★ 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?

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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