The New Gatekeepers

I guess it had to happen. Technology opened the gate to all those writers who couldn’t get published the traditional way. Huzzah! But there are so many of us, cranking out books by the millions, that readers are overwhelmed. Most indie-published books join the blur and go unnoticed.

Except maybe the ones that get lots of reviews. Trouble is, it’s hard to get reviews, or at least the right kinds of reviews. No friends or family members. No “I’ll review yours if you review mine” arrangements. Brief comments by readers are fine; but thoughtful, thorough reviews by “official” reviewers are best of all — and almost impossible to get. Reviewers are the new gatekeepers. (As are a few advertisers, notably BookBub, which is pretty selective about which books it will promote. You need to pay them a non-trivial sum — but first you need a non-trivial number of good reviews).

You don’t have to look hard to find lists of rules and other admonishments directed at hopeful review-seeking authors. They look a lot like the submission guidelines and how-to-approach-publishers advice of the trad pub years. Some of these lists are lengthy and detailed, and a few verge on the offensive. Reading them conjures up a caricature of a desperate author approaching the enthroned reviewer, crawling on hands and knees while pushing a copy of their book along the floor with their nose. (And if your book is taken up by the reviewer, don’t even think about emailing to ask when the review might appear. Just. Don’t. Do it. Ever).

This is part of a bigger phenomenon associated with the self-pub revolution — the author as pest. It seems we’re a pretty annoying bunch: spewing out books full of typos and grammar no-nos, issuing endless “Check out my book!” tweets, approaching acquaintances with book in hand and big salesman’s grin on face, and bothering beleaguered book bloggers just like we did the beleaguered acquisitions editors of days gone by. (Remember all those tales of mail rooms crammed with unsolicited mss?) Maybe creativity generates a ferocious hunger for attention that overrides good manners. Book bloggers and reviewers have reacted predictably to the deluge of review requests by hedging themselves about with rules, just like publishers did.

But hey — at least now we writers are free to throw our books into the public arena. That’s way better than slinking back to our writing rooms to entomb the rejected manuscript in a cardboard box that once held dog food. The toughest gate has been breached. So what if there’s no sure-fire path to success? (There never was, actually). And a few of us have managed to get our books noticed, clearing the gates like so many hurdlers.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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7 comments

  1. Boy, you are so right, Audrey. Getting reviewed as an indie is almost impossible in the traditional press, unless you’re in good with your local small town paper. Bigger outlets? Magazines? Popular websites? Forget it. You need lots of Amazon reviews, and even those are hard to attract.

    As writers, all we can do is keep on keepin’ on and hope that people are moved to support our work by buying our books and reviewing them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is truly crazy how hard it is to get reviews — even the “I read it and I liked it” kind! The last time I gave my books away for free, 2,000 copies were downloaded. This netted me … I think it was 3 reviews? That’s a 0.0015% review rate. And I think that’s actually HIGHER than what many people have experienced. In a world where people seem to want to broadcast their opinions about everything to everyone all the time, you’d think reviews wouldn’t be so hard to come by.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true. There’s a theory that people download free books but few read them. Even so, you would think 2,000 downloads would get you more than 3. I suppose that’s why some writers approach reviewers — well, many writers do this, to the point that some of the reviewers get a bit miffy. Or in some cases, downright snarky.

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  3. At the end of the day do book buyers listen to reviewers anymore than they listen to literature critics. I’m sure word of mouth ie reader to reader, is still the biggest form of sale recommendation. I think a lot of self-published authors are so frustrated with marketing that they blindly charge towards whatever seems to be the holy grail of sales. This month reviewers, last month newsletters, next month free books in boxes of cerial.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As a reader, I usually read reviews and comments once I’ve committed to reading a book, or even finished reading it, just to see what others think of it. Reviews aren’t a big factor in my decision to engage with a book; what does it for me is the description on the back cover and reading a bit of the text. Reviews are important for authors wanting to be accepted by BookBub and similar outfits, though (not speaking from experience here!) As for all those other marketing gimmicks, I tend to agree with you, except I sometimes see posts or comments from writers who indicate they use a variety of these methods with great success. I could be wrong, but I think these are mostly romance writers. Romance is its own thing, of course, so what works for that genre may not for others. In fact, I’m beginning to think fiction that doesn’t fit comfortably into any one genre, and “literary fiction” are doomed to obscurity unless taken up by mass media for some reason.

      Liked by 1 person

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