Random Musings: On why I am withdrawing from blog tours

Have you noticed that blog tours are becoming ever more ubiquitous? Of course I get why they are a thing. While the organiser will be paid, most book bloggers review for free. By tying them into a blog tour the publisher can rely on a book being promoted across social media at a time of their choosing. Review copies sent out do not get lost amidst the ever growing piles of books to be read by reviewers. From the publisher’s point of view harnessing book bloggers, who already have an audience interested in finding their next good read, makes perfect sense.

Recently however I have cut back on my commitment to tours. Much as I remain eager to work with publishers on promoting good books, I have encountered issues that have, at times, been stressful. In this post I share some of my experiences and attempt to explain my reasons for choosing to limit my involvement in blog tours, for the time being at least.

The initial contact from a publisher’s designated organiser is an invitation to take part. Due to busy schedules these invitations are typically sent out many weeks in advance, often before the book is available to read even as an ARC. Decisions must be made based on a brief synopsis designed to sell the book.

If I agree to participate I will sometimes request author content for my stop on the tour. I will email my interview questions or ideas for a guest post within a few days of accepting the invitation, to allow time for responses to be put together. Very occasionally I agree to host content that I will receive blind. This has only been an issue for me when what was provided turned out not to be original, making me feel I may as well have hosted a link to wherever it first appeared – this is not what I want on my blog.

A good blog tour organiser will ensure a copy of the book is sent out well in advance – several weeks before the tour starts. As I require a hard copy, problems with print runs can delay this. So long as I am kept updated I will always do my best to accommodate. I have never yet missed my stop on a blog tour but am obviously happier when not reading under pressure.

As books also get lost in the post, more often than seems reasonable but this is a thing, I will chase if I don’t receive my review copy, a situation that is frustrating for everyone involved. Were I not committed to a tour non-delivery of a promised book would be an irritation but not a concern.

As the tour date approaches I look to the organiser to email a digital copy (.jpg) of the book cover, author photo and blog tour flyer. Ideally the latter will include the hashtag they wish to use. It takes time and effort to prepare any blog post and this increases if covers and author pictures must be searched for on the web where image quality and usage can be problematic.

I generally have my blog posts prepared and scheduled at least a week in advance. Receipt of any author content is required to allow for this. If I am listed on a tour flyer and have nothing to post it reflects badly on my blog. I have had to chase for content many times but have only been entirely let down once.

I have numerous examples of reviews, interviews and guest posts on my blog and assume the organiser is happy with my format and writing style or they would not have invited me to participate. I will always post honestly – integrity matters to me. I wouldn’t have accepted the book had I not expected to enjoy reading it. Nevertheless, some books disappoint and I will not pretend otherwise.

While the blog tour is running I will try to share other participant’s posts. I never share a post I have not read and lose interest if there is too much repetition across the tour. How much I share also depends on the time I have available to seek out and read. For the long blog tours – some last for weeks – I will likely only manage to share a fraction of the stops.

There have been tours where my participating post, even when positive, has been ignored by author, publisher and organiser. My fellow book bloggers are always generous in sharing content but I expect some interest from those who benefit more directly.

Some have suggested that negative reviews have no place on a blog tour and bloggers should withdraw rather than post anything but praise. Late withdrawal strikes me as reneging on an agreement. Such action would also dilute the worth of the tour. Why would a reader click on multiple posts about a book that are known to have been filtered in this way?

Whilst my enthusiasm for tours has been subdued recently the main reason I have cut back on participation is the limit it places on my flexibility to choose the books I read. By filling my schedule with agreed dates I commit myself to particular titles, most of which I have not yet received at the point of commitment.

For publishers reading this post it is worth remembering that, whether or not I am taking part in a tour for a book, if I am sent a review copy I will do my best to read it in a timely manner and then share whatever publicity it receives from multiple sources. Once I have posted my own review I will share other’s thoughts on the title, whatever they may be. I blog about books to make readers aware that they exist, to share the book love.

Do other bloggers enjoy taking part in blog tours? I love talking about books but, for now, desire greater freedom to read titles of my choosing, in an order that suits me. I am, after all, more likely to react positively to a book if it is the one I feel like reading at a given time.

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Book Review: The Book of Forgotten Authors

The Book of Forgotten Authors, by Christopher Fowler, is a book for bibliophiles. It offers the reader details and anecdotes on ninety-nine authors who were once hugely popular and are now no longer in print. It is a very personal selection. The author admits that some of those chosen produced work that was predictable and not particularly well written, yet it has a charm that he finds appealing. Others he dismisses. Of Georgette Heyer and Eleanor Hibbert he opines that they wrote novels packaged in

“the kind of pastel covers no man would ever pick up.”

Really?

Each author listed is necessarily given just a few pages. Although superficial this is enough to provide a flavour of why they became popular before sinking into obscurity. Interspersed with the listings are commentaries such as ‘The Forgotten Books of Charles Dickens’ and ‘The Forgotten Booker Winners’. Although esoteric in places these make for interesting reading.

From some of the quotes provided I would suggest many of these authors deserve to stay forgotten, yet this reaction demonstrates just how personal individual reading experiences can be. In talking of the suspense writer Charlotte Armstrong:

“sometimes you want to wring the necks of her protagonists for picking the one option that will get them into deeper trouble. But hey, bad choices make good stories.”

I’m not sure that I agree.

The book is written with a deft and humorous touch. It is also moving in places. The chapter on Polly Hope was a particular favourite.

It is not so much the quality of the literature produced by these forgotten authors as their passing popularity that warrants their inclusion. Tastes change over time as do readers’ offence radars; authors can be sidelined when their evocative voice grates modern sensibilities.

I did not always agree with the conclusions the author reaches. The Forgotten Queens of Suspense opens with

“Ignored, underrated, overlooked or taken for granted, the women who wrote popular fiction for a living were often simply grateful to be published at all.”

This sounded familiar. The author is more generous suggesting

“Today women read more than men, and female authors have finally been accorded the prestige they always deserved.”

If only this were truly the case.

The output of many of the authors listed was prodigious, especially compared to current expectations. Like today some was also abtruse. Thomas Love Peacock is described as an acquired taste, seemingly for good reason. In writing of his tome Nightmare Abbey:

“it seems best to stumble from one page to the next and merely enjoy the juxtaposition of words”

“the book doesn’t so much end as stop. My paperback version is so old that some of the pages fell out, and it didn’t feel entirely necessary to put them back in the right order.”

Do authors such as this deserve a reprint?

There are scathing comments about readers who are described as ‘intellectually inert’. As an example, the author clearly dislikes the once popular little book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. When a teenager I found this uplifting. Perhaps my more jaded, aged eye would not agree but at the time of reading it did its job and connected.

The author writes kinder words on the renowned Dan Brown:

“The real sin of bad writing is being boring, and Mr Brown is certainly never that.”

Well, he bored me.

Of course, agreeing with the author’s point of view is not the point. What this book offers is a window into the vagaries of the publishing world and its readership, the changing tastes and fickle loyalties. It is packaged in a way that makes it perfect for dipping into and refering back to over time.

I welcomed the insights into the ever evolving literary world, its discoveries and appropriations, pretensions and fads. So much has changed and yet much remains the same. As a great author, who has not been forgotten, once wrote: a man is not dead while his name is still spoken. For these ninety-nine, Mr Fowler could be a lifesaver.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author, riverrun.

This post is a stop on The Book of Forgotten Authors Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Gig Review: Headline’s 2017 Blogger Night

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(photo credit: Georgina Moore, taken from Twitter)

Yesterday I travelled up to London, always a major undertaking for me, to attend a gathering of authors, publicists, bloggers and other book people, organised and hosted by Headline Publishing. It was held on the top floor of their riverside headquarters, Carmelite House, and was my second visit to the building. On this occasion the bitterly cold weather kept everyone inside enjoying the warmth and ambience rather than braving the views from the rooftop terrace.

I had taken my daughter, Robyn (@LeFailFish), as social events can make me anxious and I valued her support. Having collected our name stickers from Jenny (@jrharlow) in the foyer we made our way up to the sixth floor.

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The always lovely Georgina Moore (@PublicityBooks) ensured throughout the evening that everyone felt welcome and included. She introduced us to several of the authors whose books we were able to take away.

I chatted to Alison Weir (@AlisonWeirBooks) about her fascination with the Tudors and the medieval period and now look forward to reading my proof of her latest installment in the Six Tudor Queens series, Anne Boleyn, due out in May. New insights and secrets are promised although Alison ensured that only teasers, not spoilers, were shared last night.

I had a lovely conversation with Gemma Todd (@GemTodd) before realising that this personable librarian is also the author of Defender, which I had spotted early on the book table and eagerly popped into my bag for future reading. This was a popular choice for many attendees.

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Felicia Yap (@FeliciaMYap) and I discussed our love of Belfast where I was raised and now enjoy returning to as a tourist. Visit Belfast (@VisitBelfast) should totally get Felicia to write a piece for them as her enthusism for the city was infectious. Felicia’s debut, Yesterday, is due out in August and I will be hoping for a proof when available.

Copies of Pendulum were also tempting readers on the book table and I had been advising everyone to pick up this taut thriller, a proof of which I read last summer. I was therefore delighted to meet the author, Adam Hamdy (@adamhamdy) and tell him how much I enjoyed his work. He was chatting to a group of bloggers about setting and how he visits each place featured in his story rather than relying on long distance research.

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Meeting other bloggers is always fascinating as we all write for the love of books but often have different perspectives on what we do and how we are recieved. I was particularly pleased to meet Linda (@Lindahill50Hill), Tina (@TripFiction) and John (@Thelastword1962) all of whose reviews are worth checking out.

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Adam, John, Linda and Tina (photo credit: Georgina Moore, taken from Twitter)

There were many other authors, bloggers, publicists, librarians and book sellers enjoying the company and the freely flowing wine. I could have stayed on to pick up writing tips and share book recommendations but, as ever with my trips to the capital, I had a train to catch if I was to make it home. The roads around our village are very dark at midnight – perhaps I read too many thrillers…

Thank you to the team at Headline for inviting me and for organising such a friendly, welcoming event. Also for my goody bag and the opportunity to add even more titles to my tottering TBR pile. Book people are the best.

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Note: hen is my own. In discussing recognition from Twitter pictures I had told John I would bring it to the evening. Next time he wants a live one.

 

Gig Review: The Inaugural Bath Book Bash

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There are many aspects of corporate culture that I was happy to leave behind when I resigned from my job in the IT department of a large, financial services company:

  • Team Building Days;
  • Ice Breaker Games;
  • Role Play;
  • Networking.

Why then did I choose to attend an event that would require me to walk alone into an unknown pub and introduce myself to strangers with whom I would be expected to mingle and chat for an evening? A couple of words explain all – book people. In my experience book people are lovely and the more of them I have in my life the better.

The inaugural Bath Book Bash was organised by  Jennifer Vennall, a writer and final year publishing student at Bath Spa University. Aided and abetted by Sam Missingham she had offered to help grow the concept of the Book Bash outside of London. If the number of people attending last night was anything to go by, this is a popular idea.

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The venue was The Bath Brew House and they had set aside an area near their entrance which was quickly filled by authors, publishers, creative writing and publishing students, their teachers, and a large number of people I didn’t have time to place. After introducing myself and chatting to several of the early attendees I found myself in authors’ corner where, despite feeling a bit of a fraud, the conversation proved too interesting to leave. Thank you RachelLucy and Jason for your company.

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As well as talking to these authors, I enjoyed conversations with several of the students and a representative of a previously unknown publishing house, Crimson, based in Bath. Another house I have worked with, Impress, were also there but my inability to hear well across a crowded table in a noisy pub prevented me engaging.

I discovered another writer I would have enjoyed chatting to as I was leaving to catch my train. Thank you for saying hi Joanne and apologies that I had to rush away.

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There is obviously scope for a repeat performance. I am unsure if there were any other book bloggers but I felt welcome and a part of the community.

Jennifer is hopeful that another Book Bash will happen in Bath in January. All being well I shall do my best to attend.

Random Musings: Halloween and hibernation

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Have I mentioned that I love Halloween? Its traditions appeal so much more than the trappings of a modern Christmas. For one thing it falls in autumn, that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, when the trees turn their leaves into flaming displays before consigning them to the ground to be crunched underfoot on crisp, early morning walks. Fires may be lit and blankets wrapped around shoulders as sofas are snuggled into. Curtains are drawn early giving rooms a cosiness forgotten over summer.

Halloween does not demand that gifts be exchanged with all the pressure this brings. Friends may choose to get together but it is acceptable to eschew the social whirl. There is no requirement for an expensive, time consuming meal.

Have you guessed that I am not a party animal? I choose carefully the events I will attend and who I will spend time with. Whatever the occasion I wear clothes that are comfortable on my socially derided bulk. Christmas exacerbates my anxieties with its demands and excesses. It is glitter and false promises of joy to the world.

Had I been born back in the day, I ponder if I may have been considered a witch.

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Witches were often women who would not follow the crowd. Perhaps they refused to marry, choosing to live alone rather than be dominated by a man. Perhaps they dressed differently and would not do as they were told. Some accused of being witches had simply drawn the anger of peers who believed in a hierarchy of sycophancy and aspiration. Witches lived apart and appeared content with that. Their autonomy angered many; in the time honoured tradition, conformists sowed fear of the ‘other’ – and witch hunts ensued. Maverick tendencies are anathema to those whose comfortable lives rely on social discipline.

The festive season, with its myriad of expectation, joviality and consumerism fills me with dread. Each year I dream of locking my doors and hibernating with just my family for company. At Halloween I am permitted to do this if I choose – me, my family and my books.

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Recommended reading for Halloween

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (translated by Nancy Forest-Flier)

A Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

The Blackheath Séance Parlour by Alan Williams

Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg

Pavement by Richard Butchins

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Many by Wyl Menmuir

The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert

The Black Country by Kerry Hadley-Pryce

I shall be curling up with ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver. The cover promises me a ghost story…

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Random Musings: On judging a book by its author

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October started with the alleged unmasking of the author Elena Ferrante, who has publicly stated on several occasions that she wishes her identity to remain unknown. Predictably the literary media went into overdrive. Fans were concerned, readers were incensed, everyone it seemed had opinions that they felt compelled to share. Newspapers commissioned comment pieces that were avidly re-posted on Twitter and Facebook. And some voiced wonder at what the fuss was about, and how much privacy those who choose to publicly promote their work can expect.

As this was happening I noticed an aggressive comment awaiting moderation below one of the older book reviews on my blog. The vitriol wasn’t aimed at me but rather at the author of the book. There was something about it that prevented me from simply discarding it as I do any comment that I believe could be deemed offensive – this is not what I wish to host on my blog. Instead I took the unprecedented step of tentatively contacting the commentator explaining why I would not be approving her words.

A few days later she replied. She knows the author. They have a history and it is not pretty.

“I am his ex partner who has just managed to escape an abusive relationship with this man with the help of the police. I am myself an artist, established. I am speaking out for all his ex lovers who have experienced extreme emotional and physical abuse […] to have the traumatic experience of reading about ourselves in his books, with a name change and a tweak here and there. I am trying to expose a con artist who through his charismatic and charming approach, has been given a platform to write about us and call it fiction, to be praised for his amazing transformation of character when myself, and his past lovers know full well that [he] is a misogynist, a self-confessed chronic liar […] a deeply cunning and manipulative man.”

There was more, and I have edited out what I hope is sufficient to mask his identity because, disturbing as all of this is, and allowing for the huge sympathy I have for any victim of domestic abuse, I do not feel qualified to enter such a personal battle. It did however get me thinking about what it means to support the creators of my beloved books. Does the character of the writer matter or simply the quality of their words?

With the current need for authors to take on some of the burden of marketing their books, more readers are meeting them face to face. I enjoy attending literary events and am delighted when I am granted the opportunity to chat to the authors, the vast majority of whom appear to be lovely individuals. Even so, I can think of a couple who did not present themselves in such a positive light. And then, shoot me now, it affected the way I think about their work.

Yet I don’t think it should. I cannot know these people based on a brief, public interaction. Whatever of themselves they choose to share, or keep private, it should not alter my judgement of their writing.

When I read articles about Woody Allen and the way he treated his daughter I vowed I would never watch another of his films. If I were to apply this thinking to classical writers I would be denying myself so many beautiful stories. Perhaps my discomfort only applies to the living, a wish to prevent the wicked from basking in esteem. And this is the point that I believe my commentator was making.

I do not consider that authors owe their readers anything. There will be threads within their stories whose foundations are personal experience, perhaps episodes they should and may regret. However much sympathy felt for any acquaintance wronged, it remains the author’s prerogative to keep private specifics of their own life. It does not change the quality, or otherwise, of their written words.

What do others think about this issue. In buying a book, in supporting the author’s work, is the reader in any small way complicit in the perpetuation of a writer’s behaviour? Should this affect a reader’s willingness to offer that support?

 

Books Beyond Words

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Today I received a very special book in the post, Ginger is a Hero, by Beth Webb. I plan to review it in the next couple of days but first wished to talk about its provenance.

It tells a story but there are no words, only pictures. People who cannot read, or who don’t like written words, are often very good at reading pictures. This book is published by a small, not for profit organisation called Beyond Words who publish books and provide services for adults with learning disabilities.

Each of their books tells a story, but they also let the reader tell their own story – the one they see in the pictures. This can tell a lot about a person’s inner world and their understanding of situations. There is plenty to talk about and each story explores feelings and reactions as well as giving information.

For someone who struggles with words there are barriers to getting the right health or social care and support. Even when a person with a problem reaches someone who can help, like a doctor, a social worker or a therapist, there can be communication problems and anxieties on both sides. By telling the story in pictures, each Beyond Words title gives people the chance to work together to explore different types of situations.

Ginger is a Hero is the first in a new Beyond Words series called Page Turners. These stories are designed to be read for fun, alone or with others. Ginger is a cat who befriends a young neighbour, much to the annoyance of the elderly lady Ginger lives with. Who wouldn’t want to read a story about a typically obdurate but adorable cat?

Everyone should have a right to read and enjoy books. With this new Beyond Words series readers who struggle with words are offered the opportunity to enjoy stories, as those of us avid readers of words can do.

As we celebrate the joy provided by books through initiatives such as Books Are My Bag, Super Thursday and National Poetry Day, may we remember that our education and abilities are privileges.

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https://www.booksbeyondwords.co.uk/