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A Look at the Blogger/Publisher Relationship

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Look at the Blogger/Publisher Relationship

Following the coverage of last week's Book Expo America Bloggers Conference left me a little frustrated with how the publishing industry views blogging. For the record, in all the time I've been blogging I've never been pressured by a publisher to do anything untoward. They've never asked me to write a review a certain way or threaten to take away future copies of books. In fact, the only request I've ever had from a publisher is to hold a review until a certain date. What gets my goat is the implication that bloggers exist to help sell books, an assertion that seems to have been echoed again and again at the Bloggers Conference.

I first became aware of this perspective via the infamous William Morrow letter which stated, "Your job is simply to review the book within a month of receiving it and post your thoughts on your blog or site." A poor choice of words, but one that seems to be resonating among those in the book business as expressed on the Book Smuggler review of the Conference. I've never thought of myself that way. It bothers me that those in the business of selling books would think of me that way. I consider myself to be an arbiter of taste. My role, as I see it, is to help readers make informed choices about how they spend their money. If I sell some books as a result, that's fine, but not my ultimate goal.

I could go on about how the blogger conference might have been better run, or what topics would have been more appropriate to discuss. I'm not sure what purpose that serves other than to be nuisance. Instead, I want to talk about the current relationship between blogger and publicist and how it could be improved. Based on a thread at the Westeros Forums, I suspect the public at large (and publishing professionals apparently) have some misconceptions.

The truth is every publisher does it differently. There's "Don't Call Us We'll Call You", "We'll Send You Anything You Ask For", "What The Hell Here's Everything We Publish", "You're Not Begging Hard Enough", "We'll Send It If You Promise to Review It", and everything in between. Most of the genre imprints fall into the category of "Ask and You Shall Receive Within Reason". I've never been rejected by a publisher for a review copy even in the early days, although I have occasionally been met with defeaning silence.

That said, with dozens of books being released every week, how in the world can a blogger keep up with requesting the books he wants to review? Furthermore, how is a publisher doing their job marketing their authors if all they do is send books people ask for? The result would be every blog covering only the most popular authors. Therefore, it's the publicists job to introduce less popular or new authors to the reading public. Blogs have become one of the primary outlets for that, especially in genre fiction.

This is accomplished by exposing reviewers to books they don't know they want. The lazy ones just send books blind. Given enough time and consistency a blogger will soon begin receiving far more books than he can ever read. I'm starting to reach that critical mass now. I've received over a dozen review copies since June 1, many of which are sequels to first books I haven't read and don't even own. What a waste. I'll end up running a giveaway for half of them where hopefully they'll go to a loving home, be read, and recommended to others. For most bloggers they just end up getting donated to a local library. Somehow I don't think that's what the publicist had in mind when it was sent to me.

The better ones dialogue with bloggers. For example, Pyr e-mailed me a few days ago, "Please let me know if you would like a print or PDF ARC of The Skybound Sea - The Aeons' Gate Book Three by Sam Sykes. A press release is below!"

Orbit sends a monthly e-mail of the next month's releases, a link to an electronic galley, and a line that reads, "If you would like a printed copy of the book, please let me know!" Angry Robot does something similar.

Unfortunately, these are the exceptions, not the rule. Random House, for example, has never reached out to me as a blogger (although they've been perfectly nice when I reach out to them). Penguin and Macmillan are very pro-active, but along with Random House it's almost impossible to figure out who's the publicist for which title, leading to an occasional endless runaround.

The bad ones don't do either. They just wait for someone to e-mail them, asking for a book to which they do or do not respond. For bloggers, these publishers can be trying.

Beginning with the William Morrow cluster fuck last year, and continuing to the BEA Blogger Conference, publishers have begun questioning this relationship. What's the return on investment? How do the publishers, struggling with an ever shrinking profit margin, justify sending books into the ether hoping against hope that someone reviews them? William Morrow's answer was to require reviews and use giveaway copies as carrots, intimating that bloggers work for publishers.

I wonder if Angry Robot's policy will be the wave of the future. If they send a hard copy book, they expect a review. Failing to do so results in the discontinuation of the relationship. I'm sure this is a decision based solely on the cost of sending a book and getting nothing back for it. Angry Robot has one of the most robust eGalley systems and they attach no such strings to reviewers who download. It's a pretty good model as far as such things go. For a small imprint it makes perfect sense. While I may not love the notion of requiring a review of a book I may not want to finish, I can respect their need to cut costs.

Unfortunately, there are still many authors who don't get coverage. If no one's reviewing it, no one is talking about it, and word of mouth is still the best way to sell books. This absence can be particularly noticeable in the echo chamber of the on-line reviewing community. The loudest and most obnoxious are typically the self-published authors feeling slighted by the reviewing community. In that cacophony, it's easy to forget that there are many authors from major houses, lacking the undivided attention of their publisher who likewise fall through the reviewer cracks. Not every big-six author is John Scalzi or Charlaine Harris or Justin Cronin. For every one of them there fifteen Kelly McCulloughs.

When McCullough's last last book came out, Broken Blade, I heard nothing about it prior to release. Nor do I know anyone who received a review copy, myself included. I would point out its sequel, Bared Blade, is due out on June 26 and again... I've heard nothing. Despite piquing my interest, it was never raised in my consciousness to the point where I would go out and buy it. I suspect this was true for a lot of people, bloggers and readers alike.

Strangely, Doug Hulick's Among Thieves, and Myke Cole's Control Point were published in mass market paperback from Ace/Roc just like McCullough's novel. Both received broad coverage throughout the blogosphere while McCullough did not. Why was Broken Blade met with a resounding echo of a pin dropping? And whose fault is it?

I don't know the answer. Some authors have gone so far to hire freelance publicists to supplement the work done by their publisher, especially when it comes to on-line outlets. I can't say I blame them. Sometimes it isn't a publicist at all who reaches out to me, but the author. Myke Cole e-mailed me out of the blue last year with a nice note, demonstrating he'd actually read my blog. He recognized that a publicity department isn't always interested or equipped to reach out to bloggers personally so he took some of that burden on himself. It worked. It's very rare that I get this kind of e-mail from a publicist, a fact that remains perplexing to me.

Last month, I downloaded an electronic galley of David Brin's Existence. A few days ago, I received an unsolicited hard copy of the novel. My point is I don't think publishers have any idea how to best interact with bloggers. I think they're guessing. Wasting opportunities like the BEA Bloggers Conference is only further undermining their efforts. When they should be asking for blogger input, they choose instead to push swag. I'm not sure if they're understaffed or just lacking the appropriate tools necessary to track books, reviewers' tastes, and blogs' niches. 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. I'm not sure publishing has any desire to do so. To this point they've shown little interest in understanding electronic media at all. So I ask, how can an industry expect to sell something to a group of people they don't understand? The answer...

They can't.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was an event where bloggers and publishers could come together and discuss the industry? Wait a second...



At June 13, 2012 at 9:40 AM , Blogger Richard Auffrey said...

Though I blog in the food/wine world, some of these issues are very similar to what I and other such bloggers face. I receive wine samples, food product samples, and other items. PR companies, wineries, food companies, etc. are still trying to figure out what to do with bloggers. Who do they send samples too?

But most know better than to stipulate that a review must be written in return for a sample. That can cross an ethical line, almost a pay for play exchange. For example, it is clearly written on my website that no reviews are guaranteed for any samples I receive. And nearly no one questions that policy. So why should book bloggers have to guarantee reviews?

Do book publishers, like Angry Robot, require reviews if they send samples to major book review magazines like Publisher's Weekly? I doubt it, so why require bloggers to do so? Bloggers should not be shills for the publishers.

At June 13, 2012 at 9:42 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

I believe it's much cheaper for the publishers to send out free books than it is for them to pay someone to niche them properly. On the other hand, a proper understanding of who the market IS for a particular book would help the marketing of said book enormously.

The BEA conference sounded like a nightmare.

At June 13, 2012 at 9:48 AM , Blogger RobB said...

Great, great post Justin. Lots to think about here and perhaps there needs to be a unified approach for publishers? Not sure if that's what your are leading towards. On to something specific thing you raised and probably my biggest frustration in this whole process as an internet book reviewer:

When McCullough's last last book came out, Broken Blade, I heard nothing about it prior to release. Nor do I know anyone who received a review copy, myself included. I would point out its sequel, Bared Blade, is due out on June 26 and again... I've heard nothing. Despite piquing my interest, it was never raised in my consciousness to the point where I would go out and buy it. I suspect this was true for a lot of people, bloggers and readers alike.

Strangely, Doug Hulick's Among Thieves, and Myke Cole's Control Point were published in mass market paperback from Ace/Roc just like McCullough's novel. Both received broad coverage throughout the blogosphere while McCullough did not. Why was Broken Blade met with a resounding echo of a pin dropping? And whose fault is it?

I'm glad you specified McCullough. I received a copy of book 2 and not a copy of book 1 in that series.

I've been on the Ace/Roc/DAW mailing list for a few years so that is what boggles my mind the most. Incidentally, Among Thieves never showed up. Related is that I'd receive copies of book 1, not book 2 and a copy of book 3 in A Given Series.

When that happens (book 2 sent and not book 1), I'm not inclined to search out book 1 especially b/c I've got so many other books in the mail.

Not that the Ace/Roc/DAW collective is alone in this issue.

I think it should also be pointed out that I don't think you (well at least I don't) want to come across as complaining since all these books are sent gratis.

At June 13, 2012 at 9:53 AM , Blogger Bryce L. said...

Very good points made all around. I think Mazarkis is right in that it's pretty cheap to send out the books, but I think things like Netgalley and Angry Robot's system might be the wave of the future like you say. If I'm getting everything for free who cares if I download something and never read it. And hooray if I actually do review one of them.

Or maybe it really is going to becoming the author's job. Myke Cole is an excellent example of just going out there and getting his book into the world. I read his debut because he took the time to do so. This goes for David Anthony Durham as well, I want to read their work when they go out of their way. Sadly, it may just keep falling on them more and more.

At June 13, 2012 at 10:17 AM , Anonymous Jared said...

Huge amounts to think about. A couple more things to throw in the mix:

- We DO live in a bubble. And this does raise the whole "hype vs sales" argument - just because We talk about a book a lot doesn't mean that we're reflecting the general opinion of the market. Similarly, someone at the publisher might not think that We are the right audience - they're concentrating on radio, Amazon Vine, a Barnes & Noble deal, etc. Obviously We are important, but are we as important as we think? (probably not)

- The BEA thing sounds like a disaster. It should've been a place for THIS CONVERSATION. I'd rather see a blogger conference run by bloggers, with 3rd party guests - someone from netgalley, reps from invited publishers, etc. BEA sounds like a controlled environment, run by a special interest group that wasn't the bloggers themselves.

- I've had completely differing experiences with some of the same publishers you mention (both good and bad), which, really, goes to reinforce all the points you're making. There isn't an organised system for dealing for bloggers and no one has got it right. It also underlies the importance of having a 'safe' place to have these conversations and compare notes.

At June 13, 2012 at 11:06 AM , Blogger Justin said...

Not at all, I could point to a similar occurrence with every publisher.

And I'm not complaining about getting free books. I mean shit, if publishers want to send them I'll take them, but I just think there's way it could work better.

At June 13, 2012 at 11:07 AM , Blogger Justin said...

Let's do it... World Book Blogger Convention in Iceland... who's in?

At June 13, 2012 at 11:49 AM , Blogger RobB said...

I'm in, but maybe someplace a little less expensive to hold it?

At June 13, 2012 at 12:57 PM , Blogger Nicole said...

"Given enough time and consistency a blogger will soon begin receiving far more books than he can ever read. I'm starting to reach that critical mass now. ... many of which are sequels to first books I haven't read and don't even own."


Great post! Lots to think about.

At June 13, 2012 at 12:59 PM , Blogger Colleen said...

I have a question on the Angry Robot policy - how long do they give someone to review their book? For my Bookslut column I can have a one month turn on a review or a year - it depends on if the book fits into the column's monthly theme. Is there a perception that coverage must be immediate (or close to release date) to be effective or are publishers willing to accept that any coverage (even a year later) is a good thing? (I've been doing this for years and dealing with many publishers in that time but always wondered about this.)

At June 13, 2012 at 1:00 PM , Blogger Magemanda said...

This is a tremendous period of flux, as the rise of bloggers seems set to continue. Publishers know that bloggers are important (of course they are! They love books and talk about them ALL THE TIME!), but from my perspective each publisher seems to be placing a different level of importance on them (from those who rely on them utterly for good reason i.e. smaller publishers who don't have vast marketing/advertising budgets, to those who use them as part of a massive glittering promotional campaign) and this creates a very uneasy feeling across the blogosphere and across publishing. In addition to this, ebooks are changing what is happening between the blogger/publisher relationship. I would think that this becomes the *ideal* time for publishers and bloggers to sit down and start openly discussing what the publishers need/want versus what the bloggers need/want.

At June 13, 2012 at 1:01 PM , Blogger Justin said...

Good question. I don't know the answer, and I suspect it has to be a repeated behavior for it go so far as to become a problem. (i.e. taking several books and never covering them)

At June 13, 2012 at 1:06 PM , Blogger Justin said...

What do you want, Rob? Trenton? ;)

At June 13, 2012 at 1:29 PM , Anonymous Marco @ AR said...

At Angry Robot, while we would obviously love reviews to come just before or just after publication for maximum impact - one review by itself won't persuade many people there's something special going on, but a whole wave of raves surely will - we're also human beings and we try to play nice. Some of us are ex-review bloggers ourselves, notably Amanda our YA editor. We know that many bloggers are able, if they so wish, to access great stacks of new books for review every month, far more than they could sensibly review.

So we are still happy to read a review published, I don't know, a year after publication or more, because every little helps. Every reviewer is doing us a favour, after all, and we try never to forget that. Sure, there are some who blag electronic copies but never, ever give any coverage, so eventually we gently discontinue our offer of a review copy - but actually that happens very rarely indeed. More commonly, a reviewer will request one book, it'll sit there on their hard drive or advance proof stack, looking dolefully at them, and out of politeness they won't request another until it's reviewed. We're all human, we all have commitments on our time, and we're all very grateful when someone chooses to share our enthusiasms when that time allows.

At June 13, 2012 at 1:39 PM , Blogger Douglas Hulick said...

One of the truly befuddling things? Myke, Kelly and I all have the same editor, and I know that Myke and I had the same publicist for a while. And yet...

I will freely admit that I was lucky to get picked up by the blogosphere as well as I did. Unlike Myke, I didn't make the effort to push the book w/ on-line reviewers, save in a few specific instances. And yet, I got buzz, and I credit that on-line buzz with helping a humble mmpb get off the ground (esp. since I didn't get reviewed in any of the more traditional paper trades, save LJ). In a word, I was stupid lucky; but I also know better than to expect that luck to hold. I will be pushing to get my next book to more bloggers (and not to worry, RobB--it's largely a stand-alone novel ;).

On the flip side, most of the quotes and blurbs that are going into the front of "Sworn in Steel" come from on-line review sites. So there seems to be some awareness of blogs at Roc/Ace, although whether it is more back end than front end I can't wholly say.

I do know that my last publicist had asked me if there were any reviewers I wanted to get copies of AT. At that time, I wasn't aware of may review blogs, and so didn't have a list to send. I think more authors are becoming aware of review sites (and I know I fond a lot simply thanks to Goggle telling me there were reviews up), but if you're a new or mid-list author who doesn't follow review blogs (like I was)? Then you are at the mercy of where the publicist decides to send it out.

The take away is to do like Myke did and reach out to the bloggers, as well as supply a list of potential sites to your publicist. It still may not get your book into all the hands you want (or all the hands that want it), but it's become clear that the authors have to take more ownership of their books getting from point A to reviewer B.

At June 13, 2012 at 1:55 PM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

And even more befuddling--publishers seem to treat different book bloggers with widely varying reactions. It really does seem like a black box to me sometimes and I marvel at the experiences fellow book bloggers go through.

At June 13, 2012 at 2:05 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

I was in the same boat, blog-wise. Though I've been a fantasy fan for years I was never aware of the great resource of blogs. To choose a book I'd leaf endlessly through user reviews at amazon! Doing it that way, sadly, there were many books I had never heard of.

If I were to give advice to an author about to be published, blogs would be one of the things I'd talk about. I was lucky, myself--because of the tremendous goodwill towards both Jo Fletcher and Night Shade Books, I received more reviews than I could have hoped for. But I would advise any new author to make a list for their publicist.

At June 13, 2012 at 3:33 PM , Anonymous Mark Lawrence said...

on the subject of books sent out to bloggers ... I see one of the 30 or so King of Thorns ARCs sent out is now on ebay :/

At June 13, 2012 at 3:48 PM , Blogger RobB said...

I wouldn't subject anybody to Trenton, except to see the Trenton Thunder. Plenty of other places in NJ that would be better.

NYC? Philly? DC? Baltimore? Delaware? Boston?

At June 13, 2012 at 3:57 PM , Blogger RobB said...

It is a confusing thing, isn't it Doug? Though to be fair Mark Yon, my UK colleague at SFFWorld reviewed the book ( so perhaps that had something to do with Ace/Roc's decision on you.

NightShade has done a great job of embracing the blogger/on-line reviewer community even through some changes in their PR staff.

Twitter is big influence, too. At least it's shaped my personal Mount Toberead and the River of Wanted books.

Amazon was at one time a decent enough place to figure out what you might want to read, but with so many one-star reviews based on e-book availability, sock-puppet reviews and Harriet Klausner it sort of forced (for lack of a better term) or shaped the blogger/online review community.

At June 13, 2012 at 5:20 PM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Really??! Even if I didn't like an ARC I received, it wouldn't occur to me to sell the thing. That feels...WrongBad

At June 13, 2012 at 9:04 PM , Anonymous Michelle said...

That conference sounds err...interesting. Personally I don't like to think of myself as a marketing tool.

Half the reason I blog about books is because working in a bookstore I got sick of seeing (what I consider to be) better or equally good books being passed over because no-one knew anything about them. While I can recommend the books I think deserve to be read to people at work blogging allows me to do it on a larger scale. Also, I enjoy writing about and discussing books with equally passionate people.

Like Justin said, I like to think my job is more about highlighting the good stuff than indiscriminately selling things. Overall, I've generally had mostly good interactions with publishers with a few unfortunate exceptions.

Yes, I think we should make our own blogger conference. :P

At June 13, 2012 at 9:20 PM , Blogger Douglas Hulick said...

One of my friends bought an ARC of AT on ebay before the pb was published. Yeah, it happens.

At June 14, 2012 at 6:29 AM , Anonymous Jared said...

Iceland is probably easier for us UK types than any of those... London's lovely though.

Seriously though, we could always piggyback on a big event - e.g. a WorldCon or something. Add a day for proper discussion of things relevant to us....

At June 14, 2012 at 6:32 AM , Anonymous Jared said...

Yeah, that sucks. I mean, I've definitely bought ARCs on eBay, so I'm aiding and abetting, but reviewers that sell their review copies... boooooo. Pre-publication is especially shameless, but I'd frown on it at any time. At the very least, it is tacky.

At June 14, 2012 at 6:34 AM , Blogger Justin said...

Ya, I would never do it, but well after the fact, as a collector's item, I could understand it. Pre-publication in lieu of reviewing it... man... bad bad form.

At June 14, 2012 at 6:56 AM , Anonymous Darren @ Angry Robot said...

You know what, that's not the first time we've seen similar feedback. In fact, we've been talking about that very subject, on and off, for a while now. And a couple of weeks ago it came up again in our weekly team brain-dump, at the end of which we all decided that perhaps asking for a guaranteed review (whether good or bad) was a little unrealistic. So we've ditched it.

In future, we'll be offering print ARCs to the Robot Army on a roughly first-come, first-served basis. No obligation, no expectation. And if it means that we're sending out print ARCs to folks who don't subsequently run reviews, then so it goes.

We've just updated the Robot Army site with the appropriate changes (and a few words of explanation as to how first-come, first-served works in practice) which Robot Army members can find in the usual place (and if anyone out there is interested in joining the Robot Army, details can be found at

Angry Robot

At June 14, 2012 at 7:01 AM , Blogger Kameron Hurley said...

Publishers can be massively myopic. Concentrating on the big book buyers gets them fast, up front orders; easy cash flow. (2500 copies of GW at the outset went to B&N and Borders, I believe).

But the stores are going to have trouble moving those big orders without some kind of reader-love. If you don't get that, you end up with massive returns. There's an author I really love whose book I randomly discovered at a bookstore. I hadn't heard a whisper, a flicker, a hint of the book online or from my writing buddies/SFF circles AT ALL. Subsequently, a beautiful book suffered massive returns.

I can tell you now that GOD'S WAR had absolutely zero marketing budget. Everything it's done and achieved is through word of mouth from bloggers and colleagues who graciously let me guest blog at their places or talked about my book online. Most of whom did so because they got free electronic copies and enjoyed the book, or they'd been following my career for a long time and were happy to see my first book out.

You can't demand reviews from bloggers like they're machines or something. I count a lot of folks in the field as friends and/or colleagues. That said, I've gotten quite a few books from colleagues myself that I didn't read/enjoy/couldn't finish. Nobody demanded I talk about their books anyway (and honestly, nobody wants to see me blog about a book I hate).

I think much of the flailing we see from publishers is that they honestly don't know who that "influencial voice" will be outside of, maybe, Felicia Day or Warren Ellis. They needlessly "worry" that all the bloggers they send copies too would have actually bought copies of the book anyway. Let's be real, here: there are only so many books any one person can read. The more barriers to reading it, the less people will do it, especially new stuff that they see as a bigger risk.

I think Night Shade's policy of simply sending out electronic copies to pretty much anyone who asks, no strings attached, and giving away lots of free electronic copies during special promos is a good one. It's cheap for them and gets new books much wider readership and exposure. I don't know why other publishers jealously guard electronic copies. A lot of the folks who got a hold of GW early got it from either NetGalley or the B&N free Friday promotion.

My biggest shock in this biz was that writing a decent book was actually the easiest part. Getting it read and noticed amid the clammer and hubbub is the tough part. Why make it needlessly difficult for people who love to read and talk about books to find your book?

Honestly, the only reason you'd want to restrict digital copies is if you had a splashy marketing budget for what was actually a shitty book, and you didn't want bloggers to spill the beans on its badness until you'd gotten the big orders form the chains all locked in.

Yeah, OK, maybe I'm cynical here.

At June 14, 2012 at 7:03 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Thanks for the update, Darren.

At June 14, 2012 at 7:05 AM , Blogger Kameron Hurley said...

Mark - contact publisher and let them know who the reviewer is. They'll stop sending them physical ARC's (yeah, it's bad form to sell ARCs, especially before pub date).

At June 14, 2012 at 7:18 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

I've thought, Kameron, that the selling and marketing aspects of being an author have only increased exponentially in the last few years.

At June 14, 2012 at 7:18 AM , Anonymous Jared said...

I think you're selling yourself short there, as GOD'S WAR is about six metric fucktons better than 'decent'. (A metric fuckton is even larger than an imperial fuckton.)

I understand and agree with your point wholeheartedly - there are a lot of good books that no one hears about because of lack of marketing. If anything, GOD's WAR comes dangerously close to being a counter-example: it is a book so great that it turned readers into word of mouth machines.

At June 14, 2012 at 7:27 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting discussion, and I hope that someone could put together a panel or discussion on book blogging either at WorldCon or other event. I'd attend if I could.

I've been receiving books from several publishers for review for over 2 years now and although I try to review them in a timely manner, I have a day job, and at this point the books are at critical mass. I've had to be more selective about which ones I request, although all of the publishers that I deal with have been very good about sending every one that I ask for. I think that for the average blog reviewer, expecting or requiring a review within 1 month is just not feasible.

The site that I blog at also does not want to publish negative reviews. A few criticisms are okay, but if I hated a book or couldn't finish it, I post a mini-review on my own at goodreads. So if the publishers are looking at the book blog and expecting a doesn't always happen.

As a side note, if any authors are looking for a list of book blog sites, here is a resource:
The first site is the one where I blog, but there are a ton of others on there too, all SF friendly.

At June 14, 2012 at 7:32 AM , Blogger Becky LeJeune said...

All very valid points here, Justin! I've run into many of these issues in my years as a bookseller and a reviewer.

Quite possibly the biggest issue I've personally run into has been in moving. I've moved three times in my reviewing years. Each time, I diligently email each and every publicist and their cousin who's ever contacted me to let them know that my address has changed. And still, I get notices of packages being sent to my previous addresses well beyond any grace period for books that fall between the cracks. I've paid to have packages rerouted and have contacted each of the folks sending the new ones, sometimes to no avail. Here I am 7 months since my last (and hopefully LAST) move and still receiving notices of packages being sent to the incorrect house by folks I've spoken to personally.

At it's very basic, this seems like a giant waste of resources. My biggest concern is always that whoever is sending these will just assume that I'm not reviewing their titles anymore. Even when I'm told my info has been updated in the company system, I'm sure that my old address is being pulled from previous lists. In the long run it may be a small issue, but I would think the cost of postage (and the number of emails I get regarding books that have been sent my way and never received) would be worth some sort of effort to consolidate reviewer/blogger info.

At June 14, 2012 at 7:38 AM , Blogger Justin said...

It's quite possible, and even likely, that all of these "costs" we're talking about are completely negligible to the publisher.

But, if that's the case, why are they so concerned about getting ROI on it?

Which then makes me think maybe the costs aren't so negligible. And if they aren't negligible why do they seem to be doing such a poor job of leveraging them? No clue, but some concerns that continue to rattle around in my brain.

At June 14, 2012 at 7:44 AM , Blogger Mieneke van der Salm said...

Being located in Europe, I'd rather go for London than a US based one too ;-) Or Iceland for that matter!

At June 14, 2012 at 8:06 AM , Anonymous Jared said...

"I hope that someone could put together a panel or discussion on book blogging either at WorldCon or other event. I'd attend if I could."

I do not disagree. Although, if the Hugo Awards are anything to judge by, the WorldCon stance on blogging is ever more outdated than the publishers'. The benefit to having a separate event is that we could at least start with the assumption that blogs exist, something that WorldCon, collectively, has still to acknowledge.

At June 14, 2012 at 8:26 AM , Blogger Mieneke van der Salm said...

What's frustrating to me are the publishers that don't respond to enquiries. Since I'm not based in the UK or the US, I'm never sure whether it's because they can't send me books because of territory rights or because I'm not one of the big-hit bloggers. I know some of them don't due to territory rights, which is a bummer in and of itself, since I never really get which territory I'd fall under: English books in our bookstores are imported anyway and I buy most of my books online as most of what I want to read isn't on shelves in bookstores in my hometown anyway. (Seriously, I was at one two weeks ago and I wanted to cry, it was so bad.) But I digress... For whatever reason they want to decline, how hard is it to even send a standard reply saying thank you for interest, but you don't qualify for our review copies? It seems common courtesy and will keep people from bothering you with repeat mails. BTW, what is the common email etiquette for following up unaswered mail anyway? If you haven't heard anything for a week, do you resend, or is it two weeks, never? These things, they confuse me.

At June 14, 2012 at 8:45 AM , Blogger RobB said...

Here's a general comment for the dialogue since the publishers are coming her (nice going Justin!)

What is the statute of limitations for reviewing a book? Not exactly "we'd like you to review it within xx weeks/days/months of publication." Rather, if I've got a book that's been sitting on on either Mount ToBeread or the Knoll of Waiting Books for a year or two, does it benefit the publisher for me to review it this far after the book is on the shelves?

Is it in the publisher's better interest for the reviewer to read/review something more current?

At June 14, 2012 at 8:51 AM , Blogger Mieneke van der Salm said...

Replying to myself, as my iPad tends to freeze up when I comment on Justin's blog, so I had to fire up the laptop. However, to continue my train of thought, it seems that communication could be made a whole lot easier and less frustrating (for both sides) if it's clearer who to contact about what. Or is that a naive thought on my part?

At June 14, 2012 at 8:55 AM , Blogger Justin said...

I completely agree. I think part of the problem is a very high turn over rate among publicists in the NYC houses largely because the jobs are low-to-mid level positions in the most expensive city in the world.

At June 14, 2012 at 9:12 AM , Blogger Kameron Hurley said...

I realize authors can't be objective about their work, but sheesh, GW was declared "unmarketable" by every major publisher it went to. Once we went with Night Shade, I didn't expect to sell more than 5k copies, largely because I knew I wouldn't have much marketing support.

I still think one of the reasons it managed to make a dent early is because both Jeremy and I knew how to pitch it (Bugs! Blood! Brutal women!) and where it needed to be featured. I can point to just three or four big influencers who helped get the word out to those secondary and tertiary influencers. If I hadn't reached out to the people I knew - if I hadn't written a Big Idea piece, or been featured on the Amazon book blog by VanderMeer, or sent Niall an ARC, or Colleen Lindsay wasn't a blog follower and early reader - would the book have done as well?

Most of the review blogger requests came *after* they read Scalzi's Big Idea piece and after Colleen retweeted an ARC giveaway I was having on my blog. And *then* things started to multiply (and let's not even go into what happened after Niall started tweeting about it!That was really the tipping point from "OK, cool" to "Oh, wow.").

Myke Cole is a very good example of somebody who sort of just launched into networking in the field full-tilt. He's such a nice guy that you *want* to help and promote him. I don't know that I'd have picked up his book if we hadn't swapped copies at ConFusion. *Everybody* loves Myke Cole. And I realize now that I'm one of the suckers who really wants to see him succeed.

How that dedication to a writer's work &/or succes happens, I'm still not sure. But maybe that's why it's all so much hoo-hoo to a lot of marketing folks.

At June 14, 2012 at 9:47 AM , Blogger Bryce L. said...

Good point, probably better for the publisher, but not the author. :)

At June 14, 2012 at 4:16 PM , Blogger Civilian Reader said...

Very bad form indeed!
You/publisher can track those, though, right?
I remember a controversy a few months (maybe a year or so, now), when one eBay seller just have tons of ARCs for sale on their account.

At June 14, 2012 at 4:29 PM , Blogger Civilian Reader said...

Angry Robot's eARCs have really improved in quality, too! It would be great if more publishers took a leaf out of their book, and offered eARCs that weren't time-limited.

As long as they're good 'quality', that is - the NetGalley Kindle versions, for example, are a complete mess, and therefore I don't review any of those.

At June 14, 2012 at 4:45 PM , Blogger Francis Knight said...

"My role, as I see it, is to help readers make informed choices about how they spend their money."

Whatever else, whether you like my book or not, whatever you do, whatever people tell you, *this* is what you are here for. your opinion for good or ill,(so long as you detail why you did/did notlike) so that others can make up their own mind.

Keep doing that and you are gold.

At June 15, 2012 at 2:25 AM , Anonymous Mark Lawrence said...

I don't know if they can be tracked. If it were me firing them out, I'd number the ARCs. Do Ace do this, I don't know. Of course even if they did you would have to buy the ARC to discover who was selling it.

The fact that ARCs cost a lot to produce and distribute, combined with the fact that they can be sold for high prices, does muddy some waters. It's a shame.

My view: A blogger's only duty is to themselves. A publisher will do what it can to get the best results it can.

At June 15, 2012 at 5:10 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Obviously I am either a very lame blogger, or unlucky to be living where I do - I get relatively few review copies, and I usually have to beg for them. A bit of perspective please people ;)

At June 15, 2012 at 5:25 AM , Anonymous Isabel Costello said...

This is all very interesting to me. I live in London and blog about/review literary and upmarket commercial fiction. It's less than an year since I started my blog and one of the many happy outcomes has been connecting with publicists at many of the UK's publishing houses, some large, some not. At the beginning I got in touch asking for a particular ARC that interested me, and now I am often offered new titles in line with my interests/those of people who read my blog. I have never been refused an ARC nor has anyone ever attached any conditions to sending me one - I wouldn't be interested on that basis as I only review titles I think are worth recommending and I can't know that in advance, however much hype a book has generated. It is definitely one of my goals to promote good fiction, but for its own sake, and not in return for anything - my opinion isn't for sale (and the time I spend writing a review is worth more than the £15 it would cost to buy the hardcover!) and I'm pleased that nobody has ever appeared to believe that it is.

I do get sent more copies of great books than I could ever review, but I will at least tweet about a book if I enjoyed it. Personally, I think it's in everyone's interest to review books within weeks of publication if possible - that's when you get the most hits which is good news for all concerned.

At June 15, 2012 at 6:59 AM , Blogger Cheryl said...

Thank you. Every so often I look at how much I spend on books and wonder if I could get them for free again. Posts like this remind me why I have mostly stopped accepting books from publishers, even when they offer them.

At June 25, 2012 at 2:26 PM , Blogger WordTipping said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At June 25, 2012 at 2:34 PM , Blogger WordTipping said...

I think it is a bit of semantics to call declare yourself an "arbiter of taste". Informing the public is marketing. Blogging book reviews is sales. You are either selling the book or selling yourself.

That aside, I can see why publishers are so leery of bloggers. We have to be a huge unknown variable in their marketing plans. With so many disparate personalities, any number of unexpected and crazy things can happen. Crazy and unexpected is rarely good thing. Predictable is generally preferred.

But, engaging bloggers can have a rich payoff. Genre bloggers in particular, seem to be a close knit community with a remarkable level of group bias. Once a book gains some inertia in the community, you can generate a tidal wave of positive sentiment that is frankly priceless.

At July 7, 2012 at 4:57 AM , Blogger T. Frohock said...

If it had not been for book bloggers, Miserere would have gotten no marketing whatsoever. Only two major publications reviewed the book: Library Journal loved it and really gave it a pop; my Publisher's Weekly review read like it had been written by Liz Bourke. So I had LJ: LOVELOVELOVE; and PW: HATEHATEHATE. Neither magazine reaches the general population the way book bloggers do.

The book bloggers leveled the playing field for Miserere and told the people what the book was about. Like you guys do for a lot of books out there.

Your opinion matters. When I am looking for recommendations for our library, I rely more on book bloggers who write insightful reviews than PW or Library Journal. If I find any genre fiction that looks interesting in either of those publications, I double-check against the book bloggers to see what you guys are saying about the books.

I follow book bloggers from work and watch for the books that you are buzzing about--whether it is a big name author or whether it is someone brand new. You've all really helped me build up our collection with some new and interesting genre fiction that we might have passed over in other circumstances.

We don't have a large portion of our budget for fiction, so we have to really pick and choose what we can add. You guys take a lot of the guess work out of the process for me.



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