’re going to get flooded.

    • The point is not to reach people; it’s to reach the right people. It’s more effective (and less work) to tailor your pitch for a few bloggers who will be interested, and it helps if you actually read their blog and leave insightful comments that people enjoy reading.

  20. Holy Moly! I’m glad I missed this one. I think you did a bang up job summing up the issue and providing some positive lessons that can be learned and taken away.

    Things like this make me appreciate how far off the radar I am ;)

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