Surviving Publishing Series: Bloggers, Reviewers, and You

After an article posted last Friday in the Guardian, apparently this needs to be said:

Reviewers don’t review books for the author. Reviewers review books for readers.

For those not aware of the article doing the viral set of rounds on social media, it details the stalking and confrontation of a blogger by YA author, Kathleen Hale. The event that triggered this confrontation was a negative review and alleged trolling. I say alleged because the article presents no supporting evidence provided by the author and it has since been reported that the blogger’s conduct did not constitute trolling (ex: as reported by Book Thingo).

The Guardian article itself is being touted as a warning to new authors against inappropriate online conduct, but it has also sparked an online debate concerning where the line between appropriate and inappropriate contact lies when it comes to authors contacting reviewers – especially in our day and age of social media where a large part of an author’s career is spent fostering and promoting an online presence and platform.

Well, we at AISFP have your back. Welcome to Adventures in Sci-Fi’s Surviving Publishing Series: Your very own author’s guide to interacting with reviewers and bloggers. Use it wisely.

1. Contacting Bloggers/Reviewers about your book.

WriterSo you have a book coming out in print. Awesome! Now, if only you could get some reviewers/bloggers to look at it and maybe host your tour…

I think this may be the biggest grey area for new writers when it comes to appropriate contact with reviewers. Before the days of social media and the all-powerful Internet, authors didn’t really have access to major news outlets or the reviewers inside – that was where your publisher came in. Publishers still do a great deal of the heavy lifting when it comes to getting review copies into the hands of influential reviewers, but authors are now in an unprecedented driver’s seat when it comes to seeking reviews and organizing blog tours. The nature of the review game has changed drastically and authors have needed to adapt, which means putting themselves out there and contacting reviewers themselves.

I think everyone needs to follow best business practices here. It’s okay (and expected now) for authors to contact bloggers about reviewing their book or hosting them for a guest post, giveaway, and/or blog tour. In fact, most bloggers’ websites have a contact/review section detailing how best to get in touch and what their review/blog tour policies are, as Sarah Chorn discussed in a recent podcast. Many welcome and encourage authors to get in touch.

But, after looking at your book, they may decide they don’t want to review it. And that’s just fine – others will. Make sure you put your best professional foot forward when touching base and respect the blogger’s time and right to refuse. Same rule applies to the self-publishing authors out there. Follow the guidelines, especially when the blogger has a policy against reviewing self-published works.

2. The reviews are coming in.

These reviews are not for you.Fear and loathing

They never were.

What’s that? They were written about your book?

Yup, you bet they were… for other readers. So they can gauge whether the book may or not be for them.

And I’ll tell you something else: critical reviews are just as important as the positive ones. A well written critical review gives a reader insight into whether a book is or isn’t for them. Maybe there isn’t enough romance for that reviewer? Maybe too much? Maybe it’s not serious enough? Too light-hearted?

Reading is subjective. Negative, like positive reviews, help steer people towards and away from your book.

But take you as the author out of that equation.

These are not the reviews you are looking for. They’re for the readers.

3. And that goes triple for the comments.

F&Limage2Readers and reviewers need a safe place to express their opinions about a work. Goodreads, Amazon, and review blogs provide fantastic spaces for readers, including those who don’t like your work. When the author enters a comment on the public forums, even to thank a reviewer, it breaks that trust.

Now, some people will say contacting a reviewer at all – even ones who like your book – is a bad policy, but in the digital age of author platforms and engaging readers, this has also become more of a grey zone. If a reviewer particularly likes a book (or has shown interest in reviewing it) and has a policy in place that states they are okay with authors contacting them about reviews or blog tours, a professional email requesting a blog tour stop/review should be fine. But play it by ear, and above all, respect the blogger’s privacy and right to say no or not respond. And for the love of God, follow the submission guidelines. Repeated emails and hounding them on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Goodreads is not the way to go about it. Respect for the reviewer.

And always remember; just because they review it doesn’t mean they’ll like it. And that’s okay too!

What is not okay is hounding a reviewer to change a review or jumping in on the readers’ discussions. There are other places for you to chime in with fans (Goodreads and Amazon both have authors pages where readers can contact the author or post questions), but the readers’ discussion boards is not your place.

And keep in mind, your greatest enemy in starting out as an author isn’t a negative review. It’s signal to noise. Just be happy someone was willing to give your book a shot; God knows they had a lot of other options out there from the stacks of books publishers are sending them (and that’s before we get into the self-pub arena).

4. But someone really hated your book. hated your book

Step away from the reply button.

Seriously, just take a step back. In fact, if you feel yourself tempted to respond you should probably remove Goodreads from your bookmarks. You’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.

And no, I don’t care if they got a fact wrong. Or you think they didn’t quite get the work and if you just replied they’d ‘get it’ and change their minds because of course they’re wrong-

No! Bad author.

I have a favorite book club. It’s called Sword and Laser, and run in podcast format. I’ve found more awesome books there than I can count.

Except for one.

Charles YuI won’t bring up the name of the book… oh, what the hell, it’s another chance to get out of my system how much I hated that book. It was called ‘How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe’, by Charles Yu.

Oh God, how I hated that book.

Until the very last page I restrained myself from throwing my Kindle at the wall. And why, you might ask, did I not just put it down? Well, first I didn’t want to miss book club, and second, there were glimmers of hope. Hints that something good might just be around the corner, enough so it dragged me through the slow-paced action until the very end. I jumped for joy when a zombie finally showed up, then fell back into despair when I realized the zombie scene was an anomalous blip flitting across my Kindle screen. I don’t read a book called ‘How to Survive Safely in a Science Fictional Universe’ about a time travel machine repairman for an in-depth examination of a son’s relationship with his long-lost father and existential physics discussions! I pick up that book expecting space cowboys!

And let me assure you. There are no space cowboys here.

Note, at no point did I say this was a bad book. I said I hated it. Me – my own personal opinion. One look on Goodreads shows you just how polarizing Charles Yu’s book was. It has a decent average rating of 3.39, but the individual reviews show just how widely spread the reception for this book was. People either loved or hated it. There was very little in between.

That’s not the sign of a bad book; it’s the sign of a brilliant book.

For the right audience, Yu’s book is great: It was nominated for a number of high profile awards and the writing is stellar. People loved the literary bent Yu took, dressing what can be best described as a literary novel with genre trappings.

But, it wasn’t what I expected when I picked up a sci-fi time travel novel about surviving in a science fictional universe. It didn’t deliver on my expectations, and I wasn’t the only one.

And that’s useful for other readers out there. In fact, I recommend this book on a regular basis for people who like sci-fi with a literary bent. He does some really interesting stuff in there, and by all accounts people looking for that will love it.

That’s what reviews do: they let people get a better organic picture of what’s out there and if it’s for them.

Remember, bad reviews are not your enemy, signal to noise is. Even a scathing review means someone is talking about your book.

5. Whatever you do, do not feed the trolls.


We repeat, do not feed the trolls. Nothing good can come of it.

For those of you who missed the eighties, there was a great movie called Gremlins: a sci-fi Christmas classic in my family, right up there with Scrooged. Gremlins featured evil chaos-loving…well, gremlins…who rained mayhem and murder on an otherwise uneventful Christmas eve. And they had one hell of a sense of humor. Raining mayhem and chaos – but with a sense of humor.

The funny thing about the chaos-loving, mischievous gremlins is that if you drop water on them, they multiply. Whatever you do, do not drop water on the gremlins. Comments are to Internet trolls what water is to gremlins. It makes them multiply exponentially, bringing all their glorious mayhem-tinged humor with them.

Oh yeah, and whatever you do don’t feed the comment threads after midnight. Much like the mogwais (the cute fluffy Gizmo from the movie gremlins), entities scouring internet threads also turn into gremlins and trolls when the big hand hits twelve.

So there you have it. AISFP guide to safely navigating contact with the reviewers and bloggers at large. Use wisely, and keep an eye out for more AISFP Surviving Publishing guides.

Kristi Charish

Kristi Charish – AISFP Contributor

Kristi is a scientist and science fiction/urban fantasy author who resides in Vancouver, Canada. The first installment in her debut urban fantasy series, OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS, is scheduled for release Jan 2015 through Simon & Schuster Canada/Pocket Books.

She received her BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and her PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists.

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  1. What you say makes a lot of sense, Kritsi. I enjoyed your comment about not feeding the trolls, too. I expect there are plenty of them out there, who just get off on making mischief. When someone takes the time to comment it’s always appreciated, though I think it’s probably better to say nothing at all than slam one star on a book as say it was rubbish without saying a little bit about why you thought it was rubbish. I hate star ratings for that reason – it’s the laziest possible method of evaluating a book and in most senses is valueless. Except Amazon, Goodreads and no doubt many readers may not share that view. But us writers do need to learn to take it on the chin – rejection is part of the game (from prospective agents and publishers as well as from readers). For my own part, it can feel a little hurtful to get one star for one of my novels – but it’s balanced out by the four and five star ratings (with comments!) that other readers give them. And, let’s face it, even big names like Stephen King and Dan Brown get slammed from time to time, so we’re in good company.

    • Absolutely! I think as well that authors need to remember that as soon as their work is out there they’ve stepped into the entertainment business and the reviews are not for them. Also, keep in mind there is a profound difference between a book rated 3 stars due to 1 star and 5 star reviews, and a book that is rated 3 because of mostly 3 star reviews. One suggests a profound polarizing effect, where the other suggests an all around Ok, average entry. I know which one I’d try reading first!

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