Monday, May 11, 2009

Reviews, Review Sites, Submissions...Oh My!

Hey everybody.

I just wanted to give my opinion on various topics brought up in the
Urban Reviews Yahoo Group today. Remember, these are only my opinions. No one should take offense to anything that I'm about to say as this is not targeted towards any particular individuals. Also, by no means do I think that I know everything when it comes to these topics. These are only my observations and thoughts on the subjects at hand.

Regarding Book Reviews

As far as book reviews, what everyone needs to understand is that a book review is that person's opinion on what they felt about the book. Now just because one person may not like a particular book doesn't mean that another person will feel the same way. Take the review as constructive criticism and see what you can learn from it. It takes a thick skin to be in the publishing business, and a lot of authors have to develop that over time. Not everybody is going to be receptive to your work all the time. If you think that the review was totally unfair, then you need to try to contact that reviewer in a professional manner and point out what you thought was unfair or questionable about the review and get their take on it. Reviewers take the time to read and review books because they like reading books. So if they had issues with your book, it would be beneficial for you to learn what didn't connect with that particular reader so that your next project won't have those same issues. This is especially important if more than one reviewer had similar difficulties with your work. Every author thinks their work is the best. It's the readers who decide whether you are right or not. But again, one review is one person's viewpoint. If multiple reviewers point out extensive editing issues for example, those types of things take away from the reader being able to connect and enjoy the story. Editing is the biggest problem with a lot of books, but character development, conflicting POVs, lagging storylines, and questionable behavior and actions from the characters are just as distracting and are usually the reason for unfavorable reviews.

Regarding Review Sites

Any reputable review site should have some form of submission guidelines or some detailed instructions on how to submit your book for review and what time frame you can expect the book to be reviewed. For example, our site has submission guidelines and details what books we do and don't review, what needs to be submitted to be considered for review, and when you can expect it to be reviewed. All review sites have different submission guidelines for different reasons, whether it be due to the volume of submissions they receive, the number of reviewers they have to review the books, the costs associated with sending review titles out to the reviewers every month, etc. For those that want to run their own review sites, you have to consider a few things:

[1] You have to be mindful of the time frame you set as far as when you want the reviews to be completed. Authors are expecting you to review these books that they send. You want to make sure you have enough staff to handle the amount of books coming in for review, especially if you have your mailing address out there for anyone and everyone to send their books to you. During the first year of running the Urban Reviews website, the mailing address to send books was right on our website, despite the fact that I was the only person reviewing books. Even though there weren't as many books being released by African American Fiction authors as there are today, the books piled in to the point that about half of the books weren't reviewed. After learning the hard way, we pulled our mailing address off the site. We came up with a submission process that would allow us to preview a chapter excerpt and book description. We did this so that we could see if we were interested in reviewing the entire book or not. And as we added more reviewers to our team over the years, this process became extremely important in choosing which books to feature on the site. It would be absolutely impossible to review everything since there are literally hundreds and hundreds of books being released each year. You shouldn't take it personally if a site decides to pass on reviewing your title. Again, at the end of the day, that one review site would ultimately be one person's opinion.

[2] There's also costs involved with running a review site. The biggest cost of them all is the one that isn't monetary...time. It takes time to maintain a website, update it with reviews and interviews, and include all the other extras you want to feature on the site. It takes time to run out to the p.o box that you pay for every month and gather the books that arrive. It takes time to sort through and assign books to reviewers, package them to be sent to the reviewers, and go to the post office and mail them off. Time is also needed to read each book, review each book, proofread each review, and then post each review. Most review sites will post the review on their website and usually since practically everyone goes there to buy books or look for information or reviews on books. Sites that post book reviews on other book-related sites or social networks do so at their own discretion. Those that do this are now tapping into the realm of a free publicist for an author, and if they have the time and resources to do so, then so be it. You shouldn't expect that from most review sites since the time to post multiple reviews on multiple platforms is extremely time consuming and goes beyond the point of just reviewing your book. The other biggest costs is 100% monetary because it cost money to do a lot of things for the review website. Unless you have a free blog that you run your review site through, there is the cost of the domain name and hosting each year. There are costs associated with the mailing of books (envelopes, postage, gas to and from the post office to pick up books and mail off books to your reviewers) and if you hold contests on your site, the same mailing costs apply to that as well.

Regarding Submission Inquiries


Before you submit your book to a review site, pay attention to the types of books that particular website reviews and see if your book would realistically be a good fit for that site. If a review site primarily reads one type of book (i.e. street lit), and your book is another type of book (i.e. woman's fiction), then you should think twice about submitting your book to that site. If they profess that they read 'everything,' investigate to see if they actually do. Find examples of their reviews, evaluate the substance of their reviews, and look for reviews they have done for other books that are similar in nature to your book's theme. Please be selective when deciding on where you are sending your books and focus on the sites where you will get the most bang for your buck. And remember that these sites are doing you a favor by reviewing your work. Most review sites, despite all the costs that are involved, are doing it for FREE.

I know this may seem like a lot of information, but in truth, it is just the tip of the iceberg. You can learn a lot of things from other authors and people in the industry. It takes a lot to make it in this business. And most authors that do have some sort of successful writing career are far from rich, so it truly needs to be something you love to do. Your actions (and reactions) define who you are as a author and as a person. A good amount of true best-selling African American authors started off as self-published authors, so the path for you is no different. The only difference is that there is a much larger pool of African American authors going down that same path these days. Some of them are in it for the right reasons, while others are not. And those that are in it for the right reasons aren't always going about it the right way. So when readers or reviewers highlight some of the problems they have with your book, you shouldn't try to discredit their viewpoints and consider them to be 'haters'. If you come to that conclusion, you've certainly missed the point on why books are reviewed and really should consider whether this industry is right for you.

Radiah of Urban Reviews

Great Midwest Book Fest 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

The African American Fiction Section...Separate But Equal?

The African American Fiction Section...Separate But Equal?

There's been a lot of talking recently in cyberspace about the placement of African American fiction books in bookstores. For some black authors, they feel that the African American section in bookstores is too limiting. They would rather be placed in the general fiction section to attract a broader audience. Others would like their books in both sections. This is a hot button issue among authors and book industry professionals alike.

Before I became a reviewer, I used to actively buy books from Borders because they have an African American Fiction or African American Literature section. As a consumer, this section was perfect because I could find the book that I came in there for and also see what other books in this section are available. Sometimes I would even purchase another book or two in addition to the one I came in there to get because it was easily accessible.

Writing a book is a creative process, but authors need to remember that selling the book is a business. The publishing houses and the bookstores are in the business of selling books. In order to make the most profit, they do whatever they need to do to make sure that books has the best opportunity to sell. The AA fiction/lit section is not meant to segregate authors but to give them the best placement opportunity to sell the maximum amount of books. The African American fiction market is becoming more and more competitive with at least 50 books being released on a monthly basis. With numbers like this, you have to be even more creative in order to sell your books. I don't have the exact stats on the amount of general fiction that is released on a yearly basis but I'm sure it's in the thousands. An AA book in the general fiction section would most likely be lost in the shuffle.

Some authors feel that just placing their books in the general fiction section will help expose them to a wider audience. In my opinion, doing this is not going to draw non-black readers to your book. Unless your book is tied to a national or worldwide current event, other audiences aren't going to miraculously be interested in your book. Of course the exception to all of this is if your book winds up on Oprah, which is highly unlikely. If African American fiction authors want to appeal to a wider range of readers, then they need to go out and seek opportunities to do this...on their own. If you think that your book can appeal to everybody, then you need to go out there and prove it to the publishing companies and the bookstores.


Friday, January 30, 2009

The Frustrations Of A Book Reviewer - Volume 2: A Thankless Job?

When we started our review website, I always knew that you can't please everyone all the time. But what I'm sharing with you today just takes the cake. Please see the following email and note that this has not been altered in any way. I did omit the name of the author to protect the not so innocent.

Mr. Hubbert:

Could you at least summarize what is wrong with it? The opening page conveyed it would probably be three months or more before you even had a chance to read and review it. What exactly was it? You did not care for the plot? You found too many grammatical, errors in punctuation? How much time did you even spend reading before you even made your decision. I submitted my request for a review approximately one week, ago. How did you manage to get through enough of it to determine that it was not suitable for you website? You know what. Nevermind and FFFFffUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK YYYYYYYYYYOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1111

That email was NOT in response to an actual review that we did but just an inquiry request for their book to be reviewed. Of course the profanity was unprofessional and childish, but this person didn't follow our submission guidelines. Our guidelines state to send a chapter excerpt in order to be considered for a review. This person chose to send their entire book and for some reason thought that someone was reading their entire book. I rejected it and as always offered them to post info about their book in our Yahoo group or even to purchase advertising. This is an example of a person that obviously knows nothing about this business and won't get far in it. A part of me wanted to respond immediately with a few choice words myself, but instead I took the high road and simply ignored this person.

If this person had came to me the right way, maybe I could have provided some feedback as to why their book wasn't accepted. I don't think people understand the time and dedication that it takes to select books for our website. It also takes time to review these books too.

Thankless job? Sometimes...but I still love it!


Please feel free to leave your comments below!!!