Send A Letter, Maria

Oh, the relationship between bloggers and publishers. It seems like every six months or so something happens to stir things up.

It can be a good thing, because it means people have to vocalize why it is they blog about books, what it means to them, to their readers, and what role, if any, publishers have within book blogging.

If you’re puzzled by these first two paragraphs, the most concise explanation of “the Letter” is by Carolyn Kellogg at the Los Angeles Times’s Jacket Copy blog: Has book blogging hit the wall? William Morrow’s blogger notice. Briefly: letter sent from publisher told bloggers of strings attached to review copies of book. (My note: it said books, not ARCs). Wording was used such as “your job.” Online, Twitter erupted. William Morrow sent a follow up letter, trying to soften what it said.

Disclaimer: I did not get the letter. But friends of mine did.

I don’t want to stray into tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) territory, so I’m going to stay focused with my response and also — because there are a bunch of worms in that can — do a few blogposts on the issues that capture my attention the most: critical reviews versus marketing; reliance on volunteers; and getting books at the library.

As my friend Pam Coughlan/ MotherReader said, “”Can you imagine them sending this to Horn Book or The NYTimes?”. This, then, is one of the issues in a nutshell. Some of us, such as Pam and myself, see ourselves as no different, for better or worse, than traditional media, whether it’s a specialized professional journal such as the Horn Book or a mainstream publication like The New York Times. Because we are usually one-person shows, it means one person does everything, as opposed to traditional media. Or, closer to a ‘zine.

I do not see myself as part of the marketing chain — a partner with authors and publishers marketing their books. I see myself as part of the reading chain — a partner with readers (and their gatekeepers), trying to find and match books with readers. Do the interests of readers, blogs, authors, and publishers sometimes overlap? Yes. Does that change my intent, my editorial control? No.  I’ve always felt there should be a healthy tension, an independence, between blogs and publishers and authors, just like there is between mainstream media and publishers and authors. So, while publishers may indeed use things like media coverage and awards as part of their marketing, that doesn’t turn that coverage and awards into part of their marketing plan over which they have control.

What I mean by a blogger doing “everything”: one person decides what gets read and reviewed, reads and reviews, writes and proofreads, posts and comments, promotes and cleans the toilets. And that same one person also has editorial control over the blog, including it’s mission, with no outside voice telling them what to do or not to do.

So, for example, at my blog, my rules (and yes, my blog is now part of the School Library Journal family which means I get paid for blogging, but I also retain full editorial control — no one at SLJ proofreads, or suggests what to or not to blog about, etc.)

One of my ways of blogging is I blog about books I enjoy; books I love; books I think others will enjoy. I blog about books I think readers may want to know about. I do not blog about books I think are “eh.” I do not blog about books that are DNF. DNF = did not finish. So when I DNF a book, and there are many, I don’t blog about it. When I think a book is so-so, I don’t blog about it. Life is short, life is busy, and, frankly, I don’t have the time to blog that way; and so I  use my time to read what I want and blog what I want, to read what I think readers will like and blog what I think readers will want. Oh, and to clean the house, watch TV, spend time with friends and family, you know, the other things that consume my non-work hours.

The Letter wants to change that aspect of blogging — editorial control. “Your job is simply to review the book within a month of receiving it and post your thoughts on your blog or site.” In essence, any book sent by the publisher must be reviewed.

No. That doesn’t happen with traditional media, as they decide what to read and review based on their own mission statement and purpose; and, it doesn’t happen with blogs. For good or bad, publishers need to realize that just as sending a book to the paper doesn’t guarantee a review, so, too, does sending a book to a blog doesn’t guarantee a review.

“Then don’t ask for books!” I’ve heard people say. Well, aside from anything else, here’s something I’ve learned: terrific author, enticing blurb, gorgeous cover –any one of these may be a reason a book is requested. And guess what? THESE THINGS DON’T MAKE THE BOOK AWESOME. It’s not until the book is read, all the way through, that the determination can be made that the book is blogworthy.

Edited to add: The OF Blog has a terrific post on how reviewing books is not a quid pro quo arrangement.

Next post: volunteers!

13 thoughts on “Send A Letter, Maria

  1. Well said. I’d also add that, as a reader, I’d be wary of any media source (bloggers, newspapers, etc.) that reviews and raves about everything a publisher sends them. Without that healthy sense of honesty, a blogger looks like a marketing assistant–not necessarily someone I can trust about book reviews. Publishers would do well to learn that their demands aren’t good for their readers, either.


  2. I was actually one of the bloggers that recieved this letter (though I don’t and have never reviewed WM’s books) and initially didn’t think a thing of it. I admit, though, that I didn’t really read it too closely when I got it for the very reason I mention above – it didn’t *really* apply to me. But when the twitter outrage erupted I realized how it really applies to me in the general sense. One a publisher has the ability to dictate blogging practices how long is it before every publisher follows suit? Now, I get the intent of this letter (I believe it was to streamline their own processes and save waste) where it totally failed was in execution. They did not express their goals and needs appropriately. Also, I do think they are trying to foist responsibility of some of their job onto bloggers. The system the imagine where there are requests and self reporting measures certainly makes it easier for them (which I don’t begrudge) but the scare tactics attached don’t particularly endear them to the blogger and may not help them in the end.

    I also think you hit the nail on the head when you speak to motivation. Who/what are you blogging for? Because that makes a huge difference.


  3. Fran, thanks.

    Annie, I always try to mix it up with what I post — library, review copies, personal, and I also try to pay attention to publishers to make sure I’m not being overly-reviewy of one above the other. And YES to the marketing assistant comment.


  4. I got the letter and I was fine with it. It didn’t sound very nice, but the main point was: if you request a book, we expect you to review it.

    Unlike you, I review everything I read, whether review books from publishers or books I buy or get from the library. This is because I like to tell my readers that a book is worth reading, or that they might as well not bother. I also review books that I haven’t read all the way through (with the necessary caveats, page number I reached, etc.). Why not? I read for pleasure and if the book is not pleasurable, I won’t read the rest. But I do want my readers to know what I thought of the bit that I read so they can make their own judgement.

    So, with that in mind, I WILL always review a book that I requested.

    But if you don’t always review everything, and there’s no reason why you should, then I can see that the letter is asking things of you that you are not happy doing. Whether you still want to deal with that publisher is then the question.


  5. Preach it, sister. My review policy is similar to yours – I only review stuff I actually like. DNF is a “do not blog” book for me, as are books that I hate or that are only “meh” in my opinion. And I only request books that I think I want to review, but until the book is in my hands, I can’t be certain it’s something I like and will actually review. And I absolutely refuse to let publishers tell me WHEN a review has to run – my blog involves my time, energy, etc., and nobody else gets to be the boss of that.


  6. I don’t understand the upset here. If you can’t afford books, if you don’t have a library, if you can’t review in a certain period of time, if this is your hobby, if you’re doing it for fun, if it’s not your job, you don’t need ADVANCE reader copies.

    Publishers will send review copies of the finished book, too, you know. And if you’re not going to get around review books until after they’re out, authors would appreciate if you review from the finished novel. You know, the one where they fix the mistakes that people complain about in reviews, like missing words, or paragraphs that don’t make sense. There’s a reason every ADVANCE reader copy admonishes people to check the finished book before quoting- the book changes!

    Not to mention, those ADVANCE reader copies come out of an author’s profit & loss sheet. If the publisher send out 1000 ADVANCE review copies, the publisher has spent $20,000 dollars marketing that book. (And that may be the only money they spend promoting a book.)

    If bloggers don’t bother to review the books during the sales window, that’s $20,000 wasted. And $20,000 that the publisher will have to think long and hard about when deciding if they want to buy the author’s next book. Finished copies get printed on a larger scale, so they’re LESS expensive to give to reviewers. (8-12 dollars as opposed to 17-22.)

    The constant demand for ADVANCE reader copies is hurting authors- and not the big, bestselling authors. They earn enough money, they’re not hurting.

    But the midlist authors. The literary authors. The people who write the smart, quiet books that never get enough attention, that you champion for awards and handsell and booktalk because they’re quality books- those are the authors you’re hurting when you ask for ADVANCE reader copies that you never bother to review.

    You can still get review copies. But you don’t need ADVANCE review copies, and I wish somebody would point that out.


  7. Also I want to say. Everybody who freaked out about Rick Yancey’s series being cut short- the publisher spent more in ADVANCE review copies than the published book sold. That’s why the series was canceled. They spent more marketing it than they made selling it. There’s a real life example of how too many advance review copies can hurt a critically-acclaimed book and its author.


  8. Kelly, thanks!

    Helene, the letter wasn’t about ARCs, but about final copies being sent for review use. Which, yes, still has the potential to hurt sales — even more so, perhaps, if reviewers sell them. Reviewing from ARCs, the difference between it and the final copy, that’s a whole separate post in itself! I did a series on ARCs a few years back. One set of comments in the twitter/blogosphere that concerns me (it sounds like it would concern you, also) are those who say “if they sent me the ARC, why send me the final book?” (um, so you have the real copy not the one with typs?) or those who say “I wanted the ARC and they sent the final book” (um, isn’t that better?). And I agree that there is a very real question publishers have to ask themselves, about how many ARCs and what to do with them. A publisher who shall be unnamed sent me books to review (not requested.) Great, maybe I’ll be able to read them. TWO WEEKS LATER THEY SENT ME ARCS OF THE SAME BOOKS. I was so puzzled by the flip, by the waste of money, etc.

    Do you have a link (public) for the Yancey series sales figures? Thanks!


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