Warning Signs

When I receive review requests from authors (especially self-published authors; also especially first-novel authors) there are certain ‘warning signs’ that I look for in their letters, and that cause me to reject the request even if I have the time for it. (Some are only obvious in hindsight, sadly.) I’ve decided to collect some of those here.

“I … never spend a cent for editing”

Most of the good self-published authors I’ve met absolutely hire an editor to go through their work. It’s just plain smart. (I’ll give a pass to authors who are also trained editors, but it’s still useful to get a second opinion.) But mostly this: if a writer didn’t use an editor, why would he think that’s something to brag about while trying to get a review?

“I know you don’t usually take this kind of book for review, but…”

I don’t review memoirs (for example). So what makes an author think that his memoir is THE ONE that will be different? Also, since I don’t review memoirs I don’t have a lot of experience with it and am likely to not do the best job. The author’s better off finding the right reviewer for his work.

“Since you like J.D. Robb’s ‘in death’ books, I know you’ll love mine!”

If an author tells me her book is like a Robb novel, I’ll be running that comparison in my head as I’m reading. Since the author has me primed to expect a certain thing, I’m likely to think poorly of her book when it doesn’t live up to that. If a first-time author says their work is better than that of a mega-best-selling author, I read that as arrogance. And let’s face it, since I already expect the resulting review won’t be a good one, I’d rather not review it at all. Arrogant first-timers are much more likely to throw a fit when someone gives their book a bad review, and I don’t need that kind of abuse.

Note that I’m not saying that all self-pubbed authors or all first-time authors will pitch a fit, nor am I saying that professional and experienced authors don’t. The odds are just very different.

“It’s a bio-thriller; I noticed that you like those.”

So why does it read like a character study, teenage wish-fulfillment story with a bare smattering of dubiously defined ‘bio’ or ‘thriller’? If an author tells me it’s a certain genre, I’m going to expect it to be of that genre. I’m also going to be annoyed with the author for misleading me as a reader. How authors manage readers’ expectations through descriptions and advertising is important. Also, why hobble himself by stretching the definition of his genre to the breaking point in order to get a review–all it means is that the reviewer will start out unhappy when they find they’ve been misled. That isn’t a good basis for a positive review.

I’ll have to keep an eye out for other things I can add to this post over time. I realize this post is bitchy, but taking all the review books and reading them can turn me off from reading if they’re bad enough (it’s happened to me before). And I refuse to let book reviewing make reading into a resented chore. So, I pick up on warning signs that, over time, have come to alert me to books I won’t enjoy reading.

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