Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Problem and a Solution

The Problem

Too many books, not enough time, is the essence of the main problem.

I consider our readers as well as the authors who have submitted books for review consideration to be part of a community and believe that being too transparent is better than not being transparent enough. So, this post is going to give much more detail than you might expect. Possibly more than you want.

Over a year ago (yes, it has really been that long), this blog went viral. The book submissions came rolling in and before I realized how many had been received, did some basic math, and closed submissions, there were hundreds. Many hundreds. We’ve now been closed to open submissions for almost a year.

I’ve also allowed a small trickle of books to come in since that time. In most cases, these were books that I was going to read anyway. Given that, I thought reviewing them made sense if they were within the scope of the books that we review. In a few extremely rare instances, I received queries from an author who had been referred by another author, something about the book appealed to me, and I decided to accept the submission.

In most cases, queries or submissions received after we closed them off were filed away in the “not going to review” file. My thinking was that if the author or their representative were able to find the email address for submission, they were also capable of reading the submission page and following directions. Those directions were, don’t submit. Submission inquiries went in the same file.

As of right now, we’ve reviewed a few hundred books (in excess of 250) and have more than that left. Lots of books have come out and are continuing to come out with authors who would like to have a chance to submit their book for review consideration. I’d like to give them a chance. I also don’t want to have all the books we review be those that have been out for a year, if not several. An eBook is, or at least can be, forever. Unlike a paper book competing for limited shelf space, an eBook has more than a couple weeks or months to catch on with readers. This argues against my timeliness concern, or at least tempers it.

That’s the main problem. Too many books and the desire to open for submissions again.

There are two secondary problems. The first is a desire, not just on my part, but also from the readers, to have more frequent posts on subjects other than book reviews. Our weekly author interview series is a start and has proven to be very popular. I’d like to do more. Last, given the ease of fixing problems with eBooks, making them (hopefully) better after their initial release, means that if we’re reviewing a book too long after it was released, what is being reviewed may not be what is actually for sale.

Possible Solutions

The “experts” say that a focus on a specific genre (or group of genres) is best to develop loyal followers. The “experts” may be right, but I feel like there is also a need and desire for an Indie book review site that is open to most genres. I don’t want to limit myself in that way. I like being exposed to other genres and hope our readers feel the same way.

More frequent reviews. That is a possibility and something that may or may not happen. However, I’m concerned that too many reviews are as likely to drive readers away as attract them. Certainly picking up the pace to a consistent one review every day of the week rather one most weekdays is something to aim for. The possibility of multiple reviews per day, while not impossible, presents some problems, but could possibly happen at some point.

Require some kind of qualification, such as minimum number of reviews on Amazon, before considering a book for review. This has some good arguments for it. The most obvious is removing some of the worst books from the review pool. However, I also have issues with this and would rather not limit us in this way, at least for now. I’ll keep this idea in reserve for future consideration.

An aging process that would drop a book from the review queue after some amount of time if it hasn’t been selected for review. This is at least part of the solution.

We have a lot of smart readers out there. If you have any ideas, I’m always open to suggestions.

The Solution …

… at least for now. Effective immediately, we are open for new submissions. Authors can get the details on the Submitting a Book for Review page, one of several links on the upper right of every page on the site.

For those who pay attention, there are also a few other pages that have been added or revamped, including one for anyone who thinks they might be interested in an new hobby in the wonderful, exciting, and highly non-paying world of book reviewing.


Donna Fasano said...

Authors are going to be so happy to hear this news! I know I am!

Unknown said...

Hey, I like the new look and great to see you're open again.

All of your points above are valid - I too hope you continue to give absolute newbies who have zero reviews on Amazon a chance to catch your eye with their book.

Some suggested solution ideas:
1. Rather than toss out the TBR queue, go for a ratio new books and old;
2. Have a "Reader's Choice" segment (maybe thru the FB page) where readers can nominate your next read... (these naturally would be readers contacted by authors asking them to nominate) - maybe a viral process... You are already a public servant - might as well aspire to slave :)
3. Cycle through a genre (as matched to... Amazon? BIC?) per day? Slot?; new and "old".

Great to see you accepting submissions again, now I'm off to see if I can slashdot your TBR queue :)

Rik said...

I've given up hope of finding someone with a good and honest reputation willing to take time to review my work. If you ever do stumble across my book in one of your archives (The Gods in the Jungle, by Rik Roots), please feel free to delete the file.

I'll not be abandoning your blog - your reviews have helped me find some very interesting books that I would not have considered reading otherwise (I personally feel your reviews have far more integrity than the average Amazon review).

Excellent web redesign, btw.

Leah Petersen said...

Love the new look!

The last couple of weeks I've spent a lot of time reading submission requirements and policies on book review blogs, and I'm surprised you've made it this long without some of the changes you propose.

I'd definitely recommend an aging-out system. It only makes sense. Most I've encountered ask to be queried first and if they're interested in what you offer to send, then they'll ask for it, but make no promise to review it. I think this makes sense because things might come in that they want to read more than your book and yours gets pushed aside for a week, then two, then it's aged out.

That's how we as readers tend to attack our TBR piles too, because that acknowledges reading as something we do for fun.

If you make it too much of a chore, by reviewing simply out of a sense of obligation, or to keep up some unreasonable schedule, you're just going to burn out. I found a lot of those, too--book review blogs that had gone dark because the blogger had lost all joy in it.

Don't go there.

Anonymous said...

I thik Leah has some really good advice. A lot of review sites require a query first, and if they're interested they'll ask for the book. That keeps them from getting overwhelmed with submissions they aren't interested in - and also from getting burned out because instead of an enjoyable job/hobby, it's become a chore.

Jacklyn Cornwell said...

What about those authors who submitted books before the cut-off and still have not seen a review? Will they be dropped or remain in the queue?

Walter Knight said...

One problem with a publishing date cut-off would be my situation. I have a series, with Book 1 published in January 2010, and Book 15 on the editor's desk now. Book 1 may be old, but the series is young and growing.

Kind of like me, feeling young, but, oh never mind. Thank you for reviewing my old book a while back.

tmso said...

You might consider hooking up with other indie reviewers that you like. If they happen to be reading something on your list, maybe consider inviting them to post their review on your site? Just an idea.

Keep up the great work.

MichelleR. said...


This is a dilemma that popular reviewers must face, and there's no perfect answer.

There will always going to be books falling from the sky, like raindrops, and the occasional deluge, and you will never, ever catch up. Closing off submissions just means that when the floodgates open, you best be ready. :) (ARE YOU READY?!)

In all seriousness, I think the influx of newer books will be great. I also vote for the more reviews, the better -- but I'm like that. :)

The site looks great!

BooksAndPals said...

Lots of good suggestions here and I appreciate all of them. I've got some great followers and knew I'd get some good advice. Thanks. I won't comment on all of them, but ...

Simon, I like your "Readers Choice" idea and immediately thought of a few twists on that which I think I'll try. For those authors who have books submitted, if you read the details on the book submission page you'll see that for purposes of aging off the list, your book will be considered as having been submitted today. That gives plenty of time to still get a review. I also think that books at the top of the list (the oldest) will have a better chance of getting selected than those further down the list, so we'll still be doing a mix of old and new.

Thanks to all of those who commented on the new look. I like it too. I do run the risk of being accosted by an author while walking down the street now, but I'll risk it. :)

Leah, Burnout is a definite risk, and something I've been guarding against.

JM, I addressed books currently in the queue above (and also on the revampted submission page).

Walter, I don't think I'll ever use publication date as criteria. That would present too many issues, such as what date to use for a previously trad published book. I can think of one book off the top of my head that could be assigned at least three different dates. Aging based on when a book was submitted seems the better way to go.

You're right about no perfect answer, Michelle. As I'm sure you can tell by looking at those things I considered, items from the process that was being used by you and the rest of the Red Adept team were some of those considered.

Alessa Adamo said...

I've often wondered how you do it. I am glad to see you acknowledging that something has to change. Your site is well regarded and I have no doubt demand has far exceeded the capacity to meet it for some time. You've helped so many of us, both authors and readers, that I'm happy to hear you're guarding against burnout.

I like the new look. Love the picture. I promise not to accost you if I ever see you on the street. Although that's not likely since I live in San Francisco. I also like the author interviews and other posts.

Thanks for the great work.

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks, Alessa. You'd actually have a very good chance of accosting me the first weekend of October at Golden Gate Park. That's where I've been 6 of the last 7 years.

Lyn Horner said...

Hey Al, nice to know what you look like. Unlikely I'll accost you anywhere unless you visit Fort Worth. Darn!

This won't help with interviews, but for variety you could invite guest authors to blog about writing and publishing subjects, or their favorite genre. Just a thought.

?wazithinkin said...

Al, I kinda like the reader’s choice idea, but I am afraid of reviewer burnout if you don’t like what you are reading. I personally don’t want someone telling me what I should read next, I can’t imagine anyone who does. That is one reason I didn’t enjoy reading school assignments. I am a mood reader and my queue changes all the time, books at the top on my TBR list change consistently.

I hope you are able to find a solution to your dilemma; I enjoy your book reviews and author interviews. I also like the fact that you have not confined your blog to a specific genre. I also loved your ‘help wanted’ request for the wonderful, exciting, and highly non-paying world of book reviewing. LOL

Wishing you lots of luck! And you know I love the new look for your blog! :)

BooksAndPals said...

Lyn, I love guest blogs although I try to stay away from writing subjects and limit posts on publishing to the kind of thing I think would appeal to a reader. Although I know somewhere around half (plus or minus 10%) of my steady readers are authors, I want content to pull in readers. But 100% are readers since every author is also a reader.

Linda, the way I'm picturing the readers choice would be to pick several (maybe 4 or 5 books) from throughout the list of hundreds that I would like to read and have the readers choose one for me to move to the top. It wouldn't preclude the losers from a future review, nor would it be something I absolutely didn't have any interest in. But it would guarantee a review in the near future for the winner, increase traffic in several different ways, and give "the customer" what they want. That seems like a win for lots of different people.

Yes, I knew you liked the new look. :) Should I look for your email volunteering to review? :)

BooksAndPals said...

Lyn, I neglected to mention that I have had a few guest posts in the psst that fit the target audience, the most recent Leah Petersen's guest post on "Raising the Next Generation of Readers." Previously there were two others (almost a year ago). Clicking the "guest post" label on way down on the right side of the page will get all of them. These posts are among the most popular posts on the site and get a steady stream of readers. I'm always willing to entertain volunteers who would like to guest post and have another guest post scheduled for min-May.

Lyn Horner said...

Al, I meant to say my suggestion wouldn't help with your reviews, not interviews. That will teach me not to try to write something while babysitting my two young grandkids.

I'm volunteering for a guest post. Just say the word.

Vicki said...

No solutions off the top of my head, but just wanted to say I love the new look, photo included.

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks, Vicki. At least part of the solution is acknowledging that if I want to keep a wide open submission policy that I'll also not review everything.

Peter Spenser said...

I love your new look. The design is clean, and the colors are a striking change, which is good to do when you make a big overhaul as you've done. The one thing that always bothered me about the old design was that you had a straight apostrophe instead of a correct curly one. I even wrote you about it months ago. It's nice to see that you got it fixed.

john Hindmarsh said...

Al - thanks for the update. Appreciated. You have my sympathy - I can just imagine the mountain [so to speak] facing you.

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks for the comment John and Peter.

Kristie Leigh Maguire - Indie Author said...

Love the new look! So clean and fresh. What a handsome dude you are. :)


Booksmith said...

Al, kudos to your efforts to invigorate both the look and structure of your blog.
I'm an interested party - an author with a book on your desk sent in a year ago, as yet unreviewed. I agree with the comment above that it would be unfair to dismiss any book just because it's unreviewed on Amazon. Mine had no reviews, or very few, when I sent it to you.

Which leads to a suggestion for another section: occasionally you could choose a book from your older pile that has say, 10 reviews or more on Amazon (confession; mine currently has 11) and ask: Are The Amazonians Right? You might find a 4 star book you rate as 2, or vice versa.
Anyway, I'll be sending you my next novel as soon as my editor agree with me. (May take a while.)
Paul Collis