No wonder debut authors get frustrated. No blurbs, sometimes no reviews, until they make friends with everyone and say all the magic words.
Should new authors play the two-faced game until enough people have endorsed them so that they can stand on their own, and then let the real them come out?
It isn’t like I deliberately start by planning to piss someone off. I end up knowing I’ve done it, in some cases. Like with Mark Billingham. Don’t ask. He’s too nice admit it, probably, but I’d bet money that he spent at least a month last fall thinking I was some freaky stalker-chick.
I digress. Thing is, I’m a bit enthusiastic. Always have been. One of those hot or cold, all or nothing people. Some say obsessive. And it can rub people the wrong way, without me even realizing it.
One thing that does really annoy me is when people jump to judgments without ever talking to me. I’m not talking about casual conclusions, as in, “Read her blog, wasn’t for me.” Cool, I’m good with that. I’m talking about dislike on a level that they feel the need to email people or have conversations about me behind my back with the door already slammed shut – “want nothing to do with you”. And I don’t even know them. I may have met some people online I’d like to meet more than others, but beyond that, there are only a few people I’ve “met” online in the past year I’m really leery about meeting.
Because I’m sure they hate me. Because things said have a way of coming back to you, and it doesn’t seem to matter if you do your taking in another country anymore…
That isn’t even what’s important here. This is about new writers, and the very steep hill they have ahead of them. The journey to a half-decent book launch is no longer climbing Mt. Baker – it’s scaling Mt. Everest, and you’re using second-hand gear that’s outdated while you’re at it, plus you’ve got bronchitis.
At least, that’s how it feels. You’re damn lucky to even do a tour, never mind have a better-known author endorse you. And then you find out so-and-so in Nowhere won’t stock your book because they don’t know you… What’s a new author to do?
Where’s this coming from? Well, I’ve seen this numerous times, from a number of authors. The “I don’t do blurbs” statement. And I’m not talking about a response to a request from me. I’m talking about being quoted in an interview saying, “I don’t do blurbs.”
I could barely muster the courage to ask a few people to look at my book. It was enough to make me sick, I was so nervous about it.
One of them did say no. No big deal. Still love the author’s work, still a big fan. A few said yes and haven’t had time to read the book for a variety of reasons, and with what’s been going on with them, I feel guilty for asking. A few said they wanted to wait until I’d done revisions. So, no blurb. It’s totally okay. If someone had said they didn’t want to blurb the book because they didn’t like it, I’d understand that, too. Nobody has yet, but still. What I handed them months ago is a substantially lesser book to what it is now, with the rewrite done. (Just a bit more tweaking and it’s off to you, my dear editor!)
There’s been a big discussion recently that I’ve been part of, about authors promoting other authors.
I always took the view before, with Spinetingler, that I could promote the books I liked because I didn’t typically plan reviews. I’d buy the books I was interested in reading, read them, like them, then Kevin would bug me to write a review. Even with interviews, I picked people I was interested in talking to, because I enjoyed their work.
So, it was luxury. I never had to review anything. Didn’t put deadlines on myself. Didn’t care if the author was a first-class jerk or the sweetest person on earth.
It’s just a bonus that some of the authors I’ve reviewed books by, like Stuart MacBride, Simon Kernick and Mark Billingham are great guys.
And, of course, I adore Cornelia Read. Smart, incredible writer, funny as hell. Who wouldn’t?
It’s actually Cornelia that started this whole chain of thought, in a way. She’s one of the people I’d been paying attention to on blogs for a while. I’d see her comments. Thought she was a smart person, the kind of person I looked forward to reading opinions from.
So, I went to check out her website.
Now, this was last year, several months before the release of her book, and she had people like Lee Child and Ken Bruen singing her praises.
I was intrigued, and I approached her about an interview. Now, lucky me, I got an ARC of her book and was able to form my own opinion before I interviewed her.
But those blurbs contributed to my decision to roll the dice on interviewing a brand-new author. Did those blurbs matter? Did they sell a book? Yes. For me, they did.
It’s discouraging to me when I see established authors taking the “I don’t do blurbs” stand. First, as a reader, I pay attention. Particularly if it’s an author that’s new to me, I go by author referrals. That’s been the cornerstone of my reading system for the past few years.
And in the past two years I’ve had three books I’ve been not overly enthused about. Not one of them I bought using that system, either. All from external referrals from people or a selection for a reading group.
Beyond that, 100% satisfaction. So the referral system has really worked for me.
Second, I can’t help wondering if some have forgotten how much blurbs and reviews meant to them when they started out their career. I bet every writer has someone they felt a lot of appreciation for, an idol of sorts, someone who found the positives in their early stuff and gave them some encouragement and endorsement. So, while I understand the increasing time-crunch that goes with being asked to blurb, the “no blurb” stand, or worse, the “I only blurb my friends” stand, frustrate me as a reader. It means that person’s referrals for books carries less weight. I don’t know if they’re blurbing a book they think is actually good, or just blurbing it because the person’s a friend. I mean, when “friend” is part of the criteria, blurbing the best books out there doesn’t seem to be part of the equation.
I’ve noticed this. There are some authors who routinely blurb each other. Book after book, there’s a comment outside or inside. I saw two authors do an exchange once, they each reviewed the other’s book. There were actually people who felt the move was so staged and tasteless, I got emails from people complaining about it, although I had nothing to do with it and didn’t publish the reviews – I get drawn into weird stuff sometimes. Interesting to read the opinions on it, though.
For me, authors don’t need to know me or ever meet me for me to do backflips and praise them to the stars. Not that my opinion matters much, but if I like a book, I’ll rave about it. End of story. If I love anything I’ll rave about it.
Now, I get sent review copies, and I have to read on deadlines sometimes. And this is where you put the personal aside and act like a professional – it matters not if I like the author. It’s about assessing their book, not whether or not they’re someone I’d care to go bowling with.
Many people have a hard time with that. And I don’t get it. Sure, you might look forward to releases by friends who’ve satisfied the reader in you in the past. I mean, my friends who write kick-ass books, I can’t wait for more.
But at the exclusion of those I don’t know? You aren’t my friend, so I won’t read you or consider reviewing you? Well, not with me. I’ve been asked to take review copies of a number of books recently, and some of them I really want to read from the description. But they’re on hold – I don’t waste an author’s money if I know I don’t have time to read the book. That’s just not fair, to me. It’s just down to having enough time to read now, and I’ll be taking those review copies!
It’s no wonder new writers get frustrated. You’ve got to hope people will like you in order to get a break. And, I mean, people aren’t all going to like you. Some people aren’t even going to give you a chance.
I know some people who don’t like other people. Cool. Does it affect my opinion? Usually, not at all, unless I already have an issue with the person. Seriously. We won’t all get along. My opinions of people are based on how they deal with me. I might see a pattern of behaviour between said person and others that makes me cautious, but I give everyone a chance. Kevin always tells me I shut my eyes to the warning signs, but I can’t help it.
I think everyone deserves a chance. And I’ve spent enough of my life wasted around people who were judgmental and petty. I don’t want to be that person anymore. Oh, I’m opinionated, but I’m far more open-minded today than ever before. Three years ago I wouldn’t have watched The Shield or The Wire. It’s been less than two years since I saw my first Wire episode. And there was some content I had a hard time with, but the writing and the acting, and being a hopeless David Simon fan, kept me watching long enough to get hooked. I’ve loved Baltimore for years, thanks to David Simon.
This is a big difference between me and a lot of other people, right here. I’d rather you just tell me you don’t like me and don’t want to hear from me ever again than get the not-so-polite brush-off. I got an email over the weekend that read to me like a complete, “have a nice life” message. I hate that. Did my mood affect how I interpreted the email, or was that what they were really saying? And if I don’t write back, do I end up getting yelled at because I ‘ditched’ the person?
It also drives me nuts if people are all nice to me, praise me to the stars, then submit a story to Spinetingler and, as soon as it’s published or rejected, I never hear from them again. If I “know” you, I don’t read your story anyway. Do yourself a favour, don’t waste your time.
I’d rather someone tell me they don’t like me and never want to hear from me. At least be straight about it. And save yourself the aggravation of future emails or (God forbid) meeting me at some book signing or conference.
But back to blurbs, I understand the frustration with requests– believe me. I’m already having a hard time keeping up with the email sometimes, but to me, it’s important to try. I never dreamed of writing God and asking him to read my manuscript – that’s me. But I think some authors are afraid of talking to aspiring authors, because they think they’ll be asked for favours. And in some cases, legitimately.
Maybe if I’d had the guts to get off my ass and ask everyone I knew, I’d have a list of blurbs to choose from. Maybe if I kept at them and kept asking… But, as much as some people think I’m far too “in your face” for their liking, I can’t do it.
I just can’t.
I was just genuinely thrilled for the few people who said they were willing to consider reading it, depending on their schedules.
Hasn’t worked out for most of them, but that’s cool. Looking at my desk, I understand. Completely.
Didn’t even consider asking Mark, and I actually have met him. Would a blurb on my book from him have sold a few copies?
I bet it would have.
Is it fair for me to expect him to do that? Absolutely not. Which is why I didn’t ask.
And some have asked about galley copies for doing reviews from, and I don't even know if any are being distributed. Sorry. There are a couple people who'll get a free book anyway, for all the help they gave me on editing stuff, but I doubt anyone will see a bound version before November. I think I've asked about as many people as I could muster the courage to already, and the ones who aren't done reading should stop now and burn it, seriously. But ask people to give up more time? I just can't do it.
What about you guys? Do you pay any attention to author referrals or blurbs? Or do they make no difference to you?
Happy Birthday EvilKev!
Yes, he’s a year older today. So, if you missed it yesterday, check out his story, Predator and then tell me I shouldn’t fear for my life!
Lonnie Cruse interviews JT Ellison
The interview is scheduled to be up on Lonnie’s blog today. Be sure to drop by, and also to congratulate Lonnie on her recent book deal!
And my friend, Stephen Blackmoore, has a great flash fiction piece up. Check it out!
* Quote – Kinsley Amis