Between the Lines: Reviews vs. Promos

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I hate to say this, I really do, but I have 10 review copies left over from last year.

How did I end up in this dysfunctional relationship?  With less space for reviews in newspapers and magazines, publishers want to give free books to bloggers, Amazon reviewers, Goodreads reviewers, etc.  In fact, it has reached the point where most Goodreads reviews seem to end with the sentence, “I am grateful to ____ for the opportunity to read an advance copy.”

Oh, dear.  We’ve all been there.  I’m not exactly grateful. In this relationship, guess who ends up doing the work?   But the problem here is my own.  Last year, only 6% of the books I read were review copies. So why did I request and/or accept so many books I never got to?  I seem to prefer to buy my books and read them at leisure.  And now I must send brief e-mails explaining these books left over from 2015 are not quite my kind of thing.

Do the publicists even notice?  Well, sometimes.

There is a shaky border between reviews and promotions these days.

Professional reviewers can be barracudas, but writers also complain that amateur reviewers trash their books with one-star reviews at Amazon before the publication date.  Well, I can’t address that problem.  The amateur reviews I read are usually kind.  Some of them are promotions rather than reviews–which is much better both for writers and publishers, I suppose.

I’m not against promotional writing.  It’s easy to spot, and you accept it for what it is.  Some promotional publications are very good.  We pick up BookPage free at the public library.  It features reviews, interviews, and columns.  Well, the reviews are not actually reviews:  they are what I call “prom-iews.”  In short, it is promotional writing.

But the trick?  BookPage picks good books.  The genres are clearly defined, so one knows it’s a debut novel aimed at millennials, a memoir, literary fiction, or history.  Never a negative word is written, but I often learn about a good book first at BookPage.  (N.B.  It’s where I read about MFK Fisher’s novel, The Theoretical Foot.)

The free biweekly newsletter Shelf Awareness also features  “prom-iews.”   I find it less interesting than BookPage (editors do matter).  But I do look at the book ads!

As for professional book review publications, we all know these.  The New York Times Book Review seemed like magic when I was growing up. On the internet we can also read The Washington Post, The Guardian, and many more.  Criticism is mixed into the long reviews, and, at least in the U.S.,  boundaries are set between reviewers and writers of books reviewed:  they are not supposed to know each other.  Of course, lines do get crossed.

And because the book publication editor assigns the reviews, there is none of this “gratitude” to the publisher.  Some serious reviewing is expected!

Anyway, I try to avoid review copies.  There are so many books I want to read…  I don’t need free copies of new books thrown into the mix.