Why We Blog & Review Copies: Should We or Shouldn’t We?

Does your book room look like this?

Does your book room look like this?

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.

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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.

He explained,

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?

6 thoughts on “Why We Blog & Review Copies: Should We or Shouldn’t We?

  1. I’m not sure why we start blogging except as a need to express ourselves somewhere, and there are less opportunities in some ways nowadays. I only started last year and it was mainly for myself – to record my feelings about books I’d read, try to fix them a bit more firmly in the brain and maybe give back something to the blogging community which I’d been passively reading but not taking part in. I think I am very low key and under the radar and I am happy like that really – I enjoy writing what I write and if anyone else likes to read it too that’s great!

    As for the boxes of books and review copies etc, it’s a tricky one. I read a post on SavidgeReads about some hideous bloggers blagging books at some event and I thought that this is not what it should be about. I doubt I’ll ever get offered a review copy but unless it was something I really wanted to read I don’t think I’d take it. It *would* affect how I wrote about it and I wouldn’t feel I could be honest. I might make an exception for something like e.g. a reprint of a Russian classic but not a new book from a new author – because I would really find it difficult to review. I guess I’ll just plod along reading what I like and writing what I think of it!

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  2. Never received or asked for review copies, never check my stats, never even won a book in a blogger competition! I’m just not interested. The thought of loads of stuff I have no interest in arriving through the post with all the pressure to read it does not thrill me. I’ve never had a nasty comment although someone once said I was ‘obviously not an intellectual’ which made me smile. I read for pleasure and buy my own books.

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  3. I started blogging to record what I was reading and how I felt about it. I don’t do reviews, just comments. Since I started I find it very pleasurable to have a dialog with readers, and I participate in the dialogs on several blogs that I follow consistently. Since at least half the books I read are classics, there isn’t much of an opening for new books or review copies. The only really negative comment I ever received was from an author whose book I didn’t care for. He said I didn’t perceive that the content was meant to be humorous. Actually, I did perceive that was his intent — I just didn’t think it was funny.

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  4. It’s a fascinating subject!

    Yes, mine is a book journal, too, though occasionally I write personal essays.

    I spend God knows how many dollars every year on books.

    I have the perfect solution for those of us who want to read the classics: let’s get Penguin to send us a complete set. Bette Midler’s husband bought one for her, but when I suggested it to my husband, he thought it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard, since we already have most of those books. We’ll get the set and divide them and promise to read them all: then we won’t have time and we’ll have to send them back… Oh well!

    Kaggy, I know just what you mean. You love Russian literature. Who’s going to give you Russian literature? There must be someone, but those publicists aren’t contacting bloggers.

    Nicola, you’re another one who doesn’t need books from publicists. Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald…Well, I know you just wrote about Louise Erdrich. But are they giving this one to bloggers?

    Silver Season, yes, you’re another reader of the classics. We just read our own books!

    The spam was incredible at my old blog.

    I’d better add that the negative comments on my blog came mainly from fan club people who were very upset when I said anything negative about their authors. Even when I LIKED the books, it wasn’t enough. Everything had to be super-positive. I got into that a little this year with an Angela Thirkell post . I LOVED Private Enterprise, but I said she was a snob, and you wouldn’t have believed the comments I had to delete. So now I’m very reluctant to write about Angela Thirkell, though I am reading one of her books, because it just takes one insane person and your day is ruined.

    I’m a little blog, and I like to stay that way!

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  5. Angela Thirkell was a snob in the sense that she considered the people at the center of her stories (middle and upper class people) more interesting and more fun than the rest of humanity. So? Who hasn’t at some time found “our” people more interesting than those “other” people. You are right about how one person can ruin your day. The author I irritated was more concerned to point out my deficiencies of understanding than to consider the possible deficiencies of his writing. But then, I probably ruined his day.

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