The Tattered Scroll News, Reviews, & Opinions on Fantasy Books


The William Morrow Blogger Hubbub

I guess I should start this off by hoping I spelled "hubbub" correctly :)

It seems there is a bit of a stir going around the blogs and I find myself to be a minority of one (so far) in finding no major problem with the letter Morrow sent to some bloggers. You can find the entire letter here. Larry and Pat posted their opinions, so check those links to see how little they agreed with the letter, then come back here for my thoughts. Overall, I don't see what the big deal is with this. I understand Larry's points and see where he is coming from, but ultimately I don't think Morrow is being unreasonable. So let's break down the letter (I'll break it down in the same order as Larry, and try to offer my take on things.

Under the new system, you will no longer receive titles piece-meal. Instead, you'll receive 1-3 emails during the month with all of our upcoming titles available for your review, one month ahead of the on-sale date. You'll be directed to a Google form where you can request up to three of your choices. Of course, we'll still happily pay the shipping. Your job is simply to review the book within a month of receiving it and post your thoughts on your blog or site. Ideally, we'd like for reviews to appear online within two weeks to a month after the on-sale date, so you might keep this in mind when selecting books.

Now I admit that using the words "Your job is.." is unfortunate. I'll assume they don't mean that literally and intend it to read more like "What we would like you to do". I think it makes a lot of sense for them to stop sending out unsolicited review copies, and instead only send them to reviewers that have specifically asked for the book. Totally understandable that they want to cut costs by not sending out a ton of books that a lot of reviewers might have no interest in reviewing. Also, I see no problem with them wanting a timely review, since that first month is so important to both the author and the publisher.

When you've reviewed a book you've chosen and sent us an email with a link to the posted review, you will be eligible for a free giveaway copy. Just let us know in the email that you'd like to host a giveaway. We'll pay for the shipping to the winner within the US and Canada.

I can see how some take this as a pay-off kinda thing. We review (and thus promote) their book, and they will give us a giveaway copy that in turn gives some publicity to the blog. Now, if the giveaway copy is restricted to bloggers who posted a positive review, then I've got a problem with it. If the giveaway copy is available regardless of the content of the review, then I don't have a problem with it. I'll be the first to admit I can be naive and take things at face value. But to me, this just sounds like a "hey, since you took the time to promote (review) our book, we'll give you a copy to promote your blog". So as long as there are NO CONDITIONS ON THE CONTENT OF THE REVIEW, I don't think a blogger is a "sellout", or that their reviews are now suspect because they agreed to these new rules.

Additionally, you'll no longer receive books that you didn't order. No more random books showing up on your doorstep! You'll only receive the titles that you want.

Not much to say here..taking this sentence in isolation, how you can argue there is something wrong with Morrow wanting to stop sending unsolicited books? I almost never request review copies anymore, and haven't for well over 2 years (partially because when I did request a copy of a book from Orbit/Pyr/Tor, I didn't get them so I quit asking. I point this out not to whine about my lack of review copies, but to point out the fact that I have no hidden agenda. I basically have no relationship with any publishers at this point for some reason. Thus I am not making these arguments to defend myself or my "publisher friends".). I do still get some unsolicited copies, and 90% of them are SF, Urban Fantasy, or Paranormal romance. Three genres I never read and will never review. I have no idea how I got on the wrong list for a couple of publishers. Its pretty obvious I read only epic fantasy (and sometimes espionage), yet of the 30 or so review copies I have received this year, maybe 5 of them were epic fantasy (pretty much all of those from J.G. at Tor). In other words, those other 25 books I received go straight to the used book store...a total waste of money for the publishers who sent them to me. I tried a couple of times to email them to clarify what I read and don't read, but nothing happened. I think cases like mine are one of the big reasons this letter from Morrow came about.

If it isn't already clear, WE LOVE THAT YOU LOVE OUR BOOKS! And to allow us to continue to offer free copies and free shipping to you committed book reviewers, we will be tracking how many reviews we receive from you. If we notice that you request books but aren't posting your comments or sending us the link, we may suspend your ability to receive review offers from us. We know you're busy bloggers – if you don't think you'll be able to post a review within a month, please pass on that offer so we can continue to offer you free books in the future!

I can see how the above comments look a bit shady, since it pretty much states that if you request books and don't review them, you might stop getting books. On the other hand, I don't see a problem with it. Why should they continue to send books if a reviewer continually promises to review their books, but doesn't? Bloggers aren't entitled to review copies. If I accept that their proposition to only send out copies to those who request them is ok, how can I have a problem if they eventually stop sending books to bloggers who explicitly agree to review books (by requesting a copy), but don't follow through with the review? Heck, I'm guessing this is why I don't get review copies from Orbit, Pyr, etc...even when I reviewed more often, it was still way less than other bloggers. Thus they weren't really getting a return on their costs of sending me books. If they had a limited number of ARCs to send out, it makes sense for them to give priority to those who post reviews more often.

I think when you really examine this argument as a whole, I think it comes down to the fact that I don't think blogger reviewers are on the same level as those for a major newspaper or magazine. Before my fellow bloggers start hating me (maybe its already too late)...I don't mean that in terms of writing quality. I just mean that (I think) most reviewers for newspapers and magazines are professional reviewers...reviewing is their job/career. For most bloggers (I assume), reviewing is just an extension of the hobby they love (reading). Maybe my opinions are tainted because I don't take my reviews seriously cuz I think I can't write a quality review. But I just don't have a problem with there being one set of rules for reviewers for major newspapers/magazines, and another set of rules for blogger reviewers. I know I might continue to be a minority of one in this, and every other blogger will completely disagree. In the end, I would have no problem agreeing to the intent of the Morrow letter. And I wouldn't feel like a chump, or an untrustworthy reviewer, for doing it.

And just for the record, I don't have any ties to William Morrow. I've only received one review copy from them...2 years ago. It was a Tim Dorsey book that I specifically asked for, and still haven't read. At the time of the request, I had read every Dorsey book so I assumed it was safe to request (as I felt it was a sure bet I would review it). At the time, there was no conditions on my review copy. But I still felt guilty asking for the book and never reviewing it. I actually continue to buy Dorsey's books with the hope of finally getting caught up at some point.

What are your thoughts? (I ask as I put on my flame retardant suit)

Comments (7) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Given that is must cost them a lot of money to send out all those review copies, trying to change the system makes some sense. What might happen is that everybody goes for the popular titles or those that are right in the middle of their comfort zone and ignores the rest. I’m not sure how well this would work for debut novels or novels in a very particular niche.

    Then again, I have only recieved one unsolicited review copy ever, so maybe people who do recieve stacks of them look at this differently.

  2. Can you see Tor, Orbit, Del Rey/Spectra pulling something like this?

    • I don’t really know, honestly. But why would that matter? How does the “who” change anything? I think I made my argument in general terms, so I would be fine with it no matter which publisher had sent that letter. Though I guess your statement would be that bloggers make up a much higher percentage of total SFF reviewers than other genres?

      • Though I have no numbers nor do I even know if there are Romance blogs and/or Western Literature blogs, I suspect there are indeed more SFF revierwers/bloggers than other genres. There’s always been a large SFF fan community so it seems logical.

        My offhanded comment was meant to imply the other large SFF publishers/imprints (Tor, Orbit, Del Rey/Spectra, Roc/Ace/DAW, Pyr, Nightshade, Baen) all have great outreach/publicity to the blogger/Web reviewer community.

        In concept, I suppose I can understand *why* the Morrow /HarperCollins is issuing the statement and why they want to cut down shipping costs of sending books that don’t get reviewed. In practice, the other major publishers I mentioned have not only good outreach to the online SFF community, they actually have functioning, active, and (for the most part) robust online presences. This all tells me, compared to the other publishers/imprints that SFF to Harper Collins is an afterthought, at best.

  3. Well, to understand my position, you’d first have to know that I am a freelance reviewer in addition to someone who runs a relatively successful blog. Therefore, I’m not in the position of needing to ask for everything; a lot is pitched to me first. I think that approach, having publicists trying to get me to consider their books (which I often don’t, I’ll admit, due to a variety of reasons) allows for there to be virtually all of the pros of the WM proposal (fewer waste of books being printed/sent out to disinterested parties) without the terminology devolving to a quasi-employer/employee relationship.

    One thing I didn’t state in my article last night is that behind this nice new proposal lurks the removal of human-to-human contact in the form of the publicists inquiring first if we want something; the reviewer is to choose from a catalog. That itself is rather troublesome in that it reduces things to an impersonal business transaction rather than the more traditional client-vendor model.

    None of this by itself is alarming, merely grating. But when taken as a whole, it serves to highlight the primacy of advertising/marketing over the older reviewing model. Not something I particularly care to be a part of, not that I was really playing by these rules in the first place.

  4. I can see both sides of the argument. On one hand, the ability to request the books instead of getting them in your mailbox completely unsolicited is great for both parties, since it ups the odds that a reviewer is going to like the book they request and thus write a positive review, and it means that the reviewer isn’t stuck with a bunch of random books that they don’t want and can’t do anything with but shell out the money to ship them to someone else. This kind of thing is why I enjoy sites like NetGalley. I request the books I want to read, and ignore the ones I don’t.

    On the other hand, I also don’t like the “your job” lines. It implies that reviewers are working directly for the publishing company. Which they aren’t. It also implies that reviewers automatically and always have the ability to accommodate that review schedule. Writing a review a month after receiving the book doesn’t sound so bad if you take it on its own, but it puts an awful lot of time constraints on the reviewer that aren’t always easy to meet. By this model, there will always be plenty of books that a potential reviewer might want but won’t be able to review until, say, a week past the deadline due to other commitments that they’ve made. Under this new structure, the reviewer gets no book at all, and the publisher doesn’t get any review from them, whereas had they been a bit more flexible, the reviewer could have been a little outside the deadline and potentially driven the sales of the book up even further, even though the review wouldn’t get posted at the height of the hype. It’s a very rigid structure that doesn’t allow for much outside of itself, and that’s not going to do much but cut down on reviews. it’ll save the publisher some money in the beginning, but might cost them more in the end.

    It doesn’t matter to me personally, because 9 times out of 10 any requests I make for that publisher’s books get completely ignored anyway, so this doesn’t affect me in the slightest. But I still don’t much like it, and I think a better system needs to be devised. The old one was flawed. This one is still flawed, just in different ways, but people in power often only see that it fixes old flaws and ignore the new ones they’ve just put in place.

  5. I agree with the majority here that it is probably necessary to change their business plan. Imagine how many reviewers are out there and how many books they have to send without seeing a penny. On the other hand, it will be difficult for bloggers and for readers of blogs to encounter a good new author/book. I hope that everything will change with massive usage of ereaders and ebooks. This would be the easiest way how to provide you and other reviewers with many requested or random books.

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