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Michelle's corner

Michelle Knight. Writer, photographer, programmer, truck driver and general, all round nut case. Life is a journey and that's what this blog will probably end up being. Let's see where we go, eh? ;-)

Currently reading

Your Beauty Mark. All You Need to Get the Hair, Makeup, Glow, and Glam.
Dita von Teese
Progress: 208/256 pages

Dealing with reviewing services

Every author has their own experience of dealing with reviews, reviewers and the internet society that we have become. Here, I offer what little I've learned so far from the last few months of, "promotion."

E-mail isn't reliable.

An e-mail doesn't arrive with you and go, "Woah man, I had a hell of a job getting here. You wouldn't BELIEVE the traffic jam on the transatlantic fibre." ... so you never know just how tough it is out there.

When you send an e-mail, it gets passed from one server to another in a sort-of more accurate version of Chinese Whispers. If a reliable route can't be found, the mail can sit at one point in the chain for hours, sometimes a few days, before it gives up and attempts to pass a note back down the chain, to you, saying that it couldn't reach the destination, together with a technical report of where, in the chain, the link broke.

On top of that, there is spam in the system. A lot of it. A HELL of a lot of it.

If all the spam filtering in my systems was turned off, then I would receive so much mail in my in-box that I'd just look at it. Then I'd suffer a brain freeze so severe that my only option would be to get up, walk away and never look at my in-box again.

You wouldn't BELIEVE how much spam the automatic systems are shielding you from. It literally IS a war out there. One of our sites firewall systems is repelling thousands of attempted break-ins and port scans every minute.

No human could possibly orchestrate the defences. We have to leave it up to automated learning systems based on a foundation of common sense.
That means there are going to be false positives.

Also, you can get poisoning. A spammer can use my, "domain name," to send spam e-mail. They don't even have to use any of my systems to do it. The first I know about it is when I receive an angry e-mail from someone, demanding that I stop sending them my spam. Of course, I have to politely give them a snapshot of the trace and say, "Look, we're both victims here. It didn't actually come from me."

The big problem is that, when it happens, it gives my domain name a black-mark on the internet. As a consequence, my legitimate e-mail simply gets thrown away without telling me ... and that black mark can still exist on some systems despite the spammer having stopped aeons ago; and I'm never going to know about it.

AND - there's more I could tell you, but this is the simple stuff.

SO - If a reviewer says that they didn't get your e-mail, then don't have a go at them; there's plenty going on in the system that they could very well be telling the truth. If you blow up on them, you're only going to get yourself a bad name. And if they ARE lying, then you're better off walking away from them anyway.

I operate white lists. Black lists are a never-ending task. White lists are a lot easier. It's basically saying, "All e-mail goes in to this box, except e-mail from this person, this person, this person or with such-and-such in the title ... then you put it here..." ... so e-mail with certain properties automatically rises to the top of the pile and comes to my attention ... quickly. I even have rules that send certain e-mails to a special little e-mail address for my mobile phone. That's how useful white-lists (also known as filters, or rules) can be.

By the way, that's why if a reviewer site refuses to send me an e-mail when the review goes up, I don't even bother with them. They make me subscribe to the site, and then the e-mails just end up going in to the generic bin and I'd miss them ... so there is absolutely no point in me taking the effort to subscribe.

Numbers aren't reliable

Having said all the stuff that I've just written, some reviewers deliberately make the author subscribe to the site, to cut down the number of review requests they're sent. Others also do the same thing, but for a different reason ... they want to, "up," their subscriber rate to make them look more appealing to other authors. It's a similar tactic to those used by some reviewers who use "follow to enter" competitions and give aways. It's all in the numbers! ... which is why I don't believe any of the figures any more. I just use them as a rough guide ... high numbers don't awe me any more.

The long story short is read the quality of their reviews. Spend the time ... it's worth it. Reviewers that know their onions and understand the technical aspects of writing, will usually make comment on the technical ability of the work as well as how gripping the story line is ... so if these reviewers have a bit of an extra layer of awkward in their submission process, then it's worth jumping the hoops for them.

After all, I talk with people. I go out with ramblers groups, I work on different sites in among different people and I'll tell you one thing; very few of them turn to internet reviewers for their next read choice. They talk among friends, reading groups, what's in the media and being chatted about in forums first. They'll catch the buzz. Reviewers are a key part of making that buzz happen, however. BUT, you must be prepared to capture that buzz. Having your own site with irregular news updates and even, if you can manage it, a mailing list, will be a big start.

Trust, Professionalism, and Patience

A while ago I blogged, on my technical site, that trust is the new currency of the internet - http://msknight.com/technilife/?p=329

Be assured, things are changing. Governments and law are now starting to catch up with what once was the lawless wild west of the digital age. eg.

- You can be arrested and prosecuted in one country, for something you said on the internet while in another - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-31692914 - they won't bar you entrance, they'll wait until you're on their turf and then throw you in jail.

- Trolls are now being named, shamed and having their real lives affected by the crass crap they say on the internet - https://38pitches.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/the-world-we-live-in-man-has-it-changed/ - and some people are now starting to spend time behind bars for their dishonerable keyboard warrier ways.

- Sock account use will catch up with you at the worst possible moment - http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/04/news/la-jc-the-furor-over-sock-puppet-amazon-book-reviews-20120904 - and more sites are gearing up to detect and take action on sock puppetry and other shenanigans. (it is no use hiding under various psydonyms when all the traffic still comes from your home router!)

IT Professionals have administration access. When pay cycles go low, it is personal ethics, pride and honesty that keep us afloat. A business can't survive for very long without its data. Trust and honesty are, in some cases, my own undoing and a barrier to my own progression ... but I sleep at night and I know that there are very few skeletons in the closet that can come out to haunt me.

Am I a fool? Perhaps. Some people actually hate the truth being spoken for various reasons, so even being honest is a handicap. But the point here is that you have your own choice to make, and the world of the internet is a-changing. I really do believe that trust is the new world currency; and it can't be bartered with.

Professionalism is utmost. Among reviewers and authors alike. There are those who deliberately spread one star reviews on others work for no more reason than a petty squabble in a forum. Those that would e-whisper unsubstantiated crap about others among their own clans ... and the sad thing is that people believe them, rather than go to the other party, or even trust their own record in dealing with them. Suddenly, a long standing professional relationship can come to and end because of a salacious whisper, and you're not going to know about it! Strange things will happen; people will stop e-mailing you ... but you still have to keep your own head held high and keep your cool. Somewhere, there will be another professional like you, who won't believe those whispers or, better still, have the courage to talk with you about what they've heard ... and those, are the people worth working with.


Like anyone, I've done things in my past that I'm not proud of. Someone can dig up something from ten years ago and show me up; but the majority of people who weigh my past transgression against the person who is trying to humiliate me in the here and now ... I believe will come down on my side.

ARC - the TLA of hell.

ARC has two meanings. Advance Copy and a Story ARC.  One being a single copy sent to a reviewer, the other being the whole series.

The only thing I can suggest is that you don't use the acronym ARC and instead use something like "Advance Copy" and "Story ARC" to try and lessen confusion. However, I've had many a merry time trying to work out, from the context, which ARC a reviewer is talking about in their submission policy.

This is one thing to be aware of.

Keep at it

The first book, "The Companion," was released in October, and here I am in March, still submitting it to reviewers who, if I'm lucky, might get around to it later this year IF they accept it.

I spent three hours wading through different review policies and lists, submitting on-spec. It is worth reading the policies because reviewers themselves are fighting a battle. Some of them are sneaky enough to have one submission e-mail at the top of the policy and then, later down they'll say something like, "If you've read this far, then forget the e-mail address at the top, use this one instead..." ... so always take the time to read the policy fully.

Reviewers aren't daft; they're operating with little support and if you can take the time to make your submission a bit personal to them, then it will be appreciated by some. However, I've come across some reviewers policies that are arrogant in the extreme; there's a respect thing that goes two ways here.

I do know one other thing, though, which is that when I return home, there are another twenty tabs open to reviewers sites, for me to look through their policies and repeat the whole exercise again.


Patience is a big thing and I've found myself tripped up by it on a number of occasions.

Our world has moved to the time where we can click on something on a shopping site and it's with us in a couple of days, even though it isn't on sale in our local high streets. We can send e-mails and they can be in the recipients e-mail box instantly. We can upload books and have them on sale in next to no time.

Our world has geared us up to want everything so quickly now, that we forget the romance of the book world. My own forays in to print publishing have brought me up sharp. The print world still works almost as slow as ever; months to get a book ISBN on to the major retailers systems and even then, there can be problems.


One thing I'm seeing more often on reviewers sites now is a donation option.
The ethics of this is borderline, but the realistic thing is that web sites have to be paid for. There are no general rules of thumb or guidelines, but you just have to go with the feel of it and depending on what is negotiated. For example, if the reviewer is going to do a give away, that'll involve postage. If not, then what does the price of coffee run to these days?

I'm usually all up for partnerships with no money changing hands. Recently I did a project and needed a photographer (as I was incapacitated by the project itself) and someone stepped in. It resulted in more work for them.

Either way, my personal opinion is that a donation should be limited, and I definitely wouldn't send one on a speculative basis to a reviewer that wouldn't even review the book.

And having said all that ... it could still result in a poor review or no review. You've got to negotiate and be tactful. It IS a partnership between the reviewer and yourself. Some readers are deliberately going to the submission page and judging the reviewer by whether they ask for donations or not; and making a decision accordingly. The whole situation is a minefield.


Actually ... thinking about it ... I'm going to stop dealing with reviewers that ask for donations. It gets too grey for me. I've kicked negotiations off with some that do and I'll see those through to completion, but no more. It's a personal choice.

Paid Reviews

I've heard mixed reviews of deliberately paid-for reviews. Again, the ethics of this are dubious, as are the results. Even a good review doesn't necessarily result in an increase in sales, and some of them are damned expensive. Whatever service you decide to use, at least do an internet search and see what other people are saying about the results using them.