BEA Appreciation Week Smugglers Ponderings

Smugglers’ Ponderings: on the Book Blogger Convention and the relationship between Bloggers and Publishers

Welcome to BEA Appreciation Week 2011! As is our annual tradition, this week we bring you reviews of some of the titles we have scooped up at BEA, as well as some general news and ponderings concerning the trade show and affiliated conferences.

As many of you know, last week we had the great pleasure of attending our second ever BookExpo America and affiliated Book Blogger Con. In addition to the many galleys and author signings, BEA/BBC is a unique event because it provides a unique opportunity for reviewers, bloggers, and industry professionals to meet, talk, and share knowledge. In particular, the affiliated Book Blogger Convention (now in its second year) is a wonderful resource for bloggers to connect with one another, while it also seems to be an invaluable resource for professionals on the publicity/marketing end to pick the brains of online rabble-rousers. This year’s BBC included the following panel topics:

  • Ask A Publisher or PublicistIn which a variety of publishing professionals answered questions from bloggers, such as “What do publishers expect from a blogger? How do you best approach publicists?”
  • Practical Challenges of BloggingIn which a panel of bloggers discussed issues like organization, time management, and other “life impacting” blogging challenges
  • Navigating the Grey Areas of Book BloggingIn which a panel of bloggers discussed the challenges of negative reviews, netiquette, ethics, and other grey zones
  • Author Speed DatingIn which bloggers had the chance to sit and chat (briefly) with authors to talk about books and the industry
  • Blogging for a Niche MarketIn which an enormous panel of bloggers talked a bit about about their respective specialty genres
  • Technology for BloggingIn which a panel of bloggers and professionals talked about the technical aspects of blogging, including social media, online libraries, podcasting, and the whole gamut of technological weapons available at a blogger’s fingertips

As you can see, there was an interesting mix of topics available for attendees. We were excited about attending the convention once again and thrilled to have been invited to speak on one of the panels (Thea repped SciFi/Fantasy on the “Blogging for a Niche Market” panel). While the convention has clearly grown in size and scope since last year and we were impressed with some of the variety available to attendees, we were a little disappointed with some of the questions and topics that were NOT addressed, just as we were a little disappointed with the manner in which some of the questions and topics that WERE present were handled.

Easily, the best, most useful panel (in our opinion) was the “Navigating the Grey Areas of Blogging” session, moderated by the superb Heather of Age 30+ A Lifetime In Books. The panel didn’t shy away from potentially provocative topics, and panelists were awesomely candid about their opinions concerning some tough issues, such as FTC regulations, relationships with publishers, and the motivation behind reviews with a personal v. professional voice, and writing negative reviews. On the other end of the spectrum, the “Blogging for a Niche Market” panel (yes, the one that Thea was on) was, to be frank, a huge mess. There were far too many panelists – this became evident when it was physically impossible to fit enough chairs for speakers on stage – and the break-out sessions with bloggers sitting in groups at tables, sans topics to discuss, resulted in a very awkward and protracted experience for all those involved.

But that’s par for the course, because, as anyone that’s attended a convention before knows, there are inevitable ups and downs. Some panels will be superb, and others will be filler. There are some panels that you will think are right on the money, and some at which you will shoot your mental death-rays. Such is the way of convention life. Uneven panels are not the reason for this post.

This year, we picked up on several trends over the course of the conference, and we would like to address them on a series of Ponderings posts. First, let us make it clear that: 1) This series of posts is not an attack on the Book Blogger Convention. Quite the contrary! We are *huge* supporters of the event and thoroughly impressed with its achievements so far, especially given that the BBC is still in its early infancy; 2) The opinions presented on this series of posts are based on our own experiences for the past three years of blogging. They are OUR truth.

Disclaimer made, the topic we would like to address on this first BEA/BBC inspired Ponderings post is the relationship between bloggers and publishers. We could not help but notice a theme that ran throughout the convention, on almost every panel we attended, which is the impetus for this post: the idea that book bloggers are beholden to publishers.

Throughout the day and from our experiences beyond BEA and BBC, it has become very clear to us that there seems to be a widespread perception that bloggers are working for, and subordinate to, publishers. Even one of the panel descriptions (“Ask a Publisher or Publicist”) explicitly states, “What do publishers expect from a blogger?”

In many of our interactions with publishers, the expectation we are almost always presented with is: what else can we bloggers do for publishers? In these meetings we are prodded about when we should be posting reviews, how we should post reviews, what sort of extras should we include with our reviews (book trailers? blog tours?), etc.

The idea seems to be that because book bloggers are not part of some larger, professional (read: paid) organization, because we run the gamut from teenagers to housewives, we are not on the level. We should be happy with the free books and any other extras we receive – and in return for those ARCs/galleys/review copies, we automatically are inured to a bizarre power hierarchy in which bloggers are expected to do certain things. And the worst part is, we’ve noticed that this assumption of being indebted to publishers stems from bloggers.

This, dear readers, makes us a little bit frustrated.

This makes us frustrated because we are not publisher subordinates. We aren’t their employees. As awesome as free books are, they aren’t really that huge of an incentive. If you, dear reader, are anything like us Smugglers, you probably buy a shameful amount of books on your own. Here at Smuggler Headquarters, we buy just as many books (who are we kidding – we probably buy more) as we get for “free.”

We bloggers do what we do because we love reading. Because of this shared love for reading, we occupy a unique position in the increasingly effective online world – people trust us and our opinions. Or, they hate us and our opinions. The point is, people hear us and engage, individually and collectively. This amounts to a helluva lot in a world where professional review outlets are shrinking and communities are becoming more socially driven by the powers of teh interwebs.

The truth is, fellow readers and bloggers, we are far more influential than we may think. If you were at Book Blogger Con, think of the questions during panels – primarily from marketing and publicity people, or independent authors and publishers – about OUR opinions concerning the efficacy of blog tours, email subject lines, and publicity pitches. The fact of the matter is, publishers actually need us bloggers to connect with audiences, because in many cases, they haven’t built that trust or relationship with their readers. In the vacuum left by disappearing bookstores, shrinking physical shelf space, and vanishing traditional print outlets, and with the proliferation of online audience engagement, publishers are ill-equipped. They need to find a way to engage with an audience they haven’t ever had to deal with before, and as such, their marketing/publicity campaigns are increasingly relying on non-traditional media (aka bloggers) to spread the word about books.

The mindset that we’ve observed both at the convention and online, however, demonstrates that an essential part of this equation is being overlooked, forgotten, or ignored. The thing is, we bloggers have worked long and hard to build our readerships. As we’ve always seen it, as book bloggers, our responsibility is to our readers. Period. This relationship with our readers is based on trust, and that trust can only happen if readers know that we are being not only completely and totally honest in our reviews but also about how we get our review copies (this is why full disclosure is so important).

In the end, we believe the question should not be “What do we owe publishers?” but “What do we owe our readers?” To that end, we wish that Book Blogger Con, in addition to the “Ask A Publisher or Publicist” session had an “Ask the Bloggers” session. Perhaps next year?

This isn’t to say that we think that we don’t need publishers! The truth is just the opposite. We LOVE the industry. We love getting galleys. We love the thrill of opening a package of books or refreshing a browser to see what’s new on NetGalley. We want to help the industry thrive, and we want to help authors and publishers reach new readers – but never to the detriment of a blog’s community of readers and above all, never in lieu of honesty (and this is why negative reviews are so important as well – but this is a topic for a different post). We blog for love of the written word, in all its forms (and incidentally, this is the best “service” we could offer a publisher).

We are not employees or lesser beings who are at the behest of publishers, eager to do whatever publishers want in order to promote or sell more books. No, we are partners in a symbiotic relationship – and we appreciate it when we are treated like partners. Not as lower-echelon minions that owe a publisher something in exchange for a free copy of a book. Like it or not, book bloggers are part of an ever-growing, ever-evolving publishing industry, and we deeply wish that more bloggers would also embrace this frame of mind. See, the thing about relationships and partnerships are that they are a two-way street. Publishers and other industry professionals will only truly take us seriously when we take ourselves and our position, as a vital part of the digital publishing ecosystem, connecting readers with new books, seriously too.

What about you? Did you attend BEA or BBC? Do you have an opinion about the strange new relationship evolving between readers, bloggers, and publishers?


  • Book Chick City
    June 8, 2011 at 1:11 am

    I’m very lucky with the contacts I have within the publishing industry as I haven’t really come across the view that I am subordinate to publishers, and to be honest I wouldn’t let this happen to begin with. I’m not beholden to anyone – I’ve always been an honest reviewer and being sent free books won’t change that.

    But I’ve heard only positive things from UK publishers and editors, such as how much they now rely on book bloggers and how important they think we are within the industry. When I’ve attended publishing events I’ve only been treated with respect and have never felt as though they thought I was just an ‘unpaid employee’. Maybe I’m just lucky on that front?

    I totally agree that it’s a partnership, and working together is what gets the best results for the publisher, for the author and ultimately the reader.

    I blog because I love to read and I love talking to others about the books I’ve read. Going out and buying my own book is incentive enough, I don’t need to be sent free one’s – however, as you say, it sure is fun to receive a parcel of ARCs in the post, and I would miss them if they stopped coming – but it wouldn’t stop me blogging.

    Great post chickadees 😀

  • Jodie
    June 8, 2011 at 1:25 am

    Related (but about fashion) – you might find these articles on the intersection between fashion blogging, concepts of professionalism/employment/internship and free labour:

    The concept of blogger as dedicated, hard working, free labourer seems pretty relevant to every sphere and it’s something I’d like to see more talked about.

  • Zoë Marriott
    June 8, 2011 at 2:32 am

    I have to say, as a writer I appreciate book reviewing bloggers so much. I think that you make the world seem much less lonely for writers – you create this fantastic dialogue about books so that we can see we’re not just throwing our words out into the dark. You care as much about books and stories as authors do, and you make it cool to be passionate and excited about books online. You make it OK to speak out about key issues in the publishing industry and you definitely inform my opinions on what books I must have and which ones I will skip. I appreciate your honest reviews enormously. Actually, sometimes negative reviews prompt me to buy a book that I wouldn’t have looked at based on a raft of glowing reviews, just because I’m intrigued to see where it went wrong or if it works for me. I see bloggers as this army of awesome, interesting, passionate people – and considering that when my first book came out I didn’t even know the blogosphere existed? It makes me almost tearful with gratitude to have you guys around. Shine on, you crazy diamonds!

  • redhead
    June 8, 2011 at 3:51 am

    interesting. I get a handful of galleys now and again from two publishers, and this is what I feel I do owe them:

    1) to read the books I requested, since they did send me a review copy
    2) to let them know via e-mail or twitter when I’ve posted a review.

    that’s it.

    most of the books I review come from my own bookshelves or the library. The only person I’ve ever felt beholden to is late fees at the library. But then again, I’ve never been to a book expo or a blogger con, or been face to face with a publishing rep asking me do something specific. . . .

  • Ceilidh
    June 8, 2011 at 4:44 am

    Blogger/publisher relationships have probably been one of the biggest hot button topics since I started blogging a year ago. I do get ARCs but I also buy a lot of books and am a regular user of my local library (something I think everyone should do, especially in these tough economic times when certain politicians keep trying to cut their funding and shut them down but that’s a post for another day). I definitely didn’t go into this for free books. Bloggers definitely deserve respect because not only are they reviewers, they’re consumers, and they definitely have an influence on the market. Not that all bloggers are perfect – you’ll get bad eggs wherever you no, not just blogging – but that relationship is something that needs to be respected.

  • KB/KT Grant
    June 8, 2011 at 4:56 am

    I did enjoy the BBC a great deal and it was interesting to hear from both sides. But at one point I told someone, why does it feel like blogging has become so professional and more like a job?

    I would love to know from the bloggers in attendance, how many are getting paid or making some sort of income from their blog? It seems that the consensus, or maybe it’s just me, that it’s still wrong to make your blog into a business and make a salary from it, especially from the book blogging side.

    Perhaps some opinion is that bloggers should be indebted to publishers because of all the free books they can get? Didn’t someone say on one of the panels that creating a galley or an ARC is more expensive than an actual print copy?

    I also think the relationship between publishers and book bloggers are still going through growing pains because it’s so new. Book review blogs is still pretty new if you think about it. The oldest book review blog I can think of (not counting on-line review sites) is around 2005 or 2006, less than a decade.

  • KMont
    June 8, 2011 at 5:14 am

    *As awesome as free books are, they aren’t really that huge of an incentive.*

    It’s one thing to be grateful to get books from a publisher for review (I do get books and AM grateful), but it is quite another to think that opens me up to being an unpaid, well, servant to a publisher. So I quite agree. Because most of the books I get for review aren’t the most interesting things.

    When I went to the first BBC in 2010, a publisher rep stood up and said they know bloggers aren’t going to be able to read ALL the books they send to them. That they know they send way too many for any one site or person to read. Dudes, they DO. A lot of us are on their review mailing lists. In fact, I just had a question from a fellow blogger about that, worried that she couldn’t review the tons of books she’d gotten in two months alone. I told her to review what she could/wanted to and not worry about it. What more do they really expect one blogger to do anyway? One who isn’t doing that full time or getting paid for it.

    I wonder sometimes if the unspoken incentive is the traffic that could potentially be driven to our blogs if we host blog tours, promos & whatever else the publishers or publicists suggest? Which could certainly be the case for some, but not all bloggers.

    If someone were to ask me at a panel like the one you’ve suggested for questioning what bloggers expect, I’d have to say it would be to know/understand/respect that bloggers are all so different, and that no one set of standards or rules is ever going to work for all of us. No one expects publishers to all handle their business the exact same way – why would bloggers?

  • Amy
    June 8, 2011 at 5:41 am

    Great post! I fully agree. When I first started getting review copies I did feel beholden (and I still feel the need to at least respond to emails, hah) but after reading the first unsolicited book that came through my door and HATING it (as I expected I would from the book itself) I realized that nope, that ain’t happening again! If I didn’t ask for it specifically, I feel zero compulsion to read it. It just makes me angry to get it.

  • janicu
    June 8, 2011 at 7:26 am

    I didn’t really get the “What should WE do for the publishers” vibe, but I am mulling over what you’re saying here. Do you mean that because a panel existed that focused on finding out publishers/publicists’ opinions, but no panel about “How to make our blog readers happy”, it felt skewed to one side over another? If that’s what you meant – mmm, yes, I would love one of those panels. I care a lot about my blog readers because interacting with THEM is what keeps my motivation going, not review copies. The TBR is a mountain range as it is.

    @KB/KT Grant – I also didn’t get the vibe that anyone thought that there was something wrong with making money. I mean the keynote speaker, Sarah Wendell said she quit her job to blog full time and that seemed like one version of success. Advertising also came up in the Practical challenges panel and if I recall correctly, most panelists were affiliates, and while they didn’t advertise, they didn’t have any problems with it. Maybe there were more negative things said in panels I didn’t go to though.

  • KB/KT Grant
    June 8, 2011 at 7:39 am

    @janicu: I wish there had been a panel how to monetize a blog. Perhaps at next year’s BBC?

    Perhaps I was wrong, and should try to explain better, but from what I’ve read on-line, there are still some that think blogs shouldn’t try and make money, especially books blogs. I’m all for a blogger making income anyway they can, even with advertising and endorsements.

  • Kimberly Pauley
    June 8, 2011 at 7:48 am

    I think you make some excellent points. However, what’s distressing to me as an author is that nowhere mentioned (above and in other places where I’ve seen comments about BBC) at all *are* the authors. We seem to be the invisible part of the equation, often to both publishers and bloggers. Or, at least, invisible for these conversations.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t book blogs I love that I think do amazing things (including Book Smugglers) or that publishers are evil, etc. (Good heavens) Or that the conversation should be all about authors either. Just, you know, maybe factor us in somewhere.

    And I say this having started up YA Books Central way back in the dark ages of the Internet in 1998 (when it was essentially one of the first YA book review “blogs” back before there *were* blogs). I’ve been on all sides of the equation (having also worked as an editorial assistant for a small publisher). Things have changed a lot across the board and are going to continue to change. A lot.

    Anyway, thanks for continuing the conversation — and being readers in the first place. 🙂

  • Lara Starr
    June 8, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Yikes, do other publishers really behave that way? Where are their manners? I loves “my” bloggers and don’t expect more or less from them than I would from any other book review editor: 1) Review what’s worthy of review – which you will determine based on the needs of your audience. 2) Whenever possible, send me a link to the review when its posted. 3) If you say you’re going to participate in a blog tour, post when you’re scheduled to post.

    I’m very, very, aware that book bloggers do what they do for love, for free, and that their first priority is to their audience. Frankly, they wouldn’t be very good at what they do if they did it any other way.

    My job as a Marketer is to make my book, blog tour, author, promotion attractive enough to a blogger and her/his audience that they actually WANT to promote it. To paraphrase Southwest Airlines, “We know you have a choice in which books to review and promote, and we appreciate it when you choose us.”

  • Phoebe
    June 8, 2011 at 8:00 am

    When I went to the first BBC in 2010, a publisher rep stood up and said they know bloggers aren’t going to be able to read ALL the books they send to them. That they know they send way too many for any one site or person to read. Dudes, they DO. A lot of us are on their review mailing lists. In fact, I just had a question from a fellow blogger about that, worried that she couldn’t review the tons of books she’d gotten in two months alone. I told her to review what she could/wanted to and not worry about it. What more do they really expect one blogger to do anyway? One who isn’t doing that full time or getting paid for it.

    Amen to this. I got a 200 dollar B&N giftcard from my mother-in-law this year, and promptly filled up my nook with books I want to read. But I’m so chin-deep in ARCs that I feel guilty reading stuff I’ve paid for. GUILTY! Sheesh.

    I didn’t go to BBC because I couldn’t afford it. Ironically, I got into BEA with a free press pass. I was surprised, and a bit dismayed, by how many bloggers paid to go to BBC but only went to BEA on the single “free” day they were allowed to with their Book Blogger Con pass. I know the press passes weren’t widely advertised, but it did bother me a bit–it felt like an attempt to monetize people who inevitably give publishers free advertising.

  • Sarah Rees Brennans
    June 8, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I will admit to being absolutely ice-frozen terrified of some bloggers who discuss authors’ looks or marital status or, you know, authors in general rather than their books. It does make me a little wary: if I discuss something, will people decide they hate me? And then, the shakes. 😉

    But I’ve never been anything but grateful to people who want to discuss books – they’re an invaluable resource to the world. And me – I get half my book recommendations from you Smugglers and from Smart Bitches, and most of the rest from other varied blogs. I think you are wonderful and should be treated as such.

    So thank you for being wonderful. I admit at this stage I expect it, but don’t think that it’s owed me.

  • Kimberly Pauley
    June 8, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Agreed — today I don’t know what authors would do without book bloggers. I love most of you guys without reservation (and shall leave nameless the few who are on the “dark side”)

    And I’ve definitely seen some publishers (who shall also remain nameless) who treated me basically like chattel, especially when I was a beginning reviewer for YABC. I think that’s changing though. That’s the thing — we’ve all (authors, readers, bloggers/reviewers, publishers) got very similar goals, just from different perspectives. But ultimately, we’re all readers with a love for the word (can’t say printed word anymore, can I?)

  • Ana
    June 8, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Thanks for the wonderful comments, everybody. Really appreciated!

    @Jodie – Those links are VERY interesting. Thank you.

  • Ana
    June 8, 2011 at 8:30 am

    @Janicu – It’s not about making people “happy”, I don’t think but yes, definitely it is skewed to one side of the equation. I think a panel like that would be great.

    @ Kimberly – well, for this particular post, on this particular discussion, authors are not part of the conversation, no (their books are). But we plan, as part of this series of posts, to open discuss on the relationship between authors and bloggers as well.

  • Ana
    June 8, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Phoebe says:

    by how many bloggers paid to go to BBC but only went to BEA on the single “free” day they were allowed to with their Book Blogger Con pass

    Wait. what? I think these people had their information wrong. I paid for the BBC and was allowed on all days at BEA so they definitely got it wrong. And the information on the BBC website was clear about it too. I knew about the media pass but since I wanted to go to the BBC too, I just paid for it.

  • Kimberly Pauley
    June 8, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Awesome, thanks! I’ve just been reading a lot of posts lately about this and it seems like no one is talking about it. But maybe I’ve just missed it.

  • KB/KT Grant
    June 8, 2011 at 8:36 am

    I knew a few bloggers who went for free since they clicked on the press pass part on the BEA website. I wish I had known!

  • janicu
    June 8, 2011 at 8:52 am

    @Phoebe – With the BBC pass bloggers were allowed into BEA every day, not just a single day.

    I did run into people who didn’t know that bloggers counted as media and could get a free press pass to BEA. Seems a shame if people spent the money for the BBC and only used it to go to BEA, but I thought the price of the BBC was worth it if you used it for all that it offered (BBC as well as BEA).

  • alana
    June 8, 2011 at 9:20 am

    This was interesting to read, but since I don’t get sent any books I can’t really relate. It does seem weird that certain bloggers are sent more books than they can read. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Something about that just seems wrong to me.

    Also, I want to second Ceilidh’s comment on using the library. I love owning books and I definitely buy my fair share, but I wish libraries were mentioned more often. I get 90% of my books from the library and still my bookshelves are overflowing. If I’m beholden to anyone it’s librarians and I’m ok with that. 🙂

  • jenmitch
    June 8, 2011 at 9:33 am

    this is pretty much the only book blog i read (well, carefully and regularly, anyways). you are clear and honest and never pander. i appreciate it, and i’m sure your other readers too. so, just so you know, we think you’re doing the right thing, as well! thanks for an awesome blog 🙂

  • Gayle
    June 8, 2011 at 9:43 am

    The best way not to be beholden to publishers is to not take anything from them. All I want to do is talk about books I love. So I don’t ask for review copies. I don’t give out my contact information either. I check out my books from the library or I buy them. Nobody will ever be able to come to me and say I should do x,y,z or a,b,c. The only people I owe too are my readers. 😀

  • Gayle
    June 8, 2011 at 9:44 am

    And if somebody doesn’t like my bad reviews, too bad!! 😛 Forgot to add that!!

  • Doret
    June 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I usually don’t say where my review copies come from. Like you said, I do this because I love it. I get nothing for giving a false positive review.

    Just because a blogger does full disclosure doesn’t mean that they aren’t giving a book rating of 4, even though they felt it was a 3 because they know the publisher would see it.

    In the end I believe it simply comes down to your visitors trusting you, that comes with time and a good track record.

    However I will reveal where I got a review copy when I feel its necessary to keep everything on the up and up. I’ve done two disclaimers this year.

    1- A Dog’s Way Home by Pyron. Its an MG, it was sent to me by the author who I interviewed a few years back.

    2- Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger. The author sent a review copy and I am mentioned in the acknowledgements. I made it a point to site all of this at the bottom of the review.

  • Kelly L.
    June 8, 2011 at 11:48 am

    I feel that if I request a review copy from a publisher, I should review it, and review it honestly. Asking for the book doesn’t obligate me to write a positive review, but I do feel like it obligates me to write a review.

    If a book arrives unsolicited, I don’t feel obligated to read it. I often do anyway, and I’ve found some favorites that way! But I get a seriously staggering number of unsolicited books at times. I couldn’t review them all without going all Klausner and just regurgitating the cover blurb. So I have to prioritize. Priority goes to books that sound really interesting, books I meant to read anyway but didn’t think to request, and authors we don’t already have reviewed at our site.

    Books likely to collect dust (or be donated) are things like volume 9 in a series I haven’t been following. It may be terrific, but I don’t have time to read the other eight, and I worry that my review wouldn’t be fair if I jumped in with no background. If I always meant to read the series, though, it might give me the impetus to start it, but it still won’t result in a speedy review. An example is that I got Chloe Neill’s Hard Bitten unsolicited. I always did intend to read that series, so I used that as the impetus to start with book one–and then got a review for Hard Bitten out…about a month late. I really liked it! But it did take me a while to get through the whole series.

  • Teresa
    June 8, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Excellent post that sums up so well some of the things I’ve been thinking post-BBC (though I liked the Niche panel more than you did, only because there were *finally* some breakout sessions and opportunities for interaction).

    And the worst part is, we’ve noticed that this assumption of being indebted to publishers stems from bloggers.

    Yes! This! I don’t doubt that some publishers out there have tried to bully bloggers into posting on a specific date or quash negative reviews or whatever, but I think those are unusual cases. I’ve never once had a publisher say anything that made me feel they had definite expectations of me. In the past, I’ve put an obligation on myself to review any book I request, but one of the best things I got out of the Grey Areas panel on BBC is the realization that it in fact is an obligation I’ve placed on myself. If I receive a book I’ve requested and then realize it’s not right for me or my readers, I won’t read it–but I’ll pass it along to another blogger if I can.

    I’ve seen bloggers fret about getting in trouble for not posting a review “on time” or sending links right away, and I have to wonder what they think will happen? The worst thing I can think of is that a publisher might choose to stop sending books to them, which is not what I’d call dire consequences.

  • Kristen
    June 8, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Great post, ladies! I was also thinking it seemed a bit heavy on the publicity and publisher relationships. Free books are nice and it nice to address at least some of those topics, but it’s not really what blogging is all about. And some bloggers may even choose not to get review copies and read what they buy or get from the library instead.

    Good point about it being all about the readers too – I agree completely. I was making some notes the night before and that’s what I found myself writing down a lot – it’s about readers.

  • Pam
    June 8, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    I don’t feel beholden to anyone for anything. I don’t need ARCs I can buy my own. I do dislike the ‘bloggers are free advertising yay!” mentality. I review what I want, when I want, and how I want as long as I am professional and honest I feel I have done my ‘job’. The only person in the end I am beholden to is myself and to take honesty and integrity to my readers.

  • Bob Mayer
    June 8, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Very good post. That attitude doesn’t extend just to bloggers. Often, publishers treat authors the same way. They forget the most important part of the equation: the reader.
    Publishers have been so focused on distributing books to consignment stores, they don’t quite grasp yet the concept of selling books to readers.
    BEA, Digital Book World, etc. I see a constant trend of treating the people who are actually on the ground in a condescending way. I often see many conferences where there are so few authors and readers on panels– it’s all the ‘experts’. I love the social media experts who, when you check their twitter account, have 20 followers. They’re experts on social media, but don’t use social media. Am I missing something?

  • Book Smugglers on Blogger–Publisher Relationships « Genreville
    June 9, 2011 at 12:07 am

    […] the fabulous Book Smugglers blog comes an incisive piece on the complex relationship between bloggers and publishers: The idea seems to be that because book bloggers are not part of some larger, professional (read: […]

  • raych
    June 9, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Holla. To all of this.

  • Justin
    June 9, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Great post Thea & Ana! And sorry I couldn’t make it to your panel…too many authors to escort around :-/

    Speaking as a book publicist at a big(ish) publisher, I certainly don’t feel bloggers are anymore beholden to me, my publisher, or my author just because I sent them any book…no different than I feel toward print journos and editors. In terms of what I “expect” from bloggers, I only expect honest consideration when the book/author matches up with the beat they cover. I only get so many ARCs to send, and its’ my professional responsibility to allocate them to the papers and blogs that I feel are most likely to cover them. If I’m not doing my research and sending, say, a scifi thriller to a site that only covers lit fiction, it’s my fault for not doing my job well…I certainly would not have any expectation that the blogger will sell out her readership because she “owes” me, or my publisher. It’s disappointing, and an anachronism (I believe), that there are still publishers, publicists, and even bloggers that feel differently.

    Long story short, you guys are awesome, and we (publishers) certainly owe you a lot more than you owe us for your sincere, dedicated book coverage and commitment to your readers!

  • Serena
    June 9, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I have to agree with you on these points. I blog and read books because I love books, reading, and writing. Free copies are great, but I make the schedule at my blog and my reviews will always be honest.

    I didn’t attend the BEA/BBC bash this year since I just had a new baby girl in March, but I was disappointed that the niche panel was so large, but not once was a thought given to including poetry, which is a genre on its own, rather than merely a “marketing” angle within the fiction genre.

  • Amy
    June 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I think the reason that bloggers are treated the way they are is quite simple. In our society, people who do things for free (or almost free) are not granted the same respect as people who do things for money.

    The problem you don’t mention is that by providing a service for free, (some) publishers not only value it less, they expect that they should never have to pay for it.

    My book blog, IndieReader, exclusively reviews self-published books and we charge a small processing fee ($35 bucks) to do so. The fee covers the postage to send the books to the reviewers, the time it takes to put the books into the system and post. The usual stuff. But the authors (who in this case are also the publishers) expect that because they can get their books reviewed by bloggers (some great, some not to great)for free, that they shouldn’t have to pay.

    I’m all for doing something because you love it. It’s why I started the IR site in the first place. But I also believe that people should get compensated for the work that they do. And when we do, I think that the respect will follow.

  • Carla
    June 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm


  • Jeanne
    June 9, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I am interested in talking about books as an amateur so I can continue to do it in my own way. If you get paid for doing something, you’ve become a professional and have obligations to whoever pays.

    And yeah, free books are not “payment.”

  • Florinda
    June 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I have to admit your assessment of the niche-market panel made me cringe a bit, because I moderated that session…but part of me agrees with you. It was an unwieldy session and a challenge to orchestrate, and might have made more sense as a mini-track all its own. Having said that, I share your opinion about the “Gray Areas” panel being the best of the day.

    I agree about the seeming emphasis on blogger/publisher relationships above most other concerns, but I think that reflects a pretty common viewpoint in the book-blog community. I had a recent conversation with another blogger re: the “what publishers want from us” question – and I’m much less concerned about that than many seem to be.

    Perhaps a session on nurturing our readers – our own blog communities – will make it to next year’s BBC agenda? A bigger discussion about monetization is also in order, I think – the time has come.

    And Jodie’s links point to something I’ve talked about in a couple of my own after-BEA/BBC posts; some issues that we see as unique to our own segment really aren’t, and we can learn from how other segments have dealt with them.

    Great pondering, ladies – thank you!

  • Wendy
    June 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    I wasn’t at the BBC or the BEA this year because of finances, but I do accept a huge amount of review books, so I thought I’d put in my 2 cents to the discussion.

    I agree that bloggers are important and there should be a partnership, and our readers are who we write our blogs for…that said, I have some really wonderful relationships with publicists who I feel respect what I do and who do not pressure me. I try to read and review the books I accept – and I always make sure I post a review if I have accepted a date for tour. Other than that, I acknowledge the books I receive each week on a weekly post (whether I review them or not). I think this is something readers appreciate because it is a glimpse at the latest books coming out, but it also does provide a “tip of the hat” to the publisher who sent the book.

    My final thoughts – the couple of times I have felt “mistreated,” were the last time I worked with that publicist or author. I do not feel like I owe them all my free time or to market every book or every author. The publicists who have treated me like a partner are the ones I feel I should put my energy into…it is definitely a give and take. I’m grateful for the exposure they give my blog, and they are grateful for the exposure I give their books. It can be a win-win.

  • Celesta
    June 10, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I believe my paradigm has just been shifted! Thank you for that! It’s not that I felt beholden to publishers, per se, but I did feel that I needed to work harder to please them. I also knew that readers were important, and appreciated them, but hadn’t really thought of putting them first. Now I do. I really appreciate how seriously you two take this and for sharing your insight and experience. I look forward to further discussions. Thank you! *goes off to ponder some more*

  • rhapsodyinbooks
    June 12, 2011 at 7:39 am

    I’m a little late to the party here, but I wanted to add my concurrence with your thoughts about the absurdity of the false consciousness that contributes to bloggers being grateful for being able to do free marketing for publishers, and the sometimes negative attitudes of publishers toward us.

    I think that both sides have contributed to this problem.

    At BEA, I saw three people knocked down in the crush when galleys came out, and I saw several people taking up to FIVE copies of galleys at a time. I also talked to exhibitors who said they had to glue down books to tables because in previous years even display copies would be taken without permission. Publishers are not totally without reason in getting the impression that we are just in this for the free books. Better behavior might help change that perception.

    I think it would also be helpful for bloggers to contemplate issues at BBC that have a bit more gravitas (although the one panel on gray areas did approach that goal). For example, we could ask what we as bloggers can and should do to have an impact on the lack of diversity in the publishing industry, and the tendency of that industry to use cover art to minimize any impressions of diversity or, conversely, to channel books into book store “ghetto” areas. We could discuss the controversy over channeling books into “genre” niches or into “literary fiction,” and how that not only impacts the success of the book but our reading choices. We could discuss rating systems, and what would be more, or less, helpful. We could discuss the social mechanisms that contribute to the sense that we feel *obligated* to do unpaid work for huge corporate entities that make us feel guilty for their giving us what is equivalent to basically nothing out of their bottom line for advertising. (And this is not meant as a hostile remark but merely a realistic assessment of how much money is actually involved in sending a blogger a galley.) We could discuss the alarming trends in the closing of bookstores and libraries, and what that means for the future of the publishing industry and to us. We could interrogate the current trends in dystopias, in images of women, in portrayals of sex without marriage, and a whole host of other social issues that reflect currents in society, and what messages we are deriving from the way the content of these messages. etc. etc.

    As you indicate, publishers need to take us more seriously, and we need to take ourselves more seriously as well. BBC was great, but maybe next year it can be even better!

  • Phoebe
    June 12, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Just popping back in to say sorry about spreading my misconceptions about BBC. A blogger had told me that she was just going to BEA the day before BBC because that was “all she could afford” and I must have misunderstood her. Still, I did think that the widespread misinformation about BEA pricing was problematic and contributes to all of this. If you take yourself seriously, and see yourself as press, you’re likely to conduct yourself differently with publishers. I think. Maybe.

  • Jennygirl
    June 13, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Great post and my thoughts are the same as yours. I started my blog to discuss books, not to get free books. That’s what the library is for. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy getting books in the mail from publishers and such, but if that stopped tomorrow I wouldn’t be upset.

    I review for very few publishers, and the realtionship I have them is one of mutual respect. They know I am honest and will say I didn’t like book. However, my negative reviews are reasonable, not screaming like a banshee. That said, at the end of the day, I have to stand behind what I post, and I can only do that with integrity. Not being beholden to others.

    Great post and discussion and sorry for the rambling!

  • Lynne Connolly
    June 16, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Maybe romance review bloggers should think about some kind of organisation or association?
    I’m a writer, but I also review. I review for a couple of big sites, and when I do it, it’s entirely with the reader in mind. Not the publisher or the writer.
    If a writer asks me for a “review,” something to quote, I will call that a blurb, not a review.

  • Seal Of Awesome (1) | Good Books And Good Wine
    June 29, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    […] The Book Smugglers ponder about Book Blogger Convention And The Relationship Between Bloggers And Pu…: “And the worst part is, we’ve noticed that this assumption of being indebted to publishers stems from bloggers.” […]

  • Link Irresponsibly – July 2011 edition | Read Irresponsibly
    July 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    […] to post links that don’t get notice in the so-called book blogging community here. But this essay on the relationship between book bloggers and publishers is pretty spot on. Conclusion: bloggers aren’t employees of […]

  • Marie
    July 13, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Awesome post and I agree 100%. It drives me a little nuts how many bloggers seem to buy into this idea that they owe publishers some kind of fealty, and how often publicists treat us like we work for them. We don’t! I think this arena is new to the book world and they’re figuring it out the same way that we are but I agree it’s inappropriate to treat us like it’s somehow our job to do free marketing for them.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.