I love free books. I love getting them in my mailbox, I love chatting with publishers and authors, and I love discovering new authors. It isn’t the reason I got into blogging, but it’s a damn nice perk. I’ve started getting more books offered to me lately, and I’ve been thinking about what it all means. Time for a discussion post!
But First, a #HumbleBrag
I’m going to be real: the idea for this post came to me because I want to brag about some of the sweet books I got for free recently.
When I started blogging, I had no clue that there was potential for free stuff. Last year, when I started to get more serious about the blog, I noticed that other people were getting these things called “ARCs” and I didn’t even know what that stood for. This year, I’ve started to get ARCs and review copies of my very own. There are plenty of guides to getting ARCs out there, but I didn’t go through the usual channels, so, for informational purposes (i.e. bragging) here are the books and from whence they came:
- Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Kauffman: Gift from another book blogger, Brie, who got it for free when she worked at Coles.
- Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe and The Bridge of the Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart: From Shelf Awareness, a book newsletter. Shelf Awareness emailed me and asked me to put their button on my blog, which I did. I had followed them on Twitter for a while without realizing they did a newsletter, and the newsletter is quite good. There’s a great mix of literary and genre titles, and each issue has at least one book I genuinely want to read. I’m not getting compensated, but blog partners are encouraged to inquire about books we see mentioned in the newsletter, as they often have extra review copies available. I snapped up Janeites for Austen in August and I’m reading it now.
- Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist: From the publisher, on behalf of the author, who I “know” online and met briefly IRL.
- Dance, Gladys, Dance by Cassie Stocks: From publisher NeWest Press. Matt at NeWest had an extra copy, and even got it signed for me. I met Matt IRL at a book swap and since then follow on Twitter, and more recently, I’ve reviewed books for NeWest (reviews here).
- Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb: From the folks at MacEwan Book of the Year award. I RT’d them on Twitter and immediately got a DM offering me a book of my choosing from their past winners.
- Rosina the Midwife by Jessica Kluthe: Another Twitter score, I tweeted about LitFest 2013, Edmonton’s nonfiction festival, and one of the organizers offered me a copy.
- Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass: Gift from book blogger Kristilyn, who got it from a librarian who’s friends with the auhor.
- Rupert’s Land by Meredith Quartermain and The Insistent Garden by Rosie Chard: From publisher NeWest Press.
- (Not pictured) Roost by Ali Bryant: Ebook from publisher Freehand Books. They contacted me about Roost, and I shamelessly asked if they’d also send me The Dilettantes, which should be arriving any day now.
- (Not pictured) Stories About Storytellers by Douglas Gibson and The Watch that Ends the Night by Hugh MacLennan: From publisher ECW Press. ECW contacted me about their Storytellers Book Club. They’re sending me the books in exchange for participating and talking about it on the blog (post coming soon). I would have done it anyways, as I’m a sucker for CanLit.
So, free books. What’s wrong with that? Well, nothing necessarily, but there are a couple of ethical things to consider. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Confession: In my Top 5 Edmonton Books post, I didn’t disclose that I received a review copy of Love Letters from the publisher. Now, it actually was my most anticipated title, even before I got my copy, and I ended up paying for a Kobo copy anyway, but I think I was remiss in not mentioning it, so I’m going to edit my post. Looking back, I can see how it’s a little sketchy for me to put it front and centre and not let people know.
If you’ve noticed a bit of an upswing in disclosures lately, it’s probably because the FTC has new strict guidelines for bloggers in the States. Here’s a breakdown of what it means for book bloggers. I agree that a book review should cite the source, but the guidelines seem a bit much, suggesting that tweets about reviews should have “ad” or “sponsor” in them. “Sponsored posts” make my eyes glaze over, and I don’t know, is an ARC really a “sponsorship?”
Marketing or Literary Criticism?
Blogs often walk the line between commentary and commercial. Most book blogs aren’t 100% scholarly reviews, or 100% marketing and giveaways and swag (well, I don’t follow ones like that, anyway-) most of us are somewhere in the middle. Is there a tipping point, where a literary blog becomes part of the marketing machine? Does it matter? Is it bad to be in the business of marketing books, if that’s what you love?
Book Blog or (gulp) Lifestyle Blog?
Maybe this question is more to the point: are book bloggers just a subset of lifestyle bloggers? By lifestyle I mean cooking, decorating, parenting, crafting and the like. Reading is a lifestyle, isn’t it?
Lifestyle blogging has a real stigma attached to it, and they really aren’t my bag, for the most part. So many product reviews. So many “Nestle Moms” and “Kinder Kids” and “PG Moms” (the latter had an epic backlash on Twitter about “working for toothpaste.”) The disdain for these types of blogs sometimes comes down to ethics of the sponsor companies or the morality of documenting your kids’ lives for profit, but some of it comes down to whether or not the work that goes into blogging is worth money, and more to the point, whether traditional women’s work is worth money. (ETA: relevant to book bloggers, since we’re mostly female, and mainstream book reviews are dominated by male reviewers covering male authors. Google “VIDA count” for more info.)
So is a mommy blog promoting Proctor and Gamble for free samples the same as a book blogger reviewing an ARC they got from a publisher? I don’t know the answer, but I think I just got off my high horse about mommy blogs.
Blogging About Real Live Authors Who Might Read Your Review
Another fun ethical dilemma is how do you rate your review books? Does it make a difference if you know the author will see your review? I will cop to going a little easier on new authors, who tend to be my free review books, because when you’re a Canadian author with a small publisher, every review counts. I will also cop to be harsher on established authors, partly because I expect more, and partly because I know they can take it – and they’ll likely never even see it. I won’t mince words in my actual review though. I’ve been lucky, so far, all the review books I’ve read have been wonderful. But I know I’ll read a clunker one day, and I’ll have to write an honest review, gently worded or not.