…I certainly don’t question their integrity; undoubtedly they write their honest opinion of every book they review. But (and it’s a significant but) if they don’t enjoy a book, or don’t finish it, they generally don’t review it. When they give ratings, they tend to use a skewed scale such that even a relatively poor review merits 6 or 7 out of 10. They tend to chase big name or hot books. They tend not to review self-published works.
Obviously, Ross is painting with a broad brush, something she recognizes and accepts. It’s a dangerous activity to engage though. For example, this blogger finishes everything he starts, he reviews everything he finishes, he doesn’t use a ratings scale at all. And while he certainly enjoys a big name or hot release, he also reads smaller presses and even the occasional self-published work. She goes on to say,
Now there are many review blogs out there which stay focused on the original objective of reviewing books the blogger likes to read, and are not much concerned beyond that. But for many established bloggers, and nowadays for many startup bloggers too, the reviews become subsumed into the greater enterprise of maintaining and growing the blog. With a little advertising, paid-for content or tie-in marketing, it can even pay for itself and enable the blogger to give up the day job.
First off, I’m not aware of any book bloggers who’ve been able to make a full time living out of it. There are few enough authors who’ve accomplished that feat. As for me, I have no interest in selling ads, and paid for content, by and large, is anathma to credibility. I know some of the larger blogs like The Book Smugglers sell advertising, and that’s a choice although one I’m not likely to make for myself.
She goes on to compare the idea of generating readership as tantamount to “selling out”,
Then the emphasis switches to aggressively selling the blog by linking to it from as many places as possible, guest blogging on other blogs, actively touting for author interviews and the like, or even deliberately provoking controversy to get a buzz going.
I don’t see quite how selling a blog and desiring a readership should be problematic as it relates to credibility. Whether I’m in a publisher’s pocket or not, I want people to read me, that’s the point is it not? To generate new readers I guest post , I do interviews, and I absolutely provoke discussion. If no one is reading me, why am I spending time writing?
Either way, the answer isn’t creating some cockamamie bureaucracy to hold bloggers accountable, or codify some quid pro quo that will only serve to taint blogger integrity. The answer is increasing the publishers access to the community and the community’s access to them. It doesn’t mean spending more money, just spending it smarter. Rather than casting out wasted review copies that never get read, invest in getting to know reviewers and what they like. Give them exclusive coverage. Be pro-active. Don’t expect free books to be a tool by which they can be controlled. In short, treat them like journalists.
Ross misinterpreted me when she replied,
I’m not sure that journalism is quite the analogy he wants here; journalists are paid directly by their industry, do what they’re told and write to precise order.
Journalism is exactly the analogy I wanted. Because Ross is absolutely right. Journalists are paid by their industry. My industry is blogging and I write my own checks. I am independent, beholden to no entity other than my own interests and code of ethics (which again, is entirely open to my readers to evaluate). I reiterate, I am not a publicity arm. I recognize publishers will use me as such, but what’s important is how I use myself. I won‘t run an interview, giveaway (sans my bookshelf dump giveaways), or guest post from an author I can’t recommend. Nor do I link to anywhere that sells books. I’m not a book seller, and I never want to be.
Even in the face of that, Ross would suggest that receipt of review copies somehow impugns my credibility,
Publishers are prepared to dish out free books (and interviews and other stuff), and they don’t want reviewers to be seen to be in their pockets, so keeping a certain distance is part of the game. Reviewers, on the other hand, want the free stuff, sure, they want the big-name authors, they want to be the first with the hot new book, because that’s what their readers want, but they also value their independence, and don’t want to be poodles for the industry.
I admit, I receive review copies from publishers (large and small and “indie”). I don’t apologize for it. Nor do I believe it impacts the fairness of my reviews or commentary. I also admit that if I stopped receiving them it would absolutely change what this blog covers. I wouldn’t read small presses, independents, short story collections, and a host of other things because I wouldn’t even know they exist. That’s just the truth. I am exposed to so much material as a result of my relationship with publishing, and thus I have the opportunity to make others aware of it.