A number of you have contacted me recently with a strange offer. “I’d drink bleach,” you say, “to get you to read a sample of my book.” Gargling it, injecting it between your toes, I’m astounded at the endless uses of bleach you’ve proposed to procure a book review from me.
But far from an inducement, I find this exchange of “services” off-putting. Here’s why.
Foremost is the hyperbole. Is this the kind of melodramatic, overwrought thinking that informs your work? Am I going to turn to page five or 55 or wherever and learn that character x is offering up their toes to bleach in exchange for a good time? I don’t plan on finding out.
It’s the relative frequency of the offer, too, which suggests a lack of originality. Is there a single origin of this idea in some corner of popular culture that I’m not familiar with? Have you seen sitcom actors offer bleach gargling in exchange for sex? Have you heard the morning DJ laugh about bleach drinking in exchange for drugs? Have you seen bleach-injection trending somewhere on Twitter? Maybe your writing instructor has suggested this form of motivation to you, I don’t know. Let me tell you now: if your teacher recommends introducing bleach to your bloodstream so they’ll read your work, you probably have insurmountable problems with your writing style.
Finally, I’m bothered by the incentive as a matter of your ego. My choice to review or not review your book has nothing to do with assisting in your self-destruction. My choice to review a book is made chiefly upon the constraints of time. This morning alone I worked on my own writing for an hour, made pancakes for the family, cleaned the kitchen, took the boys for a haircut, then got one ready for swimming before I took the other out on his bike. Then I wrote you this letter. All before 11 am. My reading time is limited. Whether or not I read your work can be summed up with that famous break-up line you’ve heard a thousand times from literary agents and pop musicians: “It’s not you, it’s me.”
How do I find books to review? I sample. I discard more than I read. Putting me off with an outrageous offer won’t get me to sample your work. Read my reviews and let me know that your work is commensurate with the kinds of fiction I read. Readers familiar with this blog know that while my reviews include thoughts on a book’s weaknesses, they always emphasize a book’s strengths. I tend to go on at length about why I like something. I like to include especially compelling quotes that give insight into the writer’s style. More than anything I want to write a review that says, “I freaking loved this book because…”
Few writers have inspired this in me. Examples this past year include S.M. Hulse (whose brilliant debut Black River comes out in January), Robert Bruce Cormack, and Brian Francis Slattery. Read the reviews. Read the books. If your work is of a similar quality, perhaps I’ll post something on it here.
Meanwhile, save the bleach for your dirty laundry.
One writer to many others