Things I’ve learned from book bloggers today

There’s been quite a firestorm on twitter today after a certain publisher sent a letter with a new set of requirements to book bloggers about how to request and review books. Many book bloggers felt that the letter did not respect them or what they do, and were pretty angry about it. I’m not going to name that publisher or go into detail about what was in the letter, but I do think that this is a good opportunity for all of us who work together promoting reading in various ways to reflect a little on where the publisher/blogger relationship is at and what can be done to improve it.

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Here are some lessons I think publicists like me can learn by what happened today:

1. Book bloggers are not employees. Reviewing books is not their full-time job. Receiving a free review copy does not OBLIGATE them to review something, or to review something in a particular time frame.

2. Many book bloggers schedule out their reviews months in advance. If you want something to run at a certain time, be sure to give bloggers a few months of notice. And even then, bloggers have lives in which Other Things are going on. So asking for reviews to run at a certain date should always be done with the understanding that sometimes it just may not happen.

3. Reviews that are not posted during the first week of release can still be good publicity! No one wants to read 14 reviews of the same book on the same day. A new review of a book that’s already been out for a while can still pique readers’ interests – and is still a valuable contribution from the reviewing blogger.

4. Not every book is for every person. Sometimes there’s no way to know when you request a book for review that it’s just not your thing. If a blogger chooses to refrain from writing a negative review about a book, that should be respected by us as publishers.

And here are a few things that book bloggers can take away:

1. Be mindful with your requests. Review copies cost a lot of $$ and ARCs cost even more (strange, but true) so try to stick to asking for books you want to read, and have time to read. If you don’t think you’ll be able to read a book by its release date but still want to read it, borrowing a copy later from the library may be a better option. And pretty please, if you accept e-galleys but we’re still sending you hard copies, let us know! It makes a big difference for us cost-wise.

2. Be communicative. Don’t assume publishers will find your review on their own – as anyone who’s used google alerts knows, it’s far from 100% accurate. Publishers TRULY appreciate when you send a link to your review (or submit it via Netgalley, if you got your galley that way) so we know we haven’t been sending books into a big black hole. Also, if you decide to take a vacation from blogging, send us an email so we don’t keep mailing you books.

3. If you don’t like a book, be honest. If a publisher checks in about a review and you didn’t like the book, just tell us so. It may help us to match you with better books in the future, and we’ll understand why you asked for it but never reviewed it.

4. No blogger is obligated to review a book in a certain time frame, but there’s a reason publicists sometimes prefer for reviews to run around publication date. Often books only stay on the shelves of stores like B&N for a few weeks before copies are shipped back to publishers, so those first few weeks are crucial to determining if and how long a book will stay on the shelf. If you really LOVE a book and want to support it, reviewing it around the time it’s released can help make sure it gets noticed during that crucial window. Think of it sort of like a window of time in which your review becomes extra-influential.

So, that’s what I’ve got. Bottom line: Publishers, be respectful of bloggers’ time and energy. Bloggers, be respectful of publishers’ limited resources. Everyone: just be respectful of each other. We are all book people at heart.

6 thoughts on “Things I’ve learned from book bloggers today”

  1. Hannah, I think that’s what the letter said, precisely. Some of the top-ranked book bloggers who’ve monetized their sites are behaving just like newspapers these days – getting many more books than they ever will/can/want to review, and expressing a lot of attitude. And yet they don’t want to pay for books.

    As for not reviewing a book you’ve agreed to review because you didn’t like it? That’s not on. Even if you’re not getting paid to review, at least have the courtesy to consult with the publisher and tell them you didn’t like the book and give them the option of saying, ok, no problem, would rather you not review than review it negatively.

    I tend not to approach top-ranked bloggers for precisely the reasons outlined above. I’m looking for folks who do good and fair reviews, not folks who get a lot of hits to their sites.

  2. I’ve always seen it as bloggers and publishers being in a mutually beneficial relationship. We sometimes get books early and for no monetary cost, they get a review. Part of that relationship is the give and take – why should I request a book if I have no intention of reviewing it? That seems dishonest… not that I’m always good at a time-frame, but if I have rules about what I will and will not do, then I expect nothing less from publishers. While I’ve occasionally not reviewed a book because I couldn’t get through it, I’ve let the publisher know. To be honest, I really don’t understand why the drama. If a blogger doesn’t like the new rules… they don’t have to get the review copy, right?

    Now if a publisher came back AFTER sending a review copy with new rules and requirements, I would be upset as it wasn’t the original deal, but as long as everyone is up front about expectations, we all know what we are getting right?

  3. I’m a blogger and I don’t like the new rules at all. Hannah, you’re right when you say many bloggers make out their review schedule months in advance. So when a certain publisher decides to email bloggers about review copies and want the ARCs requested and read within a month, that’s asking too much.

    I make my posting schedule weekly but I usually know what I have to read within a month, just like many bloggers. My reading pile is a combination of ARCs, library reads, and my own unread books. I can’t reply to this publisher’s email because my December-mid January stack is already fixed. Plus I’m not interested in what’s being offered.

    I think publishers need to start reading bloggers’ review policies more closely. Many bloggers stated exactly what kind of timeline they need to review a book, what happens to a book once they review it, and also their thoughts on negative reviews.

    Expecting bloggers to juggle their schedules around every time a publisher sends out a review copy email is simply rude.

  4. Great post. I agree with everything you’ve said. Not seen the publisher’s letter, and it’s only recently that I’ve been getting freebies. My policy so far’s been to review anything I request. I’m only on netgalley and egalley at the moment, and was considering contacting more publishers because I’m blown away by the number of books other reviewers get flooding in every week. I’m a bookaholic so I can’t help myself drooling over such a prospect 🙂

    Mutual respects always a good thing.

  5. Hannah, thank you so much for posting this. It’s very empathetic to the concerns of book bloggers, which seems increasingly rare these days.

    (And can I just say that I really appreciate the way you reached out via netgalley to me, despite the fact that my little YA SF review blog was just getting off the ground at the time? You made it really easy and comfortable to communicate & work with you, and I’m still very proud of the interview we posted with Karen Sandler!)

    Ruth, it’s very disappointing that you feel that way. My blog is relatively small potatoes, but with only two reviewers, we still have to sift through many more books than we can review. In my communications with publicists, I already try to inform them that we don’t review DNF copies. Why should I have to check in with a pub when I’m deciding whether or not I’ll review their books? When did I ever “agree” to review these books? Is requesting a review copy a contract? And many reach me unsolicited. Again, I’m not an employee–my review space belongs to me and my readers, not to publishers. And I already spend an extra 20 or so hours a week putting work into my blog, on top of my full time job and my own writing. Book blogging is hard work, and it’s already sometimes thankless, and the idea that I have to answer to publicists, and not my readers . . . well, that would really suck the joy out of it for me.

  6. Thanks for weighing in, everyone. It’s really nice to be able to hear everyone’s point of view. Even though I feel like I work with bloggers often, I think publicists and bloggers could use a lot more actual conversation like this.

    Amy, I think you make a really good point about setting expectations. That’s why review policies are so helpful – and if publishers are up front about their policies as well, then bloggers can choose to work with them or get their books elsewhere.

    And Phoebe, I loved your interview with Karen! Honestly, sometimes new blogs are my favorite to work with, because I’ve often found that newer bloggers are the ones most likely to give indie books & debut authors a chance.

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