Having reviewed books somewhat spottily for over half a decade, I’ve developed a mental checklist to use when deciding whether I will read or review a book. Most often, I just don’t have the time to read 159,997 novels in a year, so I turn down a lot of reviews because I know I won’t be able to get to it. Otherwise, I usually reject a novel for one of the follow reasons:
This one is obvious, no? I only read certain kinds of science fiction and fantasy, with rare exception. Anything outside of that narrow band generally gets ignored. Most people are like this because most people aren’t interested in every kind of sf/f literature.
You’d be surprised how often I get review requests for things that I’ve never reviewed in all my lackluster years as a reviewer. Not nearly as often as others, I’m sure, but often enough that this is one of the top reasons I won’t review a book. I’ve pulled myself from a couple reviewer email lists because of this. If my preferences are for X, I don’t want to get requests for Q and G. It’s that simple.
Note: that I have made exceptions in the past in no way means I will make exceptions all the time; if I did that, I wouldn’t have to make exceptions…
The easiest way to get me to delete an email is to send me something that reads less like a review request and more like spam. You’re in bad territory indeed if I think your email will end with you claiming that you’re a prince with millions of dollars that you have bequeathed to me and that you need me to front the fee to transfer it to a U.S. bank…
You know what I want in a review request? Simple:
a) Basic information about the book (synopsis, title, simple comparisons; book cover; blurbs)
b) Basic information about you (a bio!)
c) An indication that you’re familiar with me, my blog, or my podcast (major publishers often get a pass on this because they keep big lists of reviewers).
I don’t need your life story, weird attempts to make your book seem super awesome, etc. If you put some personality into a, b, and c, that’s wonderful, but leave all the other stuff out.
I’ve only seen a handful of authors do this. They sit on their Twitter accounts talking about why nobody reads or buys their books and how awful that is. Not just once, which might be forgiven. Not just twice, which might also be forgiven. But so many times that it becomes a semi-regular occurrence.
The problem with this has nothing to do with whether it’s true. It might be that you’re not appreciated as much as you deserve. Maybe you did write a great novel, but nobody is buying it for whatever reason. That sucks. But that’s also the writing “game.” If everyone could sell as many books as John Scalzi, then everyone would complain about not selling more than that. You can’t control how many books you sell. Not really. You can push them with PR campaigns and the like (see Kameron Hurley for an example), but the market isn’t something that can be easily “gamed.” Sometimes, you just won’t sell as many books as you would like for reasons you’ll never fully understand.
Complaining about it, however, makes you look desperate. It might convince a few people to buy your books. But do you really want people to buy them out of pity?
As a reviewer, I just don’t play that game for one simple reason: it’s already difficult enough to be objective about a book when you are embedded in online fandom; adding a negative emotion to the reading process makes objectivity even more difficult, so it is likely to negatively affect my reception of your book. I’d prefer to avoid that situation altogether.
Every so often, you’ll find an author handling author life rather poorly. They complain incessantly about reviews, they crowd fan spaces when they are clearly unwanted, and they handle criticism either of their work or their online writing in the same way as a child handles being told they can’t have another piece of cake.
The line between author and work isn’t as clearly defined as some would like (a fact I’ll discuss in the next section). At some point, an author’s behavior begins to affect how I view the author’s work. I can’t help it, and in some cases, I don’t want to. If an author responds poorly to reviews, I’d rather review something else than risk getting on that author’s shitlist. Why? Because I don’t need the additional stress, and if I have the choice between reading something else I might like or risking getting crapped on by an author with a behavior problem, I’ll pick the first one.
That doesn’t mean authors should shut up. There are occasionally good reasons to talk about a review (good or bad) or to address some controversy online, etc. Authors just need to understand the line between “appropriate” and “inappropriate.”
In rare cases, the idea of separating an author from their work is fundamentally impossible. Some people are so incapable of being anything other than rude, conniving scumbuckets that it’s impossible to see their name on the book and not think about their behavior. We all know of one or two authors who are like this. They attack people with whom they disagree; they treat people who interact with them like worthless piles of human flesh; and they have such an air of superiority about them that you’d think their heads were really three times normal size.
This is especially so when the author’s politics are involved. It’s not a matter of simple political disagreements but the character of the disagreements. Someone who argues against women’s rights or advocates for the classification of gay people as mentally ill is someone who is so fundamentally opposed to the things I believe in that they can and wish to do demonstrable harm to the people I care about. And when that author is extremely public with those views, so much so that they are actually involved in some way with a political system, I find myself unwilling and incapable of giving the author’s work any attention whatsoever. Reviews, discussion, etc. are forms of advertising, and if you’re the kind of person who falls into the “raging asshole” category, I’m just not willing to help you sell more books because I believe our actions must have consequences. In my case, the only consequence I can provide is silence.
And there you have it. What about you? What reasons do you have for not reading an author’s work?
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