Friday, August 21, 2009

Book Tours and Book Reviews: When to Give Up Control

Today we welcome guest blogger, Elizabeth Spann Craig. First, a bit about her latest mystery novel, and then her advice about blog book tours and the reviews an author might expect.
No one in Bradley, North Carolina, is exactly crying into their sweet tea over the murder of Parke Stockard. Certainly not retired schoolteacher Myrtle Clover. Upon discovering the corpse, Myrtle is struck—not with grief, but a brilliant idea! Solving the murder would prove to everyone—especially her son, Red, the police chief—that this eighty-something-year-old is still as sharp as a tack. Heck, going from crosswords to crime investigations isn't such a stretch. The old biddies of Bradley can waste away in blissful stagnation, but Myrtle's not ready to be put out to pasture just yet.

The victim, a pretty but pushy town developer, had deep pockets and few friends. Myrtle can't throw one of her gaudy garden gnomes without hitting a potential suspect. Even when another murder takes place, proud Myrtle forges on—armed only with a heavy cane, a venomous tongue, and a widower sidekick.

Available from Midnight Ink

~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~

We all want to make sure our new releases are portrayed in the best light possible. But at what point do we need to stop interfering with the process?

Book Tour: There are different types of appearances on tours. There are guest posts where you write on a topic and add your promo info at the end (i.e.: what I’m doing here today.) There are interviews. And there are reviews.

Obviously, if you don’t like surprises and you want to ensure your book is showcased in a manner you control, you’re going to love the guest post option. However, I think that using only one type of format on your tour gets boring for your readers: particularly if you have a tour with many different stops.

Interview: There are really two types of interviews—one where the blog host has read your book, and one where they haven’t and ask general questions about you, your writing process, and your novel. For interviews where the blog host has read your book, it’s always possible you could get some tough questions if the host wasn’t a fan. If you’re nervous about that possibility, the general interview will be appealing for you. Again, though, you really need to balance this out—yes, you’re making sure that your book is not getting any negative press, but at a certain point readers will notice that no one seems to actually be commenting on the novel’s content. And that, in itself, might be enough to keep readers from purchasing it.

Reviews: If you like to maintain control, reviews will make you nervous. You might consider sending your book to the reviewer with a proviso—if the reviewer doesn’t like your book, don’t review it. Then your readers wouldn’t be the wiser.

My recommendation—don’t do this. Serious reviewers are serious readers. Putting conditions on their assessment of your book undermines their integrity as an impartial reviewer and yours as a serious writer.

Everyone gets reviews that are less than glowing. Some reviews may be lukewarm and some may really slam your book. But here’s the thing---real books get real reviews. If you go to any book on Amazon and read the reader reviews, you can tell right away which books were reviewed by an author’s friends and family. They’ll rate the book 5 stars (even though you’ve never heard of the book or its publisher), and use rampant hyperbole in their review.

Real readers draw on their own experiences and personal preferences to rate books. It’s subjective. My books aren’t right for every reader.

What if you get a reader review that you feel reports inaccurate information about your book? It’s tempting to rebut the post on Amazon or other places on-line. I think that can be dangerous. You might come off as being too heavy-handed or as someone who doesn’t take criticism well. You might appear defensive. To me, it feels best to just ignore it. Let another reader rebut the review, if you’re lucky enough to have someone realize the inaccuracy.

Big Reviews: Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal: In some ways, getting these reviews, good or bad, is a sign you’ve arrived at a particular point in your writing career. Even bad or lukewarm reviews still mean publicity when you’re being reviewed by the big guys.

How do you handle good reviews? How do you handle bad ones? After the Alice Hoffman debacle, I think there’s a clear way not to handle bad reviews. (For those who don’t know, she tweeted a negative reviewer’s phone number and email address, asking readers to criticize her.)

I think we can’t put too much stock in reviews. I’ve had good ones (ForeWord, Publishers Weekly, Mystery Scene) and a lukewarm one at Kirkus (which, I know y’all won’t believe, but I can’t even find on-line anymore.) Kirkus basically damned me with faint praise. My philosophy has been that I treat both equally: I can’t believe my good ones and not believe my bad ones. I try to remember it’s an opinion. I put the good ones on the promo materials and put the lukewarm or negative ones out of my head as I work.

Tomorrow I’m returning to the Blood Red Pencil to talk a little about what to do with those good review snippets that you’ve received.

Like her characters, Elizabeth Spann Craig’s roots are in a small, Southern town. She grew up in Anderson, South Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood in the county library, staggering out with books by the armful. Her magazine articles have appeared in both England and the United States. She’s the mother of two and currently lives in Matthews, North Carolina. Between juggling room mom duties, refereeing play dates, and being dragged along as chaperone/hostage on field trips, she dreams of dark and stormy nights beside stacks of intriguing mysteries with excellent opening lines. Visit Elizabeth at Mystery Writing is Murder.

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  1. Some good words of wisdom, Elizabeth, especially how to deal with reviews.

    I'll be back tomorrow to see what to do with them (aside from forgetting the bad ones!).

  2. Thanks, Alan! Yes, tomorrow I have a Top Ten list of things to do with reviews (and no, flushing them down the toilet isn't one.) :)


  3. I don't think reviews have much of an impact on sales one way or the other. Lately, at Smart Bitches, a male math professor has been giving his take on a variety of romance novels. He's snarky, and tells it like he sees it, chapter by chapter. He's reading a JR Ward right now, and his comments are extremely entertaining (ok-they're 'coffee all over the keyboard and monitor' funny), but you'd be surprised to see how many comments are of the "I have to go buy this book just to see how bad it really is" variety.

  4. Good advice, Elizabeth! Congratulations on getting reviews in notable places. I know as a librarian, reviews are an important tool to help with selecting titles. But even librarians are aware of reviewers' personalities and tastes. So a mediocre review may not seem so bad if you know the reviewer is tough or snarky. I enjoy the blog interviews too, because I like to know more about the authors.

  5. I've not had a really terrible review, but a couple lukewarm ones certainly put a damper on one's spirits. But they come with the territory.

    I like the variety of a blog tour - guest posts, interview, reviews, and giveaways. And I bravely take on all aspects as well.

    L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

  6. Wonderful advice, Elizabeth. Wish I knew you when my book first came out. Handling reviews is critical to an author's well-being.

  7. Excellent blog,Elizabeth. As a reviewer, I get some book that are ..just not too good, but I always try to find something redeeming about them. (no, not yours! I have plans for your review!)
    But I might add a word of caution here. There is a certain "reviewer" on that you have to watch like a hawk, because she invariably gets information wrong in her reviews because it is often quite obvious she doesn't even read the books! She simply reviews from the cover info. In a case where she has gotten something wrong, it is perfectly fine to correct her!!

  8. Good advice, Elizabeth. A negative review can be painful, especially from a credible reviewer. I once ran across a blog where someone had read my first book, a memoir, and had written a scathing review attacking me personally as not only a lousy writer but a cad and a scoundrel of a person. Thank God it was not posted on amazon or anywhere where many peeps could see it. I got over it, after considering the source, but it hurt quite a bit for quite a while.

    This is no business for the thin-skinned ... it is in the realm of the arts and there will always be those who appreciate our art and those who do not, even those who denounce it as rubbish. Know who and what you are and move on, I say.

    And yes, it is wise to know what the contents of a review will be like before walking blind into a buzz saw!

    Marvin D Wilson

  9. Thoughts in random order:

    Is another option to have the guest write their own interview questions? If I were hosting someone, I’d certainly be open to this for a variety of reasons.

    There’s little question that, blister, or, negative, or even sorta okay reviews hurt. Maybe sales suffer, maybe not, but they hurt the author’s ego, that’s certain. The most frustrating kind is the one you pointed out where the reader didn’t get it. Didn’t understand the nuance. Yes, you do want to set everything straight with them…but, as you said, just don’t.

    I, too, like to remember that not everyone is gonna like my book. Some folks like apples, some oranges. Same thing here. That’s okay.

    Here is your most sage advice about how to handle formal reviews—or Amazon reader comments… “I can’t believe my good ones and not believe my bad ones. I try to remember it’s an opinion. I put the good ones on the promo materials and put the lukewarm or negative ones out of my head as I work.” That says it very well.

    Best Regards, Galen
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  10. Terry--Interesting! I haven't heard of that site. It reminds me of that critic who did the worst-dressed list...but then the celebs got lots of press from it.

    Stacy--Good point. There are definitely some tough reviewers out there.

    Diane--Your tour seems to cover all the bases! Best wishes on your tour...I have a feeling it's going to go really well.

    Karen--And I don't think thick hides come naturally to writers...we're artsy types, after all! But it's something good to learn.

    Sharon--Thanks for the heads-up! I wasn't aware there was a Mad Reviewer on Amazon (sounds likely, though. :) ) I'll keep an eye open.

    Marvin--I'd be a lot more upset if it was a personal attack than an attack on my fiction. Ugh. You did well to handle that professionally and to put it behind you.

    Galen--Oddly, no one has ever asked me to write my own questions. It certainly would be easier on a host. Although I've written my own interviews for the press's a funny feeling to do so, but at least you know what's going to run. :)

  11. Elizabeth-you have such grace about everything. I'm always impressed. I think you handle it exactly right. I'm sure it is just also very hard to do sometimes.

    On the 'guest writes own'--I think in more casual formats that can happen--I have one coming soon on Coffee with a Canine that had that leeway (I saw you did one there too)--but then that is about the DOG, not the author or book so much.

  12. Thanks, Hart! Yeah, it can be tough sometimes, but I'm getting much better at it. Coffee with a Canine--I'd forgotten that! Good point. Yes, Marshal let me make up my own questions or allowed me to use the ones he gave me, either way. And my dog thought she was a superstar. :) Great site.

  13. No matter how many times you tell yourself reviews are just one person's opinion, it's simply human nature to recoil from less than stellar ones. Putting them out of your head is good advice, though it might take some effort. I'm looking forward to your post tomorrow.

  14. Thanks, Jane! And thanks for popping by tomorrow, too.

  15. Thanks for the great advice here, Elizabeth. And I do have to disagree with Terry about the impact of reviews. I just blogged about a great book and I first heard about it from a review.

    The 'snarky' reviews don't necessarily influence me to buy the book, but I do know some folks just have to see what all the fuss is about. That's why I don't review a book that isn't well written. Why should I help sell an inferior product when there are so many good books out there?

  16. Reviews, ah yes, I've had few, but then again too few to worry about. Your advice is sound and has encouraged me, thanks. I find it amazing how some people review my work (on another site) and love it, whilst others pick holes in it. Can't all be right, can they. I shall be back tomorrow to hear what else you have to say.
    Blessings, Star

  17. Maryann--A bad review hasn't made me want to buy a book yet, but it's made me more aware of certain books. I think you've got a great philosophy on not reviewing really wretched books.

    Star--It's interesting that so many different people can read the same book and get so many different impressions of it! Thanks for your comment.

  18. Usually even in a lukewarm review you can find a worthwhile snippet for advertising. Many readers don't go past the snippet to read the entire review, so they won't even realize it wasn't the greatest.

    I'm enjoying variety in my present blog book tour for Killer Career. I've done posts, had interviews, and posted an excerpt. I try to make each post informative to the reader in some way.

    Every host has a different method of how to run the show. Some don't care. Some want a particular font. Some allow you to see what they've set up ahead of time. I play by the rules because I'm the guest.
    It's a great, fun experience!
    Morgan Mandel

  19. Morgan, you sound like the perfect guest! I like to play by the rules, too. Glad you're having such a great tour.

  20. Great advice all around, Elizabeth. I'd never thought of a book review as being the author's stop on their tour. I have an author coming next week, Enid Wilson. I plan on doing a review of her book, but not on the day of her visit. I thought I'd do it as a promo piece before her visit.

    Straight From Hel

  21. Hi,

    My new book has just been released and I would like to invite you to read my new fantasy novel, "Gateway to DreamWorld." I would love to get your review of the book.

    Brenda Estacio

  22. Helen--To me, it is. Sometimes I've just been asked to send a reviewer a book copy, author pic, bio, cover photo, etc. and that's my whole part of the review. Other times it's been a review on one day and an interview the next.

    Brenda--Thanks for stopping by.

  23. We have one great example of what NOT to post in comments. Will have to make a how-to post out of that. And why hijacking a post doesn't make you any friends and readers.

    Thanks, Elizabeth. See you at the next post.

  24. Pearls of wisdom, Elizabeth.
    Nothing to add, but wanted to stop by and tell you how much I appreciated it.

  25. hello
    someone pointed me to this blog - i had a book out with penguin india this time last year, and i found the 'to self-promote or to sit waiting for your publisher to do it' dilemma painful and dignity robbing - (that's why they call it sitting on the horns of a dilemma perhaps?) however, i decided to blog about the ignominy of it all, here in india. you can read about it here if you like.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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