“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!