Saturday 3 December 2011

A few thoughts about the William Morrow letter

I started to write a blog post about the William Morrow letter (the problem with which, in short, is that it says “thank you for reviewing books for us” rather than “thank you for reviewing our books”), but I think these two articles from Larry at The OF Blog sum it up pretty well: I Ain't Gonna Work on Maggie's Farm No More: William Morrow and Blogger Reviewers and Follow-up on yesterday's rant.

It’s easy to see why a publisher might want to ask people to request print copies rather than sending them out willy-nilly, because they can be expensive, and William Morrow aren't the first publishers to cut back. Angry Robot are extremely generous with eARCs, but for print ARCs bloggers must guarantee a review. PS Publishing have dropped print ARCs altogether.

Some publishers are clearly being a bit profligate with their ARCs. There are some blogs out there getting 100+ books a month, and reviewing half a dozen at most. If Amazon ever offer publishers a way to distribute DRMed kindle review copies, print ARCs will be dead and buried so far as most bloggers are concerned. Publishers will just have a handful printed for the really important venues that refuse to accept anything else.

For us, as with most publications that publish reviews, an expression of interest in seeing a book isn't a guarantee that we'll review it, and while publishers are within their rights to request such guarantees (not that any ever have), we're within our rights to refuse them. The agreement between publisher and reviewer/blogger should amount to this: send them if you like, I'll review them if I want to.

Where bloggers specifically request books, you'd expect them to make those books a priority, but still, there's no guarantee. If the blogger or reviewer never reviews anything, of course, you'd expect a publisher to stop sending them books. I try to operate an informal rota, hitting each publisher more or less in proportion to how many books they send us.

All of which is why we've always preferred to receive electronic review copies. We can say, sure, send us everything, without having to worry that our open policy is having an effect on anyone's bottom line. If I spend a month reading books that I've bought – as I've just done – that might be disappointing for the people hoping for a review, but on the whole I haven't cost them any money.

We've settled into a very nice arrangement with Black Coat Press, who supply print copies: I pick a couple of books from their catalogue, and when I've reviewed them they ask if I'd like another two. There's no need for them to think, "Am I wasting money on this guy?" and no need for me to think, "Are they getting annoyed because I can't keep up?"

Similarly, I love that lets me select the books I actually want to read, rather than feeling obligated to work through the MOR that tends to arrive in print ARC. I have some reservations about the way Netgalley lets publicists pick and choose who they approve to receive their books – it would be worrying to hear about critical reviewers being shut out – but that applies to print ARCs too. And to their credit Netgalley seem to be trying to make it a more mathematical process, encouraging publishers to auto-approve reviewers who have written a certain number of reviews.

But in the end, if our requests don’t get approved, we’ll review something else. Any one of Angry Robot, PS Publishing or Chômu Press could keep us in books to review all year round. There are enough publishers out there – and enough books on our shelves already! – that we don’t need to worry about any given publisher pulling its books. Unlike the readers of a big genre magazine, our readers don’t expect us to cover the big new releases.

Well, what do you know: I wrote a blog post after all…


  1. >>Unlike the readers of a big genre magazine, our readers don’t expect us to cover the big new releases

    Is that what they're expecting? Oh crap!

  2. Well, I've been meaning to say. ;-)