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Review Copy Drama

Last weekend was a “constructive” weekend in the llama drama hermosophere. While I usually tend to enjoy my fair share of drama every week – bring out the popcorn – these last cases of WTFery are so extreme they have me hitting my head against a wall.

First, it starts with the website Stop The Goodreads Bullies, which is run by an anonymous group of authors (who are no longer that anonymous, thanks to the internet and some good sleuthing on book blogger’s behalf) who out reviewers who are “bullies” in their book. Mind you, they have an eye-for-an-eye mentality. Instead of dealing with what they call “bullying” (as in, bad reviews) like any decent, grown-up, mature person would, they put personal information about book bloggers on their website. A+ for maturity.

But anyway, that’s not what this topic is about. Today I want to talk about review copy drama. An author posted a “list” outing book bloggers who he apparently sent a “free” copy of his book to, in return for a review, and who ended up not reviewing his book. There’s an entire backstory here, which you can find more about in this topic on AW, talking about authors behaving badly, and in this topic, in which one of his followers/friends comes to the rescue. Apparently, one of the bloggers who agreed to review is a minor, and the author, who is an adult of 36 or 48 years old depending on the source, behaved inappropriately toward her. That’s really bad behavior, and something I completely detest, but I’ll leave it to others to mention that if they want to. I don’t want to add any drama to this blog here, and quite frankly, the case disgusts me so much I wouldn’t want to touch it with a ten-feet long pole.

What I do want to talk about, is the author’s reasoning behind why those bloggers were “evil” and he should out his so-called list, which isn’t all that impressive and only contains a handful of names. Either way, some months ago he apparently sent review copies to the bloggers mentioned and up to date they haven’t reviewed his book yet. So he calls them thiefs and liars and probably hopes to gain some positive attention from that for standing up to the bullies.

Now, while I certainly don’t condone his behavior, and I think his reasoning is faulty in more than one way, I do understand why he felt like he was being scammed. Unfortunately this is the curse of a lot of indie authors – if you’re traditionally published, you probably won’t be the one counting pennies to save up for review copies, nor will you be the one to send them out – but if you’re an indie author, you’ll have to do all of this yourself. So he probably sent out some review copies, waited patiently or impatiently for a review to show up, and then nothing. All too often authors think that makes them entitled to go on a rage fest, either privately against the blogger in question, or publically on their blog.

Don’t do that.

Seriously. The fact is that while it may cost you money to send review copies to reviewers (although a .pdf is essentially free) they haven’t signed an agreement with you. They’re not in contract with you to review your book. In most cases, they haven’t even made a promise to do so. I’m a book blogger myself. I get approximately twenty review requests a day. Just replying to all those requests (and in all honesty, I don’t always manage to reply to all of them) takes half an hour. When I tell an author I would like to review their book, that doesn’t mean I will. It does mean that I will try to, but that’s entirely different from actually saying I will do something. The reason is that I can’t honestly promise I will review each and every book people send my way. We are not getting paid for reviewing books. It’s something we do because we enjoy it, and because we want to help authors get the word out.

Most people, like me, have very busy lives. I spent eight hours a day going to classes, working on assignments and studying. I work as a freelance publicist for authors, which takes up anywhere between one and two hours a day. I need to eat. A habit which unfortunately takes up another two or three hours. I like to watch a TV series now and then, I try to work out every day for at least half an hour. On top of that, I’m also an author. Writing anywhere between one and two hours a day is a must. I have blogs to maintain, this one, and my reviewing blog. Writing a review generally takes me half an hour, writing a meme post about fifteen minutes. That’s sixteen hours a day I’m generally busy with this kind of stuff. That doesn’t include additional hours studying during exams, or when I try to have a social life. If I’m lucky, I can read up to two/three books a week. So I tend to accept the same amount of books per week.

But things happen. I get a review request for a book I think sounds so awesome I just have to read it. A new book comes out by an author I love and adore, and I buy it straightaway, and read it before I start on other books I was supposed to read. Reviewing is a hobby.

Getting a review copy and then not reviewing a book is not stealing. There are plenty of reasons why this can happen, all reasons which the author of the initial blog post failed to notice.

  1. The book sucks. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly, but when you’re accepting self-published books like I do, sometimes you come across a book that simply sucks. Bad spelling, horrendous dialogue, so much errors you start to believe it’s written by a five year old. I don’t want to be the “bad person” here, but this happens more often than you realize. To be fair, a lot of self-published books manage to amaze me as well, and there are also some traditionally published books I think are crap. But if a book sucks so much I can’t even read past page number twenty, then I won’t put myself through the horror of reading on.
  2. I don’t want to post a bad review. This is somewhat related with the previous reason. Suppose your book sucks, but it isn’t bad enough I’d stop reading. Sometimes I don’t want to pour all that negative energy I feel toward a book in a bad review. For one, it won’t do the author any good. For two, sometimes it’s just so much. So one of the reasons why a reviewer chose not to review your book could be this: they don’t want to post a bad review. Maybe it’s worth considering that.
  3. They have an impressive backlog. Trust me when I say that nearly all of us book bloggers have a backlog the size of Mount Everest. To my utmost shame I must admit that on Netgalley alone, I have about 90 books I still have to review. Part of this is because I don’t have an eReader and have to read those books on my laptop, which takes longer. Another reason is because sometimes I go review-crazy and request copies of all books I think, hope and desperately want to read, but then end up not reading. I do hope to slink down this backlog tremendously by the end of 2012, but God knows if that’ll work.
  4. They have a reviewing backlog. And yes, not only do we have a reading backlog, we also tend to have a reviewing backlog. Take a look at this impressive list. Those are only the books I’ve yet to review for this year, not counting the ones for last year, which I will get to as soon as I finish that list. Sometimes you’ve just finished a book, but you can’t bring yourself to review it just yet. You want to think about it, debate whether you liked it or not. Then something like this happens. Before you know, you have a list of 40 books you managed to read, but didn’t write a review for yet.
  5. Real Life Happens. Family dramas, tragedies, things gone wrong, all result in books not being reviewed. And can you blame them? If your spouse/child/parent/loved one ended up in an accident or gravely ill, would you even remotely think about reviewing books?

The harsh truth of the matter is that reviewers are people. We’re not perfect. We don’t have heaps of spare time we spend doing nothing but reading books. We’re busy individuals with our own lives and goals and one of those includes reviewing books as a hobby. We don’t end up not reviewing books because we’re thiefs or liars, but because we simply don’t have the time, or we simply don’t want to waste whatever time we have reading books we don’t like. For an author, especially a self-published one on a limited budget, that sucks. And I fully and completely understand that. For those authors, reviews equals purchases (or at least sometimes they thnk it does) and they sometimes pay a lot of cash to get their books to all those reviewers. In that way, I do understand where the author in question is coming from, but his reasoning simply isn’t correct.

Authors are willing to accept agents not responding to their manuscript submissions – because agents are busy, busy people with enormous backlogs – but they can’t accept the same thing from book bloggers – who are also busy, busy people with enormous backlogs. There’s a notable discrepantion here.

The author of the blog post also claims the reviewers only wanted the review copies because they’re children or adults without any money to purchase books. Unfortunately, the problem more often than not isn’t that we don’t have money to purchase books, it’s that we have so many books we’ve yet to read we can’t possibly purchase any more. My home library alone counts well over 500 books, and that’s not counting my eBooks. I want nothing more than to buy and read The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead – and trust me, I may be a poor college students, but I have enough funds left for that – but then I turn around, look at those Netgalley books still awaiting a review, and I start to think: when in God’s name will I ever read it, if I do end up buying it?

I once had an author send me a review copy of his book. I responded as soon as I’d received the book, that I’d gotten it in my mailbox. Since I live in Belgium, which for most authors is all across the Atlantic Ocean, I tend to send them a note once I’ve received the book. Next day, I receive an email back. Convinced it was just the author saying something along the lines of “Great! Happy reading!” like most authors do, I was more than a little surprised when I opened the email and saw the author asked me when I could start reading. I responded that I had some other books to read first, but would get to it as soon as possible. Two days later, I received another mail. The author asked if I had the chance to read the book yet. Again, I replied politely explaining it would probably be a few weeks. What I got in return was a nasty email in which the author got upset because I couldn’t review the book right now. The author seriously expected me to drop everything and start reading right away. Needless to say that when the author started threatening, I started sending his emails straight to the junk folder. The book remains unread.

By all means, do send emails asking when you can expect your review. But wait a few weeks. Unless you’ve agreed on a specific date, wait about two months. Then send a gentle reminder email. Always remain professional and courteous. Don’t resort to threats. Don’t expect someone to read and review your book in the nick of time. Don’t get upset when they end up not reviewing your book, and don’t take it personally. Be glad if they do, and say “c’est la vie” and move on when they don’t.

As usually, this is my own opinion. You don’t have to agree with everything I say – and I welcome discussion wholeheartedly. However, I do not want to get into the debate concerning this one author specifically (who is mentioned at the beginning of this article). That case is just too messy for me to get my hands into. I would like to discuss sending out review copies in general: do you see this as a fixed promise? Are you upset when someone doesn’t review your book? What do you think is appropriate behavior for an author in such circumstances? What isn’t? What do you think is an appropriate period of time between receiving the review copy and posting the review, and what is too long?

2 thoughts on “Review Copy Drama

    • Author gravatar

      I don’t review books I can’t give 3 stars or better for. I know reading is subjective, so if something isn’t for me, I just don’t talk about it. No need to slam anyone or start conversations that put the reviewer and the author in negative light.

    • Author gravatar

      Hey Kelly,

      I agree. I don’t tend to post reviews for books under three stars either, unless it’s a book by a well-known author who I know probably doesn’t even care about one reviewer’s opinion. Like Twilight or Harry Potter (although I loved HP). When a book isn’t good at all, I contact the author and tell them my opinion, and ask if they want me to post a review or not about it.

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