TEAM GUEST BLOG NUMBER TWENTY FIVE – Fiona Pickles

There’s no such thing as a bad review

Since we published our first four books in May 2010 (yes, it was that long ago!) we’ve submitted to and been reviewed by roughly fifty different websites – not counting Amazon, Goodreads, AllRomance, Manic Readers etc. – many of which which exist solely for the purpose of reviewing independently-produced GLBT fiction.

Or perhaps I should say existed, because at the time of writing only fifteen of them are still functioning – which probably isn’t surprising, considering that there’s a huge amount of effort (and no money) involved in running a review website. We suspect that most of them are co-ordinated either by single individuals or very small groups, and the chances are that it takes up pretty much whatever leisure time they have left in between paid employment, college, family, home, pets and other commitments – and sometimes when dealing with major health difficulties into the bargain.

There is pressure on them to maintain a schedule, to recruit reviewers and assign books, to make sure the report is received on time and to publish it on the site. What’s more they must make a conscious investment into maintaining the quality of their output, or both readers and publishers may end up losing confidence and being reluctant to trust their word about anything. They do this voluntarily, because they love our genre, and they get hardly any thanks for it. It’s little wonder some of them eventually seem to disintegrate under the strain!

The more we think about what’s involved in running a review website, the more impressed we here at Manifold Press are that anybody ever does it at all. True, they get to read new books which otherwise they might not have encountered; that’s the up-side. The down-side, though, is that … well, some of the books may be less than absolutely perfect, and from time to time the author can take offence at being told as much. (There is no better example of an author reacting adversely to criticism than this: The Greek Seaman.) As a reviewer, you are always aware that something like this may happen to you – and that can be totally intimidating.

From the author’s and publisher’s side, however, if the book is good enough to impress an impartial reviewer who has enough followers to make a difference, then the word can start to spread and there can be an immediate reflection in the sales figures. This matters a lot to those of us who have hardly anything to spend on marketing, advertising or promotion; we rely on the electronic equivalent of ‘word of mouth’ and on readers trusting reviewers to deliver an honest opinion. That, in turn, means our books have to be good enough to impress … and even if we didn’t already have reason to be committed to producing quality, that would be enough to sway the decision.

We value all the reviews we get, the bad as well as the good, because there is almost always something to learn from them – as was the case when one pointed out an unsuspected technical issue in one of our books; it enabled us to fix it before too many copies had been sold. (Interestingly, no customer mentioned it – was it just in the review copy? We never found out, but we changed it anyway!)

So we’d like to take this opportunity of thanking everyone who runs a review website, because we have a good idea how tough it can be – anyone who has ever been asked the question “Does my bum look big in this?” recognises the awkwardness of having to be both honest and polite; ‘the fifteen’, however – the websites still functioning which receive our quarterly offers of books to review – contrive to manage it somehow, and they have our undying gratitude. We literally couldn’t make it without them, and we felt it was probably about time we actually said as much.

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