Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Review copy etiquette, questions concerning

This year I've received a couple handfuls of books from authors and publishers, ostensibly for review, for the word-of-mouth promotion this blog is capable of (hah!).

I've only accepted those books I have a genuine interest in. I've turned down (or ignored) far more offers than I've accepted.

I have, in fact, reviewed some of those books here.

Others I've chosen not to review, not because the review wouldn't be favourable (I don't think I have qualms about that in principle) but simply because I didn't feel strongly enough about them to squander the energy to string a sentence or two together. Did I do the right thing?

Still others are languishing in the to-be-read pile. Surely, I should read what I want, when I want. Why should I risk my time and patience on an author I've never heard of (after the initial lure of a plot summary, a pretty cover, and, most important, a "free" book) when I have Dumas and Stendhal at the ready? But what about my obligation? Do I have an obligation?

Please advise, fellow bookbloggers.

Do you accept review copies, and if so, what criteria do you apply for choosing which offers to accept?
Have you ever asked for a review copy?
Would you write a negative review of such a book (or have you written one), or would you simply not review it?
Do you feel committed to writing the review? A positive one? Just a mention? Do you hash out your obligations (review length, timeframe) with the contact person?
If you choose not to write a review (or if it would be negative), do you advise the contact person?
If you review a book, do you state that it was a review copy? Do you think it makes a difference?
Are you in it just for the free book? Are you exploiting the publisher for booty, or is the publisher exploiting you as a marketing tool? Do you feel you're doing a public service?

Do you feel targeted? Accurately? Given that Magnificent Octopus is part mommy-blog, part book-blog, maybe it's not surprising that the bulk of offers I receive are for mommy books (running the gamut across mother–daughter relationships, nanny tell-alls, and how to make a cool castle fort out of a cardboard box). But others I wonder about — space station romances? bulimic adventures? Do these people even read this blog? Do they know only 3 people read this blog, and that none of them are likely to take my advice about a book? (Have I just ruined my chances of ever getting another offer?) Most of the books I read and write about have been around for years, many written by dead guys. I don't even review books, not in any formal sense, I've stated often — I respond to them.

And how do I get review copies of the really good books (say, for example, the upcoming Pynchon)? (Have I just breached etiquette by asking this out loud?)

That said, I am grateful for the opportunity to discover new authors. For example, Annette Gilson, who actually read some of this blog before approaching me personally, whose New Light gave me plenty of food for thought.

Currently I'm gorging on some literary junk food — a review copy of a book I had low expectations of. But it's a guilty pleasure — secret societies and religious conspiracies. My expectations were greatly lowered when I learned the author believes she is a descendant of Mary Magdelene. Comparisons of The Expected One to The DaVinci Code (which I admit to enjoying) are obvious and inevitable. But I am about 80 pages and eating it up (it's certainly better than Labyrinth).

It's really hard to resist the offer of a free book, but nothing's really free, is it?


Diana said...

Hey, now! This third of your readership takes your recommendations very seriously! I am covetously eyeing Women in Evidence; I can get a used copy for under a buck at Amazon but I have to make some headway on my TBR stack before I'll let myself do so. It sounds very intriguing, as does his A Very Long Engagement. I was glad to be introduced to this author here. :)

But I have nothing to offer in the way of advance reader copies; I've never been approached with one.

I am wholeheartedly in agreement that there is just so much great stuff out there waiting to be read already that I wouldn't even want an advance reader copy unless it was a favorite author.

Dorothy W. said...

Good questions. I'm not entirely sure what I think. I've only been offered a review copy a couple of times, and I've ignored the offer, mainly because I knew I wouldn't read the book. I've thought that the best way to view the situation is to consider my blog its own little book review and accept copies of things I might want to review, but with no feeling of obligation about the length or nature of the review. But I'm not happy with that, really, because I'm NOT a book review, and I'd feel like I should let readers know if I were reviewing a book I'd gotten for free from the publisher.

Ann D said...

I get bombarded with review copies -- requested and unrequested. I've received at least 15 this month alone. And I get at least 5 to 10 pitches a week. I have quite a few opportunities to review books (online, in magazine columns, and via brief mentions in magazine articles, etc.), but there are cases where it's very clear I'm never in a million years going to have an opportunity to review a book. (If someone sends me a guide to Physics or Football, I'm out of my league, so I try to stop those review copies at the source!) :-) I hate writing negative reviews of books, so I tend to toss them aside and ignore them unless they are so horribly bad that they pose a danger to the world or they deliberately mislead the reader or they annoy me so much that they provoke a rant. That's my personal stance, however. Bottom line? No one should assume that a review copy = a good review. Hope this helps.

Carl V. said...

I'd feel guilty if I accepted a book for review and didn't read it...I just know this about the same time I wouldn't shy away from being honest about it. If I didn't like it I would say so. I've never asked for a book for review nor have I been asked to review anyone's book so its all just conjecture at this point. I think you should always be honest about your feelings about a book though, regardless of anyone's feelings getting hurt. If a person cannot accept criticism then being an author is not the job for them.

Miriam Jones said...

The way I see it, magazines get sent unsolicited books all the time and seem to feel no compunction to acknowledge them, never mind review them. If someone sends me something unsolicited, then they have made the decision to throw out some bait and I have no obligation. If someone asks me to review something, I often ignore it, if it is a form letter, or write and tell them it doesn't fit with the type of stuff I usually read and write about. If I think there is an outside chance I might review it I write and say that the book sounds interesting but there is no guarantee of any review ever appearing. If they want to take the risk and send it, great. Most do, too.