6.20.2014

Why I review; Or, Will blog for books (within reason)

At the end of May, Michele Jacobsen over at A Reader's Respite wrote about Crown Publishing's new program, Blogging for Books. Jacobsen was rightfully annoyed by Crown's criteria for participation: high Klout score, reviewing every book received instead of only those books actually read, etc. The two advanced reader copy sites I get books from, NetGalley and Edelweiss, don't have these requirements. They give books to librarians, book bloggers, and other book industry professionals. With NetGalley, you do have to maintain a certain percentage of received books to reviewed books, but it's pretty generous. The ratio means that you can still read for fun and not force yourself to finish things you're not enjoying*. Kim Ukura at Sophisticated Dorkiness wrote a follow up post that had me thinking about my reviewing practices. After finishing it, I almost felt like I needed to write my own manifesto that I could point to if anyone questioned my ethics and book reviewing principles.

We book bloggers, for the most part, are enthusiastic amateurs. The fact that publishers will give me access to free advanced reader copies of books is an unlooked for—but much appreciated—perk. When I review a book I got for free, I add a note to the bottom that I received it in exchange for a fair review. (Sometimes I write honest review, just to mix things up.) Ukura objects to this language because it reinforced the idea that we bloggers are getting "paid" in books for our reviews. I don't see it that way. When I signed up with NetGalley and Edelweiss, it was with the understanding that I would review most of the books I received. (Otherwise, I would consider it mooching.) I also looked for any language in the user agreements about where I was to post my reviews. I'm okay with posting here and reposting to my social media outlets, not on commercial sites. Further, if anything in those user agreements restricted what I could write in a review, I would drop them in a hot minute.

And now, for my manifesto (read, review policy):
  1. I only ask for books I think I will enjoy. I don't request books just for the hell of it.
  2. I only review books that I finish. If I don't finish, I send a message via NetGalley or Edelweiss to tell the publisher why I didn't finish it.
  3. I am honest in my reviews. If I didn't like a book—and finished it—I will say why. If I finish a book, it's usually because I found something worthwhile there. I put warnings in my review about who will and won't like the book. I try not to hate-read/review too many books. But I'm not wedded to the idea of always being positive. This is part of being honest. If I don't like a book, I'll say why. 
  4. I don't keep copies of the ebooks I receive. I delete them. If I really, honestly like a book, I buy a copy for myself. Sometimes, I even order a copy for my library—which is the whole point of the program. I consider my reviews to be a "signal boost" for books. (The kind of books I like to read usually need all the publicity they can get. I read weird books.)
Is there something I'm missing? I understand why Crown would want to limit their book giveaways to people who will actually review them. Bloggers and other reviewers should take care to only request books they'll actually read. What bothers me is the Klout score (which is inaccurately constructed anyway) and the language that requires you to repost your review on a commercial site. The second requirement has since been removed. There's so much noise on commercial sites that it's hard to spot real, honest reviews anyway. (I also want my words here on my site, not repurposed or reused by a vendor.)

I do understand Ukura and Jacobsen's point that all these requirements do change amateur reviewing from something that we do for the joy of it. Ukura wrote a great piece at BookRiot about the growing expectations publishers have for readers. The requirements make reading and reviewing more of a job. When I started this blog, I started it because I had no one to talk to about all the books I read except the Internet. Now, I see my primary mission here at Summer Reading Project to share good books with readers and let them know about books they should maybe avoid. I automate reposting as much as I can, via IFTTT, so that it's not a chore and I can get back to reading.


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* Although, I've read a few books that I loved to hate. I finished them so that I could write a blistering review.

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