At the Fifth Annual KidLitCon, I was on a panel discussing relationships among bloggers, publishers, and authors. Noting that it remains an open topic, we continue to define relationships that contain both collaborative efforts and critical reviews.
Perhaps writers of blogs and authors of books don’t need a lesson on how much words matter. We all have spent time carefully crafting a post, a page, a phrase for exactly the right impact. So when a publisher talks about continuing to offer “free books” instead of review copies, those words matter. If they refer to “free shipping” as a bonus feature, it matters. When they say “your job is simply to review the book,” then I wonder either when I became an employee or how — after referring to the dictionary — this became a duty or assignment. And “simply” is not how I would categorize the reading, reviewing, posting, and perhaps running a giveaway while scheduling in the one-month timeline that they are seeming to require. All of that matters.
Look, I can imagine that they meant to say: Hey, bloggers! We’ve heard that you’d prefer to receive more targeted review copies, and that works for our bottom line, too. So we’ll be sending emails of new titles, which you can request with a reply email. FYI, that first month around release is huge for us, so keep that in mind in scheduling reviews, if you can. Thanks!
What would go unsaid is the part about taking bloggers off the list if they didn’t review books, because it’s understood, and it’s unprofessional to point out. Reviewers can also pan a book, but we don’t write publishers: Hey, publisher! We’ve heard good things about this book and would love a review copy. But if we don’t like it, we plan on letting our readers know, and BTW we are not adverse to using the word ’suck.’ Thanks!
I wasn’t planning on writing about this issue, because I feel picky playing up one specific publisher to highlight a broader topic, even though the publisher wrote a terrible letter and the topic is important to me. I was fine with being part of the Twitter storm about it, because it resulted in an instant reply from the publisher changing the tone of the email. As Maureen Johnson tweeted, “One thing I love about the internet: you don’t have to wait long to find out if you’ve had a really bad idea.”
But since then, my tweet was written about in the LA Times Jacket Copy and The Guardian, and I felt the need to say more. Friend and fellow KidLitCon panel member Liz Burns of SLJ breaks down the issue superbly in three posts about relationships, volunteers, and reader access. She also gets me in my tweet “Can you imagine them sending this to Horn Book or The NYTimes?” as not setting myself at a status level equal to these institutions, but needing to establish where book bloggers fall in the publishing world. Essentially it comes down to whether book bloggers are to be treated more like print reviewers or like marketing employees. I’d prefer the former.
In truth, it’s not exactly either — which is why we have this problem. It would suit book bloggers to be considered reviewers. It would suit publishers to consider them marketing partners. And ultimately, the group that defines the language defines the relationship.
While I respect publishers, I don’t want that definition solely in their hands. I don’t feel entitled to “free books,” but I do feel a responsibility to correct language that has the potential to set the status quo. Maybe it’s just one publisher, one email. But book blogging is too important to me to sit back and let others establish the dialogue. Because words matter.