I am under the radar at mirabile dictu.
I can write what I like, post a rough draft if I like (and I do), re-edit it after publication if I feel like it, yank it, put it back or forget it.
There is something empowering yet cozy about blogging. We have opportunities to write about books that journalists and reviewers ignore. Professional writing is probably more satisfying, but in my experience the good professional pre-internet work always disappears, while the sloppily-written-on-the-computer stuff remains forever in cyberspace. My ex- found the worst thing I have ever written, and then emailed me. I was glad to hear from him after so many years, but wanted to say, Couldn’t you have read this one instead?
Last December, I had to rethink what I wanted to do with my blog. At my old blog, things had gotten beyond empowering. I had a lot of traffic, a lot of spam, and a lot of unkind comments, which I didn’t enjoy waking up in the morning to delete. I was and am, of course, always thrilled when writers drop by to comment to say they liked my blog, but am much less thrilled when writers whose work I’ve trashed come by.
Many came only for the post I wrote on the actress Elizabeth Taylor. (They weren’t interested in the post about the writer Elizabeth Taylor.) There was also the writer whose book I reviewed, who later plagiarized an anecdote from my blog in her most recent novel.
I decided to start a blog where I would be kinder, though still honest and occasionally fierce. I wanted to start a blog where I would write of the mirablie dictu more often than the horrendum dictu (though that is not forbidden). I wanted to start a blog where plagiarists would be less likely to spend time. This latter, of course, is one of the big problems of the internet.
Should we or shouldn’t we accept review copies? Bloggers sometimes debate this.
The thoughtful blogger, Tom Cunliffe of A Common Reader, who reaches 10,000 readers a month, recently decided to stop accepting review copies. He makes exceptions for European literature in translation from small publishers.
This is an independent book review website and while I’ve only ever reviewed books I enjoyed reading, I find that by taking review copies I can’t plan my reading properly. I’m passing over books I discover on my own in favour of books which I’ve agreed to take on review.
I very much respect his decision. He is a serious reviewer.
My impression is that this problem is greater for English bloggers than it is for Americans. Star bloggers Dovegreyreader and Random Jottings tell us how many boxes of free books they receive; some other bloggers tell us whether the books they review are review copies or not. I do feel I trust these bloggers enough that I don’t need to know about their review copies, but perhaps it’s a kind of Caveat Emptor. In the U.S. we are either receiving fewer review copies, or not worrying about it.
I do receive a few review copies. Last year I packed up some of my review copies in a box and misplaced them. I am now sorting through them. Some go into the “read” pile, but what should I do with the others? This year I have accepted very few books, and am beginning to make inroads. I have perhaps ten excellent review copies waiting I will write about, but since I am in the middle of Anna Karenina….
I did at one point at my old blog have a no-review copy policy. In April 1010, I said that I could no longer accept them because I could no longer shelve all my books.
Then a new unsolicited review copy arrives and suddenly I, too, am dismayed by the plethora of books. ..How did this new mysterious unsolicited book end up here? A publicist got my name somewhere–I don’t remember dealing with this publisher before so it’s probably from a very old list. Alas, I don’t want the book. It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t look bad, someone’s going to love it, but I cannot accept more books from publishers.
So, what do you think? Should bloggers accept free review copies, or not? Does it affect the way the book is read and reviewed?