Friday, April 26, 2013

A need for submission guidelines?

I didn't notice when I began this post how the phrase "submission guidelines" could have an entirely different meaning, given the contents of some of the novels I've reviewed on the site. But no, I'm not writing today about rules of BDSM romance, but about whether RNFF needs to develop a submission policy for authors and publishers who wish the site to consider reviewing their works. My apologies to anyone unintentionally mislead by today's blog title...

I began this blog back in August of last year in the hopes of fostering a dialogue between readers, writers, and scholars of romance about the feminist possibilities of the genre. During feminism's early days, the debate between feminism and romance was often oppositional, but both the scholarship and the novels had become more nuanced, and far less at odds, in the decades that followed. The world at large, however, didn't seem aware of either shift, content to accept the conventional wisdom forged back in the 1970s and 80s that all romance novels were BAD for women. Through this blog, I hoped to get the word out, at least to a few more potential readers, that romance and feminism can and are often are found together between the covers of a book.

When I first started writing, I imagined a few friends, a handful of colleagues, and perhaps a stray romance writer or two, those with a slightly analytical bent, might join in the conversations. Five or ten people a week, maybe, a few more on days when particularly hot topics or contentious books were featured, a few less on days when I reviewed an offbeat book only a strange bird like myself could love. But much to my surprise, RNFF has developed a dedicated following, with not just tens, but several hundreds, of readers stopping by twice a week to check out what's happening in the world of feminist romance.

Having such a sizable readership feels both deeply gratifying and more than a little daunting, especially given that I'm a one-woman show here at RNFF. Given the vast number of romance novels published each year, a number that is only likely to continue to grow with the current expansion both of the e-book market and of self-publishing, how can one person hear about, never mind read, all the potentially feminist works in the genre? Will the fact that my local library doesn't choose to purchase books in some subgenres mean I'll overlook innovative work? Will my own liking for certain authors mean I'll not give enough time to works by new or unfamiliar writers? Will RNFF's readers feel frustrated if I fail to review a book that other bloggers or review sites have praised for its feminist sympathies?

I'm not sure I can come up with any satisfying answers to the above questions. But the questions themselves have been making me think about a decision I made when I first began blogging: to find books on my own, rather than accepting advanced review copies from publishers or authors. I wanted the independence and freedom such a choice would grant me, as well as the ability to write about older books, as well as the recently, or just-about-to-be, published. I also didn't want to alienate or even anger writers I know by failing to review their books; if I chose never to accept advance copies, then I could avoid said problem.

But the blog's broader than expected readership is making me question the wisdom of such a policy, as is my own increasingly common urge to bend the rules when an author whose past work I've enjoyed asks if I'd be interested in taking a look at her latest. So I've been wondering about experimenting with an open submission policy, in the hopes of broadening the scope of the blog.

Before I make any decisions, I thought I'd consult my readers. What do you think the advantages of RNFF accepting review copies would be, to you as readers of the blog? Are there potential downsides?

Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts.



Photo credits: Accidental Superwoman



Next time on RNFF:
Not sure yet, but something in the historical romance line seems probable, given the books at top of the TBR pile...




18 comments:

  1. Well, I think ARCs are such an integral part of the publishing industry (and book blogging) nowadays that there isn't a ton of disadvantage to accepting them. I suppose that yes it can impact the review, but it will be pretty obvious to your readers if your reviews start slipping in objectivity so you have a disincentive to let that happen. I suppose another disadvantage might be how you yourself manage your reading/reviewing time. If you are able to maintain a broad range in terms of what materials you discuss, it's fine. If you end up only discussing ARCs, though, you could indeed limit yourself from the older or less popular materials. (Not that there's anything wrong with that--it just depends on what kind of focus you want your blog to have.)

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  2. Thanks, Jen, for your comments. I appreciate your thoughts.

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  3. Well to be blunt, I'm hoping you'll review my book. It's hard enough for a professional level indie to get respect, so I was hoping both as a reader and writer that you'd look at more indie stuff since this is an area that I feel like traditional publishers don't care about. I launched my own Feminist Romance project in part because I want to find more as a reader, but also because I want others interested in that to know that I offer it.

    But that being said, I recognize there's a vast pile of unedited and poorly written crap out there that will inundate you if you open yourself to just anything without guidelines. I have a personal rule as a reader that I simply will not read anything that isn't professionally edited. No matter what you decide, I'd recommend a similar guideline just to avoid having to stab yourself in the eyeball with a knitting needle after reading yet another book where the author doesn't understand the difference between "your" and "you're". O.o

    I'm far less likely to pick up a book you've reviewed that's meh on the feminism scale and traditionally published. I honestly haven't seen anything in the reviews yet that made me say, "Ooo, I MUST HAVE THAT." But if you tell me that Book X is by an indie author who really gets feminism and it's a good book besides for less than $5 for an ebook, then I'm sold. That's what I'm hoping for here more than anything else.

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    1. Thanks, Kimberly, for sharing your thoughts. Your theory that indie publishers and self-published writers are more likely to include explicit rather than implicit (or anti-) feminist content is definitely important to consider. With an open submission policy, I could test if the theory proves accurate.

      I agree that there is a "vast pile of unedited and poorly written crap out there." More than a few traditionally published books can be put in this category, not just self-pubs and independent pubs, alas...

      And thanks for sharing more of what you're looking for from the reviews. I hope in future I'll feature a few that will make you sit up and say "Ooo, I MUST HAVE THAT!"

      -- Jackie

      P.S. Your book is already on my TBR e-pile...

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  4. I'm a writer who blogs, not a book reviewer (I've reviewed some, but those were more like, "Hey, my friend wrote this, it rocks, go buy it", so I can hardly claim to be objective)...and some of the caveats of reviewing books that someone sent me vs. books I picked out myself escape me.
    Though I can see that if you agreed to review something someone sent you and it sucks, you'd have to say so..."This heroine is too stupid to live and I hope Gloria Steinem shows up at the writer's house and beats her with a hard copy of Love's Tender Fury (that probably didn't have a hard copy, but you get the idea).
    So.
    My 2 cents is that you'd have to say "Yeah, you can send me something, but if I read it and I can't say something nice about it, I can choose not to writer about it. And if I do and you get mad, you're not allowed to egg my house."
    Another thought:
    You're pretty damned popular...I bet there are other women who would be interested in guest blogging and/or co-blogging with you. I, for one, would love to see a post here every day, it really helps me with my writing.
    And that's only mild suck-uppage in the event I ever asked you to review something I write...

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    1. Thanks, Teri, for adding your thoughts. I definitely need a "I can choose not to review it" policy. And work on developing a thicker skin, for those times when I don't agree with an author's assessment about whether a book would be of interest to feminists or not. And of course, keep my fingers crossed about the egg-tossing :-)

      And thanks for the guest blogging suggestion. I'm a bit of a control freak, wanting to make sure that anything that goes up here fits in with my own ideas about feminism. But perhaps that need for control is standing in the way of broadening the conversation about feminism and romance. After I've ironed out the submission issue, I'll give more thought to the guest blogging idea...

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  5. amendment: "And I bet there are other READERS (that was somewhat exclusionary, because I know there are men who read romance, too)"

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    1. Yep. And it would be great to hear about feminism from a male point of view, too...

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  6. I think that the only real downside would be how you manage your time. You'll certainly be exposed to a lot more books than you could ever buy on your own, but I'd recommend letting people know that you can't guarantee you'll be able to write a review for every ARC you receive, even if you agree to receive it.

    I know that when I was reviewing books there were some that I felt so 'meh' about that I honestly didn't know what to say other than 'meh'. I could talk about lukewarm conflict or characters, but there were so many books like that that it wore me down.

    The thing I like best about your reviews is that you tend to focus on certain topics/issues that a book sparks for you. You clearly feel passionate about the books you review, or at least about whatever they've made you think about, and that passion comes out in every blog post you write. If you get loads of ARCs to review, among them will be lots of books that spark nothing. With that there's a danger of burnout.

    But on the positive side, you would discover so many more books that *do* spark interesting thoughts and ideas. You would want the freedom to write about those while not having the pressure of finding something to say about books that just don't inspire you to dig deeper.

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    1. Thanks, Kat, for sharing your own experiences as a reviewer. At one point in my life, I worked as a part-time reviewer for HORN BOOK GUIDE, which promised to review EVERY children's book submitted. All the best ones were reviewed in the HORN BOOK magazine, so you knew going in that the books you'd be reading were not going to knock your socks off. It does get tiring after a while cracking yet another spine where you know you're only going to find the "meh" inside...

      Will definitely have to include in potential submission guidelines that RNFF isn't going to be a "review everything that comes in, no matter what" type of blog, but a blog focused on books that strike that feminist spark.

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  7. Two objections spring to mind regarding ARC submissions: previous comments touched on the time management issue and I believe one person referred to the possibility of being underwhelmed by the quality of many submissions. While you would save some time by having an existing slush pile in addition to your TBR pile, the possible high numbers of the ARCs might absorb too much time in selection/reading/rejection. Personally, I have always been contrary when confronted (even with required reading at school) with "You should/must read this!" or "You'll love this!" because my tastes are specific and yet changeable according to my mood and surroundings.
    If you accept ARCs you might include the caveat that you would adhere to your own timetable and might choose not to review a book at all.
    As a reader of your blog, I especially enjoy instances where you review books published in the past and discuss how feminism is expressed (or not) according to the time when the book was written. I have gone back to reread some and have sought out others that you have reviewed.
    Thanks for your always interesting blog posts.

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    1. Thanks, Cynthia, for sharing your thoughts. I'm glad you're enjoying the reviews of older books. I love making use of my local library network to find older novels, rather than being a slave to what's currently being stocked in the local bookstore's shelves. I will definitely keep space in the blog for looking back at older works, whether I accept ARCs or no.

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  8. I believe everything is already said. I would only add that me, as a reader, would love to hear from you more often. I really like this way of reviewing books, you always give me food for thoughts and that´s more than I can say of a lot of blogs that are out there. Keep focusing on topics instead of just reviewing a book, and I will be here forever.

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    1. Thanks, Parchita. I like the dual approach, too, both engaging deeply with a single book, then later in the week pondering the larger issues related to feminism and romance as a genre.

      I'm glad the blog gives you food for thought. The comments that you and your fellow readers add gives me plenty of the same!

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  9. Since you are a reviewer with a fair-size following, writers will want your attention. There is no reason why you shouldn't accept ARCs or review copies of books that interest you. No author or publisher has the right to be upset if a reviewer accepts a free copy and never reviews the book. It happens all the time. Of course, if you request lots of ARCs from a particular publisher and never review any of them, that publisher might well cut you off. [shrugs]

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    1. Thanks, Miranda, for your thoughts (and your shrugs -- having had the pleasure of meeting you at the NECRWA conference this past weekend, I can really picture the insouciance with which that shrug falls off your shoulders...)

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  10. I think you should do whatever makes you happy. :) It's your blog, right? I trained as a literary scholar myself but far prefer to write the stories themselves than the analyses of them. But I love what you do on this blog, and you're more than welcome to arcs from me, whether or not they inspire a review. As Miranda said, most bloggers state straight out that they cannot review every arc they accept and will only review it if inspired to do so, and that includes the ones with multiple reviewers contributing. You should just do what works for you!

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    1. Thanks, Laura, for your thoughts (and for your future ARCs!)

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