One of the themes of Evie Woolmore’s novel Equilibrium is the breaking down of boundaries, particularly social ones. In the novel, whose Edwardian setting reflects the very great tension between the public and the private, not only does Martha masquerade publicly in very few clothes as an inviting spirit from the other world, but the spirits themselves abandon appropriate privacies to speak their secrets directly. More than one character ‘says something they shouldn’t’ and the blurring of upstairs and downstairs, the movement of protagonists between front of house and back and between class environments fragments the natural order, and the proper codes of behaviour.
In an era of social media, we are constantly examining and questioning what those codes are, and in a climate of free speech and the ubiquitous mobile phone, the concept of privacy seems increasingly fragile. We know the details of countless strangers’ private lives, we could see the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby bump if we chose, and we can watch Oscar Pistorius cry in court. But the column this week is going to discuss three instances of how fragmentation of definitions of ‘appropriate behaviour’ has impacted indie publishing.
Twitter is constantly under scrutiny for the role it plays in freedom of speech, but an aspect of it which has become interesting to allonymbooks lately is the implicit code in ‘the follow’. Each week allonymbooks gets a number of follows, about 70% of which are from other writers, 20% from broader publishing-related tweeters and 10% from random businesses looking for our business, usually social media and marketing-related. About two months ago, we began an experiment to see what would happen if we stopped following everyone who followed us. A good number of indie writers out there have a similar number of Following to Followers, and certainly when allonymbooks first went onto twitter, that was the approach we took. But we weren’t reading most of the tweets that were flying through (largely because they seemed quite repetitive: “buy me, buy me!”) so we decided to stop doing that and only follow other sites we were actually interested in. We haven’t got around to going through the Following list to prune it down, but what became evident after no more than two weeks of the experiment was that the number of Followers was not going up, even though there were up to a dozen new follows each week. Which suggested that some Followers were not sticking around if they weren’t getting a follow from us in return.
Email has also speeded up both the manner of communication and the speed of dialogue, raising expectations about how quickly a reply should be sent, and also lowering the formality threshold of letter-writing. Since Evie Woolmore became listed as a reviewer for Awesome Indies, allonymbooks has received a lot of email requests to review indie-published books, but the style of those requests has varied widely, challenging not just formality but general politeness. More than one author has simply pasted in the information about their novel we request, without any kind of introductory sentence stating the purpose for their email, or even an opening ‘Dear Evie’, and sometimes without a ‘Thank you for your time’. But worse still, another author this week sent a package of four emails about their book to at least a dozen reviewers en masse without any kind of discrimination to the preferred genres of the reviewers, or any kind of personalisation to address the individual reviewer. The message was essentially ‘here’s my book, read it’.
What is frustrating is the lack of thought these authors are demonstrating towards reviewers. It is not merely a matter of ‘do as you would be done to’, but a lack of basic thought about what the process is like from the reviewers’ point of view. Firstly, if you want a good review of your book, you want a reviewer who not only has an interest in your genre but extensive experience of reviewing it so they can do justice to your work. Reviewers generally state their preferences for that very reason. Secondly, when you ask for a review, you are asking for help and professional assistance. Reviewers are not paid for the service they provide, except in respect and consideration from the people who contact them. If you would not consider putting out a book full of spelling errors and typos that a reader would find inconsiderate, then you should not send out an email asking for a review that a reviewer would find inconsiderate.
Is allonymbooks alone in thinking that even in a virtual electronic world, manners are still important and worth showing? Or is indie publishing no more than a scrum for attention where anything goes?