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Best Fantasy Books Expose: The Dirty Truth behind Advanced Book Review Copies

By / March 26, 2009 / no comments

Best Fantasy Books Expose: The Dirty Truth behind Advanced Book Review Copies

When I was looking through some of the fantasy book sites linking to my site, I noticed an author’s website as one of the links. I explored this site and found it was the site of an author whose publisher offered to send me a review copy as part of a virtual tour promotion they were hosting for the author. This author, R Scott has written a new book called The Saga of Beowulf.

Now, he’s an independent author not backed by a major publisher (you know, TOR, Harper Collins, etc). For authors who are not backed by the mainstream, it can be a difficult challenge finding readers and success. I understand that and I have nothing but admiration for writers who can find commercial success. As such, Scott is sort of an “everyman” for struggling writers who don’t have a major publisher propping them up. So I thought I would use him as a bit of a case study (sorry R. Scott to use you this way, but you know what they say, publicity is publicity!).

R. Scott complains about sending expensive review copies out to websites with nothing to show for it and concludes that this is a waste of time since he hasn’t experienced any instant benefits from Amazon sales.

I thought I would offer my insight into the matter as “one of these book blogs”. Now, in this case, I was initially suppose to receive a book to review from this author but there was a mix-up and the book never came in the mail – which made this site and me, look bad. Apparently, he was almost expecting this no show of a review from his previous experiences. This entire ordeal really highlights something: if you are an author not backed by a major publisher, your book has a much greater chance of not being reviewed.

Let’s look at this whole model that’s sprung into existence that past few years: publishers and authors want to promote their book so they target some of the better known genre blogs or book websites with email offer to send in a review copy with the expectation of a review. This is usually a good deal for both sides. The website gets some material to write about and the author/publisher gets publicity. However, this beneficial relationship seems to exclude certain parties; independent authors backed by small, unknown publishers and self published authors often find themselves stuck outside while the “big boys” get to play inside. Why?

There are two main reasons. The first is because destined-to-hit-the-bookstore-books have innate value. Book blogs eagerly snap up review copies from known publishers because it gives them the opportunity to review the book before the book hits the bookstores (giving them some “exclusive” content). They can also use the book as a giveaway prize which can increase readership of the blog (hey, who doesn’t like a free prize?). Some blogs even gasp, sell the book on ebay – if it’s a highly anticipated book, say a book by George R.R. Martin, that hasn’t been released, this can fetch a pretty penny. A self-published book or book published by small publisher that no one has ever heard of can not be used to leverage in extra cash or increase visitors to the site. If I write a review for a book that’s going to be in the bookstores, this increases my website traffic. There are people out there who are searching for that book on Google. They will find my website based on the review. Writing a review for a self-published book, or a book that wont be in the bookstore (available online only, or through the author’s/publisher’s website), won’t bring in the traffic because the book doesn’t have the publicity to generate Google searches. You basically write a review for the sake of writing a review. Yes, I’m sorry to break it to you guys who think your favorite fantasy/science fiction/mystery book blogs are “pure.” For some, especially the bigger ones, it’s a business and as such, treated like a business. Whichever path yields the most traffic and money while requiring the least amount of work will be taken.

The second reason is because books published my major publishers are usually make better reads. Gasp! Yes, it’s true – at least in my experience. This is also why many of the big book blogs (in this case, let’s say fantasy book blogs) won’t accept books not published by “big name” publishers as a way of a quality screen. It sucks for the poor (probably literally — being a writer is usually no path to riches) author on the other side of the fence, but that’s just the way the cards have fallen in this day and age. It’s sort of like who everyone complains about having to cater to the corrupt education system by taking tests but in the end still take the test. Folks, that’s just the way it is.

“Oh,” you say. “You are being unfair.” Well maybe I am, but the undeniable truth is that self-published books have a certain stigma to them. Self published books, as a tendency, are vastly inferior in both content and quality to published books. Now, before all you self-published authors start sending me hate mail, your book may be terrific. But, the thought that rings through my mind when considering whether to read a self-published fantasy novel is that if a publisher has rejected your manuscript (and these people make their bread and butter from gleaning publishable-worthy material out of the thousands of manuscripts sent to them a year) why would I want to read it? If you didn’t even bother to send it to a publisher to be evaluated, why would I also want to read it? I’m not trying to smash the dreams of all who believe they are destined for literary glory, but I’m saying that if you really want to find sucess as a author, consider other options other then self-publishing or vanity press options. I’m not saying that you can’t find success by going the self-publishing route, but you have an Everest of a climb ahead of you. There are a few authors who have found great success with this model, but they’ve resorted to smarmy tactics to do so. If you are a self-published author, you might ultimately come to a crossroad choice: keep your literary and intellectual honesty and remain poor and unknown, or sell out and lie to the public to make money. I won’t say how it done (it’s dishonest and incredibly annoying), but this is probably your only route to actually writing self-published fiction as a day job. It’s rare indeed for a self-published author to eventually get the backing of a major publisher; it’s been done, but it’s more of a rags-to-riches fairy tale than a daily reality (I believe Eragon is one example of a book that did so).

Authors who choose to go with a small (unknown) publisher may also find their battle for success quite difficult. A somehat similar (though much less) stigma applies to small, unknown publishers, especially if they sell their books through a website or via Amazon. The first thing potential reviewers do is look at the publisher’s industry creds. Online-only distribution is a big red flag for *some*. Now, I have to be careful here because many of the people who read this blog and send me book review offers are from small, little known publishers. My goal is not to offend you guys, but offers some information to elucidate how some big book websites/blooks consider what books to review. If the publisher is little more than a married couple operating out of a garage — and this is apparent from the presentation of the publiser’s website and credentials, well let’s just say that said reviewer will not be too inclined to read the book from this publisher. Now, again, I am not bashing small publisher or authors who have the backing of small publishers — we all have to start from somewhere. I’m just saying that it’s still going to be an uphill battle, but one that certainly easier than going the self published route.

I get inundated with publishers and authors wanting to send me their books (usually independent authors or small, almost unknown publishers). I usually say yes to these offers, afterall I like to help out the little guys in the literary world, but it’s getting to the point where I have this big stack of books that I’m obligated to read and very little time to read them then write a complicated review. I can fully understand why many of the major book blogs or websites say no or implement a “publisher screen.”

Now, back to R. Scott. This new author was complaining about sending review copies to book blogs only to find that these websites did not write a promised review. I’ve outlines some of the reasons why this may be the case. His ultimate conclusion: don’t send out book review copies because it’s a waste of time.

I disagree.

Yes, some websites may accept a book and run, but that’s part of the risk you take. If you do get a review, that’s a pretty darn good deal, considering someone has to plow through 500 or so pages then write a review. How much do you think someone would charge to read 500 pages of text that they have no initial interest in, and then write 500 word review of said text? That sounds suspiciously like work to me; if you were to go out and pay a writer to actually read and write a articulate review, we’re talking a couple days wages here. Many authors and publishers (small ones) seem to take it for granted that sending us a free book means we book blogs are obligated to review it. In my case, if I accept a book, I’ll review it. It may not be an instant review (unless we agree on a timeframe), but I’ll write one eventually. Some book blogs may not. It’s a bit dastardly, but remember, if you are a new author or small publisher who does not put books into a bookstore, it’s a favor for us bloggers to read and review your book. There are a zillion other published books out there for us to read, and many means of reading them for free — and writing reviews for those books benifits our websites with traffic.

Frankly, if I want to read a book for pleasure, I’ll go out and buy it for 10 bucks. The 10-20 or so hours it takes to read a book then write a review is a monumental effort — especially if reading the book as favor to the new author or unknown publisher. I certainly don’t get any benefit out of it, traffic-wise or financial. It’s one thing to read a book you want to read; it’s another thing all together to pick up and read a book that’s given to you by a 3rd party with commercial interests in mind. Now, I’m not saying reading a review copy won’t turn into a pleasurable experience, it’s just at the outset, there is no innate interest in the book. It’s sort of like you are expecting a bad book and waiting to be proven wrong. How’s that for sparking you interest in a book?

However, despite having these cards stacked against you, this doesn’t mean you should stop trying. If you do manage to get a review from a website, that review will sit around in Google — in perpetuity. That can add up to a lot of exposure over the long run. You also expose your book and name to thousands of potential readers; if the author is kind enough to link to your website, you also get a nice (permanent) increase in traffic AND an increase in your website’s Google rankings from the backlink.

If you don’t have a major publisher backing you by pushing your book into the bookstores and you refuse to send out review copies, how will you get any exposure? So, to all your self-published and independent authors out there, the road is long and the journey hard, but keep on tossing those review copies out there, the payoff will be worth it.

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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