I noted the other day on Twitter that I think I’m done with blogger book review programs as well as book review blog tours. There was some demand for an explanation so I’ll offer one below.
I began reviewing books for publishers in August 2007. I credit Ed Komoszewski with getting my foot in the door initially. He contacted me personally and asked if I’d look at the galleys to the book he co-authored with Rob Bowman called Putting Jesus in His Place: A Case for the Deity of Christ. Eventually I’d receive a hard copy from Kregel, which would be the volume that I’d actually review on the blog.
But I credit Chris Tilling for giving me the advice to contact publishers directly and request titles for review. I began to do so in late 2007 and I was met with a very positive response from a number of publishers and books started flooding in. I wouldn’t be the only blogger to take part in the reviewing festivities as a number of others got involved shortly thereafter. So in 2008 I saw an explosion of book reviews on blogs by undergrads, grad students, scholars, and laymen. Prior to this I had only really seen senior scholar/bloggers reviewing with any regularity.
It became clear that many publishers were willing to send all manner of books, popular and academic alike, to interested bloggers in exchange for reviews. This isn’t surprising as this has been a common practice for centuries. Publishers have been sending books out for review to printed periodicals for as long as there have been periodicals willing to write about them. The only thing that has changed is the medium.
Initially there were no restrictions. Some publishers who were used to sending their titles out for review in journals would ask for a roundabout date when the review would be published, but there were no firm deadlines. No word limits were set in place. No specific type of review was expected. The only thing that seemed to be expected across the board was an honest assessment of the title under review.
In late 2008 Thomas Nelson Publishers would form the first (as far as I know) blogger review program. Originally it was called Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers and then in 2010 it would change its name to the horrid Book Sneeze. 2009 saw a couple of other programs pop up, namely the Bethany House Blogger Review Program (February 2009) and the Tyndale Blog Network (May 2009). Crossway would follow suit in 2011 and Kregel Academic is the latest publisher to take the plunge as far as I know.
As far back as 2009 I have noted my dissatisfaction with certain features of such programs. One of the major gripes is the desire for truncated reviews. This is directly correlated with the stipulation that the review be cross-posted on a bookseller website. I have had Amazon reject certain reviews I’ve attempted to post because they have been too long. Amazon is looking for a pithy review that their potential customers will glance at while deciding on their purchase. Apparently book review programs follow a similar model.
But most recently I’ve become bothered by the deadlines. Now I’ll grant that the deadlines are made known before the book is sent out for review. The reviewer consents to reviewing the book within a specified amount of time in order to get it in the first place so there shouldn’t be any room for complaint and yet I still find myself ready to complain. It’s not that a deadline in and of itself irks me. It’s that the deadline is what has opened my eyes completely to the fact that these programs are very much about marketing and little else.
I’ve long known that reviews were marketing tools—and rightly so—publishers deserve something in return for sending out free books. But it seems to me (and trust me, I’m not alone) that these programs are concerned with getting the word out about new books and not quality reviews. This is evidenced in the widespread lack of quality reviews on file for so many of these new books! I could name names and link to literally hundreds of insipid reviews but I’ll leave it to the reader to discover these on their own (assuming that they aren’t already intimately familiar with that of which I speak).
I think I would be more satisfied if blog review programs were done away with altogether and instead publishers just asked for bloggers to notify their readers about new publications. Let’s make the marketing straight marketing and stop pretending that quality reviews are the goal. I wouldn’t see the problem in that at all. But if reviews are the goal, then please, allow the reviewer whatever time and space they need to complete the review to the best of their ability.
A good book will be good a year from the time of its receipt (and likewise, a bad book will still probably be bad). I’ve received books recently that were published decades ago. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth reading and not worth informing my readers about. And I’ve found most publishers to be quite happy to have their older titles reviewed in recent times. I’ve also found most to be quite happy to wait for solid reviews.
My dissatisfaction isn’t really with publishers (e.g., I love Kregel Academic and the books they publish), but rather with the nature of such programs. It’s a general dissatisfaction with a “now” culture. I personally prefer a slower home cooked approach to reviewing books rather than the drive-through approach engendered in these kinds of marketing campaigns. But at this point I’m just repeating myself. I’ve said all this to say what I’ve already said on Twitter: I think I’m done with blog review programs… This isn’t to say that I think anyone else should give up on them; but they’re no longer for me.