★ Don’t f*ck with the Pack

Scott Pack, publisher with The Friday Project (HarperCollins), has a blog on which he provides betting tips, reviews, and snippets of news relating to the publishing industry. His reviews are often detailed. Sometimes they are short. One of his short reviews was read by the author and storm of tea-cup sized proportions has broken out.

Oh dear. I seem to have upset someone with one of my reviews.

The elevator pitch is this: Self-published guy sends Scott a book to review. Scott, being a charitable bloke, reads it. Scott writes a brief review. Self-published guy doesn’t like the review overmuch and tells Scott via the comments.

Well now. Scott has just published a post entitled ‘Why do I bother?’, in which he laments the ungratefulness of the author. Scott’s blogging friends comment in that kind of Web 2.0 ‘hear hear’ way that is so bizarrely reminiscent of the schoolboy game ‘pile on’.

Scott goes on to say:

I find it interesting that in two and a half years of blogging I have only received four complaints about reviews I have posted (or not posted) on here. All of these were from self-published authors. Does that tell us anything? Two felt that I could have been more fulsome with my praise (which I would have been if their books had been more than just average), another was cross that I hadn’t reviewed his book (it was shit and I wish I had) and now this.

And then:

All I will say is that if you send me a book to review then do bear in mind that I will review it any bloody way I want, be that a full review, mini-review, quick flick, vitriolic sentence, rhyming couplet, mime, origami, semaphore or rock opera.

So there.

Let me say that I think Scott does a great job. When my own book was published the UKA Press – a publisher that nobody had heard of at the time, and few have since – Scott emailed me asking to read it. And he wasn’t working for a small publisher then. He was the chief buyer for Waterstone’s. So he’s got his heart in the right place and his blog reviews are read far and wide.

And yet.

When a person reviews a book, there is no law that says the author is going to bubble over with gratitude. And the reviewer needn’t be shocked if the author takes issue with the review. That’s what the comments feature on a blog is for. A blog is a conversation. If you start a conversation with an author by reviewing a book, he or she might actually reply to it.

Here’s the comment I left on Scott’s follow-up post:

Scott, as someone whose book you agreed to review – way back when – I think you’re doing a good thing overall. But I think you need to consider that in this situation you’re the big guy and the author is the little guy. The book means almost nothing to you and means very much to the author. I’m not saying that you should turn the other cheek. I’m suggesting that you take care about how you deal with responses to your reviews. The author has the pea-shooter of the comments field, while you have the double-barred shotgun of the post. The author has now been painted as some kind of publicity whore, and I’m not sure that’s the case. He wanted to reply to you about your review. That’s why you have comments, isn’t it?

To repeat, you have every right to say what you want on your blog. I think the author has the right to reply to you. In responding to him, I think you should use reasonable force.

And, as I write, I see that Scott has posted a reply to my comment:

I think you make a good point very well, Ian. As a blogger I do think it’s OK to pick out threads and comments and elevate them to the main page. I have done just that for a number of things in the past – both positive and negative – so even if I am wrong to do so then at least I am consistent.

The main reason I posted separately about this was that the original post was some days ago and Howard’s comment came a couple of days after it had appeared, meaning that both were some way down the page.

This whole debate throws up all manner of issues which I think are worth discussing. I am fascinated by the number of people who have had dealings with self-published authors and found them to be a right royal pain in the arse. This is a message that would be good to get out there as it might help other authors, prompting them to take stock before doing something similar.

But when it comes to this particular instance I think it boils down to one thing – research your market. If you send a book to a blogger to review and that blogger makes a habit and prominent feature of quick flick reviews then don’t complain when said blogger does just that with your book.

I don’t necessarily disagree with Scott’s reply. It will be interesting to read the post that Scott intends to write about self publishing and reviews.

Me And My Big Mouth: Why Do I Bother?

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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