May 5, 2010

Guest Post - What Do Bloggers Owe Publishers?

The first guest post of my extended vacation comes to us from Chad Hull of Fiction is so Overrated. I wouldn't necessarily agree with that name but Chad volunteered some very interesting thoughts on the subject of what a bloggers owes to a publisher. Without any further delay, here's Chad.

Does a blogger "owe" anything to a publisher? If what is owed means commentary on a book then I would answer, no. Below are my reasons why, and my perception of bloggers who write about books they received for free.

Any sense of pressure a blogger feels to review a publisher's material is completely self-imposed. As I've never accepted such generous gifts from a publisher (i.e. Don't have a leg to stand on in making this argument) I feel I'm the correct person to comment on such a topic. When publishers send out ARC's, or in some cases a finished copy, to bloggers they are going fishing; trolling, if you will. If the effort is an expenditure that a publisher can justify with zero expectations in return, then it's a good practice; if they can't… they won't. I don't respond to eighty-percent of what's sent to me in the mail. (And I wish I could ignore the remainder as well.)

Some friends and I--both of the book blogger variety and real living people types--have limited faith in reviews from bloggers who do comment on material sent to them gratis. Any review ending with something to the effect of, "This one is well worth you money," makes ill. Was it worth the bloggers money? Did they support the author or are they merely reveling in any real or perceived authority bestowed upon them due to the fact that they were chosen to receive a complimentary book? A blogger's opinion isn't invalidated due to the means they acquire a book. However, if a book is sent free of charge with it being prominently known that said book is the headliner for the fall catalogue and the book gets great reviews from said blogger; well, let me say that for me, and many others I know (all book buyers), the grain of salt I must swallow gets exponentially bigger toward any praise given to such a book.

I like to read. I like to collect books I like. I go through four to six a month and at that point, it's an expense. The summation of these points is that I am a very discerning book buyer; nor am I the only one. Spend twenty dollars on a book then tell me how you liked it; I'll be much more inclined to apply credence to what you say. Things we work for are generally much more meaningful to us than hand outs. (And if there's a voice of dissent to that--read: if your money doesn't mean that much to you--then contact me and pay off my credit card. While the value of a handout may not be lessened one's appreciation arguably is.) "Hey this just came in the mail and it's free. Well, I don't have anything else to read. Why not give it a shot?" If you had to pay to open such a package and could only view a packing slip prior to opening the box, you may be inclined to write 'Return to Sender' on the box and go about your day.

If you buy a book and hate it, I can assure that you'll have very strong feelings about the book. Get a book from a publisher, and don't care for it? Well, then it's got to be really God awful for you to profoundly bash it with impunity, 'cause hey, after all, they sent you a free book, right? And who knows? The next free one they send might just be the greatest book ever… You wouldn't want to bash a book too badly, or worse still, consistently bash books from the same publisher, because wouldn't it be terrible if the free books stopped coming? Worst thing you may do for a book you didn't like--and in some cases, never even read--that was a handout is have a lottery and send it to one of your blog readers as a reminder as to how awesome (and privileged) you are. That's not to say that anyone receiving free books won't write up a bad review, but I have a hard time believing that such remarks aren't tempered in the subconscious.

Writer's with an outstanding contract certainly have an obligation to publishers, but there is no such weight on readers shoulders. I can't shake the feeling that if there were some sense of obligation, ridiculous as it sounds book bloggers would be nothing more than literary fanboys. That however, is a different topic and I've digressed enough. If someone sends you a free gift by all means be polite and say, 'thank you.' We are all entitled to go fishing, but there is no social contract stating that the fish are obliged to bite.

Interesting stuff, no? I don't agree 100% with everything he had to say but I certainly feel comfortable saying that my relationship with a publisher isn't going to be reflected in my review. I read books I want to, not books I get sent. The only books I guarantee a review on are the books I personally request and even then, there is no guaranteeing a good review [See upcoming Ghosts of Manhattan review for proof].


  1. I think it depends. If the publisher sends you something unsolicited, I don't think you're under any particular obligation to review it.

    However, if you solicit something from the publisher - or the publicist specifically asks if you'd be willing to review it and you accept, you should probably review it. Honestly. Which should go without saying.

    But, in regards to the point of having limited faith in bloggers reviewing on what they are freely given...except for the fact that bloggers don't get paid and professional reviewers do, how is what we do different?

    Professional reviewers don't buy their books. They have separate organizational ethics (presumably), but can't that be influenced by advertising on the publication - just as bloggers are presumably influenced by the swag of free books?

    When I review for Fantasy Magazine (unpaid for nonfiction, but considered a professional publication for fiction), I don't pay for those books. I'm still the same reviewer at Fantasy Mag as I am at the blog, except that I'll revise more for clarity.

    I think we can tell integrity from trolling reviews, and I don't think it is tied to whether the book was free.

  2. Very interesting post. Chad pointed out some things that hadn't ever really crossed my mind as I read reviews at blogs. Namely that perhaps some bloggers don't tell their true feelings about a book they received for free. While I feel that the bloggers at the blogs I regularly visit have integrity to spare, and give their honest opinion, it is something to keep in the back of my head when reading any review be it a blog or not.

    Great post Chad.

  3. I can't argue with anything Joe is saying. Outside of money, I too don't think there is a difference in blogger or professional reviews; there are good and back ones (highly subjective) and everyone has to make up their own mind as to which is which. In no way do I associate quality with whether or not a reviewer was paid for his efforts.

    It's no so much if a reviewer is good or bad, rather is there anything that colored a reviewer's thinking in arriving at their conclusion.


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