Blog Posts for Nothing’, and Books for Free

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.

So pretty

So pretty

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.

And… discuss.



  1. Megan

    Getting free books is awesome. I got behind with them though and am trying to catch up before requesting any more. I feel likw if the publusher went through the trouble to send me a copy, I damn well better read and review it!

    I also agree that it’s tough to give a harsh review to an author that was kind enough to send you a free book.

  2. Felicia Sparks

    The FTC rules I think are a little over the top excessive too. Though I have just gotten to where I tweet just a link to the review with the book title and author without any pro or negative (though they don’t care about that) thoughts in the tweet. That way I don’t have to put any of those words in it. I think they did it because there are some big blogs out there in the lifestyle world that do have a lot of impact on their readers. I also think it might have to do with stars tweeting out stuff without noting that they were paid to try, travel, or shout out a product. I just give it best effort though, I don’t really think the FTC is worried about the little guys LOL

    Negative reviews or turning down review books is tricky. There is no great way to do it but it needs to be done or you will get overwhelmed (or feel dishonest). I always say to be true to yourself and think of both as necessary evils. I just try to deal with both the same way I would at work and be fair but honest. Still I have a harder time with those than the books I love or want to review LOL

  3. Kevin Brennan

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this review dilemma too. As an indie author, I want to be able to help other indies by reading and reviewing their work, but often I find it hard to rate something honestly (and in comparison with a traditionally published novel) without hurting the book’s chances. If I’m too positive over a piece o’ crap, my own reputation gets marred, and if I’m too negative I’ll minimally hurt the author’s feelings and her sales as well.

    Tricky business!

  4. Rick @

    Maybe I’m the odd one out here, but I have absolutely no problem giving a bad review to a book that was sent to me. I’m aware that it’s possible that publisher might never send me a review copy again, but I’m fine with that. I’ve bought 99% of the books I’ve reviewed, so if I don’t get any ARCs it doesn’t change anything for me. Review without fear! lol

    • lauratfrey

      It’s not so much that I think I won’t get more ARCs. That wouldn’t phase me too much. It’s fun and exciting but I still read more classics and established authors than anything else, and always will.

      It’s more that a poor review for a brand new author, one without a big publisher’s marketing behind them, could have an impact on their sales – an impact they might notice. And not appreciate 🙂 Maybe I’m suffering from delusions of grandeur, or maybe it’s a book blogger thing – *I* am pretty heavily influenced by other bloggers in terms of what I read, but maybe other people aren’t.

      • Rick @

        If you give a negative review, and it has an impact on sales, why is that a bad thing? If it’s a bad book, it’s a bad book. Not your fault. I get that a part of you feels like you’re playing a role in crushing someone’s dream. But if it’s a bad book and you think that people shouldn’t waste their time and/or money on it, that’s what you’re there to do, isn’t it?

        Or, just don’t post reviews of books you dislike, and save you and the author a headache 🙂

        I once emailed an author while I was reading her book (it was an ARC) to say that I wouldn’t be able to give a positive review, so I didn’t write a review. Apologized that she sent it to me and I didn’t review it, thanked her for it, wished her luck, and everything was great. She appreciated my honesty and the fact that I was looking out for her (she was a first time author).

      • lauratfrey

        Yeah, I hear ya! That’s why I wrote this post, I feel a little conflicted and weird about review books. And maybe the whole purpose of book blogging. I don’t know if that’s what I’m here to do – help people avoid wasting money, that is. I’m here because I love books, because I want to talk to other people who love books, because I need a creative outlet, lots of reasons.

        Personally I find the notion of not reviewing a book because I didn’t like it even more problematic… I’ve been pitched a book with something like “if you don’t feel like you can write a positive review, don’t feel obligated to write one” and I was like… I’ll write it if I want, positive or negative 🙂 The books I don’t review are more likely the ones I didn’t feel strongly about either way. I don’t think it’s a problem for *you* to decide not to review something, I just felt a little weird about how this particular email was worded.

      • Rick @

        This is definitely a divisive issue, and there’s probably no right answer. It all depends on your goals, really. That’s a great point you made about not really being here to help people spend their time/money. Some people see it that way, some people don’t. Any both are okay. I’m more like you. This is more an outlet for creativity and a place to meet like-minded people. If I can help people along the way, that’s great, but it’s not the be-all-end-all.


        If I read a book that I find particularly terrible, and I believe others will as well, I do feel obliged to say something, even as a quasi-public service announcement 😀

  5. Rick @

    Never thought about book blogs as lifestyle blogs before. But I suppose it’s hard to deny that they’re at least a subset of them.

    I also never considered ad-heavy-ARC-heavy blogs as marketing blogs. A good number of them kind of are. That’s a good point. An important point, even.

  6. Kristilyn

    Love the Dire Straits title. 🙂

    I do get a lot of ARCs, but I always mention the source being the publisher, as well as thank the publisher before my review. I mean, you can’t be too careful. Though, I’m not sure what rules apply in Canada?

    I definitely don’t consider the authors when I rate books. I’m rating a book based solely on my thoughts on the book — if it’s a low rating, I’m sorry, but that’s what I think! Or, it’s a high rating and you’ll find me gushing about it everywhere!

    • lauratfrey

      Thanks for getting the song reference 🙂

      That’s good, I think it’s best to be honest. It’s not something I’ve really had to deal with yet, as the review books I have read have all been great. Hopefully I will be honest too, when the time comes!

  7. Pingback: Another Book Blog
  8. Rory

    Excellent topic. The disclosure thing irritates me. Should you disclose it? Yes. The sponsored tweet thing is far too much though.

    I’ve never thought of book blogs as lifestyle blogs, but they sort of are – it’s just the particular lifestyle we are embracing. Someone spending ten hours making a birthday cake and blogging about it is really no different than my spending 10 hours reading a book and blogging about it.

    As for negative reviews, I don’t post them. Someone recently told me that it diminished my credibility. It might, of course, but I don’t want to promote books I don’t like. Also, authors work really hard on their books, who am I (as a casual blogger only) to critique their work. So I’ll only write about 2.5/5 and higher. Anyway…

    • lauratfrey

      Yeah, to me a sponsored tweet means the person was paid to tweet about something. When I tweet about my blog the only thing I’m promoting is me 🙂

      Interesting, that’s a couple of bloggers that don’t post negative reviews. It’s not something I ever considered. I definitely feel the same way about tearing down something that someone worked hard for.

  9. Brie @ Eat Books

    Hmmmm so much to think about! First of all, I’ve only ever really done two review books and that was enough for me. (I’ve learned I don’t do well with reading deadlines!) And I did feel obligated to pad my “review”. But that being said, I think it depends on WHY you didn’t like a particular book, review book or not. Sometimes I don’t like a book, but if I’m able to articulate why, in a manner that shows it just “wasn’t for me”, that doesn’t mean someone else won’t like it. Those reviews are important I think, and often a “bad” review makes me want to read a book even more, especially if it’s a genre or subject or author that I normally like.

    That being said, I really can’t stand the “word” ARC. And for the most part, I will skip any blog posts that have ARC in the title of the post. I don’t know if it’s because I feel like the blogger is just reading books because they got them for free or if it’s because I have a hard enough time keeping up with current and past books I want to read. Is there a difference between ARCs and “review” books. Are bloggers as discriminatory about which ARCs they receive over “review” books? (It seems ARCs are given out in large proportions). I don’t know, my brain hurts trying to even makes sense of this all right now lol.

    I never thought of book blogs as a subset of lifestyle blogs, but it definitely makes sense. Especially since my favourite book blogs are where the bloggers personality really shines through. I don’t keep coming back just to read about books – I can read about books anywhere on the internet – what keeps me coming back is the blogger behind the blog. But just as I can’t stand lifestyle blogs that constantly post about free samples from companies or “sponsored” posts, I am turned off by book bloggers only reviewing ARCs or review books. Really, how is it any different? Free is free, no?

    • lauratfrey

      Haha about hating “ARC.” I think they’re kind of cool because you’re getting a sneak peek. Exclusivity. A review book is something anyone else can get – but it’s special because you got it for free.

      VERY true about negative reviews making you want to read a book. I’m the same way. Sometimes I want to read it to see if it’s really that bad, sometimes so I can prove the blogger wrong. So maybe I shouldn’t freak out about bad reviews. I should assume the people reading my blog have the critical thinking skills to decide if a book is for them or not 🙂

      • Brie @ Eat Books

        Exactly! 🙂 I don’t think I’ve ever not read a book that I’ve been wanting to read just because someone told me to skip it.

        Do you think we would feel differently about posting less-positive reviews of newly released books by smaller authors from smaller publishers if we paid for said books? (As opposed to receiving these books as “review” books which are then free?) Does free = more obligation to provide a good review or no review at all (if we didn’t like it)?

  10. Mandy

    I wouldn’t say that I don’t write bad reviews anymore, but just that if a book is THAT bad, I don’t even have the heart to finish it at all. I have written some negative reviews before — one that may have been too harsh, but it was truly how I felt about it. I do try to think, “What if I was reading this about MY writing?”, which does make me be nicer and not take a total dump on someone’s dream. But at the same time, sugarcoating my opinions isn’t exactly being honest, either.

    I don’t know! It’s tough. I think it’s up to each blogger to do whatever they’re comfortable with. As for what Rory mentioned, that someone said negative reviews diminish credibility — TOTAL disagreement. Roger Ebert had some awesome negative reviews and that obviously didn’t hurt him any. And there are wayyy more damaging blogger antics than just writing negative reviews.

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