Getting someone to open the cover of your book. That's always been one of the major battles a self-publisher faces. It almost certainly will infuriate you at many points during your self-publishing life. After all, you *know*, if they'd just open the first page...
The first thing to say is it's not something exclusive to self-publishers. Many of my author friends published by small presses have exactly the same problem, and Kevin Duffy, who runs Bluemoose, one of the most inventive - and brilliant - small presses around is frequently outspoken about the Big Six and London-centrism of most reviewers.
That said, why reviewers, especially bloggers, won't review self-published books is something that has become a heated debate in the past few weeks. Well-respected blogger gavreads posted on 27th May his "Reasons Why We Reviewers Won't Read Your Self-published Book." Self-publishers were furious (and believe me, what's said on the comments is nothing to what was said on forums and groups all over the web. And to be fair, paragraph titles like "we know it's going to be rubbish" were probably designed to stimulate a certain amount of, er, debate.
And today, the on site Awesome Indies Tahlia Newland has issued a clarion call that seems aimed as a rebuttal, entitled "Come on Guys Give Indies a Fair Go."
Now, both articles make some good points - the former is, as the author says, simply an explanantion of a tendency and not a justification, the latter makes a call for equal treatment rather than especially harsh scrutiny. And both have their faults - traditionally published authors aren't exactly tantrum-free and genre-busting is sort of what self-publishing's for; whilst "be big-hearted" has the ring of desperation to it.
I don't want to take sides, but I do want to offer a series of observations about reviews and book bloggers. Take them as the beginning of a debate. Reviewers - take them as the start of some self-questionning about what you do; writers - take them as the start of some self-questionning about why you want to be reviewed.
- Most of the anecdotal evidence I've heard - and the outspoken words of indie guru Joe Konrath - suggest reviews don't create sales
- There are book blog reviewers I go back to again and again because I know I share their taste. They are few and far between - Tony Malone, Farm Lane Books, Winston's Dad - and I think of their reviews more like recommendations from friends who share my taste. Furthermore their reviews feel less like advertisements than parts of an ongoing discussion of which the book in question is only a part - and more often than not I enjoy the review more when I've read the book as opposed to when I'm looking for a new book - though when I do buy a book recommended, as when Farm Lane Books introduced me to Beside the Sea, it's so I can join the conversation. So...
- Reviews are part of a community built around a certain taste. This feels much more like the 1000 true fans model than the "review-as-plug" model. I wonder if, within such communities, there is such resistance to self-published authors who are part of that community - the first of Gav's main points "we don't know who you are" certainly doesn't apply
- Writers, ask yourself why you would want a review from somewhere where you're not part of the community. Why are you not already part of the community? Quite probably, or at least possibly, because people who are part of it don't share your taste - why would you want to foist your book on them in that case?
- People have review blogs for a lot of reasons. Some of them for their own glory. I thought Gav's point "We know you’re not going to generate hits" spoke volumes - I have no interest in being reviewed by someone who reviews books to generate hits. Just as I have no time for people who self-publish "to get rich" so I have no time for people who review "to get hits." Most people review books because they love books, plain and simple. I go back to my point above - if their passion is not for your kind of book why would you want to hack off another human being by being a pest, and if you just know they'd love your book that's probably because you're a regular at their blog and chances are they will take a look at some point.
- If a reviewer isn't looking at self-published books, chill - blogs will soon appear that do - gaps will be filled, niches plugged, communities built. Take a look, for example, at Cally Philips' excellent Indie ebook Review (interested party alert - I do some reviewing there and have had a couple of books reviewed there). If nature hates a vacuum, that's nothing compared to the internet's sheer abhorrence of them!
The point here is that cultural pundits are there to give a picture of both the general landscape and the new, exciting things bubbling up on it - and by failing to give a complete picture they are failing the public that look tothem for advice of where to turn next for exciting things - and when people get turned off books because they are told only a fraction of what's out there, some of the blame for that lack of interest lies with those who didn't give a complete picture.
So, book bloggers and cultural pundits do two different things. The former are engaged in ongoing discussions with devotees. The latter exist to chart those discussions and provide entry points to them. We writers need to get those clear in our heads before we start complaining and campaigning. If a reviewer won't review us, the chances are, to bastardise Wittgenstein, both parties aren't part of the same community - in which case, why worry about missing a review, and if you are worried, take the correct step and join the community. If a cultural pundit won't talk about the exciting liminalities of the self-publishing world, however, campaign from the rooftops and call them out on it in the blogosphere and anywhere else.