Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You Think Publishers Don't Want to Control Your Content?

I don't want you all to think I don't like publishers. I do! Some of my best friends are publishers. Er, I mean work for them.

And I feel very, very strongly that blogs should have access to ARCs. One reason is that if blogs don't have ARCs, then it creates a monopoly by newspapers and magazines. Also, some bloggers may get ARCs because of other hats they wear (i.e., librarian, reviewer), so those blogs would be privileged over non-other-hat-wearing blogs. And I believe the bottom line about blogs is not so much WHO is writing as WHAT they are writing. And the kick-ass blog can come from NotNYC and NotLibrarian, and ARCS help make that happen.

Anyway. Point. Click over to Tasha's Kid Lit blog (the original!), and read about her exchange with a publisher at ALA. Here is the objectionable, bad behavour from publisher part (with me=Tasha)

Her: And if the numbers are good enough, we will send you ONE BOOK and IF WE LIKE HOW YOU HANDLE THAT TITLE YOU CAN HAVE ANOTHER ONE.

Me: (Blankly.) Oh?

Her: You can see that our titles have been embraced by the blogging community (Yes, there were several that were HUGE on blogs.) That’s because of this policy. It really works for us. (Yes, I bet it does. Didn’t doubt that for a moment.)

Me: I’ll have to think about that. I don’t do that with any other publisher I work with. It’s not how I do business.

Her: (Sudden change in demeanor. I think she just replayed our conversation and realized that she had completely misread the situation.) Well, we could send you hundreds of titles at a time. We wouldn’t hold you to one, necessarily.

Me: Well, I’ll think about it.

This is a problem; the idea that the publisher is treating the blogger NOT as an independent reviewer writing for a reader, but rather as someone auditioning for the job of official publisher reviewer writing for the publisher.

The further problem? This has CLEARLY worked with other bloggers. (Tho it is also possible that there are indeed new bloggers who are saying they are several years old and misrepresenting themselves...and that some people name their blogs things that sound like other people's blog names so that publishers get confused.)

I get review copies from the publisher Tasha spoke with. I have never had the publisher say to me that reviews had to be a certain way to get copies. I imagine it's what employee someone talks to; but it is also bloggers who not only accept being treated this way but who feed into it by saying, "send me a copy and see how I do, it's totally OK to act this way." No doubt publishers get mixed messages.

My message is clear: Thank you for the ARCs and Review copies that allow me to blog early about titles. And also thank you for realizing I am, as Tasha said, an independent reviewer.

And I hope other bloggers start thinking, seriously, about what they do, who the write for, and who they answer to.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Mary Ann Scheuer said...

Liz, thank you for reporting about this exchange. It is not an acceptable stance for a publisher to take.

But I had an awkward situation this fall. I was asked to be part of a blog tour before I saw the book. I liked the concept of the book, and what I could learn from the web site, so I accepted. But the book was just OK in my opinion. I felt awkward being critical, but rather wanted to say "this book is right for this type of audience".

How do you handle being asked to be on a blog tour if you haven't read other work by the author? Do you ask to see the book first?

Cheryl Vanatti said...

Thoughtful post.

My two cents: I believe that any serious book reviewer/blogger struggles with the issue of guilt. If I get this nice, shiny ARC, what do I owe the author (not the publisher)?

I have written about the John Updike school of reviewing on my own space and am trying to follow his advice. He basically states that if you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all. I took this a step further recently by posting blurbs on unfinished titles and imagining who might enjoy the book (since I didn't). I've heard that even bad press is better than no press, but I still try to focus on the positive as Updike advised.

Some books I never get to and for those I still feel some guilt, but not nearly enough to compromise my reviewer integrity.

Liz B said...

I think publishers are in a hard spot. I think ARCs aren't cheap. I think, ultimately, we will be seeing less ARCs in the blogosphere & publishers will need to do more than look at age/stats of a blog; I'm sure part of this exchange was the result of booth fatigue and of every person thinking age plus stats equals a reason to get ARCs. Also, given how few of us were blogging five years ago.... no. not every blog is that old. Which sounds to me like some people were puffing themselves up on the exhibit floor.

If, like me, your policy is basically I only blog about the titles I want to blog about, so basically the books I read, so the books I don't like or am "meh" about or never finish -- perhaps the best way to handle something like that tour is to not commit until after reading the book, or to commit to something not about the book. An interview, for example. The blog tours I've been involved in have all been "let's do a tour, pick your author, let's coordinate so we dont' have more than three repeated authors"

Tasses, I think it depends on how you get the book etc. I've ended up not taking books from authors unless I know them to avoid the awkwardness you put forth. The other option is to say, "If I don't like it, I'm not going to finish it so I won't review it."

I'm spoiled in that when I first started this, publishers looked solely at the content of the blog and never was their a question of what/how/when someone reviewed.

I also review books for an odd mix of reasons; sometimes I love a book, sometimes there is something that interests/intrigues me about the book even if I don't "love" it, and other times I may think "meh" for myself but know that others will really enjoy it. So while with some books, it's about what I love; with others, it's what I think others will love.

And the books I don't like or find boring, I don't finish.

Tasha said...


Thanks so much for mentioning this on your blog. The situation is complicated and I appreciate your candor about the complexity.

Alison's Book Marks said...

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for posting about this issue. I am a very new to the book blogging scene, having launched July 1st, and I had a similar encounter like this just a few weeks ago.

I thought this "audition review" was typical for publishers, and I felt a lot of pressure to position the book I was reviewing in a good light. I finished the book, and I reviewed the book, but I didn't like the book. I couldn't ever flame a book outright, and I tried to be fair with my review, but I can not in good conscience give a review without honesty. I can promise you, though, I have yet to hear from the publisher!

I am having trouble balancing my time between reading books that I want to read, and reading books that publishers want to send me. I'm learning quickly that life is too short, and you can only read so many books in a week, I can't waste my time on B.S. like this. There are way too many books that are calling my name!

Thanks again!

Doret said...

A publisher telling a blogger they expect good reviews is a real turn off. You get what you pay for. In this case
Free = no guarantee

I only blog about the ARC's I like. I am not trying to get on anyone's good side but if its not a book I liked it won't be mentioned ARC or not.

Sometimes I do feel a little guilt when I don't like an ARC, because if I hadn't have requested it, the book may have gone to someone else who would've enjoyed it and wrote a nice review. Though I don't feel any guilt over not mentioning ARC's I didn't like. There are no guarantees

Michelle said...

Interesting scenario, though not the first time I've heard of the issue. I feel lucky I've not encountered this attitude but can't say it's nt something I won't ever be faced with. All I can do in return is be honest and let a publisher/rep/author know that I'm honest in my reviews. If I don't like it I don't like it. If they aren't comfortable with the potential for a truly critical (constructively so, not bashing) review then perhaps I'm not the blog for them.

I'm not afraid to turn down the offer of an ARC, I feel confident that in being honest I'll still get plenty to review. Heck I can still buy plenty to review (and I do).