Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A New Year's Rant

I did a little forewarning on Facebook that this was coming. I usually just try to ignore these things that irritate me, but I think I've seen so many of them lately that it's time to blow from the steam building up. So please pardon me my little divergance today. I'll be back on course tomorrow, so definitely feel free to bypass today's post and just come back another day.

I have no knowledge of what research or studies or anything else say on these matters. This is purely my opinion as a consumer and I'm also interested in whether or not these kinds of things irritate you, so please feel free to leave your own opinions on the these or other areas that irritate you, but also please don't attack anyone or be uncivil. That said...

[begin rant]
I love reading. I love books. In many cases, I love the people who write the books. I don't always love the way people go about trying to promote and sell the books. And it seems like recently I've just been hit with a barrage of the approaches to selling books that most irritate me.

I once read a great statement about promotion and it's stuck with me: "Remember, if YOU say it, it's blatant self promotion. If someone else says it, it's praise." That little ditty plays on a continuous cycle when I see the authors that post a blurb about their book every third or fourth tweet on their Twitter accounts. Personally, I unfollow those people as soon as I see that's their style of tweeting, but I do help run a few other accounts and see people doing it through those accounts. The urge to unfollow them is overwhelming some days.

The best social media marketing advice I ever saw summed up in one sentence was: "It is not about you." Here's the thing with social media...and I'm sorry to sound like a broken record, but it's an investment of time and's an effort to connect with and get to know your readers. If you are a writer and you don't want to connect with and get to know your readers then please stay away from social media!

And for the people who knee-jerk react with, "well how am I supposed to sell my books?" My response is "not through sales pitches on social media." If you want to tell the world your book is on sale for $3.99, then take out a FB ad, a Google ad, a newspaper/magazine ad...a freakin' billboard if you want. Those are appropriate venues to share that message with readers.

In the last month I've had someone try to self-promote on my blog's Facebook page, which is bad enough, but the book they were trying to push was erotica. Hello, you can't even take two minutes to notice what kind of posts are on my page? Then I've posted some questions about people's favorite books of 2012, their favorite first lines, their favorite covers, etc., and have had people responding with their own books in an effort to push them. I find it sad that I have to say in posts, "don't suggest your own book."

Even Goodreads isn't immune to the ridiculousness. I would say 99% if not 100% of "recommendations" I have received on Goodreads have been from the author of the book they're recommending. Uh, pardon me for not thinking you're unbiased in that recommendation.

But my absolute favorite are the ones who say something like, "Hi Jen, I see you like James Lee Burke, then I think you'll really like my debut novel." It takes far more self-confidence then I can even imagine to have the audacity to compare your debut novel to JLB. There are many, many writers out there who have dozens of books published who shouldn't dare to compare themselves to a writer of his stature. And I'm not saying that debut novelist can't be great, but a modicum of modesty never hurt anyone, even if you are a great writer. Be careful in that self-confidence department because there's a fine line between being self-confident and being a jerk.

To help me do my work I read a lot about email campaigns (a.k.a. e-newsletters). Most of what I read is directed at businesses, but is definitely relative to authors with their newsletters as well. And everything I've read has said...and said repeatedly, do NOT send campaigns just to announce a sale. I have started unsubscribing to some of the newsletters I originally signed up for (and 100% of those I did NOT sign up for--please don't sign me up without my permission, allow me to choose and sign up myself; I'm not incapable) because I simply can't keep up with all the email I get as it is. So what makes me decide to stay on a newsletter mailing list? I know that the newsletter is going to be more than a sales pitch. There are people whose newsletters amount to: "my new book is out, go buy it" and there are people who try to connect with their readers through their newsletters: they talk about what's going on with them, they share personal experiences or areas of specialty, maybe even things like short stories, anecdotes from book tour, pictures and whatnot. I continue to read the latter.

Of course I've already done my spiel on blurbs and my disdain for book covers plastered with them. I've opted not read review books because all that the cover consists of is blurbs. It's my understanding that book buyers (for stores) are influenced by these, but book-buying readers aren't really. So I'm sure the practice will continue and I'm learning to ignore it more...I still won't read an advance copy of a book that looks like that, though. Anyway...where it seems to be going crazy--or maybe it always has been there and I just haven't looked before--is in websites, promo materials, newsletters, etc. Having a million blurbs on a book's website only makes it look cluttered and unattractive, and seriously, who sits and reads through 25 blurbs from reviews? I got a newsletter for a book release with a handful of blurbs but it said ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about what the book was about. No summary, no synopsis, nothing. De-lete.

And don't even get me started about how much I hate buy buttons, share buttons, add buttons, and anything that causes a pop-up when I mouse over it....And the tendency seems to be make them HUGE and put them everywhere. As if putting a book's buy buttons seven hundred times on a web page is going to make me click them. What that is is insulting, pushy and it looks desperate. Definitely put them on the page. For me personally, I know where I want to buy my books from and it isn't anywhere people provide the links for. I have specific Indies I shop at and so I don't need buy buttons. Others appreciate them but don't need them every two inches and they definitely don't need them to look like the focus of the page.

As for the share buttons. You all know I share a lot on my website and Facebook and Twitter. But I copy the URL and create my posts accordingly. I know there are a lot of people out there who want something quick and easy and that's fine, but when those blasted share buttons are in the way of me trying to function on a site, I don't stay. As soon as I accidentally mouse over one of those and then have to close it to try and get back to what I was doing...and maybe even accidentally mouse over it again...I just close the site. It isn't worth it to me. Personally, I think if you want them, put them in a location that isn't going to get in the way. If one of those opens on me, I don't share, I leave...

What all of this amounts to FOR ME is that I hate feeling like I'm just a sale. I will and do walk out of a store when I can tell the people work on commission. Why? Because the reason I can tell they work on commission is they are overly pushy. I own my cars until they're basically too old to drive. Why? Because I hate dealing with car salesmen--that's the honest-to-God reason. And I don't care how much I like a car, I won't ever buy it from someone who is so pushy I can't stand to be in the same room with him/her. I threw a window salesman out of my house when he came to give an estimate because he was obnoxiously pushy. Even going back to college, I left a large university to go to a small private school (and pay more) because I hated feeling like a number and not a person.

O.k. I think I've ranted long enough. And I just want to throw in the caveat (if you're still reading) that I don't think all of this is going to change just because I find the practices offensive and insulting. On some of these issues there's probably tons of evidence that the practice sells more books. On others I think it's just ignorant or desperate people and they aren't going to change. But when people ask about how I decide what books to read or how I decide what people to invite to do features on the blog...and even how I decide what books to buy...these are things that come into play for me. They influence my overall decisions.

[end rant]
O.k. I believe I've gotten the negative feelings out of my system now and can go about making every effort to be positive. I'll even try harder to ignore--and stay away from--the above mentioned irritants so I don't turn into my tea kettle again.

Feel free to add in the comments what irritates you...let me know if things that irritate me are actually things you find valuable. It's o.k. to have a different opinion here, it's just not o.k. to be nasty about it.

And then, so we're all happy at the end of the day...I wish you a great book to read!


Beth F January 9, 2013 at 6:25 AM  

I hope you poured yourself a huge glass of wine or a strong shot of scotch after that. LOL. You bring up some good points.

I think my biggest gripe is when I get pitched directly from authors who really have never looked at my blog. Even when they try to pretend by quoting my latest post. How do I know they haven't read my blog? Because they pitch something I would never read in a thousand years, even if written by mutli-award-winning famous author.

BLB January 9, 2013 at 8:49 AM  

I feel the same way about many points you brought up, particularly blurbs on books and pushy salespeople. I am not impressed by blurbs, especially from authors who seem to blurb everything! I always wonder how that author can read all the books he is blurbing and still have time to write his own?

Kristopher January 9, 2013 at 9:03 AM  


You bring up some really good points.

Last year, when I finally decided to make the leap into book blogging (after Bouchercon), many of these things were concerns for me. This is part of the reason why I have not yet started a facebook or twitter for the blog (though I am seeing that this is going to be necessary at some point).

It boils down to respect. If I can take the time to research a book to see if it is appropriate for my blog, can't an author do the same before pitching an erotica book to a mystery blog? It's not like that would take more than a moment.

I am ok with authors announcing that their books if available (maybe for the first week) and if/when there is a particular sale on a book, but don't tweet of fb about it 3 times a day for a year.

I also hate when people leave comments that have nothing to do with the topic. This is not a place for your sales pitch (for your book OR any other bodily enhancement, diet, etc), it is a place to engage in a dialogue.

There are even times when I feel that even though I have something to say on the topic, I shouldn't post a comment on a blog as it will look like self-promotion of my own blog. I am quickly finding out that this is not usually how it is taken if you really have something to add to the discussion. It is part of building the community.

Blurbs don't bother me. Blurbs also don't sell me on a book. I can't tell you the number of times I see blurbs from people who I know are friends with the author. I would expect that they would like the book, and that is fine, and I have no problem with them sharing that information, but sometimes it is a poor marketing decision to use those blurbs are major selling points. But then, as active members of the mystery community, I guess we "know" more about our authors than the average reader, so I can see where those blurbs help. Like you though, one or two short blurbs will do that trick. I don't need another novel about how much everyone liked the book.

I like your point about debut (or even not quite so new) authors saying if you like James Lee Burke, Michael Connolly or Louise will like my book. Please, these people are legends because of their body of work, not one single novel. Sure, tell me if is similar in vein to one of those authors, but don't imply it is at that level, you will turn me away from the book and I might never find out that it really is a very good book.

Finally, for bloggers (after all, the fence swings both ways), I am not a huge fan of reviews that reveal too much about a book. I really try to write my reviews (and I can tell that you do the same), to interest people in a book with enough detail to give them a feel for what they are going to find inside, without rehashing the plot (and especially giving away key moments). This is not easy to do, which is why good reviewers are good reviewers. My job (and goal) is to tell people about amazing books that I think they will enjoy, in the hopes that they will buy it and discover the wonders on their own. I don't post negative reviews, because I BELIEVE that every book has an audience. If it's not for me, it is not my place to try to keep other readers away from something they may love.

I honestly hope that I learn with every post I do and know that I continue to improve every day. That is what living is about.

Jen January 9, 2013 at 10:37 AM  

Kristopher! Bravo, my friend. I know you're a great blogger and will continue being even greater!

Jen January 9, 2013 at 10:39 AM  

Candace! Exactly. I know it shouldn't seem like a great effort to delete the email, but when you get a bunch of those, it's just a drain on a person's valuable time....not to mention, I don't want a legitimate request to get lost in the sea of junk.

Jen January 9, 2013 at 10:39 AM  

BLB, you're singin' my song!

Kristopher January 9, 2013 at 11:05 AM  

Thanks Jen. That means a lot coming from you!

fgt January 9, 2013 at 12:41 PM  

Thank you for this blog entry!! As a crime fiction bookseller, I get this sort of thing ALL of the time, emails, etc. The emails often come with posters that I am expected to hang in the shop which if they saw the shop would see i don't do. To add to this MANY self-published authors who openly say they couldn't wait to go through a publisher & be told they weren't going to be published. Many I find have never read mysteries even!


Marie January 9, 2013 at 4:37 PM  

Agree with you on all points. I had a breakdown-had-to-rant post last July and then just turned it into my Review policy, and voila I don't get spammed..oh, erm.. contacted as much these days. Shucks.
There just gets a point when we are like Stick A Fork In Me.

Florinda Pendley Vasquez January 9, 2013 at 4:42 PM  

I LOVE this--and even though you're probably right that it won't change anything, I'm glad you put this rant out there, because you're not alone! I especially agree with you about blurbs--9 times out of 10 they won't sway me one way or the other, and they almost never tell me what the book's about.

Also, what Candace said about the direct pitches from carpet-bombing authors (they know you have a book blog, but they haven't checked out the books you actually READ to see if theirs fits)--I get fewer of them than I used to, but I've just about given up responding to them.

Alison's Book Marks January 9, 2013 at 6:29 PM  

Amen! I agree with you on all points, especially those authors and publicists (cringe) that don't understand social media. It's OK to schedule Tweets, most of us do it, but that should be 2% of your overall social media activity! But nothing gives me hives like the copy/paste tweets authors spam all over my feed. No follow? How about a Block for good measure.

I love books too and I enjoy blogging, but every so often a rant like yours is a good thing.

Lori L January 9, 2013 at 7:13 PM  

[standing up, applauding] Your rant took all the rant out of me today - and I had one building up.
You made some great points. I am willing to consider review books, but I will just ignore requests to review books that are definitely not something I'd read. If you've seen your blog or my blog, you can easily figure out what we are reading. For me, it may be a wide variety, but it's not everything.
And then don't even get me started on the mommy book blogger who took part of my blog name and subtitle and started her own blog. (sigh) I just added "since 2007" to my subtitle so people will know who is the original blogger - but... grrrr....

Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 9:59 PM  

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Becca Lostinbooks January 9, 2013 at 10:24 PM  

I had to unfollow an author on Twitter recently because all she posts are either RTs, or links to reviews of her book. If she doesn't have anything of her own to add, it makes me wonder how she wrote the book in the first place. Obviously she can't come up with any new material. It's annoying. Strike up a conversation. Let us in on something you are working on now. Anything.

Not to mention I HATE it when I get pitched a book for review in a genre I never, ever read. I am pretty eclectic in my tastes, but I have been pretty specific about the books I will accept for review and they never seem to look at that. I have been pitched a western, Christian fiction, and a book about gardening, for some examples. Um, never have I ever in my life been into gardening. It's like they just spam everyone and then get all butthurt when we deny or ignore.

Becca Lostinbooks January 9, 2013 at 10:30 PM  

Oh, I left out something- I really hate when Publishing Groups want to befriend me on Goodreads. No thanks. If you want to see what I read, look at my blog.

I also don't like when authors are on Goodreads and they have like 2 books and 1,658 friends. If you just want fans, then stop asking for friend requests. I want a give-and-take relationship on Goodreads. I want to see what the other person is reading, too. If they don't read, I have no use for them there.

Belle Wong January 10, 2013 at 11:13 PM  

Very good points, Jen. What I dislike the most are the emails about books in genres that I'd never read, and to make things worse, the email is addressed Dear Ms. Bookish. Um, really?! I doubt these sorts of tactics sells books, especially not the way a lot of writers seem to be using social media.

Bernadette January 12, 2013 at 8:14 PM  

Dear Jen

Please stop reading my mind and transcribing what you find there into articulate rants that mirror my own thinking exactly. It's scary.

Cheers, Bernadette :)

Louise Clarke January 22, 2013 at 3:50 PM  

Thank you Jen,

You have put this so well and you are absolutely right. Everything that is driving you mad also drives huge numbers of us mad as well. So many o these things make me want to murder people ad definitely put me off their book/blog/whatever. I'm so glad that I'm not the only one with these frustrations



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