Book Reviews: Should I start them?

As quite a few people have been very open and welcoming in wanting to review my own books, I am contemplating starting a similar avenue for other authors to get their works out.  Think of it as paying forward the good deeds done to me by reviewing others works.

So … do you think I should do it?  If you do, comment or like this post.  If not, tell me so.  Though, to be fair, I am currently of the mind to do so.  It just seems the fair thing to do.

The Ethics of Reviewing: Questions for veteran authors

One thing that remains clear to me as I continue my odyssey as a self-published author is that, for all the research and preparation, I could never be totally prepared for what all is involved.  The biggest stumbling block, the one that I imagine stymies most indie authors, is self-promotion.  The truth is I am horrible at it.  Not in the sense that I tell prospective readers to stuff it or any conventional PR disaster, it is simply that I don’t want to be bothered by it.  I’m a writer … I would much rather be left alone to, you know, write.  The vast amount of time and energy to be invested in constantly shilling oneself is amazing and, frankly, to someone such as myself who usually has a humble self-image, it is hard to put myself forth as ‘THE BEST THING EVAR’ because I don’t truly believe that, no matter how good I feel about my books.

What does this have to do with the topic of this piece?    As many of you may know, reviews and ratings are a critical part of marketing success.  You can have a good cover, a nice blurb, but get shot in the foot by a string of 1-star reviews.  Even if you have no reviews, you are basically asking people to give you a chance with no assurance of success.  This can be especially vital if your book has a ‘slow burn’ and the real meat of the novel may not be apparent in whatever preview the retailer allows.   It’s a classic ‘chicken and the egg’ conundrum:  You need good ratings to get people to read your book but you need people to read your book to give you good ratings.

Obviously, there is a financial market that has sprung up around this.  I notice one key service almost every book marketing package includes is guaranteed reviews.  On top of that, I noticed, to my absolute confusion, that I could review my own books?! Talk about ultimate bias!

I suppose here are my questions to veteran indie writers:

– How do you approach trying to gather reviews?

– Do the ethical implications of some of the more questionable promotional services bother you, such as guaranteed reviews and changes that alter your vision of your work (radically rewritten novel blurbs and descriptions, tagging to fit the market and not the book, etc.)?

– Do you think it is ethical in any sense to review or rate your own book, beyond a simple ‘Like or Don’t Like’ system?

– Is there a way to balance self-promotion and actual writing without paying hundreds of dollars to someone to manage it for you?

– Should I just damn the ethics and charge full speed ahead into self-promotion land?

Characters: Stepping outside of your skin

As a writer, it is an obvious thing that I often have to write characters that are not fully represented by my life experience.  After all, I am a white mid-30s college-introduced man born and raised in the United States.  Obviously, my life experiences can never hope to capture many of the roles I am required to write for a good story, let alone those things that are pure fiction.  I know most people find nothing wrong with that at all.

The funny thing, though, is what kind of reaction can happen when you ‘step out of your skin’, especially for major characters, and into something that is quite real.  A white person writing about a person of color … a man writing a woman … a woman writing a man … a rich man writing about a poor man …. you get the picture.  It’s one thing to write about an alien from Alpha Centauri.  That carries no preconceptions or societal baggage.  Again, most people just go with it.  They don’t make social judgements if you don’t lay them down; they just read it and like it or hate it as it comes.

Some people, though, can take offense at the very idea of the writer taking on a very different type of character from their experience, even if there is no social commentary intended.  Everyone has a right to an opinion and they certainly have a duty to stand up to anything that could promote social injustice, but what about those people that have an instant knee-jerk reaction?

I suppose what I’m ultimately mumbling to myself about is this:  Do you, if you’re a writer, worry about writing characters outside of your life experience that are also quite real?  Do you, as a reader, give a flip when a writer does so, assuming they do so in a tactful fashion?