Putting The Books On The Table

I get a lot of books from publishers. Well, I get almost all the advanced copies I receive from Penguin and a few of it’s presses. A while back I got on their unsolicited list, which means they just send me books that fit in the categories I specified at the time, namely romance, fantasy and science fiction. Two wise bloggers warned me I would be getting a lot of books. And I believed them! But it still in no way prepared me for the insurmountable amount of books I’d receive. It’s way too many for a blog run by one to handle. And If you’ve ever heard someone say that book blogs and their reviews don’t matter in the long run – think about all the books publishers are sending to book blog reviewers, hoping those books will get some buzz. If publishers think they matter, I’m thinking they do, too.

I’ve since asked to be taken off their auto send list, and instead opted for email review solicitations, but I still get plenty of books, albeit a slightly lower amount. That slightly lower amount is still a. lot. of. books. I’ve emailed them again, hoping the flow of books will lessen even more. I’ve run out of space, and nine out of ten of the books they send, I can’t read them because of either a. too little time; b. it’s too far into a series I’ve not read and no time to catch up to the current installment; c. or I try to read the book, but it just doesn’t work and I end up DNFing it.

Being that I’m like just about everyone else in this economy, and trying my best to watch what I spend, yes, I’m glad I get these books. It is without a doubt very generous on the part of publishers, authors, publicists and places like NetGalley to provide these wonderful things we all love so that I can, maybe, get a chance to review them. When I went to BEA and the first Book Blogger Conference last year, it was actually a relief to hear a publisher representative say that they know they send bloggers a lot of books, and no, they don’t expect us to be able to review all of them. What a relief! But that relief is nowhere to be found when I’ve got another fifteen books coming in this month. I feel guilty that I can’t get them all read. It starts to become stressful. Not just because I’m losing space and have nowhere to go to get rid of the things in a manner that will justify the gift of them (i.e. library donations – libraries often don’t want them either), but mostly because I feel I’ve let people down.

I do get a few books for free that I truly enjoy getting, and I hate the thought that those particular series favorites might not come in the mail anymore. I have already bought a couple this year that I’d have otherwise received from the publisher, though, and I suspect by the end of 2011 that I’ll have read mostly books that I bought. It’s kind of a little goal of mine since my TBR pile is so huge. If I really want to read them that bad, I’ll find a way to get them through my own means, won’t I? Yep, I will. Just like BB – Before Blog. And maybe I’ll still get a few of them from publishers. I do hope that the email solicitations will keep coming. I do want to accommodate advanced readings when I can, and hopefully I’ll still discover new authors this way as well.

Meanwhile, while all these books have been arriving in the mailbox from the publisher, I do still buy a lot of books, too. I haven’t been keeping a count the last few years of exactly how many I buy, but almost three shelves (double stacked) at home are full of my bought TBR pile, and one entire unit of shelves are books I’ve bought and read in the past. Since I’ve only been blogging since 2008, and I’ve been reading since I was about 12, between my parents and I, I’ve read many, many more purchased or library books than I have advanced review copies. Bloggers do contribute monetary-wise to the book industry, in this manner.

Some think that bloggers just get books for free. That there’s really no justification for this. I suppose I tend to disagree, since a. bloggers are dedicating a lot of their free time to giving publicity to authors and publishers for their books, and b. many of us book bloggers do put in a lot of our own money to blog. Not all blogs are sponsored – in fact, I’d hazard a guess that most are not. By that, I mean that when you see a blogger who’s holding a contest or has a domain, and not a free WordPress or Blogspot or LiveJournal blog, that blogger is often forking their own money over to send out prizes and maintain their space on the web. But even a free-hosted blog still spends a lot of time promoting books. It’s a good service for publishers and authors. And we do it because we love books, we love talking about them with other like-minded people and it’s really damn fun.

This isn’t a one-sided venture where bloggers only take – many, most, give back. A lot.

The reason I’m talking about this is because over the years I’ve had several questions or seen comments like:

How do you get free books?

How do I get free books?

It’s not fair that bloggers get free books.

The answer is right above – bloggers, the ones dedicated to it – work for it. It’s that easy, and at the same time, it’s not really that easy at all. You have to maintain a pretty high level of performance on a book blog to be justifiably worth sending free books to, in a publisher’s eyes – despite what the one rep said at Book Blogger Con last year. If you look at a few publisher requirements for book blogs, it’s almost as if they expect the blogger to be treating it like their full-time job. If you look at just NetGalley, publishers there have gotten more stringent regarding what qualifies a blogger to receive one of their books. Have you been rejected in the last few months at NetGalley? You’re probably not meeting at least one of their requirements (or else they’re so overwhelmed with requests, they’re sending out blanket rejections, it’s possible).

I often feel these days as if Lurv is not one of those blogs, the hard-working ones. My postings have severely been cut back. I used to blog almost every day, but as my daughter has gotten older, that pace and stamina has been impossible to maintain. Delegating time in order of most important to least (because what is usually important to us isn’t to others or compared to other responsibilities, so it gets the shaft) has left me with much less time to blog – but I won’t give it up, and I’ll maintain it as best I can. I really don’t know how some bloggers with or without families do it, though – I have plenty of admiration for all of them if they can manage to maintain a schedule for blogging.

I took a look at my books read lists here on the blog for 2010 and 2011 to see how many books I bought and read, and how many were ARCs from publishers, authors and NetGalley. In 2010, I bought and read 23 books, one of which was a DNF (did not finish). 34 others read were ARCs, 7 of which were DNFs. That’s not a huge discrepancy, and I have to take into account as well all the books I bought, but never got to read, as well as all the books publishers sent but I didn’t get to read. Either way I look at it, I feel I was almost evenly matched regarding books I bought versus books I received for free.

So far in 2011, I’m evenly matched. I’ve bought and read 8 books, and I’ve received for free and read 8 books. Of what I bought so far and read, one was a DNF. 4 of the ones I received for free were DNFs. I do think I’ve received many more books for free this year as opposed to how many I’ve bought – again, I’ve just had to cut back on spending. Too, I have to remember that there are a lot of books that I’ve started, but couldn’t finish and hope to continue on with one day. Those I don’t label as DNFs, since I didn’t hate them and might be able to attribute it to my mood and it being the wrong time to get into the book. When I look at Goodreads, there are several in that category, so there are even other books that never make it onto my reading lists here at the blog.

I’m also not holding as many contests on my own dime, and if I do, I’m sorry to say that books I have on hand and give away (which are often the free books from publishers) will likely be U.S. only due to the exorbitant expense of shipping international. I have nobody except for me, monetarily, to back all that up. I pay for my site, a service to house my blog images, most of the contests hosted here and a very good portion of the books read.

What’s my point in all this?

1. To be accountable for what I’m doing here at Lurv, especially regarding the often touchy issue of free books, and that I cannot even handle all the free books I get.

2. To show that bloggers are often not really only getting books for free – they do have to work for them. And they should to the best of their ability.

3. To emphasis that bloggers do this, ultimately, because we love books, and we love to help others find books they might enjoy. Or we wouldn’t be on the internet, setting up free or self-hosted blogs, going through the hassles/joys of plugins and hackers and CSS code snafus and wonky layout issues and finding unique ideas or thoughts to post on…I think you get the idea. We’re here because we want to be, and to share in and spread the love for books, and not just because some books are free.

And that, for a lot of us, is it.

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  1. I do not receive many free books from publishers, but I do know how much free time I spend blogging and reading to write reviews is probably enough for a full time job. i spend at least another 2-6 hours a day blogging and so much more reading. I really loved reading this post. Thanks

  2. Sing it, sister. I’ve totally been blown away by how blogging has changed my life. My shelf majority is still books I’ve bought, so I understand what you mean. Everything is either a time or monetary expense, and it takes a lot of work.

    I’m glad to see you know how to limit yourself. I know I try to read books I’ve had and books for review as equally as I can…and it’s hard, but it’s very rewarding. Hopefully you can read more this year because of slowing things down. :)

  3. Great post, KMont. Blogging is time consuming, and it takes commitment and love (of books and reading) to keep it up. At least that’s how it is for me.

    I buy most of my books and review very few ARCs during the year. As you well know, reading all those new releases or backlist books (and I read a lot) and keeping up a blog gets expensive. But then, I would read those books weather I blogged or not. The only difference is that I share my thoughts with other readers. :D

  4. Thank you KMont. I’ve had a review to write for…about 12 months now. I want to write it because it’s the last review of a series (Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths) and I have reviewed the first three books to date.

    I honestly don’t know how you and other reviewers do what you do. I never have time, and apart from the lack of time it’s…not an easy thing to write a review (at least from where I sit). So, kudos to you and others. And I’ve always associated the free books as not being free becaue implict in the free is the ‘write a review’ bit.

    And as for not doing what you were last year…well, maybe not :)But life is what it is, and you adapt. Nothing stays the same…everything ebbs and flows. I appreciate each and every review you provide, even if I am AWOL for some of them (that pesky life thing again :) And…I like the other posts you do – they make me think, and I like that :)

  5. I wonder how many started blogs because they wanted to get free books, or because they do enjoy reviewing and getting free books is an extra perk some will receive?

    Also saying a blogger who doesn’t get paid to review is not as important as one who gets payment for their reviews is very wrong, IMO. Bloggers sacrifice their time to give free PR that may put money in someone else’s pocket, which happens to be the author and publisher.

    • A friend and I were just talking about this the other day Kate. How many blogs have we seen come and go rather quickly and wondering if some blogs are started in hopes of receiving free books, only to close up shop when they realized it’s hard work.

  6. I love reading blogs like yours Kenda and am sorry if it at times feels burdensome. I know the time I spend reading blogs and making comments sometimes feels like time taken from other things so I understand that you are choosing to blog and that is an opportunity cost for other things in your life. I just wanted to say I value what you do and if free books help you do then great.

  7. I feel like “free books” is a misnomer. People should say “review copies” – because bloggers have to spend hours both reading the books and writing review. For the price of a book, it’s not exactly an equal trade off.

    • It is definitely a misnomer, and I think review copies is the more accepted and more used phrase amongst bloggers. But when it comes to people who judge bloggers for getting the books, they usually say free books.

  8. Pingback: Stumbling Over Chaos :: Sing a song of linkity

  9. I am curious if something recently happened to trigger your response. i don’t think you owe any explanation to anyone.

    As a periodic reader of your blog, I do know you post many reviews, generate buzz, and even give away books to US and international readers.

    I am amazed and encouraged at how many readers have taken to blogging – the more the merrier. Katie Babs posted an excellent blog at BBC about how blogging help her self esteem. And the beauty is anyone can do it … but it does take time to generate the readership and reputation (to land on publishers’ lists).

    • Sorry I haven’t had time yet to respond to everyone, but I appreciate all your replies!

      Kim, just wanted to say real quick that it wasn’t anything in particular, I just hear that phrase all the time – free books – in association with bloggers, and I’ve thought before about posting on it. And it’s not so much that I wanted to explain things to anyone, I guess I just felt like getting my opinion out on it, and how it relates to me. And how I see it relating more broadly. I suppose. ;)

  10. When I was actually blogging (as opposed to letting my blog accumulate a year’s worth of dust) I seriously preferred to NOT have authors/publishers ask if they could send me a book. I didn’t know how to turn them down graciously and I REALLY didn’t like feeling obligated to review a book, even if the obligation was just in my own head. In fact, sometimes I even resented the author/publisher for making me feel that way even though I was creating my own guilt trip and stress.

    Having said that though, the first few times I was asked to read a book for review, I was excited, flattered, and honored. I was in awe that someone actually felt like they wanted to hear what I had to say. But I guess my early naivety and enthusiasm faded as both the reading, my blog, and my brief association with a group review blog became more obligation than self entertainment. The fun just leeched right out of it all.

    Which is why I totally understand what you are saying in this post Kmont, and how your priorities have evolved, and the guilt associated with it. I admire and am mystified how you and other bloggers are able to repeatedly offer fresh, interesting content so often. You’re right, it’s time consuming WORK, and each blogger has to decide if it’s worth it and enjoyable to them.

  11. Great post! Alpha Heroes is pretty small potatoes compared to a lot of you all on “my” circut :-) but I do get some review copies, some solicited, some not.

    The thing about review copies — I get a lot of books that I would *never* choose to read if I were browsing in a bookstore. That can be good and bad; it does open up my horizons a bit, but I’ve gotten pretty good at judging from a blurb and a page or two of skimming whether I’m going to like it or not.

    It’s definitely a balance. I’m never going to be able to put 2-6 hours a day into my blog. 4-10 hours a week, maybe, plus a couple spent like this, browsing and commenting on other blogs. Personally I’m trying to find my “new normal” as other things in my life have shifted a bit since I started my blog. (You’d think that as kids get older they would leave me with more free time, not less, but it’s not working out that way..)

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