We Interrupt Working To Deadline For This Rant

The new ms is due Friday, and to make matters worse the kids are on their second full day off school so far this week.

With the volume of snow falling and the forecast for the night, I'm not optimistic they'll be in school tomorrow.

With all these last-minute conspiracies trying to prevent me from finishing the ms this week, what on earth am I doing taking time out to blog?

I'm not a happy camper.

The catalyst is from a post with advice on how to get blurbs from authors.

"As Tony said, asking established writers for blurbs is an imposition on them, a request for a huge chunk of their time to read your manuscript. The best way to help this process along is to start doing favors for the authors you want to approach. Show up at their signings and buy their books. Post complimentary reviews of their books on bookseller websites and mystery discussion groups. Do other favors for them, such as putting them in touch with experts they need for their current research project, volunteering to help on their latest MWA or SinC project, etc. That way, you've established a professional networking relationship with them, and asking for a return favor is not such an imposition."

Now, this may be Beth's blog, but I want to make it clear that my frustration isn't with her. She just happens to be the one who captured this in writing, and this collides with a recent incident that has me in a bit of a mood.

What's got my knickers in a twist? You know, you come online and you end up forming all kinds of connections. Anyone who says that you can't end up forming friendships and business relationships that could help your career is lying. But I think that the sincerity of people, their intentions, quickly shines through. We've all seen the blogs where only the important authors are acknowledged with responses to their comments. High school online - there are cliques everywhere.

Fine. Fair enough. It's the way the world works.

But for a few years, the bulk of my online contacts were aspiring authors, and I sincerely believed in some of them as real friends. I critiqued their short stories and they offered feedback on mine. We turned to each other with research questions and for advice on query letters.

My own situation changed, and I moved into the category of published author. Still, I tried not to think of segregating my friends based on where they were in their own journey. I didn't want to be one of those people who dropped everyone the minute that they enjoyed some small bit of success.

To be sure, life gets busier, and you do have obligations that extend far beyond writing the book. Over time, I've seen my friendships change. I know in the past year, in particular, things have been quieter, and part of that was respect for what I was dealing with when my marriage ended. With two books scheduled for release in 2008, people knew I was busy, and I heard eventually from a lot of people who said they didn't want to impose.

But a recent comment I read from one person, someone who'd been part of a critique group I belonged to, someone I had more e-mails from than I would care to count, served as a bit of a slap in the face. Could it be that the person was only fostering the contact as long as they thought they had a chance of getting a book published, and the minute they doubted that would happen soon they stopped bothering with the people they thought could help them?

It's been bugging me for days. I've always been aware of the risks of people cozying up to you because you might be in a position to help their career. I judge awards, I publish short stories by other writers, I do author interviews and I'm a reviewer. Add in that I'm an author, capable of supplying a blurb, and yeah, I guess there are a few things I can do to help other authors out.

But you know what? I've tried to firmly maintain the policy of reviewing what I'm interested in, interviewing authors whose works I already read and love, and focusing on good writing.

It's a hard thing to deal with people personally and separate that from the professional. There are people I like who write books that just aren't for me. And there are people who like me who'll also say themselves my books aren't really their thing. It's okay. If I can respect my right to my own tastes, I can respect the rights of others.

But what I can't respect is this incessant backscratching that goes on. It is totally bad form to send a gift to a reviewer. Let me just state that clearly, for the record, right here. And I do not want a damn thing from anybody I decide to review or blurb or profile. Well, okay, maybe some common decency. I mean, there have been people I've interviewed who've since snubbed me by not even responding to a quick e-mail question. It would be nice if they didn't make it so obvious that they only talked to me as long as they felt they had something to gain, but if they want to be a jerk it's on them, isn't it?

I started all of this to talk about books I love, to have a chance to learn more about writers I admire. It's about the work. As a former supervisor I know what it is to like someone and have to discipline them and to not really get along with someone else and give them a raise. It's professional, not personal.

The thing is, all these people who do things like this, they're hurting you. Yes, YOU. Because now, when someone e-mails me and I don't know them, there are fresh hurts in my heart that make me wonder if they're just the latest user to come along, or a sincere person who deserves a chance to get some help and advice and be nurtured in their journey towards a writing career.

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Comment by Sandra Ruttan on January 30, 2009 at 1:55am
Yes, publishers do believe in the value of the blurbs, and that's because most people take things at face value and believe they're sincere endorsements. And some are. It's probably us in the industry who are most aware, and the most devoted book lovers who participate on discussion groups and attend conventions who might be suspicious about how it all works.

I agree, reviewers pick out of hundreds of books. We have one whole bookshelf in our house devoted to review copies, and that does not include the four full shelves of books Brian and I have pulled aside that we want to read. A fraction of what we get ends up getting reviewed. Me, I'm just as likely to avoid a book if it's being pushed too much because the expectations have been raised to an unreasonable level. I can think of one book we've received 2 arcs of, and a finished hardback, that's still collecting dust...
Comment by I. J. Parker on January 30, 2009 at 12:29am
Oh, I write thank-yous. The point is that the reviewer chose to review because the book was interesting to him or her, and the review is freely given. I won't get into demands made by their particular paper to review the latest best seller, but even that is not because a publisher or an author asked for a blurb. Most reviewers get hundreds of ARCs. They can't review all, so they choose. Frequently, I understand, they read without writing a review.
And as I write this, I'm rereading an e-mail from my editor, suggesting I get someone to blurb my latest. Arrgh! Publishers still believe in author blurbs.
Comment by Sandra Ruttan on January 29, 2009 at 10:12am
I.J. I understand the skepticism. You know, with the volume of books we get for review around here, coupled with discounting some endorsements, I'm not even sure what separates a book from the rest of the pack for me anymore and gets me to read it.

John, yeah, some people do suck. Glad to know there are some people who understand about the gifts, though! And the thing for me is, most often, I review and let people choose to pull a blurb from that. I'd consider blurbs a form of review. There have been a few instances where someone else arranged for a blurb from someone else I didn't know - Clive Cussler and Tony Hillerman - and I did send a small note thanking them for taking the time to read the book, but that's it.

A gift is given with an open hand, and without conditions.

Jack, LOL. ;)
Comment by Jack Getze on January 29, 2009 at 9:30am
This is some rant, Ms. S. It's echoing across the internet...
Comment by John Dishon on January 29, 2009 at 9:16am
"It is totally bad form to send a gift to a reviewer."

Yep. As far as I'm concerned, reviewing of any kind is a form of journalism. Though I never completed the route to journalist, I did take some classes, and one thing that was emphasized was not to accept gifts of any kind. In fact, most places have rules strictly forbidding it. Obviously it's a way to keep as objective as possible. And it definitely applies to reviewing.

I guess this problem you have is just one of those facts of life you have to keep dealing with. Some people suck, and unfortunately it takes a while sometimes to learn that.
Comment by I. J. Parker on January 29, 2009 at 8:32am
Sorry about that. People can be upsetting.

I don't know that it's any consolation, but I won't blurb and don't trust blurbs. I'd long since decided that all those famous author blurbs on the backs of people's books were there because the famous author got his arm twisted or was so indifferent that he blurbed anyone with whatever the other person suggested, thereby not having to bother with the reading. All right, there are exceptions, but how do you know? I don't ask for blurbs, but I love to quote reviews.

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