Thursday, November 2, 2017

Please Don't Ask Me to Read Your Book


I'm an editor for indie authors. As such, I recognize how difficult it is for some of them to get book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, so I'm careful to always leave a review when I read a book. If it's great, of course I want others to enjoy it, and if it's terrible, I want to warn people to save their money and time.

Most of my reviews tend to be favorable because I have a general idea of what I'm picking up before I start, either from friends' recommendations or my own pre-purchase research. Even if a book is cheapie-cheap, I'll still read the negative reviews to see if they mention anything that's important to me. I don't usually bother reading very many positive reviews, partly because so many reviewers include spoilers without realizing it, and partly because I expect a book to be good. If someone thinks it's not good, I want to know why.

People on Goodreads ask for reviewers all the time. This is a dubious practice, and "officially" there is to be no review swapping (because those boil down to give-me-five-stars-and-I'll-give-you-five-stars) but still . . . authors are constantly pimping a free e-copy if someone—anyone!—will pleasepleasepleaseprettyplease review their book. (Author Gisela Hausmann has a great post, "What Authors Can Learn from Car Salesmen," that gives some great tips on how to not beg/sound desperate.)

So when people ask for reviews on GR . . . if I haven't offered (and I'm obviously very active there) then I am not interested. Why am I not interested? After all, I do love reading and I always review what I read.

Well, in a few words, here's why. By asking me to review your book, you are putting me in the position of either looking like a jerk by saying no because I:

  1. don't have time 
  2. saw the reviews and know I won't enjoy it 
  3. know from experience that most who ask on random forums have books with numerous issues, and I will be put into the uncomfortable position of saying it out loud

Or I say yes to be polite and then am forced—because I won't say yes and then not do it—to read and pay attention to details I might otherwise not. It's weird . . . I naturally remember details of books I've chosen to read, but have to concentrate on books not of my own choosing. Perhaps it comes from the occasional assigned reading at my day job, where we are expected to discuss what we've read. If I have to read a book someone's asked me to read, I read it as an editor, and can't shut that off. This is an odd curse, but that's what I deal with.

Dear stranger, basically you are asking me to work for you without being paid for it, and I have wasted a lot of time and energy doing things like this that I later regret. As a freelancer, I do a fair number of free evaluations for writers, and if they hire me, that's great, but if they don't, it's hours put in that don't pay off. It happens, and it's part of the free eval package.

Those ones I don't mind nearly as much, except for these stats—the ones who don't hire me are typically broken down into these portions: 10% are people who simply choose someone else—a better fit, for example, of a British editor for a UK writer, or those who are truly shopping around and looking for the best price, fit, and timing on the calendar—and the other 90% are people whose manuscripts are nowhere near ready for editing, much less publishing.

Those 90% still get the same thorough editing eval as anyone else, because I believe in being fair, and I want to be as thorough in my explanation as possible when I'm telling someone their book is not ready for editing. Perhaps I could be mean about it and simply tell them it's not ready, but if they don't know why, then it may never be ready. Or they'll find an unscrupulous editor who will take their money, fix misspellings and typos, and never tell them how bad the overall writing actually is.

Unfortunately, in my experience, many of the "read my book for review" people are still in the second-draft phase and don't know it because they've already gone and published. So yes, I'm being asked do work for them for free, even if they're not aware of it. I even added a (hopefully polite) "please don't ask me to read your book" portion to my Goodreads profile, because I get a slow-but-steady flow of requests that wax and wane around the timing of my posted reviews, and I always feel so uncomfortable when answering. I hate to be rude, but on the other hand, they're not exactly being polite by asking a stranger to do them a favor when there's been no previous relationship.

What are your thoughts on the "please read my book" crowd? I'm not looking for everyone to necessarily agree with me, but would genuinely enjoy your input on this one.


*****

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31 comments:

  1. I'm a very slow reader and of course have my favorite genres. Fortunately, most people have realized this and noticed that reviewing isn't my strong suit. I don't get asked a lot and I don't volunteer. It does put one on the spot. As for me, the only ones I ask for reviews are book bloggers who either review my genre or already know me.

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    1. But you're going about it the right way. Book bloggers and people you already know. It's the strangers who only interact with me to ask for a review that are bothersome to me . . . I'm not even sure how they find me, since it's not like I'm a "reviewer" per se.

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  2. I've left very few reviews of anything online, so I don't get requests like that. The closest I get to a request is when I tell someone I'm a writer, and he or she says "I've had lots of people tell me that my life's been so interesting, I should write a book. If you'll write it for me, I'll split the profits 50-50 with you." ("Yeah? How do I eat and pay my other bills in the meantime, while I'm spending all those hours working on nothing but your book? And what if it doesn't ever get picked up by a publisher? Or what if it gets published, but doesn't sell? Or what if...")

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    1. I'm laughing hysterically at the idea of splitting the profits. Because book profits are so huge for the average unknown author, right? I had one author (early on in my editing journey) expect that I'd split profits with him as my payment. I had to explain to him that I'd already done my portion of the work and required real payment immediately upon completion of the project. When I outlined his percentage from Amazon and how long it would take to finish paying me from profits, he was completely understanding. It was sheer ignorance on his part initially, and thankfully he was a rational person.

      I've heard ghostwriting provides a fairly large chunk of change. But again, that implies you'll get paid ahead of time, right?

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    2. Exactly. Telling people I must get paid before I start has aborted many writing projects. You were very lucky that that author understood your need to charge an actual fee.

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    3. Yes, I was extremely lucky. I pretty much just wrote a lengthy email explaining how much time and effort I invest in edits, that I am a professional who needs to get paid like any other service provider, and that I was not one of the handful of friends/family he had working on other aspects for him (free cover, formatting, etc.). He was great about it and we have a good working relationship now.

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  3. I feel very awkward about this. If I read a book and enjoy it, I'll leave a review. But on the odd occasion when someone has really begged me to read a book, I've regretted agreeing. I don't want to leave a bad review, although I know it's only helpful, so I end up avoiding the subject whenever I come across the author on social media again...

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    1. "Awkward" sums it up perfectly. I have, with zero exceptions, regretted saying yes in these situations. The most recent "yes" is what led me to writing this post, and changing my bio on Goodreads to add the "please don't ask" portion. Halfway through, I told the author I was finding major flaws and would probably give it 2-3 stars, and to his credit, he didn't ask me to not review it (like some would do). He also, after I posted the negative review, emailed to thank me for taking the time, and said he didn't like what I'd said but respected that I had every right to say it. So at least that didn't backfire on me, but many authors are not that understanding (as any glimpse into the "badly behaving author" rants on Goodreads will show).

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  4. My problems with reviewing books for others include no time, no money, and a tendency to be rather demanding.

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    1. I hear that! It takes time to read for review, because I always keep in mind that I'm providing the review for the benefit of future purchasers. I'm also kind of a stickler for things, right down to poor formatting, if the book has a multitude of things wrong with it.

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  5. I have shut down the possibility of reading and reviewing books for strangers, and even for some people I know and like. It takes way too much time. I simply say, I can't do that.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. That seems to be the common theme. Time. And those who approach strangers for a review don't seem to grasp that it's not quite the same as sitting down for a relaxing read.

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  6. Yeah for me it is a time issue. I have only so much of it. I would love to read many books, but I have time to read books I am hoping to enjoy. That may sound harsh, but Even with published books that have great reviews I might still be wasting my time. I feel your pain.

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    1. I'm fully with you on this. If I have a limited amount of time for pleasure reading, I don't want to spend it on something not of my choosing. Whether that sounds harsh or not, it's the reality.

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  7. Sounds frustrating. I guess it means that they trust your judgement.

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    1. I'm not sure I even factor into the equation in these cases. The people who post all over Goodreads, begging for reviews, only need a warm body with two eyeballs. I firmly believe they end up asking for reviews on a public forum because they didn't go through the proper steps while getting ready to publish . . . there were no betas, no critique partners, in many cases no editing (and they admit to it, using the excuse that they're indie authors who "can't afford it"), no advance reader copies to generate excitement and have immediate reviews on release day. They end up publishing and then don't know what to do when crowds don't find them in the huge number of new releases. A marketing plan is as essential as the steps toward publishing.

      Haha, what a huge answer to a simple statement. Sorry, Heidi.

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  8. I'm very much with you. Long and short is I don't work for free, I read slowly (especially if it sucks) and I don't like giving negative reviews for poor work, but I will for the sake of integrity and that ends up hurting the relationship.

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    1. YES. I don't glory in giving a negative review, but I know how ripped off I feel when I read all positive things and then read a clunker of a book. I always wonder how nobody else noticed the things I did (especially when they're large-scale issues one doesn't need to be an author or editor to notice). There's not much satisfaction to being the lone voice in the other direction, but I think potential buyers deserve to know what they're purchasing.

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  9. While I can appreciate how difficult it is to get readers and reviews, it really isn't the best way to get someone to read your book. It seems desperate, which I suppose they are, but also it just puts the person in such uncomfortable position. Yes, promoting and advertising your book is difficult even with a budget—which most writers don't have—but there are different ways of getting the same point across, maybe offering a Goodreads giveaway, or just general social media offerings. There's no need to hassle individuals, those who are interested will just let you know.

    Anyway, as far as reading my books, you better read them, especially with you editing hat on! lol ;)

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    1. You know I'm ALWAYS happy to read your books, in any incarnation, whether first draft or edit-ready. Duh. lol

      I always use you as an example of how to go about the whole thing when I'm talking to people who ask about first steps toward publishing. You had betas, you had CPs, you had advance readers, and you had a book tour with book bloggers. Even if a writer can't afford to do much (and many of them can't, so I get it), they still need some type of plan instead of "write, then publish." The sheer number of books published on a daily basis almost guarantees that a lot of gems get missed, and if there's no plan other than waiting for the money to roll in, there's going to be a lot of waiting.

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  10. I agree with you, it's a lot to ask, especially when you want to be honest and point out issues. That would be tough to do when you want to help people.

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    1. I actually found myself wondering, Nick, if you get many such requests, being an author and an editor, and having a social media presence on your own, through IWSG, and on Goodreads.

      There are some people who only want kudos and not necessarily honesty, and that's probably the secondary factor (after lack of time) that makes me shy away from saying "yes" when asked by a stranger.

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  11. Ah yes, the beggars of the writing world. We don't dig that kind of thing, either. We already feel shameless enough just reminding the people who've already bought our books (in a tiny footnote at the end of a blog post) to please leave a review if they possibly can. I couldn't imagine begging complete strangers for reviews.

    Honestly, I don't even use Goodreads anymore, because all I ever got were spammy requests, spammy invites, spammy messages, and just overall spammy spam.

    I already get enough of that from my e-mail.

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    1. Goodreads is such a mixed bag, isn't it? I believe authors do need to be seen there, but the hard part is knowing how much interaction is enough—or in most cases, how much is even bearable. Sharing your blog posts there and having your books listed is enough. I've tried interacting on some of the boards, and years ago that's how I met a couple of the authors I work with. But that was a fluke, completely organic because of friendships built through discussion, that it worked out that way. More often than not, I scan their boards and don't find any of them that apply to me. I don't want to join a discussion group for someone's book, am not hawking my services, and though I've listed my information there on the editing forum, I refuse to be one of those people who "reminds" everyone I exist each month by posting the same information. I've also found, for the most part, that people who contact me through GR are not prepared for editing costs, so it's not even worth my time to do an eval for them. That sounds horrible, like I'm a grade-A butthole, but when someone inquires about editing services on a forum, I will now only send them a link to my pricing page, rather than doing the eval and having them disappear after I tell them what the edit will cost. I enjoy steady work but am not desperate for it.

      Hmm, how did this turn into a rant against GR? lol Ah, yes, the "beggars of the writing world," as you so aptly put it. The spammiest of the spammy spammers. For what it's worth, I do think it's a great thing to remind people to review if they've already bought your book(s). It's not like you're sitting outside their bedroom window, tossing pebbles to get their attention.

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    2. Wait, do you think that'd work? Throwing rocks at them until they submit to us?

      (That's how I perceived your statement, anyhow)

      And it's all good; I love a good Goodreads rant, because the 'good' in Goodreads disappeared goodness knows how long ago.

      For us, anyone worth connecting with already talks to us via the blog, or e-mail, or social media. Goodreads has never led to us selling more books, even having once run a contest there. It's also not led to more reviews, unless of course those are just Goodreads reviews. And as mentioned, any time we got requests to add new people, it always invariably led to something like "Steve Smith invited you to an event - my book is FREE right now, PLEASE REVIEW!", which we'd get once a day (entirely new event) every day until we just blocked them.

      I don't have time to waste on that kind of mindless, spammy garbage! ...Anyways, back to Facebook.

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    3. Don't you dare go rock-throwing without me. All I have to do is book a flight . . .

      I tend to get friend requests from the same types of people you do (did). I typically wait at least a couple months to say yes or delete it, and then at the first sign of a "badly behaving author" rant or any type of event, they're gone.

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  12. I tried to read a book to review for someone that asked and 3 years later I have not been able to finish it. So I obviously don't do it anymore. As for Goodreads, readers try to make it their site alone and authors do the same. The authors are spending all their time begging readers to buy their books and tthe readers adding honest authors to their authors acting badly lists intentionally trying to destroy author's reputations. Ok end Goodreads rant.

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    1. I think you and I have witnessed our share of Goodreads riots, haven't we? There are certainly badly behaving authors on there, but I do feel bad when the decent ones are pounced upon by people who I swear lie in wait for any opportunity to slam someone.

      There are many authors who simply won't interact on the boards anymore because they don't want to take the chance of having words or opinions misused. The trolls are everywhere, and seemingly never satisfied. As I said to the ABftS guys above, I don't really find many boards where I want to interact there anymore, and that's kind of a bummer because GR interaction "back in the day" was where I met some of my favorite client-friends like you and Raymond.

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    2. Yes, we did. I was amazed what people would say to each other. I remember one such riot that started with a new author simply asking why they shouldn't contact a reader that left a 1 star review and no narrative to find out how they could improve and the flame war was on.

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  13. I review 99% of the books that I read. Why? Because I'm a reader first.
    I LOVE reading...and I LOVE reviewing books.
    BUT... I won't review books on request.
    I want to read and review at my own pace. I don't want to be pressured by reading/reviewing deadlines.
    Another thing is, as far as possible, I like to give a solid review. By solid, I mean as thorough as possible depending on a few factors such as genre...length...style of the review (I've done one or two reviews in stream-of-consciousness which I thoroughly enjoyed doing)...is it a debut release etc.
    Fortunately, I've only been asked to read and review a book, once... by a stranger.
    I never did respond.
    Bottom line, I'm NOT an official book reviewer in the book review business. I'm an avid reader and a writer-in-the-making who LOVES reading and reviewing books... at my OWN pace!
    (P.S. I think I need to send a polite response to that review request.)

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    1. I'm with you, Michelle! I review almost everything I read, especially if it's an indie author or from a small publishing house. J.K. Rowling doesn't need my review but others do. I leave reviews for small businesses, too, like sellers on Etsy, because their customer base will be built on other buyers' experiences with quality & shipping.

      I don't shy away from leaving a bad review, but I don't often have to leave them because I choose what I read. When I have said yes to a stranger asking me to read/review, I always regret it because I inevitably find myself leaving a not-so-great review . . . and I wonder if the person asked me in the first place because they've seen so many favorable reviews on my pages.

      I feel the same when it comes to reading for review: I want to be thorough, which sometimes means I can't simply enjoy it for its own sake because I'm busy paying attention to writing things down to remember for the writeup.

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