Ever since attending BookExpo America, I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationships between bloggers and publishers. I’ve read lots of great posts on the topic (some of which I’ll reference below), and I’ve been mulling over how I want to navigate that relationship for myself. I share these thoughts not to tell others what to do—what you do is your business—but because I find it helpful to see how others are approaching these questions.
I’ve seen a lot of talk about publisher expectations of bloggers, and I heard a lot of questions during the Book Bloggers Convention on that subject. I want to say, first of all, that I have never felt pressured by a publicist to do anything that I didn’t want to do, whether it’s to post by a certain date, to agree to definitely review a book, or to post only a positive review. They pitch books to me (Edited to add: or, more often, they make a general offer through Shelf Awareness, e-mail newsletters, and so on) and I accept or not. (I’ve sent maybe three cold requests in the three years I’ve been blogging.)
Admittedly, I don’t get as many pitches as some bloggers do, and I’m sure some publicists have made ridiculous requests to others. The only specific requests I’ve ever gotten in a pitch involve posting dates for a blog tour. I prefer not to be tied down to a date, so I just don’t accept review copies for blog tours. All this leads me to agree with the Book Smugglers who, in their excellent post on the topic, said that a lot of these expectations are coming from bloggers, not publishers or publicists.
That said, I don’t think it’s wrong for publishers to have preferences. If publishers are sending out review copies, they are looking to gain something from it. But let’s not assume that these preferences are iron-clad rules that every publicist enforces to the letter.
The key on both sides is clear communication. When replying to a pitch, make it clear what you can and cannot do. Since the Book Blogger Convention, I’ve decided that I’ll be clear that I’m accepting review copies for “review consideration.” That’s not to say I won’t make every attempt to read and review the books that I accept, but I’m not making any promises other than to give consideration to each book. This kind of clear communication falls under the one rule I believe should apply to all of us, pithily expressed by Sassymonkey: “Thou shalt not be an ass.” (Accepting tons of books with no intention to write about them would certainly constitute being an ass.) If some publishers choose not to send books to me because I don’t make promises, that’s fine—and perfectly fair. They have a limited number of copies to send, and they get to decide where to send them.
But all of these questions of publisher expectations hide what I believe is a bigger and more important question: How much are we willing to let outsiders drive the content of our blogs? Because, make no mistake, even if you only accept review copies of books you would have read anyway, accepting those copies will probably affect your blog content. In my case, the receipt of a review copy moves that book higher on the TBR pile. If I hadn’t gotten the review copy, it might have taken me years, instead of months, to get around to that book. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is important to think about for a couple of reasons:
First, if too many blogs start relying on review copies for their material, the book blogosphere will get boring. When blogs start to become an arm of the industry, the result could be what Nicole at Bibliographing describes as “a lot of enthusiastic and excited individuals all saying pretty much the same thing about a smallish pool of books.” I believe that this is less of a problem than it used to be, only because more publishers are stepping into the blogosphere. Still, when a book is pushed too much, I get sick of it quickly.
My second point has to do with the books that don’t get covered. The pool of available review copies for bloggers is perhaps bigger than it used to be, but it’s not limitless. Publishers don’t pitch all their books to bloggers, and plenty of publishers aren’t in touch with bloggers at all. Then there are all the fabulous old books that wouldn’t get discussed if we all relied on review copies. How sad would that be? (Answer: Very sad.) I’m thinking also of Amy’s and Jill’s observations about the lack of diversity at BEA. If publishers are only pushing certain types of books and authors, who’s getting left out? Do we want the industry driving literary conversation in the blogosphere, or do we want independent readers driving it?
Each blogger needs to make his or her own decisions about how to navigate these questions. For my part, I’ll admit that I enjoy receiving review copies. I’m not likely to stop accepting them in order to be fully independent. But as I said above, I will only accept them for review consideration, not with a promise attached. I’ll also continue to use Netgalley, which I love because I can read a couple of chapters and then decide whether a book is for me, and no one has to waste paper or postage or deprive someone else of a review copy for me to do that. And the range of books available there is wonderfully impressive.
Because Jenny accepts few review copies, I doubt that this blog will ever become overwhelmingly devoted to new books that are being offered to bloggers. Still, I don’t want my personal reading to be dictated by the industry. In general, I’d like to read at least one or two (preferably two) non-review books for every review copy I read. I’m not a big believer in reading rules, so that’s a loose guideline. Sometimes my mood may push me more in one direction or the other. But I want it to be my choice. My biggest obligation as a reader is to myself.