As an indie author, I’m finding myself relying back on some of the earliest pleas I had as a writer: “Please leave a review if you liked the story!” This shows up constantly in fanfiction, because much like in traditional fiction, reviews can make or break an author. Archive of Our Own, a more recent and lovely fanfiction site, adds to this the concept of “kudos,” which is essentially the same as a Facebook like.
The more kudos, the more likes, the more likely someone is going to check out your story. The more popular your story looks, the more likely someone will look at it and say, “hey, maybe that author’s got a handle on these characters. I’ll try that one.”
So I don’t mind people asking about reviews and whatnot. I’m a book blogger in addition to my writing life. But I got a request recently that really knocked me off my stride. Authors, bloggers, whoever: here’s a look at what not to do.
I’m not going to name names, and I’m not going to say anything about the book that I think might give away what it is. I have no interest in publicly bashing this author; they were perfectly courteous, and I know that sending out messages blindly on Goodreads can’t be easy. But here’s what happened.
I signed into my email and saw I’d received a Goodreads message. The author started out saying that they’d noticed from my activity on my Goodreads page that I was a reviewer. (Since these posts cross-post over there, that made sense.) They then asked if I’d be willing to review their recently released crime thriller. (Again, the genre is something that makes sense.) I got a link to the Amazon page, and a few notes from the author.
This is where things started to go wrong.
The first note made sense. The topics covered in the book could be viewed as controversial and potentially insulting/etc. depending on your points of view. The author wanted to make sure that I was comfortable with a book that would take on some of the “official” positions and opinions taken. I of course have no problem with this. I wrote a book about genetically-enhanced humans who look like vampires and fight against the government. I’m okay with challenging the status quo. No worries yet.
The second note is that they are an indie author, and face some of the limitations that an indie author can have. The book is not in its original language, and should be treated as such. (Fine. This I have no trouble with.) It was when they said that I “should not expect professional editing” and that they “did the best an indie can do” that they lost me.
I’m sorry. I’m an independent author myself. I had the benefit of my manuscript going through the wringer of graduate school on several occasions, and thus looking a lot more professionally edited than I ever could have pulled off on my own. But that doesn’t mean that when my next book is finished, that somehow I’m going to assume that myself and a few beta readers are going to be able to make sure the book is top notch. I’m going to get an editor. And yes, that’s going to cost money. Quality work is going to.
As an indie, I truly believe that the two most important things you need for your book to do well, particularly if you’re just starting, is editing and cover design. If you don’t save up to do well in anything else, you save up for those. Because if your book is gorgeous, people will pick it up, and if it’s well-edited, they’re going to be a lot more understanding of any flaws in the storytelling.
The author also commented on not having professional standards for formatting. While yes, maybe you don’t hire out for a typesetter, but there are plenty of tutorials out there for free. That’s what I did, and my book looks just as professional as any of the others out there. If you’re not confident enough in your own work to not put this caveat there, then you’re not trying hard enough.
Strike three was this: the final note is indicating that since it’s difficult to get reviewers as an indie (true enough) that they needed to be able to count on the reviewer being able to read and review the book in the next week or so.
I know it’s hard to get reviews. I sent out probably 30-40 ARC emails to book bloggers, and never heard a single word back from any of them. But asking bloggers to work on a roughly seven day schedule is absurd. I read fast, but I don’t read that fast, and in order to take on a book in that kind of time frame, I would literally have to have nothing else on my schedule at all. As it stands, I’m in the middle of a book for review and have something like 3-4 in the wings that all need to be read in the immediate future. I don’t do this professionally; I have two audiobooks to be recording, my own books to write, and the occasional hour of free time or sleep.
Still, even after all of this, I was willing to hop over to the Amazon page and take a look at the book and its description. Just from the bare bones I saw, it looked like it might be up my alley.
Remember how I said that cover art is right up there with editing?
There are talented cover artists on Fiverr. They’ll do all kinds of magic for under $100. Hell, if you really want, I know a fantastic cover artist who has a million and twelve (estimated) pre-made covers that he’ll sell you for $50. For a little more he’ll do it custom. For a bit more than that, you get print copy and ebook. Covers don’t have to be expensive to be good, and you need to have a good cover to get past the wall of dreck that clogs up the internet waves. (James is a genius, and I love his cover work immensely. He did REVOLUTION and I’ve got the Kindle cover for my next work already done from him as well. Seriously. Hit him up.)
Needless to say, I politely said that I did not have space in my schedule for that kind of time frame, and wished the author well. I truly do wish them well. I hope that everything I’ve seen is proven utterly wrong, and it’s a brilliantly written and edited masterpiece, and the cover is just an unfortunate fluke to not suit my tastes. I really wish the best for all my fellow indies.
But seriously. This just makes my head hurt.