Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Why won't you review my book? WHY!!!!!" - A ReaditDaddy Editorial

In this week's editorial, I've received some divine inspiration from the fabulous @chaletfan (Daisy Johnson) who has come up trumps again with a fabulous blog about why she doesn't review certain books).

We're voracious consumers of books, but as detailed in our review submission guidelines, there are books we cannot (and will not) touch.

Without sounding sniffy or mean, we just haven't got the time or the capacity to read or review self-published books any more and this inevitably leads to emails that basically ignore that polite guideline and start off with:

"I love your blog and your reviews, and I've read your review submission policy BUT YOU WILL LOVE MY BOOK, HONESTLY!"

Which, of course, get read - but also very quickly get deleted. I know, it's frustrating when you email someone and they don't reply. Believe me, we've been there.

It's not just self published stuff though. Like Daisy there are times when we could be sorely tempted to review something that we both thought sucked. Was rubbish. Appalling. We could launch a diatribe on the book being the core of what's wrong with the children's publishing industry, how it's blatantly cashing in on a current trend or meme, how it's basically a complete rejig of a traditional story that's been done and done and done to death but...quite honestly, we're not nasty people. Neither Charlotte nor I are the sort of person who would take someone else's work and give it a brutally honest and damning review. just for the sake of getting some kicks out of upsetting someone who has put a lot of effort into a creative piece of work.

What would be the point?

So this week's editorial is a purely tongue-in-cheek list of things we won't touch - ten reasons why we've passed books up for review (which is, I should add, an infrequent occurrence but still worthy of a brain-fart of an article all the same).

1) Age inappropriate content. 

Middle graders are (officially) awkward, there's no bones about it. They're technically too old and sniffy for picture books (or so Charlotte tells me, despite still loving them a lot) and they're too young for YA. But we've reached a point where eye-rolling and sighing greets any book that's even vaguely babyish. So rather than write something along the lines of "Charlotte absolutely hated this because she's so over the pink fluffy bunny running errands for huggy mummy" it's just easier to skip to the end, give the book an honourable mention (if any mention at all) and leave it at that. You may notice that with some recent picture book reviews we've opted for a brief synopsis of the book with some details instead.

2) You used this font on your cover: 

 Oh god. Why. WHY!! I mean Comic Sans is bad, everyone knows that but the Chalkdust font is a terrible font. It's the bird-poo-sandwich of fonts. It's the font that thumbs its nose at all that is right and good in graphic design. Really, just don't use it.

(Ironically we used that font when ReadItDaddy first started, purely because it was one of the only 'fancy' fonts installed on my home machine at the time. I have flayed all the skin off my fingers in penance but as soon as I spot this on a cover, I personally run a mile).

3) Your "Hilarious laugh-out loud" comedy book isn't funny.

In no way at all. It's like that bit in the episode of "One Foot in the Grave" where Victor is writing a comedy screenplay, cackling away to himself about his comedic genius then shows his work to his wife Margaret who remains stony faced while reading it, then proclaims it to be the worst thing she's ever read. Yup, that. So we can't review something that's intended to be funny if we have to fake it, sorry!

4) Cover art and design made us retch. 

The cover is your chance to sell your book. It doesn't matter if it's a picture book, non fiction book, chapter book, middle grade page-turner. The cover can make or break a book at that most important point of sale where folk are browsing through a book store and spot something that catches their eye so even if your book isn't illustration heavy, please please please hire a decent illustrator (and there are so, so many out there) to make the cover throb with creative genius!

5) Too many farts, too much puke, way too much weeing, and an inordinate amount of pooping.

I know we've said this before many many times but it's like there's an entire sub-genre of children's books that belongs under the category of "I laughed when I farted / pooped this morning, so I'm sure your kids will laugh when my central character poops or farts!"

Kids have sophisticated levels of humour that go way beyond merely finding someone trumping out a small green cloud amusing on any level (actually, that is pretty funny at times. I didn't say that though, OK?)

 Now, if you can write something where the central character parps, poots or pees in a manner that is intrinsic to the central plot and puts in a few twists (like they somehow poop a rainbow) that might be an original approach that would make us take a second look. Basically though if your aim is to gross us out, you'll have to try really really hard. We've just about seen it all in kids books and that stuff just doesn't work on us any more.

6) Author profile pic that looks like something from "True Life Murderers" or some other late-night freeview scrub-channel proggy.

Hey we're not the prettiest people in the world (well OK Charlotte might be but I'm like a wrinkly cross between Phil Mitchell and a Baked Bean), by no means but we do at least try and have a profile pic that doesn't make us look like we want to feast on your entrails or tie your entire family up before torching your house because you wouldn't read our children's books. Potentially if you send us a review request, and we google around and the only photo of you that we can find looks like this...

...we'll probably pass on giving you our home address, kthanks. Smile. Laugh. Look like you're happy to be doing what you're doing. But if we look in your eyes and see a field of skulls, we're moving on.

7) It's for a good cause (but it's still a really awful book).

This is a very hard one to describe and it's also a bit of a taboo subject when it comes to reviews. Sometimes a book has a golden heart of intention that is admirable and important but in a few cases the book has still been pretty terrible. So you, as a reviewer, are faced with a bit of a quandary. Do you give an honest opinion of the book, knowing that it could potentially put off people who would buy it, contributing to a charity and benefitting countless others?

Or do you suck in that gut, suck up that opinion and write a gushing piece of praise despite internally seething about the book being sucky?

Also, do you renege on your review policy when someone comes to you with a touching and truly heartbreaking tale of a book they've written themselves to try and make a bit of money for a good cause that's personal to them and a bit of coverage on your blog would help put the word out?

Not easy really. In the very few cases where we've been faced with this decision we've opted to pass but still feel a bit crappy about that. Sorry.

8) Love the author, loathe this particular bit of work. 

Another tricky one. We've been very lucky to have met (both virtually and in the real world) some truly wonderful and talented book folk. We develop a deep love of their work, and get on like a house on fire with them on Twitter / Facebook or even in the flesh. Then a book comes out that feels like it's been pushed out to cash in on other books' glories. Pop quiz hotshot, what do you do?

See, this is slightly different to the previous quandary because if you think you get on well enough with the person you could be truly honest and say "Look, you KNOW I love your work. You KNOW I love you to bits but that last book? Man, that was a stinker! What's occuring?"

It's probably not a great idea though but hey, if you're ever 'in' like that with a creative, more power to your elbow if you feel you've got the moxie enough to tell them. The world's a critic after all and opinions are like bottoms - everyone's got one but there's not always a necessity to use yours for talking out of.

9) You're creeping me out on Facebook / Twitter.

Sometimes folk will use guerrilla tactics on your social media presences to get under your radar and make their presence known to you. You are the mouse. They are the cheese. They keep favouriting your tweets, complimenting you on your witty banter or your hilarious sharing of kitten videos. They even like your artwork (poor, delusional fools!) Before you know it you've friended them or followed them and the very next thing you get via your message / direct message stream is:


Alright, that's a bit of an extreme example but harsh cynical old reviewers know that unwarranted interest in your comings and goings via social media are sometimes more than a bit creepy. I love being followed, I love being friended but I've got to get SOME idea of what you're about before I do that. Also, refer to Item 6 above. If that's your facebook or twitter profile pic, I would rather follow Satan into the very jaws of hell wearing petrol soaked Y fronts than follow you back. Or if you dress up as a clown. Sorry.

10) I honestly don't think I could do your book justice in so few available lines of text. 

We once didn't review a book because it stank of fish (see Chaletfan's blog we linked to in the first paragraph and our comment underneath).

We once didn't review a book because it came accompanied by a packet of ham (we're vegetarians and still aren't quite sure what piece of PR genius led to a book being promoted by sending along bits of dead pig as a promotional gimmick).

Once though, and only once we didn't review a book because no matter how we gushed about it, praised it, drank it up thoroughly, read it, re-read it, and truly became completely head over heels in love with it, we couldn't put together a decent review for it. It was, in our mind, a book of the lifetime let alone a book of the week. It was like that sequence in "Contact" where Ellie goes through the wormhole and mumbles "Should've sent a poet - So beautiful!" and left it at that.

It still burns me now that I couldn't write it up in an adequate enough way and I still can't. I fleshed out a review in Word (probably after umpteen attempts) and it ended up being nearly 5000 words long. No matter what I did, I couldn't reduce the review down to blog-acceptable word counts without it sounding trite. I couldn't express my love for that book nor Charlotte's and subsequently when we read other reviews of the book in newspapers and other blogs, it almost felt like others had similar struggles, and didn't seem to encapsulate what made the book truly phenomenal either.

The book was shunned by just about every award going that year. I never see that book cropping up in "All Time Top 100 Children's Books of the last 100 years". It sits on the shelves at home, its cover looking a bit battered and worse for wear because we've pulled it out and read it so many times to the point where the poor thing is a physical wreck.

So perhaps, just perhaps, it's possible that your book is just too damned good for us mere mortals to write about ourselves. Consider that if your book mysteriously gets missed from our reviews. Consider that.



papajfunk said...

#10 is just gross. You're doing great stuff, keep it up! Go #TeamVegetarian!

Library Mice said...

Now I really want to know what that amazing book is!

ReadItDaddy said...

I'll probably never tell, purely because it'll be built up in everyone's mind that the book will somehow be some well-recognised phenomenally brilliant book that everyone will say "Oh that? Oh it's not THAT great" so it's become a bit of an elephant in the room really. I think the one aspect of reading books and enjoying stories that fascinates me more than any other is what strikes a chord with different readers, what makes a book become "Their" book. Obviously if that could be bottled, distilled and turned into more books it'd be amazing but it is such a fascinating question and if it takes 5000 words or more to try and get across why that book is so precious to you, then I'd read every single word, honestly.

Library Mice said...

Definitely. Response to reading is such an emotive thing, and everyone is very different. I am just curious to know which one created such a reaction with you. Mine has always been Glenda Millard's Kingdom of Silk series, and Timothée de Fombelle's books.They bring out an emotion which no other books can ever do. Feel free to DM me if you are ready to share, I promise I won't judge. I am just nosy ;)

Author Elsa Takaoka said...

What inspires a person to write a book AND self-publish? From my experience one of four things 1- they've heard you can easily make money selling an ebook (FALSE) 2- they've grown-up loving picture books and think they can take a whack at writing one 3- They have a cause and truly believe in raising awareness 4- sheer madness or a combination of all the above :-) Whatever the reason, seeing a book go from purely text to illustration has the power to hypnotize and enchant the owner. Almost like a new born baby, rarely have I seen a truly beautiful newborn child. Give it some time and that red and patchy bundle of eek grows to be awe inspiring cuteness. In the beginning though you congratulate the parents and gush over how cute their salamander is. For authors, books work in that same way... we get praised by family and friends maybe not for the greatness but for the effort. Then comes the stranger, the book critic, the blogger and let's us know just how much of a salamander our book really is! The nerve :-) how can my book be anything but greatness? The beauty of this honesty however is that it serves as a natural filter. A net that separates the golden nugget from the dirt. The golden nugget is NOT however the BOOK but rather the Author. For no matter how "stinky" a book is, a real passionate author will learn and progress. I am aware that my first books had potential AND flaws. A handful of Amazon reviews that likened my picture book to "as boring as organizing a sock drawer". When I notice a trend in what critical reviews say I realize my mistakes. I have poured myself into the study of picture book making, and are forever grateful to review sights like yours that gave this salamander a chance. I do not regret my boldness or my eagerness to seek out serious book bloggers even when I was turned down. It's a part of learning a free lesson, although a hard one. I can imagine you are bombarded by the eager author often... which is understandably obnoxious but undeniably flattering :-)

ReadItDaddy said...

It's flattering to be asked - sometimes though when you get an email that just says "Dear Blogger" and you realise there are about 50 other bloggers all BCCed into the same email, it feels like carpet bombing. I admire anyone who creates something and puts it 'out there' in whatever form, I think that is also a lot of the reason why we chose to give up reviewing (and honestly reviewing) self published stuff, purely for the same reasons we don't review a lot of stuff that doesn't really 'do' it for us. It's horrible to sit there and write a dismissive piece that tears someone's hard work down (and even the most cursory attempt at writing a children's story still involves putting one word after another in a way that someone can read and get a story from).

Of course, the other reason we wouldn't want to be over-critical (well me then more than Charlotte) is because I can't do it myself. I wonder if other book bloggers who've attempted to write children's stories (and failed miserably) have a better appreciation of those who can once they've had a go themselves.

Author Elsa Takaoka said...

You're right about that. Fair enough, we still have to play by the rules and read the submission policy. I also agree about reading and reviewing only books you love, otherwise what's the point? :-)