When I posted my “Open Letter to Book Bloggers” I had no idea it would make the splash that it did. And for the first couple days it simply laid dormant, getting the same 30 or so hits I get on most posts. Then yesterday, I logged into Blogger and notice that my hit count had spiked precipitously with nearly a thousand hits on the post. By this morning, my hit count had increased over 10% from the all-time total of a blog that’s coming up on its 5th anniversary.
I quickly realized the post had gone viral across Twitter and the blogosphere. At first, it was pretty exciting, kind of like the first time I made the front page of Etsy back in the day. I enjoyed getting into the debate and having the conversation I wanted to have. Many commenters indicated that there are valid points on both sides, and we are facing a dilemma for which there may be no correct answer. And I agree!
But I guess I wasn’t prepared for some of the backlash I got, such as here and here. I wasn’t prepared to see conversations about me instead of to me happening on Twitter and in blog comments. I wasn’t prepared to see comments on a public forum that said basically, “lol, I’m never reviewing her.”
That was tough, and I wondered if I made a mistake. I mean, I am already blacklisted at sites that don’t review indie published books. But I honestly didn't count on actually making people angry.
I want to take this opportunity to address some of the points that have come up again and again in the comments and reactions I’ve received to the letter. There are some definite themes, and rather than repeating myself by responding on an individual basis, I will cover them here.
1. The words “duplicitous” and “condescending.” Okay, I will take my lumps for this one. Those were really shitty word choices, and for a writer, I was being awfully imprecise and ignoring the effect of connotation. I regret those words and apologize to those whom I offended.
What I should have said is that I feel like I am being held to a double-standard by people who are naturally in a position of power. There are some really beautiful book blogs out there, and there are some really, really horrible ones—riddled with typos and “creative” grammar choices, terrible formatting, flashing ads, etc. But I don’t judge all book blogs based on the bad ones. I judge each one on its merit and policies, and I go through each one: Do they review my type of book, do they accept indie authors, do they want print or e-books, how many followers do they have, how well-written are their posts, have they updated recently, and on and on.
I see a parallel there between what bloggers do and what authors/publishers/publicists do—trying to judge quality and fit. Yes, it’s time consuming. Do I wish there was an easier way to narrow down the search? Only sort of, because I am mistrustful of a selection curated by others; I want to see and judge quality and fit for myself, and I don’t want to miss any diamonds in the rough.
That is, apparently, where I differ from my detractors. We will have to agree to disagree.
2. Book bloggers are not self-publishers because they don’t get paid. I heard this from multiple parties. Some people treated the label of “self-publisher” like it was some sort of insult instead of something to be celebrated. That told me right off that the stigma of self-publishing goes far deeper than I had known. I was especially dismayed to learn about some of the bad behavior exhibited by some of my indie peers. This was news to me, and I began to form a better idea of why self-published authors are so pilloried—beyond the obvious quality issues. I can’t change that all on my own, but I think we indie authors have a responsibility to cultivate our community as a much more professional one, because we have everything to lose if we don’t.
By calling bloggers “self-publishers,” I wasn’t trying to bring people “down to my level.” I was trying to show what we have in common. One blogger said I was making “a whole crapload of assumptions.” I guess I was, but I thought I was being rather flattering. If you prefer not be considered “entrepreneurial and multifaceted,” then I take it back. Another blogger called me out on this with, “I don’t buy this ‘sisterhood,’ thing, sorry.” Fair enough, you don’t have to. But I think a “we’re all in this together” mentality is much more effective for everyone than the contentious “power/peon” mentality (see #6).
But to get back to the main point of #2: the people who said this are wrong. Book bloggers (by and large) are self-publishers, or independent publishers, or whatever your preferred term. I’m not harping on this to upset you; I’m saying it because it is correct.
To publish means to issue reproduced textual or graphicmaterial for distribution to the public. So, you’re a publisher. If you’re not going through an established publication, not having your work reviewed by an editor, formatting and posting your own entries, etc. you’re doing it yourself. There are some book blogs that have staffs and run much more like e-magazines, and the term is admittedly a misnomer for them. However, the issue of money has nothing to do with whether you can be considered a self-publisher. Which brings me to this point:
3. Bloggers are not in this for the money; authors are. Tangential to #2, but different. I got several comments that suggested authors are in a different boat because we’re trying to get paid, and that bloggers do it for love. This is sensitive, so I’ll caveat this by saying that I am only speaking about myself here: I am not doing this for the money. Writing novels for money is not a good gig. I would have to sell 8 e-books or 2 paperbacks per hour, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, just to make minimum wage. And we don’t get paid to write. We only get paid when people buy our books; that’s very different. If I got paid minimum wage for the time it took me to write the book, I might actually not end up in a cardboard box eating catfood.
I write novels because I love it. But unlike other endeavors, not only am I not making money, I am losing money. Because I am my own publisher, the upfront investment was on me. I’m still working back my debt to myself. I sent 4 spec books to bookstores yesterday, and 2 to reviewers. The whole shebang cost me over $50 (though I do admit I used the fancy paperclips for my media kit). Hopefully it’s an investment and not a gamble.
I understand now that many bloggers are receiving far more books than you could ever hope to review. It’s difficult to see the drops in the flood. I just want you to know that from the end of individual authors, we have a lot riding on each and every paperback and ARC we send out. Even NetGalley costs $399 to join; I could send out 40 paperbacks for that amount. Most of us don’t go about this willy-nilly because we can’t afford to. So while it seems like you are being indiscriminately strafed by indie authors, that's not the case for a lot of us.
4. Self-publishing is a genre, just like fantasy or hard-boiled crime. I heard this again and again: Bloggers get to choose what they review, and they don’t have to review what they don’t like. If they don’t want to review science fiction, they have a right to say so in their policies, and science fiction writers don’t have a right to rise up against them. One blogger said, “I’ve yet to receive a letter (open or otherwise) from anyone disappointed in my blanket refusal of their chosen genre.”
I agree that bloggers have every right to review whatever the hell they want and to reject whatever the hell they want. But to compare indie-published books to a genre is false logic. You might as well say that you don’t review books with red covers. Is that taking the argument to its absurd conclusion? Yes, but here’s the thing: if you know you don’t like science fiction, it’s easy to figure out fairly quickly that a book is science fiction and you can skip it. If you don’t like badly edited books (and who does?), it’s not so easy to tell. I understand that rejecting indie-published books outright is one way of skipping badly edited books.
But you can’t say you don’t like indie-published books, period—because that isn’t logical. The only consistently common thread is the lack of official publisher backing. There are other trends and patterns, yes. However, not all books fit this imagined mold of having ugly covers and typos and bloated second acts. I was only asking to be judged by myself and not by my peers. I do not think that is unreasonable, and I will stand by that assertion to whatever ends.
5. I’m being disrespectful of bloggers’ rights to make their own policies. The issue of respect is extremely sensitive, so here I will try to tread with caution. It was never my intent to be disrespectful. My intent was to question the status quo and to propose a reconsideration. The reaction I wanted to elicit was, “Huh, I never thought about it that way.” I did not expect that so many people’s reaction would be, essentially, to want to put me back in my place. Several detractors made it very clear that I was shitting where I eat, and several promised not to review my work. I question now whether I will receive retaliatory reviews. I hope not.
The people who were most adamant about me being disrespectful also treated me with the most disrespect, including accusing me of trying to cause a stir just so I could get some publicity for my book. Funnily enough, I was also chastised for not making my contact information readily available so that bloggers could request my book. So apparently I'm a self-serving button-pusher and also bad at it.
Let me be clear: I fully support a person’s right to read and review whatever the hell they want. I can’t and don’t want to take that right away. I have not and will not pitch reviews to bloggers who state that they do not review self-published or independently published work. I have pitched guest posts, Q&As, and giveaways to them, but I will likely stop that as well. I have not written personally to any single blogger to confront them about their policies.
If you have read my letter and done me the respect of thinking twice about why you have the ban in place, and you still believe it’s necessary for you, that’s all I can ask. I’ve made my points. Obviously ours is a relationship that is not meant to be.
As I have said over and over again, I was only asking for this reconsideration. Some bloggers found this “insulting.” If you’re insulted by someone asking you to reconsider a belief, you’re going to be insulted by a lot, including probably everything in this post.
The unexamined belief is an oppression of the mind and soul. Through this conversation, I have re-examined my own notions and preconceptions, and have adjusted accordingly. I can only ask for the same.
6. Authors need bloggers, but bloggers do not need authors. This was the hardest to swallow. The point was stated by several people in different ways, but the basic assertion was that I was wrong when I drew this parallel:
After all, if all the authors and publishers suddenly said, “I do not give my book to self-published book reviewers” where would you be?
The people who made these types of comments are probably right. In fact, I know they’re right. You guys have the power, and we authors are at your mercy. I pissed people off with my post, and now some of them are blacklisting me from being reviewed on their sites. And I can’t do anything about it except hope that I haven’t minimized the pool of potential reviewers to such a degree that I will never be successful as a novelist.
I need you, but you don’t need me. I live in that shadow every day. But I never thought that power would be used to say to me, in effect, “sit down and shut up.”
There’s so much more to say, and many individual points that are worth addressing, but this sums up the major points. This is a conversation worth having. I love a respectful, logic-based debate, and I love even more when I can learn and cultivate more nuanced opinions based on new insights. But I don’t abide blatant disrespect, unfounded ideological anger, or personal insults. Please plan accordingly.
In response to the comments about not leaving my contact information, here’s a bunch of it:
Personal email: ellyzupko at gmail dot com
Book website: www.warmastersdaughter.com
Media kit, including author bio: http://thewarmastersdaughter.blogspot.com/p/media-kit.html
Free download of The War Master’s Daughter: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/115259
My book on Amazon: http://amzn.to/LC9zzg