Coping with the book reviews, and NOT being reviewed
Despite the “any publicity is good publicity” mantra, I have had a hot and cold relationship with the reviews of ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, and the reviews process. When the book was launched (in September 2013) I couldn’t wait to get some unbiased feedback. Encouraging words from friends who have the book are good, but hardly unbiased.
Looking back I am now wondering how much an author should be involved in that whole process. In my case I provided the publisher (Sandstone Press) with a list of possible review sources, from my knowledge of relevant magazines, websites, and newspapers – with contact details and addresses, etc. We agreed that they would offer a free copy of the book to any that replied that they would be prepared to do a review. Is that standard practice? I have no idea, but I was pleased that they prepared to make that effort. Nineteen copies went out to various sources and we waited with baited breath. I tried to track the reviews as they started appearing, and where possible obtained copies or links to digital versions. Predominantly, they were positive even though often quite short, therefore with no room for in-depth feedback. I wondered whether I should I forget/lose the not so good ones? I don’t think so, and have chosen to put them all on the Reviews page of this blog. I had to swallow my pride on reading comments like “writing style is not the best“, and “almost felt like an academic review” in a couple, but I reckon you shouldn’t even put work out there if you are too sensitive to take critical comments.
Some of the best reviews came from unexpected sources. The first of all was from a cycling blog, and a great one from later was by a German blogger. Scottish Memories published a good one, as did several of the regional Cumbrian newspapers. The one by Heather Dawe in TheOutdoorTimes, was interesting as it was from a fellow author in the field. One thing that is perhaps obvious (but not easily quantifiable) is that social media is brilliant at keeping the book in the public eye. If I mention all the reviews on this blog, surely Twitter and Facebook magnify the effect of any review appearing. (There are currently 881 Twitter followers and 72 Facebook followers.) But what is really required is getting the word out to new potential purchasers. It has been a huge frustration to me that, thus far, I have not been able to get any reviews in any of the big newspapers (the ‘heavies’ were all canvassed) or more importantly what I consider the most wide-reaching athletics/running magazines. Athletics Weekly and The Fellrunner have both been approached, both agreed to receive a free copy, and both have so far not printed a dickiebird about it. Now, maybe I should be thinking somewhat like Alan Titchmarsh here. On being dropped by the Chelsea Flower show last week as a presenter he commented “you have to be absolutely sure it is down to ageism rather than the fact that you’re not very good” [Guardian]. Just maybe those mags haven’t reviewed the book because they consider it not up to the mark. But in the same way that I felt the reaction from the FRA Committee to my request for access to The Fellrunner archive when researching the book was so very negative, I do feel that those two mags really should be reviewing books on the sport (there are few enough of them, particularly on fell running). So, have a word someone!
Back in a more positive frame, it was nice to have an email from the editor of Cumbria Magazine to say they had carried a review of It’s a hill in a recent issue (thanks Kev for taking the trouble to tell me and send a image from the proof). The review neatly introduces the current difficulties with safety requirements (referring to a posting in this blog). Then concludes that the book “covers the ground admirably, mixing the sport’s development over the last century and a half ….. and interviews and profiles of the big names … Certainly a book that’s pushing the leaders“.
So, just think Steve, you will probably be putting yourself through all this again in a year or so!