12/19/2010: "On Reviewing Books, Authors, Copywriters and Thin Skin"
I review books on Amazon. Last I looked I was number 145 or something like that. So I get a lot of requests to review books. I also get lots of unsolicited books shipped to me.
Authors feel terribly attached to their books. They feel their book is incredibly important and that I should pay as much attention to it as they do. I understand that. When I was a very young writer I too got attached to my written words. Now I'm totally divorced from them.
If you send me a book to be reviewed, please be aware of the following:
1. I respect you and understand how important your book is to you. But to me, it's one of a gazillion books that I see or have read or will read or may never read. I do not share your personal attachment or importance to the book.
2. I may or may not choose to read and review it for many reasons. I'm not obligated to do so. You're not paying me.
3. Don't email me to "follow up" with me. Don't ask me if I read the book and filed a review. Again, you did not pay me. I owe you no explanations.
4. If I review your book and you are unhappy about my opinion of it, don't call or write me to defend your book. Don't complain to me. I wrote what I felt. It's my opinion. It's no more and no less. I do not owe you good publicity.
I understand how writers feel about their writing, their books. I know the book represents a good deal of their time and to them it's terribly important. I also know they hope to make money from the book and they want good publicity. But they need to understand they may have to pay for it. It's not a freebie.
As a reviewer, it's not my job to give authors free publicity. I write a review based on my opinion --- just like all other people who review books on Amazon or elsewhere. The review is based on my opinion of the book and it's not written for the benefit of the author. My obligation is to the reader, not the author or publisher.
But, alas, reviewing books when you're ranked fairly high on Amazon can get you lots of heat from angry authors.
To wit . . .
You'd think copywriters would be pretty thick skinned.
But in truth, I've run across a lot of pretty damn thin skinned copywriters. At least when it comes to the books they write.
Now, I think it's smart for a copywriter (or any businessperson) to write books. It's damn good advertising for them. It makes them appear to be more expert than those who haven't penned a book, self-published or otherwise. The average Joe is impressed and willing to pay him more money for his services. Damn smart business to be sure.
When I review a book written by a copywriter, you should hear the bad names I'm called amongst the group if I dare to write a review that is less than glowing about my colleague's creation.
There's an unwritten tacit code, in my profession as in all professions, that you lie if you must but you always write good reviews about books written by others in your profession.
But I frankly don't crave approval. It's not one of my needs. My own approval is all I seek.
Last summer, a copywriter I won't name, said he would send me his latest book to review. He was all cuddly and nice. He even tweeted how great I was and how much he enjoyed talking with me on the telephone.
But, alas, he then talked to another copywriter, a pal of his, whose book received a bad review by me a very long time ago. Authors have long memories when it comes to book reviews of their sacred texts. Well, it scared the hell out of the copywriter with the new book and he didn't send it as he had promised. He didn't want his baby in my hands. I may have loved it and given it a great review. Who knows.
Then there were the two copywriters, one well-known and one I'd never heard of, who asked me to delete my reviews of their books. Can you believe that? How totally unprofessional to ask a reviewer to change or delete a review. If an author wants a great review guaranteed, he needs to consider paying people to write them. Lots of authors do. Disclaimer: I've never accepted such a payment. But you can do a search online and find people you can pay to write book reviews for you.
The above guys are good copywriters. Well, the guy I'd never heard of I can't really attest to. If I had liked their books, they would have gotten a good review. I've written a ton of good reviews for copywriting books. Some are just great. It's just that these particular books were less than stellar in my opinion.
And that's the key --- "in my opinion" --- and that's all it is. It isn't a review that comes down off a mountain and written in stone by some god. It's simply the opinion of one human being about one book.
I've found this thin skin to be an affliction of many authors. And I understand it. I've been a published writer since 1967. Good gawd, you should have seen the pile of rejection slips I garnered when I was a young magazine writer. But I never took them personally nor did they upset me. I knew I was good. I simply didn't hit them with the right stuff at the right time. No big deal. You move on.
Authors need to accept criticism the way it's intended. It's not about them personally. It's simply about one book they wrote and a review written by one person out of millions.
Granville Hicks of The New York Times wrote a nasty review about Ayn Rand's book, Atlas Shrugged, when it was published in 1957. Critics hated the book. Rand was ticked off at Hicks and would not speak to him the rest of her life. But that great book is still on and off the best seller list to this day! So if a writer is good, they're foolish to let one review upset them.
If you would like to read my book reviews, here's the rss feed link.
And then . . .
There was the brain surgeon who told the copywriter, "I always thought when I quit brain surgery I'd like to try copywriting."
The copywriter smiled and replied, "I know what you mean. I always thought when I retire from copywriting I'd like to try brain surgery."