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Shadowhawk talks about the relationships between authors and book bloggers. What follows is his own opinion and should you have any issue with it, feel free to discuss it with him directly.
“The relationship between an author and a book blogger (reviewer) is one of cooperation and mutual respect that is stringed together by trust.” ~Shadowhawk
My work as a book blogger was borne out of a single comment to an author friend of mine sometime last year, late August or early September if I remember correctly. Having enjoyed her various short stories, I promised to do a review of her book when I got it. Games Day UK, the premier Games Workshop “convention” was in late September and I was planning to visit all the way from Dubai. The real attraction of the event was meeting all the authors and editors at Black Library, GW’s publishing imprint, and picking up some cool stuff like advance releases all the way through December. Sarah’s first novel, The Gildar Rift, was to be published in December and I was quite excited for it. This is why I promised her that review. I figured why not. I’d liked all her associated short stories already and really liked her work.
As it turned out, the fates were kind and not only did I manage to pick up the novel, but also got it signed from her. My first signed book ever! That the novel, which I burned through in the next 2 days, turned out to be fantastic is just gravy.
I soon reviewed a few more of the new releases I’d picked up at GD and Commissar Ploss soon contacted me about reviewing for The Founding Fields. That was back in October. And here we are.
More than 50 reviews later, 55 to be exact, I am now considered a reviewer with some serious credentials. Not my words mind you, but what the occasional feedback from authors and friends and fellow reviewers say. It is quite an exhilarating feeling, to know that there are people out there who respect your opinions and want to read those opinions.
This relationship, between me and my readers and the authors whose work I’ve reviewed, has come about due to three reasons.
The first is mutual respect. Authors want their work to be read and they like reading what people have to say about it. Out there in the wild is the real test of an author’s ability to write, whether for good or ill. People who offer commentary that is insightful, thought-provoking and, ultimately, courteous, will be respected by the author. In this relationship, bad-mouthing or irrelevant snark has no business. There are certain cases where that may be applicable, if that really is your style, but personally speaking, I shy away from those kinds of review sites. I can never be certain where the mirth ends and the seriousness begins, or vice versa. If you treat an author with respect, they are very much likely to return the favour. It makes it easier to then strike up conversation in the future about things and develops the relationship further.
This brings us to point number 2: cooperation. Ask any author who does interviews and guest posts and giveaways on blogs: Why do you do it? The first answer in most cases is going to be simple marketing. But that’s just on the surface. Authors who are treated with disrespect will avoid blogs where that is the norm and will, more than likely, put the word out about them. But bloggers who are respectful and courteous, even when they don’t like the author’s work, have a high chance of being selected for book tours and what not. After all, why not? A positive review of a novel paired with an interview so the readers can get into the author’s mind that much more, or a giveaway to reward the readers or what have you? Hell yes! I’d be all over that. It all comes down to being professional, on both sides of the coin. And that professionalism has its rewards. Reviewers can expect to get some cool opportunities from the author and the author hirself can expect to get some great marketing.
As an example, I’ve been contacted by no less than seven authors in the last four months, inquiring about guest posts, interviews, and also, reviews of their work. Some of these authors also happened to be quite comfortable with the first two items there and it was more a case of me arranging said interview or guest post. For the others, it rested on the reviews. Four of these authors also happen to be self-published, with their novels either already out in the wild, or being released soon. Self-publishing gets a generally bad rep among bloggers, given everything I’ve seen of the community in recent months. The reasons for that are varied, and material for a separate discussion, but personally, I’ve had a great time with self-published material. Granted, it was a novel by an author who has been traditionally published for more than 15 years now as well (and counting!) and he also happens to be my favourite author, so it was really a non-contest, but still. The point holds.
When it comes to self-publishing, I’m batting a 100 so far. That may change of course in the coming weeks but I’m not too bothered by it. I don’t see a future in which I’d become averse to reading/reviewing self-published material.
A second case is another of my favourite authors offering me the chance to get a review copy of his latest novel. And that’s what I’m talking about. Generally a reviewer has to go around asking publishers for review copies, more so when they are starting out like I was back in November last year. It’s a frustrating process at times because the marketing people can take a long time to respond and it can even put you off. Been there, done that, not pretty. How many times is the table reversed? Back in April, I reviewed a novel upon request for the David Gemmell Awards, Kevin J. Anderson’s The Key to Creation. Now I have Matt Forbeck’s latest, the self published Brave New Worlds: Revolution, waiting for me. Good times!
Finally, we come to the last reason: Trust. Being a reviewer involves a great amount of trust on both sides. Reviewers trust publishers (and in some cases authors themselves) to keep them aware of new releases and to provide them with review copies as and when possible. Publishers trust reviewers to, well, review their books. It’s a relationship that feeds off each side and it wouldn’t be too far out of the left field to say that this is quite the symbiotic relationship. But there is, of course, a catch here. What happens when a reviewer does not like a particular book? What happens when the publisher delays delivery of the review copies, for whatever reason? Another thing is that while reviewers generally handle their own publicity, a publisher linking to those reviews is a great boon to direct traffic to the blog and even increasing readership. So what happens when a reviewer doesn’t tag the publisher/author in their reviews themselves or when they take to social media to promote their reviews? What happens when a publisher fails to return that favour and provide linkbacks? Again, I’ve been there, done that, seen everything.
The trust is important. In a perfect world, none of this would be an issue. But we don’t live in a perfect world so we have to make do with what we have. Don’t like the novel? Be truthful about it to the author and be sure to balance your review, should you decide to post one, and talk about the good as well as the bad. In my opinion there are an extremely small (in the thousandths) percentage of novels out there that you will absolutely not like. There will always be something that you liked, no matter how small. I’ve certainly tasted the extremely bad, the bad, the decent and everything in between. Some of my reviews make that quite clear. As long as your opinion is honest and respectful, you are still in the game. Your review copies are delayed? Shoot your contact an email and ask them what happened. Sometimes it is the publisher’s fault of course, and sometimes it’s out of their hands, such as the case may be when there’s an issue with the transportation. Although I’m hardly one to talk, don’t rant about it. Professionalism you see! Unless of course you smother your rant with vagueness!
And as for the promotional bit, publishers and authors sometimes get annoyed when you link to them (on social media that is) again and again whenever you do your marketing. Sometimes they don’t and will just take the neutral way out by not responding, but don’t overdo it, or underdo it for that matter. And if a publisher fails to return the favour, well, you can have a good rant about it, but just know that it’s not gonna chance anything, and you are probably better off not doing it anyway. But for the publishers, they should definitely show that level of support. Book blogging is often a thankless task because we don’t often get much feedback on it, whether good or bad. Increasing the readership and gaining a broader portfolio is also no easy thing. So all the help they can give, is great. And that’s why I often look to the authors far more than the publishers themselves. Because it’s the authors who will be more willing to offer you that level of support. It goes back to my earlier point about authors wanting their work to be read and critiqued by people in the wild.
So you see, it is all linked: respect, cooperation and trust. I’m sure there is a fourth pillar in there too but I can’t think of it at the moment. This post is very much a spur of the moment thing since we didn’t have anything scheduled for today. Just remember that everything we do as reviewers, it can help make or break an author, more so in the case when they are new. Just remember how you felt when you started writing reviews and you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. On the reverse, it’s all about that readership.
Feel free to linkback to this post, or discuss it in the comments. If you want to discuss any of this in more depth, you can email me at abhinavjain87 at gmail dot com or you can bother me about it on twitter – abhinavjain87. I’m a social media freak of sorts so I’m almost always around, barring evenings in the Americas since I’m all the way out in Dubai.
Hope you all enjoyed this!
Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.