Tuesday 6 April 2010

Don't start a blog to get free books

Posts that offer blogging advice are pretty plentiful across the interwebs, though of course some are more worthwhile than others. I stumbled across this post recently, and I thought it warranted a post of my own as I'm not sure I like the tone of the advice being given.

The advice itself is all pretty standard, helpful stuff - no problem there. Much of the advice offered mirrors my own tips that I posted a while back.

But what bothers me is the emphasis that this particular article places on how to go about getting ARCs. For example:

5. Be consistent. If you are serious about being a book blogger and you want to get ARCs on a regular basis, then you need to be consistent in providing content to your readership and to those who are supplying you with the ARCs. Don’t ask for an ARC, especially in the beginning, and not review it.
This bothers me, because in my opinion running a book blog should not be about getting free books. As far as I'm concerned, a good book review blog will be a hobby, and therefore a labour of love by the person writing it. That's exactly what Speculative Horizons is. Forget the fact I get free books and that I get invited to publishing events - this blog is a hobby. I do it for fun - getting free books was never a motivation behind why I started it.

Interestingly, this article makes the following point:
If you treat your blog as a hobby you cannot expect others to regard you seriously.
Now, while the author does go on to clarify this statement, I still have to disagree with it on a basic level. I think treating your blog as a hobby is crucial - after all, that's why you should have started it in the first place. If it's not a hobby, then what is it? A job? The minute a blog stops being a hobby (if it ever was one) then it becomes something else, and this possibly leads to issues relating to integrity and impartiality.

But increasingly I'm seeing people who seem to want to get into blogging not so much because they love books and reading, but because they want free books and a slice of the action.

To me, this simply isn't right.

Yeah, it's cool to get free books. I received two yesterday, and even though it's a common occurrence, I still get a litle excited when I open the packs to see what's in them.

But getting free books is a bonus, a perk. It's a sign that a publisher takes you and your blog seriously and thinks you're worthy of receiving a review copy. Quite often, it's the result of a mutual relationship between you and the publisher that's been built on mutual trust and respect - a relationship that may have taken some time to develop.

Which is why it pisses me off to see people offering advice about how to get ARCs as quickly and easily as possible - as if it's some God-given right that bloggers have and are entitled to.

Such advice also places far too much emphasis on ARCs, as if they're vital to blogging. They're not. They save you money, and sometimes help you review books before the public get to read them. That's it. But you don't need ARCs to be able to run a successful blog. For the first twelve months of running Speculative Horizons, I mostly bought my own books and reviewed them; I received very few ARCs. Did this make it difficult for me to blog? No. Did it hamper my enjoyment of blogging? No.

Hence why I'm growing increasingly irritated by the apparent obsession some would-be bloggers have towards ARCs. Forget about them - if you're thinking of starting a blog in order to get free books, then you're getting into blogging for the wrong reason. The best blogs are the ones that are run by people who love the genre, love books, and want to talk about them - which is why they started blogging. 

I'd question whether a blog that is started for any other reason would have the same integrity and spirit - somehow I doubt it.

So can we just kill this growing obsession with ARCs, before it becomes a serious problem for the blogosphere?

I could go off on a tangent about what I believe a blogger's role to be, but that's an argument for another day...

As always, constructive thoughts and comments welcome.


Jamie Gibbs said...

I couldn't agree more. Getting the free books is an awesome privilege, but it's just that, it's not something that a blogger should be entitled to. I have a massive amount of respect for reviewers who's bulk of work comes from their own libraries and ultimately their own pockets. They are devoting so much time and energy into their hobby that it's inspiring (and probably the thing that kick started my foray into book blogging). I've been lucky enough to receive 2 books since starting, but almost all of my reviews are from my own collection or the library (the only downside to this usually means that the books I review are a few years old).

Liz said...

Jeebus, I cannot imagine the guilt that must come from relying only on books received from publishers. It's bad enough that I get guilt from looking at books I've bought!

Yeah, getting books sent to you is a pat on the back saying "well done" from publishers and "give these new ones a try, we hope you like them". Something never to take for granted.

Also, if you have readers who respond back to reviews that's an even bigger compliment, in my opinion. Or, if an author / artist emails you out of the blue to point out that the review you've given them is ace and that wow, they are glad they made an impact...how much kudos is that?

Reviewing is fun. It's hard work, incredibly so, and maybe it's a compliment to the old hands that so many new ones have sprung up...maybe we've made it look easy?

Magemanda said...

I definitely agree that getting into the blogging gig should not be about the free books, at all.

Most of those who care enough about reviewing books to start a blog will have a massive library at home anyway, so really have no need for the new books for reviewing purposes.

At the moment I receive books for review and I love it. Every day it happens is a great and very exciting day - but I do not regard it as a right. It is most definitely a privilege. And I also frequently still buy my own books - I have brought the six books shortlisted for the Arthur Clarke so I can read and review them. While at Eastercon I brought some forthcoming YA titles from Gollancz because I wanted to read them and did not want to assume I would be sent them.

I think that people who start blogs about books should concentrate on building their review library without even trying to receive free books.

For me, as well, the books I receive are not 'free' - they carry an obligation. I don't HAVE to review ALL of them, but I do want to because of the way it builds a good relationship between myself and the publisher who was kind enough to consider me.

Harry Markov said...

I started with that thought in my mind, because I live far away from all the action and a paperback can be up to thrice the same price in the US/twice in the UK for instance and that is not so cool.

However, reading defines me and I am passionate about the touch, the feel and the opportunity to talk and be heard and communicate with readers and authors and people, working what I would love to do one day. :)

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Myself and my partner started a review blog about a month ago because we are both crazy about books and we thought it would be something fun for us to do together. When we started I didn't even know that people got free books for reviewing them on their blog. Well it sounds lovely and I spend so much on books that a free on would always be welcome. However I blog for fun and because I want to share my love of books and also get inspriation from other blogs on what to read, since I am always on the look out for new authors.
It does seem a little mercenary to start a blog with free stuff in mind. I have so many to read and review right now anyway that I don't know what i'd do with more!


Valashain said...

That post you're referring to is mistitled. To get into bookblogging you shoud:

1. create a blog,

2. write about books.

That all there is to it if you ask me. No need to make it any more complicated :P

The idea of that post seems more oriented on gaining recognition from publishers and on how to receive free books. Which, as you've already pointed out, completely besides the point.

I guess being able to review a book before it is published is a perk and very nice to do once in a while but personally I think getting a good response to that obscure book published twenty years ago by an author nobody reads any more is more gratifying.

Ironically the two review copies I have received since starting Random Comments can't actually be used for that blog since in both cases I was asked to write a review in Dutch. It makes me wonder if there's a market for a bilingual blog :P

Anonymous said...

Totally agree James! I also doubt anyone who started a blog for this reason would have the motivation to carry on for very long.

My own initial motivation perhaps slightly different from some, was to write more. I saw blogging as an opportunity to exercise my writing muscles. Then in the act of blogging about what I'm reading or interested in reading come the reviews and other features.

I don't mind asking for an ARC, especially if I have an interview or feature planned, but that is not why I blog. I'm not particularly swayed by review copies sent either, as I mostly tend to know what I want to read/review/feature in advance.

Unknown said...

My stance has always been if the books come, they come, if they don't they don't. I'm not going to sugarcoat reviews or suck up to publishers for books.

In the same way, sending me a book is by no means a guarantee for me to review it. If I request a book personally because I wanted to read it, then I wil guarantee a review. My blog is a hobby, something I do in my ever shrinking ammount of spare time. I don't get paid for it, so if I treat it like a job I am just being stupid.

Bill said...

Here's the thing. I started off reading a few review blogs, not because of the reviews so much as the industry news.

The more I got invested into my writing, the more reviews I began to read, looking for themes and responses for new releases (mostly, to make sure that I'm still original and that I'm not making common mistakes).

The idea to start a blog was borne of love of books (as Raine noted, above) and the writing process, and for myself, a step closer to those who sway opinion.

Having noted those things, I read tons of "In my mailbox" posts every week - if anyone thinks that those posts do anything but make people think "I could be getting free books, too" - I would respectfully disagree.

It's not the lone articles like the one you posted that give the wrong impression, it's the gleeful posts of "Lookie what I got!" that give the impression.

Bryce L. said...

I started my blog because I read so much I was confusing storylines. I wanted a place to keep a record of my thoughts on each book. If I get ARCs I won't complain, but it's more like giving cocain to an addict. It just makes me have to buy the sequels or the prequels or more books that are similar.

I think, however, that a blog can be run successfully based solely on the goal of getting ARCs. That person would probably be much more active at posting than me, better at putting together interviews and events, etc, etc.

Would I enjoy a blog with that focus? Probably less and I probably wouldn't visit as often, but I think overall they could get quite a following.

Neth said...

bah, most 'blogging tips' kind of posts are pure bullshit anyway. Either they state the obvious or they go totally off-base.

If a blog isn't done for the 'love' of it (translate as a hobby if you wish), I'm not interested. A more business-like approach is simply less genuine and I'm not interested in it. A first cut is 'does a blog have ads?'. If it does, then it's likely too far gone for my tastes. Multiple contributers are often a sign (to me anyway) of blog gone off its rails. I have limited time, and I want passionate blogs in it for the love of reading.

Now, in book blogging terms I'm something of an old fart - getting free books was no where near the reason I started because it simply didn't happen at that time. Sure, fast forward a few years and I get loads of free books and yes, I even use my blog to leverage getting books I want to read. But getting free books never was and still isn't anywhere near the top reason why I blog.

Aarti said...

This is a great post, but I wonder if the comments it attracts will all be from the "I agree" camp. No one really WANTS to admit they are blogging for free books. And I think many of us who have been blogging for some time think that free books come with experience and establishing yourself, but more and more I seem to find that isn't true. A LOT of people get free copies of books- not just to read, but also to give away.

I like getting free books as much as the next person but I think now I've gotten to the stage where I am saying no much more than I am saying yes to free books (this may be because the fantasy imprints of publishers seem to ignore my blog :-( I bet if they contacted me with review requests, I'd have a harder time saying no). But when you have new book after new book thrown at you, it's hard to read the ones on your shelves. And I feel like there are many backlist books that deserve attention on blogs, too. So I'm personally at the point of reverting back to the original way I did my blog- reading books that I own and not worrying about ARCs!

Sam Sykes said...

If you want free books, become an author.

ARCs are a nice benefit, but if you're starting a blog for any reason beyond "I have something to say," you're doing it wrong.


Stephen Aryan said...

The reasons I started doing it were because I tend to read a lot of books, more so than some of my friends, and many of the books are fantasy/ sci-fi etc which they don't read. So I don't always have an avenue to discuss the book or to put down on paper, sometimes for my own sanity, why I liked or disliked a book. Also, I've recently introduced a few people to fantasy books via the podcast, and they were very surprised by how much the genre has changed, or rather, their impression was one thing and the books nowadays are no longer that. So there again a blog was an opportunity for me to ramble on, and them to get some good book recommendations. Win-win for everyone. As Val and others have said, it's about creating a blog and writing about books, and the rest, if anything for those who get it, is gravy.

Anonymous said...

Stephen's pretty much summed up the main reason I can see for creating a book blog - certainly the main reason I read them: to share what you think and feel about a book with other people who are into the same kind of thing. Sometimes reading can be quite a lonely thing ... it's fascinating to hear how other people respond to the same characters/stories - and if they seem to buzz to the same things as you, then you know their recommendations are worth checking out.

I write about the books I read for myself - to help me focus my thoughts and really think about the book I've just read, rather than just tossing it aside and immediately picking up the next. I've got so much more out of reading recently - actually exploring the authors, their backgrounds, their influences and the way they influenced others etc.

The Evil Hat/Nat said...

The advice in the linked post seems decent to me, but the emphasis is horribly, horribly wrong. I'm not going to lie, getting an ARC would make my day. My week. Hell, maybe my month. But the reason isn't that I got a free book. I (obviously?) love books, and I'm not going to complain about free, early ones. But the purpose of a blog should always be conveying information to interested readers. ARCs can help do that, sure. You get more books to bring to people's attention, you can give them an earlier review, whatever. But receiving an ARC should only facilitate the process, not replace it. If I got an ARC, I would be ecstatic...but not because of the book. Something like an ARC should be respected by bloggers because it means that you're fulfilling what should always be your main goal - reaching out to someone and showing them what you think about the genre or whatever. Saying that a (admittedly awesome) helper to this is the main intent misses the point entirely and (though I have not read the blog in question) doesn't seem like it would make for a very engaging experience. I think I'm far more likely to spend my time at a place that considers interesting articles or community discussions to be a priority rather than one that rates success based on packages in the mail.

Larry Nolen said...

There should be a blogging equivalent of the Stages of Man written. Hrmm...perhaps I'll do that in a bit...

One observation: sometimes, the hobby morphs into something else. For myself, what I post on the OF Blog is filtered content these days, regrettably. I can't blog about a lot of my reading and my activities because they are connected with money-paying outlets. It's kind of funny that I feel as though I cannot blog extensively about an excellent reprint anthology because I'm busy at work trying to select a longlist of stories from which the next volume of stories will be chosen. Is it possible to go beyond the ARC stage and reach the point where promotional materials elicit not just little to no joy, but are an active burden?


So maybe there's another angle to this that can be discussed as well in the future?

Mihai A. said...

I love the ARCs and I would miss them if I would not get them anymore. But it is true that blogging means more than just free books. From my personal experience blogging changed my view on the reading and the experience offered by a particular book. All in the good way. It also helped me meet some amazing people that otherwise I would not have met (bloggers, authors, editors and artists). It is truly a rewarding and pleasant experience and it enriches my life, above the free books of course ;)

Cara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cara said...

A very valid point well made!

I am fairly new to book reviewing and blogging, and if I sat back and waited for the ARCs to flood in, I would have no content! I review books I have recently bought plus favourites that have been on my shelves for years, and given my book-buying habit, I have enough to keep me blogging till eternity without the addition of free copies.

Don't get me wrong... I love receiving ARC copies (I have 2 now!), but this is the icing on the cake as far as I am concerned. This is not the reason why I chose to start a book blog. I see these more as a nice bonus than some kind of expectation.

Also, I want to retain my independence and worry that by reviewing only free advance copies received from publishers, then I would be obliged to give a more favourable review than if I had paid for the book out of my own pocket.

James said...

Thanks everyone for your collective input - really interesting to read everyone's views.

Some further points to address:

Val - that's all the blogging advice anyone needs, in a nutshell. Hell, it's all I had when I started and it was enough for me.

Seak - You're right, it's possible to run a blog purely to get ARCs and review them. It might even be a well-written blog with regular content, but I don't believe the spirit is the same - and that makes a huge difference. Some blogs out there are little more than book-review conveyor belts, and I find them rather dull.

Neth - nothing wrong with using your blog as leverage to get a book or two that you want, I've done the same. But that's very different from having that aim as your starting motivation.

Aarti - yeah, you know I have been wondering whether some publishers are almost too willing to give away free books. Sometimes it does seem like anyone with a blog can get one, irrespective of how long they've been blogging and how good their blog is, etc.

Sam - Well said, you managed to make the same argument as me, only in far fewer words! Perhaps I should hire you to write my content. You can be my rent-boy. ;)

Larry - that's certainly an interesting point, well worth some future debate.

Murf61 - don't worry about upsetting publishers by giving a book that you received a bad review. They know it's all part of the game, and will respect you more for it. Plus, telling a publisher a book is good when it's not is not helping anyone.

James said...

Oh, and Bill - you're absolutely right about 'book porn' posts, hence why I don't do them much.

gav (nextread.co.uk) said...

Interesting blog post and comes on the back of a conversation I was having at Easteron - a weird and wonderful experience even though I made it for a day. Lots of interesting conversations including one about reviews, which I touched on in my blog.

At the end of the day publishers are going to have to start reining in the handing out of 'free' books to who ever asks for them. I used to get vetted or at least I got the impression that I do before getting a review copy and now it seems that anyone can get one.

The only people that can decide if it works for them is the publishers themselves. They are the ones spending the money.

But it is really maddening that the only contribution some blogs make is to have a bunch of pithy reviews and lots of 'look at my HAUL' posts. It's like collecting scout badges.

From a publishers point of view I guess they are trying to maximise there chances now that everyone sees the benefit of a blog review or mention. I've had 140 plus books in 3 months. That. I've reviewed 18 or so. That's not a high %.

The downside is everyone still seems to swarm on the same books including me but not consciously. I was trying to explain why lots of bloggers chose The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms but it's more hive mind. We just turned on it.

My blogging and thoughts to it are changing. More placing of books in context, more content than pretty pictures and more thought. And probably less books mentioned. 72 is my limit in reviews this year not my goal.

It's easy to get carried away with froth of it all and forget the substance.

Does that mean I have to give my badges back?

Kat Hooper said...

I totally agree with the general consensus here: it's GOT to be a hobby and done for the love of books.

Though I've got tons of respect for him, I've got to disagree with Neth about multiple contributors being a sign of a blog gone off the rails. I started FanLit nearly 3 years ago because I love fantasy and wanted to create a resource where others could come and find information about any fantasy book ever written -- not just what's on the shelves that month, but what's long out of print -- so they could be aware of all the fantasy available.

I soon discovered that this was an impossible task to do alone, so I carefully researched, chose, and invited a few like-minded people. I also chose people who have different preferences in the types of fantasy they read, but who were well-read and have great taste, so we could review all subgenres of fantasy. A few more folks asked to join us and we voted on them after having them apply and submit reviews. We now have a world-wide team of about 15 regular reviewers who hope to eventually review the work of every fantasy author who's ever been published by a major house. The goal is to be a resource for others who love excellent fantasy fiction. In fact, we didn't start reviewing ARCs for the first 1 1/2 years. Now we feel the need to be "current," so some of us (not all) read ARCs.

We actually didn't add the blog part of our website until more recently, since "blogging" has never been our primary goal (cataloging and reviewing is). We use a blog now, though, to alert readers of new reviews posted and to conduct interviews, share news, and discuss fantasy with others.

I hope our site is not seen as "going off the rails."

Kristopher A. Denby said...

When I began blogging I KNEW no one was listening. In fact, I took comfort in that notion. As time wore on and I began to realize that people actually made livings blogging, I cannot deny that the idea didn't tickle my fancy. I would love to dismiss my shitty employer over a writing job. Sadly, that ain't happening anytime soon. I've never received an ARC (didn't know what one was until I asked you a few months ago), and my readership isn't in any danger of sinking my server any time soon.

But I'm still writing.

And I'm still writing about the things that are interesting to me without regard to what anyone else thinks. I HAVE to be interested in it for it to be worth the undertaking. And even though I don't review a ton of books, I'd never be able to handle a wealth of galleys or ARC's in my mail box. I read much too slowly and I am way too picky about what I read.

In any case, and despite the fact that "book blogging" is maybe only an 1/8 of my content, I found your post to be interesting and well put. "Give it to me straight," I always say. There's enough pandering and dilution of the truth in the real world.

Terry Weyna said...

I love getting ARCs, no doubt, but it's not why I blog. I blog because I love books and want to preach the gospel of reading. Yeah, crazy, isn't it?

I have a huge personal library, and I also have a whole bunch of books checked out of the public library at any given moment. And there are always books in my Amazon cart (the wishlist is crazy long), and ABE Books knows me personally.

Of course, I don't read only SF/F/H -- life would be a lot easier if I did. I read mainstream fiction, mysteries, criticism, science/nature, essays -- pretty much anything that holds still long enough.

Great point to make, and glad you made it.

Noel said...

I most certainly agree with you. I blogged for years without receiving an ARC, and I didn't care. Even now I still receive very, very few ARC's that are meant specifically for my blog. Most of what I get now is by virtue of working for someone else's blog as well, and all of those books have to be read for that purpose. But the truth is...I buy so many books, that I could be blogging for years just based on what I've purchased and never need a single ARC. And I'm more than happy with that.

I still consider my blog a hobby, and I've been at it for what...ten years or so. If I wasn't a hobby, and if I didn't do it because I love books and the SF/F genre, then it would become a chore, and I wouldn't want to it. I think that, most of the time, we put more effort and work into our hobbies than we do our "real" work anyway. At least, I do.