The downside of marketing yourself

Just to prove that I’m being honest about the experience of ‘marketing’, the past week has actually slapped me with a whole messy handful of dilemmas that arise for many writers once they start being ‘known’.

1 – a writer I’ve never met, whose work I’ve never read, asked me to review her new, self-published, novel

2 – T.J. Forrester asked me to review a story for his excellent new project, Five Star Literary Stories

3 – A writer I have met asked me to review her new book.

Um. Oh dear. And likewise … gulp!

In the case of the first, I went to look at an excerpt and decided that while the work is about an important and often poorly-addressed subject and in that sense is an admirable project, the individual words should have been professionally edited before publication (an example: two characters exchange a few sentences of dialogue, a third joins them and then the author says ‘a conversation ensues’ Uh? What was all that dialogue beforehand, if not a conversation?) and that’s what I told her, saying that if she sent me the book, I’d have to make that comment. I’m sure that writer now thinks I’m an awful snob, but I’m not; I’m happy to review anything people send me, but I do have to be honest, or I’m doing myself, and them, a disservice.

In the second example, I actually had to ask for another story because the first one had grammatical misconstructions that simply turned me off. Now in this case I’m entirely at fault – I am a pedant and I simply can’t bear certain written mistakes that have the same effect on me as fingernails on a blackboard. And that’s not fair to the writer, because where commonplace errors are acceptable, as these are, it would be nitpicky in the extreme for me to be negative about the story, but I couldn’t lie and be positive about something to which I had such a negative visceral reaction. Anyway T.J. sent me another story that I could review without reservation and so that worked out okay. Should you be interested, you can read both story and review here: Five Star Literary Stories. (Bear this in mind dear readers, where a reviewer is paid to review, they may have a gut-deep hatred for something in your work and yet, because they are paid, they are going to go ahead and review you anyway – don’t assume the reviewer is always right, although most of the time they are more likely to be right than you are!)

Case three: this is a toughie. The fault is mine, I think. It’s not that the writing is bad, I just don’t ‘get’ this particular style of writing. I know other people admire it, and on a purely technical level I can understand how the words are put together in a certain way that is effective. But it doesn’t please me, it doesn’t tickle my reading centres, and that is not a question of good writing or bad writing, but a question of personal preference. I like Turkish Delight, I dislike nougat – that’s just the way I am. Other people hate Turkish Delight, that’s the way they are. But send me a nougat book and I’m a bit stumped and not very hungry. I haven’t actually decided what to do about this one yet.

So where does that leave me?

1 – with a writer who probably hates my guts

2 – with a solution found

3 – with a dilemma still unsolved.

And the point of these stories?

When you become a ‘visible’ figure for any reason, you must expect to disappoint and upset a few folk as well as pleasing and entertaining others. The only thing you can do, in the end, is stick to your ethics, however much or little other people seem to understand them, and take your lumps. It’s been a bit lumpy, one way or the other, in the past seven days, and that’s why writers tend to have neuroses!


  1. Tania Hershman
    12th May 2008

    This is very interesting, Kay. I was faced with a similar dilemma recently, of being asked to provide an endorsement of a short story collection by a writer I had never met and whose work I had never read – and, who had obviously never read my work. The stories were just not the style I like to read, which is experimental, non-traditional, magical realist, surreal, which is also what I write. So I told the writer that I felt I was the wrong person for the job, and recommended some other writers who were more up his street. While I was flattered, I didn’t quite understand why he had approached me, and did feel he should perhaps have done a little research into my writing first. But perhaps I am being naive – a blurb is a blurb is a blurb, and he was doing what he needed to do. Such is marketing!

  2. Jim Murdoch
    13th May 2008

    We all take our place on the food chain, Kay. I’m, as you know, in that unenviable position of trying to promote a new book. I’m quite realistic in my expectations and have cut my cloth accordingly; that I have sold any books has been a great surprise to me and that’s not false modesty talking here. I’ve spent months working on a website, a blog and a few social networking sites but I’m not exactly tripping over big name authors although I am ‘friends’ with Paulo Coelho on Blogcatalog if that actually means anything. I’ve read a lot about how to go about marketing, especially on-line, but it’s been very hard to get over my natural inclination to be an antisocial pig.

    As for your problem with reviewing, I’ve only been asked to do one review – actually my wife told me to do it – and much of the writing was not to my personal taste but I could see that it was well-written and so that made my job easier. I’m dreading someone asking me to review a poetry collection but we’ll face that when it comes. The important thing is that you are true to yourself. If I get a review by you then I would expect nothing less than an honest one or it won’t count. For God’s sake I only gave my own book 4 stars on Goodreads! I know I get better.

  3. Vanessa G
    13th May 2008

    The whole marketing thing is complicated, n’est-ce pas?

    I love the fact that the reviewers for The Short Review do it for love. Not payment.

    But I also felt dreadful, awkward, mean, nasty, (pick your word) when in reviewing “Two Tall Tales and One Short Novel…” and I did not see the merits of one of the pieces. What to do? Pull the whole review? Pretend and fib? Be bland and meaningless?

    We decided to go ahead, and say what was an honest response,from the perspective of a writer.

    I had three emails telling me I was at fault, and should have not done that. That I should have lied, or said nothing, or not reviewed at all.

    But it does raise one thing I’d like to explore.

    Reviews of work by ‘readers’ and reviews by ‘writers’ will give different results. I try to wear both hats.

    But given the choice, which would you rather have?

  4. Caryn
    16th May 2008

    I feel for you. I’m not even published yet and I’ve already had several people ask me to review their books on my blog, although I’ve never done a book review on the blog. I’d prefer not to review at all than to give a bad review, though, so I’ve had to turn them down. I think it’s worth a try, though. Better that the authors are out there trying to get the word out about their books. It (usually) doesn’t hurt to ask.

  5. Julie Ann Shapiro
    17th May 2008

    Hi Kay,
    I can so relate. I offered to promote mention friends books on my blog and now I have a back log.

    I also have a couple of book reviews to do.

    And then there’s that thing called writing my own stories and marketing my novel, Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries.

    Oh well…such is the life of a writer.


  6. Louise
    17th May 2008

    When you review or receive a review of something that is “outside your genre” you sometimes gain new and unique insights. I’ve had “pure poets” reviewing my novel and they see it in a completely different light which has helped me to develop my style!

    (it’s good though if you admit somehow that you’re unfamiliar with a certain genre. I never read historical fiction, but I thoroughly enjoy reading your project and I hope I can give you something despite my inexperience of the genre itself ;=)


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