Who Ya Gonna Call? Bookbusters! or Nice Girls Finish Last

social-media-logosIf there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood
Who ya gonna call?

If a book doesn’t get press, who ya gonna call?

Err, bookbusters!  That is, bloggers, Goodreads reviewers, Amazon reviewers, Shelfari, book tweeters, Instagrammers…   There is a plethora of social media venues.

The freebie novelty wears off fast.  Nowadays, I have a strict policy:  say no to review copies unless Margaret Drabble offers to send me her new book via drone from Amazon.  (Ha ha!)   But I am often offered books by unknowns that are crazily inappropriate for my blog.  For instance, a publicist recently offered a review copy of a novel about  “a black market organ broker, arranging the sales of kidneys and livers from donors who need the money to recipients whose time on the transplant list is running out.”  Does that sound like me.?

Even the crustiest blogger (that would be I) agrees occasionally to help a publicist or writer  promote a book. (It usually sounds promising on the press release.)  Okay, they’d rather have Janet Maslin write about it, but she shows no interest  in Demigod Down (The Succubus Executioner # 2).  I write to my contact, “I’m afraid I have to turn this one down, but think of me again.” Yes!  I got out of it.  But “think of me again”?  What if she wants me to review The Succubus Executioner 3?  I am a bit fractious when I must read books I dislike.    Even when I accepted a review copy of the award-winning H Is for Hawk, I thought it was of shocking poor quality.  Maybe Janet Maslin would have liked it.  Maybe she did like it.  I wasn’t very nice about it.

When you accept freebies, you can find yourself doing unpaid PR.  The freebie road can deflect you from reading  the books you have chosen to read and cherish.  One of my favorite bloggers used to write about the classics.  Now she reads freebie romances, mysteries, and other very light books. Freebies have changed her as a reader.

At Goodreads, there are hundreds of giveaway books, but there is much competition for them.  Most of the books seem to be romances or SF, but  there are also cookbooks and poetry.  Here is a brief sampling.

  • 10 copies available of Demigod Down (The Succubus Executionser # 2) by Kim Schubert, 500 requesting
  • 1 copy of The Calling (Finite Faerie Chronicle #) by Joseph Eastwood, 1009 people requesting
  • 1 copy of Homemade Sourdough: Mastering the Art and Science of Baking with Starters and Wild Yeast by Ed wood, 738 people requesting

You can also get free books at TLC Book Tours, where bloggers agree to write a book review and host an author interview.  The site says,  “As a host, you agree to receive a free book from one of our touring authors (who doesn’t like a free book??), read it and post a review on a date scheduled in advance for the author to “stop” at your blog.”

You know who doesn’t like a free book? ??

Netgalley is the best option for bloggers and consumer reviewers seeking free books.  You can request books from a huge selection, and there are even reprints of Rosamund Lehmann, Mavis Gallant, and Vance Bourjailly from Open Road Media.  I was invited by a publicist to join Netgalley three years ago, but I could not download any of the books on my Nook.  You really need a Kindle for Netgalley.  The Kindle receives the books instantly

In  George Orwell’s humorous essay, “Confessions of a Book Reviewer,” he explains why he dreads reveiwing on demand books about subjects he knows nothing about.

Half hidden among the pile of papers is a bulky parcel containing five volumes which his editor has sent with a note suggesting that they ‘ought to go well together’. …Yesterday in a resolute moment he ripped the string off it and found the five volumes to be Palestine at the Cross Roads, Scientific Dairy Farming, A Short History of European Democracy (this one 680 pages and weighs four pounds), Tribal Customs in Portuguese East Africa, and a novel, It’s Nicer Lying Down, probably included by mistake.

Do you sympathize?  He did get paid, though.

Ah, those were the days.

Rejected & Memorial Day Break-Up

jonathn lethemThe other day I wrote about whether or not bloggers should accept review copies.  You said, “No.”

When one reviews for a print publication, an editor deals with the publicists and doles out the books to reviewers.  That makes it easier in some ways.

But I occasionally accept review copies, and don’t have a problem saying what I think at my blog.

The truth of the matter is that I read mainly my own books.

But let me explain.  Jonathan Lethem is my favorite American writer.   I recently read “The Grey Goose,” his story in the New Yorker, which seems to be an excerpt from his new novel, Dissident Gardens.

And so I requested the novel from the publisher.

I was rejected.


I was surprised.

So here is the next step.  Get a name.  Yes, I will get a name of a publicist at Doubleday.  I will email that publicist.  I will explain that Lethem is my favorite writer.  I have already written this year about Lethem here and here.

And what if the publicist says no?

Then I’ll send snail mail.

No, I think that would be way too annoying.

The next step is to get an assignment to review it.  There must be some small free publication that could use a review of Dissident Gardens.

The next step is to give up and BUY the book.

I will be the first one at the bookstore to buy Dissident Gardens on Sept. 10 (the publication date).

And here is an excerpt from the description of the novel from Amazon

At the center of Jonathan Lethem’s superb new novel stand two extraordinary women. Rose Zimmer, the aptly nicknamed Red Queen of Sunnyside, Queens, is an unreconstructed Communist and mercurial tyrant who terrorizes her neighborhood and her family with the ferocity of her personality and the absolutism of her beliefs. Her brilliant and willful daughter, Miriam, is equally passionate in her activism, but flees Rose’s suffocating influence and embraces the Age of Aquarius counterculture of Greenwich Village.

Who Needs a Man When I Have the Internet?MEMORIAL DAY BREAKUP.  Perhaps you remember my talking about my cousin, the librarian who drinks and loves Twitter.

Memorial Day is not her favorite day.

She broke up with her boyfriend.

It is not a great thing to break up with one’s boyfriend any time. I was stupefied during my divorce–I rode the same bus as my ex- on the way home after the finalization of the divorce in court, and was in tears for a year–and I attended all social events for months afterwards because I didn’t want to be alone.

On Memorial Day you go to the family party because you are sad and desperate.

“Is there drink?”

That’s the first thing on her mind.

There was a lot of wine.  I don’t drink, so I can’t say what wine it was.  It was picnic wine.  You know:  there you are at the park, barbecueing your chicken forever, and you have pretty much caught up with everybody, the aunts, the siblings, and then suddenly you’re drinking wine.

We took a walk to the store down the road, and she explained about her boyfriend.  He  kept getting phone calls at her apartment.  Eventually  she looked at his phone and read the texts.

I really am very sorry for her.  I don’t have a cell phone, and have never seen a text, but I imagine it’s much like other e-things.

iPhone, e-mail.  We all spend too much time on the “e.”

There’s nothing worse than a break-up, but my cousin is youngish and pretty, and she’ll find someone else.

She’ll have to play volleyball, go to dinners,  and the Sierra Club meetings.

It is very hard to meet men, even in one’s thirties.

God help her, she deserves better.

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.


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?