Fuse #8

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Do You Trust Me?

At the end of any given work day I may find myself scrounging about the office in some vain attempt to locate a book worth reviewing on my blog that night. I get my books from fellow librarians, directly from publishers, from authors, from editors, and from people who just want me to see something that they think is worth giving a second glance. Heck, nine times out of ten my books come from the huge pile of ARCs sitting in my boss's office. I honestly don't keep very good track of how one book or another falls into my lap. Then I saw this link through Jen Robinson's Book Page:

The pitfalls of receiving free books, or how not to risk your book blogging credibility.

Personally, I think it's time that book bloggers came clean. It might sound ridiculous, but I honestly think we need a code of conduct. We need to tell our readers when we are reviewing free books or when we are taking part in marketing exercises, because if we don't we run the risk of just becoming yet another cog in the public relations industry. And surely the reason we all started blogging about books was because we were sick of the mainstream media's treatment of books. If we don't clean up our act now, we might as well forget any notion of reading unbiased, reliable and truthful reviews online, because how will we ever be able to tell the difference between a genuine review and one written on obligation? I don't think it is any exaggeration to say that our credibility as book bloggers is at stake.

There's more to it than this, but you get the general gist. I don't spend sleepless nights fretting about my credibility, partly because I don't get paid for this blog. It's amazing the lackadaisical manner one can adopt when one's spending money is not endangered by your online hobby. However, it would be silly of me not to acknowledge that maybe you faithful buckaroos and buckarettes want to know if I've a personal stake in any of the books I promote. You already know that I attend publisher parties with frenzied eye and growling tum. Does that mean I'll refrain from grinding into the dust an undeserving book beneath my sensible librarian heels? Of course not. Books sent to me personally by an editor or author are titles I tend to treat differently, yes. I will never post a negative review of a book I received in the mail directly from its creators. Nor, for that matter, will I ever feel compelled to talk it up. My reviews are always my own honest opinions. I once used to review for an online book review website (which shall remain nameless) that preferred positive to negative reviews of, quite frankly, horrid titles. I'm never EVER going to go back to that again. I think what I think and that's all there is to that. If you send me the book you've spent five years slaving over and I don't like it, I'm just not going to review it. On the flip-side, I may never have gotten around to reading your book in the first place. Assume nothing.

So if you want to know how it is that such n' so a book has come to my attention, you may ask and I'll try to remember. The aforementioned article, by the way, seems partly inspired by a publisher's recent attempt to wrangle bloggers into posting positive notes on one of their titles. Kids, if I don't put ads on my blog (and I don't) then I'm certainly not going to shill for anyone. You may not know me, but you can trust me. I promise.

Please feel free to also check out Gail Gauthier's response to this same article, which is entirely eloquent. And on the opposite side of the spectrum (from Chicken Spaghetti) is Deliver Us From Latter-Day Pooters which is an amusing look at book blogging from a deliciously British P.O.V.


At 10:16 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still, as someone who has retired from reviewing, there's no denying that seeing a book presented by its creators at a pub party can influence how you feel about the book. Particularly if you see the author read. Thoughts?

At 10:46 AM , Blogger waltc said...

I don't see an ethical issue in reviewing books you received for free; when I've reviewed books (infrequently, for ALA divisional publications), the copy of the book was the only "payment" for the review, and I've always assumed that reviewers got their books free.

Touting a book sweepstakes or the like is entirely different, and does require full disclosure. But reviewing? If anyone thinks that you're out there buying a book a day with your own money so that you can write about them on a (free) blog...well, I can't imagine it.

At 12:03 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

An excellent point, anonymous. You eat their food, you drink their wine, you coo over their titles, and then you are undoubtedly softened. Thank God I don't review books right after pub parties. Fortunately, in the cool clear light of day (which is to say, by the time I get an ARC in the mail) you might take a second look at the book you drooled over earlier and find yourself less than impressed. When I went to a Little, Brown & Co. party recently there was one book that seemed cool at the time. Later on, I gave it another glance and was definitely unimpressed.

But there's no denying that I'm a persuadable beastie. And New York publishers have a distinct advantage over those not in the immediate vicinity. Then again, I've never ever been to a Penguin, Scholastic, or Simon & Schuster preview and they're located in NYC as well. Yet I give their books equal attention and love. If you were to go through all my reviews in a given year and see which books I've lauded, the lauds (is that a word?) would be distributed all over the map.

Or am I just justifying? It's worth the debate. I can't just assume I'm not being persuaded. All I can really do is be alert at all times and not bang out some glowing review last minute simply because I remember that the book was first presented to me alongside a plate of delicious chewy chocolate chip cookies.

At 2:23 PM , Blogger Liz B said...

Part of the reason I see some humor in this is that it's not new; there are plenty of freebies/promotions floating around. Look at what happens for the press when a new film comes out -- does that mean that every film critic loves the film? Nope. Look at magazines and items promoted and given away -- again, it's pretty obvious where these items come from.

Theoretically, may someone say anything just to get free books? Theoretically; however, I have yet to meet any of those people. (Now, if they gave us the wine and comfy chairs to read the books and row of computers to blog while we're drinking, I'm not sure what would happen.... KIDDING.)

And as for the little things that influence a review, I'd guess there is much more influence (including influence that people don't admit to) going on with "real" reviews in newspapers/magazines. Look at the NYT best list and the authors on the list, via bookslut: http://www.bookslut.com/blog/archives/2006_11.php#010317
and look at this author/blogger whose views on the whole matter means that an unnamed mainstream media outlet won't review her books: http://blog.susan-hill.com/blog/_archives/2006/11/17/2506962.html


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