Being Reviewed: You & Your Manuscript

Although this review/interview book and literary pursuit blog began on 31 October 2010, I’ve been reviewing works before both as an individual and for web groups. I was what I call an intake specialist (aka ‘filter’) for a literary magazine. Basically I read through the large amount of submissions, passing those more worthy onward and upward, in order to save some of the editors time. Afterwards, with authors selected for possible publication but who needed a little extra help, I worked to edit and revise their manuscript. That’s how I’ve been around the publishing business for almost ten years, but not in the forefront or anything, where my name might be known.

After being published by Dreamspinner Press, StarBooks Press and JMS Books in 2010, and producing a few titles under my own independent publishing brand “Flying With Red Haircrow”, I encountered the bane of many self-published authors: the very many review groups which do not accept indie or selfpubs. I well understand some of their reasons for doing so, but I also knew I’d taken the chance and read self-pubs which were at least equal to offerings by traditional publishers. Plus the fact I’d read very many ebooks from the same, which what I personally found sub-standard writing and plotting, interspersed with enough errors for me to question editing.

I’ve learned some things which might be common knowledge, but also perhaps some things writers, readers or reviewers haven’t thought about.

My guidelines for a review and/or interview request might seem very detailed, but they aren’t really. I just choose to provide information about what I like to read, what I will and will not read, possible reasons for rejection etc. Here are my basics and the “why” of them:

1. Email to provided address with “review request” in the subject line.

2. Include your title and a brief blurb, word count and short bio if desired.

3. Attach story file, .pdf preferred.

Number one, reviewers often receive lots of email, I’m no exception, from review requests, other writing projects, newsletters and like. I specifically ask to have “review request” in the subject line because I have a filter in place which redirects all such emails to a special folder. If you do not do so, it is much more likely you will not receive a return response because your message has been lost amidst a couple of hundred messages in the inbox, or possibly been shunted to the spam folder (I do check it periodically to check if this happens with something I need). I am quite sure many other review sites, etc. have filters to help redirect mail especially if it’s a dual, multi-account or main contact email.

Number two, of course, a reviewer would need the title and blurb. Flat out, it’s annoying to have to go research a writer’s blurb or description, or mildly so if they include the title only in the subject line and not inside the email as well. It might seem like a small thing to have “back out” to find out what it is, but after you’ve done it with a dozen emails in a row, it’s taking up time unnecessarily. Also it’s rather common sense or knowledge when writing a request or query to say something like “Hallo, I am writing to request you review my story________,” and so forth.

The word count is requested so I can get an idea of the amount of time it may take me to read and review a story, and if I can work it into my current queue and give a moderate ETA. If I have ten 100K or 300 page stories in queue, if I receive another at that point, I’m going to be honest and say it may take me a while to review it or I will have to reject it.  A short bio is optional, but it can help me put some stories in perspective, it’s something I will include when I post the review and it gives readers extra insight into you, plus it could show a common interest which might persuade me to review when I might otherwise reject. For example, I prefer not to read works regarding religion, but it’s an a story of a Christian struggling with rejection because they are gay or have converted from Hinduism, it would probably stimulate my interest when the author states it is based on their own life.

Number three, .pdf preferred. Many computers have Adobe Readers, so the .pdf file is one which has set parametres in formatting and it’s widely known. Not all computers have Microsoft Word these days, and .doc files can have so many different kinds of formatting, it can make opening and viewing them difficult, plus other “things” can be inserted to cause a comp problems. It is a courtesy and evidence of your enthusiasm to comply with a reviewer’s request. For those who only have a .doc, there is a free application which convert your file to .pdf. It’s called CuteWriter, and takes a simple download and less than a minute.

I can appreciate writers may provide coupons so I can go visit other sites to download their file, but as a writer myself, I know I have copies of all formats saved to my computer which I provide when I seek a review, especially if it is requested I do so upfront. They may think this is easier. Having to visit other sites and search for and download a file once may not seem like much. When you have twenty requests and you’re having to take time to visit other sites twenty times?  Most reviewers, myself included, want to be spared this extra step.

These are specific to my website, but as a writer who has submitted work and continue to do so, it’s from personal knowledge. It’s also from being a reviewer and/or working for and with other reviewers and groups. These are similar things I’ve discussed with others “behind the scene.” These are tips which save us time, and believe me, it takes a lot of work on this side of the equation. It’s not just reading and then typing up a review and posting it online. There is a lot of scheduling, planning and correspondence which goes into this process.

Submission/Request Guidelines. Please read and follow the reviewer or review group guidelines. They are there for a reason, and the majority I’ve read I can see the reasons for what they’ve requested. Some do have arbitrary rules which might seem strange, but if you value a review from them, you’d do well to play along, if you are so inclined.

Extended descriptions & information.  Do not include loads of extra information beyond what is requested, such as a list of quotes from other reviewers detailing how glorious your book is. If you have that many, then it makes me ask why are you seeking a review from me, although, sure, you might wish a different perspective or your book was published some years ago and you’d now like a review with a more recent completion date. I don’t mind at all when a writer tells me a little background on how or why they came up with the book idea, it makes it more personal for me, but when there’s a few paragraph were you’re telling me how great your characters are and how much I’m going to like them…. Let’s just say, if everyone did that, I’d still be going through the paperwork. I want to read your story, but please value my time.

Errors & Retractions.  If you find you’ve made an error in your review request, or there is an issue with your file, please let the reviewer know as soon as possible and clearly state what the problem was, that it’s been corrected etc. Attach your new file or provide instructions and/or a coupon with a direct link to your work so the reviewer can obtain it, preferably you provide it for them. Save them time. If you have rethought submitting your work for review for whatever reason, again ASAP let the reviewer know. This is a courtesy.

Respect. Try to be understanding of the reviewer’s voluntary time and effort they are supplying to you. Certainly you are anxious to have your work reviewed,  but harassment is frowned upon. Sending multiple messages asking for an ETA every week won’t get your work read or review posted any faster. Except for very short works which I can cover in an hour’s time or so and give myself a “break” with, all requests are placed in queue in their order of arrival.

If I am having difficulty with a work, yes, there can be a delay as I try to give myself another opportunity and fresh look after I’ve stepped away from it. I work full-time, own and run a bookstore, am a single parent with a special needs teen, and am a graduate student in Psychology. Many days have “extenuating circumstances” for me, and I adjust accordingly as often as possible, but I still do this by choice, just like many other reviewers. Please be cognizant of what we put into these services.

Sharing the Love. Please make sure to cite the reviewer or website if you are use portions of the finished review on your own site or elsewhere, and a link back is the prime way to do so. Also remember, even if it isn’t stated explicitly this is the reviewer’s writing even if it’s about your writing, it is therefore copyrighted. This is why most reviewers or sites please ask that you do not copy and paste their review in its entirety elsewhere. It’s a form of plagiarism when you use someone else’s words even if it’s relating to your book.

Indie Writers & Reviewers.  I started out focusing exclusively on Smashwords authors and self-purchases I’d made, though I’ve also received requests from traditionally published authors, and post reviews I’ve done for other groups or websites such as Queer Magazine Online and Ebook Addicts Reviews. Like my own writing, just because I’m an independent doesn’t mean I take any of this less seriously.

I am serious about my writing, and always hoping to improve. I take the trust authors place in me by submitting their work seriously.  Do the same for your writing: edit, edit, edit, and get help if you need it. I don’t personally believe you have to have a professional editor, and it doesn’t influence me in my reviewing or personal reading if a work states it has had the touch of a pro.  I just expect it met standards of English composition. If you provide poorly edited and formatted work, it’s a reflection of you. Do whatever you need to to make it the best it can be.

Constructive Criticism. When I point out some of the things I felt didn’t work as well as might have been hoped, it’s constructive criticism and it’s my own opinion and thus doesn’t reflect what others might think. I am aware of aspect of my books which could have been better so when someone points them out in objective reviews, I accept their comments for what they are. Try to take the suggestions or “I would have liked…” simply as information you can use only if you want to. Everyone has opinions. Try to look at the overall picture, as reviewers often do not know you personally, so they are not personally trying to hurt you. I consider it all yin to yang. Even something negative can bring positive effect to my work and life.

Send your best! Last week, Sally Sapphire at Bibrary Bookslut posted an interview with me on their website. One of the questions asked was:

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Yes.

Conceive, write, edit and revise to the very best of your abilities, get help if you need it and accept constructive criticism from those who have your best interests at heart and understand you and your work. That way you can be 100% confident in whatever you produce, and when/if you do receive a rejection if you submit or a review where someone didn’t like it, you still know your work and you are worthy. It just might not have suited their personal tastes or the markets to which they wish to sell.

Good luck and best wishes as always,

Red Haircrow

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5 Comments

Filed under Writers and Writing

5 responses to “Being Reviewed: You & Your Manuscript

  1. Great advice, Red Haircrow, thanks!

  2. John Blandly

    thanks, Red–your help is a blessing

  3. Dick Lowrie

    You have a very good web site. Thanks.

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