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In the past week several bloggers have mentioned their difficulty in handling the high number of review copies that come to various sites. Jules and Eisha started the conversation at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast writing in part that: I feel obligated to the review copies that I either requested or agreed to accept. And I know, I know—before someone points this out—that I don't NEED to feel that way, but I'm sorry. Welcome to my brain. I do. An author busts his or her ass to write a book and asks us to consider it for review and we say sure or a publisher sends it to us for free? I start to feel really guilty if I don't read it. And let me repeat: I know I put that upon myself, but it's a fact that I do, so I need to do some adjusting here.

From there Jen Robinson continued with how much time blogging was taking out of her life, writing: So here I am, knowing that I need to cut back a bit, but not willing to do it. I'm like a dieter who can't give up any of her favorite foods. I'm addicted to my blog, addicted to the books, addicated to the idea of helping to grow bookworms. But I'm going to have to figure something out, because these headaches have to go.

I passed on links to these posts to Galleycat and Ron then ran a piece where he picked up on my thoughts that success might kill part of the lit blogosphere and he added:

Whether MSM book coverage evolves to incorporate the independent blogosphere's more engaging qualities (such as authenticity, passionate authority, and conversation), or mainstream coverage withers away until there's little left but bookblogs, though, we do need to recognize that not every bookblog is going to endure. In fact, I seem to recall that if you look at the broader statistics, most blogs don't last very long, for any number of reasons... but often because blogging becomes so burdensome that it's easy to quit, even if greatness lies just outside one's grasp... and, let's be honest, easier when it doesn't.

From there the subject moved to SF Diplomat and Jonathan posing the issue of some kind of payment and writing: In order to build up a successful blog it takes time and energy. Not only do you have to keep on producing decent material, you also have to learn to write about certain topics in certain ways so as to pick up links from other people and increase your subscription rate by tapping into others' subscription bases. As the article suggests, building that technorati rating can feel like working a second job. With some book bloggers showing the strain and quitting, I think the time may come in the future when publishers will have to do more than send out review copies.

It then bounced over to Finding Wonderland where TadMack vented her frustration over how on the one hand bloggers are dismissed as not as good as print reviewers while on the other hand publishers send us piles of unrequested ARCS:

If there is fault, it can also be laid at the door of some major publishing organizations who have inundated their readers with free -- and unrequested -- books that are often not even in their genre preference. People have implied that bloggers "use" books to have copy, but I don't think anyone ever stopped to consider the obligation those boxes of free books have on conscientious people. Since blog reviewing is, of old, an unpaid position, it really is difficult for a person of good conscience to keep up with the tide, yet most of us will not not review what is sent. Boundaries have to be made, people. And maybe we have to find our voices and be honest -- about the potential for "squishiness," even. We have to rediscover our desire to connect readers with books, and leave it at that.

Which brings me to, well, me.

I've written about the books before and I've mentioned the unreal number of books that come to my door. I have never felt any undue guilt to review an unrequested ARC because I just can't feel that guilt - there's no physical way that even one half of the books I receive will be read let alone reviewed. My lack of guilt is due to the sheer volume of books i receive and so while I'm lucky in one respect (guilt-free living is good!), I'm also slowly being buried in books.

We're talking more than 600 books this year already. It is insane.

I donate the books I don't want to keep - even a lot of the books I review I end up passing along to friends, family or the local thrift shop but while I was reading all of these posts about review copies I thought you know what - this is just wrong. It's a bad system, it has apparently always been a bad system and now, in a day and age when the environment has to be a bigger part of our daily priorities, it is a system that is hurting the planet.

Think of all the cardboard folks; think of all the gas the UPS man is burning by coming to my door.

Publishers have been sending out ARCs relentlessly to reviewers for decades. If I'm on track for 1,000 books this year then I can only imagine what the Washington Post is getting. It has to stop and I'm realizing that while it is costing them the most money to maintain this craziness, they still don't seem to get that it is a bad way of doing business. So I think we need to stop it.

I think reviewers/recommenders/bloggers/writers whatever you want to call yourself, if you are one of the ones receiving unrequested ARCs then you need to be part of the solution to stop it.

I'm sending emails to every publisher who sends me unrequested ARCs and I'm asking them to remove me from those shipping lists. Several publishers send me only the books I ask for and I think that is great. But everyone else is going to hear from me in a nice polite email where I explain it is not about them but me and the planet. It's just how I'm choosing to live and work and I hope they can understand. I realize this means I might miss some books but I'm going to ask that if a great title comes up they think is a fit for me then by all means - send an email and see if I want it. Several of the smaller publishers do this already. (And some of the bigger imprints send out seasonal emails with titles and descriptions to consider.) If that is something they can't do then that is okay. I'll miss a few books. If they are really good then someone on the blogosphere is going to write about them anyway and I'll find them that way and that's great.

That's what we started all this for in the first place.

If you're in a heavy book laden situation like mine then I invite you to start emailing publishers as well. It's not about being a blogger, it's not about print vs internet and it's not about who is more professional at reviewing. The old method of getting books reviewed is no longer sustainable and it has to end. I'm bringing reusable canvas bags to the grocery store, people. I think I can let Random House, Penguin, Harper Collins and the rest know that they need to slow down on the use of cardboard when it comes to me. I just don't want to be part of such a wasteful system anymore.

comments

I am REALLY hearing you on this. I *wanted* to start covering Canadian and UK titles more thoroughly, but the fact is, I'm really nervous to get that involved directly with publishers. I have to remind myself constantly that I am a WRITER. My first allegiance has to be to myself, and to making room for my craft. I love reading and reviewing, but truly -- the library was ever my friend, and I want to keep supporting that.

And speaking of the library, you know what is awful? Many ARC's aren't library bound, so my donating them to the library means they don't get into kids' hands for free -- they're sold. I support libraries, but the idea was for kids to get free books, here! So I now donate to a B&B, a women's shelter and to individual kids. But even so -- I don't have a third of the books you do, but they're in boxes, suitcases and piles, waiting to be shifted so I don't overwhelm my sources. It's craziness, is what it is, and I am pleased that you're stopping the madness too.

Hmmm... I actually _do_ end up reading quite a lot of unrequested stuff. In fact, I request relatively few copies of books (maybe 10 or 15 a year?). The rest of it gets donated to the Friends of the Library or community centers.

From a publicity standpoint, spreading a lot of ARCs around actually makes more sense than targeting them, because the goal is to create buzz and word of mouth, right? And I'll admit, I'm not into electronic copies. I hate reading on screen.

Now, I do wish that I wasn't on the Christian Romance list (how did this happen?! why won't they stop?!) and that I would stop getting multiple copies of a lot of books.

The thing is, the traditional review outlets are drying up at newspapers and magazine circulations are down too. We are being treated as review outlets and that's why I don't feel any obligation to read anything. Publishers send these books out knowing the hit rate will be very slim. And if publishers produce fewer ARCs, then I wonder if it is the middle range books that are basically ONLY getting ARCs as publicity that will be hurt--the big ones will continue to do well, the smaller titles to be largely ignored. I'm not convinced this system is so bad we need to fight it, I guess is what I'm saying.

I need to think more about this. I get a lot of books but have never felt it particularly burdensome.

Putting the "green" issue aside (one publisher---I can't remember which---will send *one* book in a huge box, and the book will be wrapped up in those plastic, air-filled, poofy things), I actually can understand, like Glenda, why pubs do this. And, as I commented at TadMack's blog yesterday, I hold no animosity toward them for trying to get the word out about their books. It's their job. I appreciate all the books I've gotten over the years, some I've kept, some I've donated, some I've given to friends with children. And I never, for one femtosecond, felt guilt about the review copies I never asked for -- the review copies and ARCs that came unsolicited. If I couldn't get to them, I couldn't get to them. So be it. I didn't ask for them to come to me; why burden myself with worry over those? And some I *did* get to anyway, and I read and loved.

For us, it's wanting to not feel obligated to the ones we DID request, wanting to re-discover the spirit of reading something you serendipitously stumbled upon perhaps, wanting to re-discover the joy of a library visit. I was feeling so obligated to the books I HAD requested OR agreed to accept, and I was limiting my own reading. That's my deal. Not the pubs.

And I was tired of "reporting" on every book I'd read. Burn-out. Pure and simple. Due to reviewing so many books and due to my own increased workload, too (the job that pays!). I looked at my stack of already-read review copies and simply thought, "I can't do this one. more. time. right now. I need a break."

And just trying to keep up with review copies -- due to the obligation I took upon myself....THAT's what felt like a second job. Not so much what Jonathan wrote at SF Diplomat. I've never known how to read my stats, nor do I care. Honestly. I can't imagine how much bloggers who care about that kind of thing must put on themselves. Not that it's wrong to care or to follow stats, but, yeesh, no wonder so many bloggers get burnt out.

Eisha and I wanted to re-discover why we began blogging in the first place BEFORE we get burnt out.

The "green" issue, though -- sure, that's another thing. The amount of envelopes and boxes I've been recycling has tripled.

I meant to say "Gwenda," not "Glenda." Yeesh. Sorry. Not enough coffee yet today.

Also, I meant to say "Eisha and I wanted to re-discover why we began blogging in the first place BEFORE we QUIT" -- not "before we get burnt out."

I'm really going away now.

Thanks for the conversation, Colleen.

I think I am in a slightly different boat. I do end up reading quite a lot of the unrequested titles I get. I feel no guilt if I don't get to review a title, because I just don't have the time to feel guilty. :) However, every single book I get is looked at by me, and if deemed appropriate, ends up in my classroom library. I can NEVER have too many books in my classroom library, and I certainly can not afford to keep it up to date. Putting the ARCs in my classroom builds buzz with kids (inevitably a few purchase the book) and helps me find the right book for each reader, all year long. So those of you who have too many ARCs? Give them to language arts teachers! We don't need library-bound books. We like having multiple copies of a book. And we can not afford to buy 100 books each year for our classroom libraries.


It's a win-win for me.

It's different for everyone guys, and I get that. Gwenda you might be on the list of folks that are targetting you appropriately - in other words you are getting a lot of books that fit you and your site. In some cases (Candlewick comes to mind as does Soft Skull and Subterranean Press) that is also the situation with me. I pretty much love all the stuff they send. But in other cases (Harper Collins and Penguin) I am either getting books that are wrong wrong wrong (!) or I'm getting way too many. (This is the case with Penguin - I'll just never read all those books.)

For me it works better to receive only what I request - but I request plenty and I will also request a specific title when I hear about it somewhere even though I might have missed it from the catalogs. (Or not received the catalog at all.)

I'm throwing the green idea out there though because it is something else we HAVE GOT TO think about. If a lot of books are coming your way from certain pubs and you don't read them, then really - asking to get off the automatic mailing list is not a bad thing. So far, everyone I've contacted has said they will just let me know via email what they have.

Jules, I understand you guys are dealing with a different thing and it's something you and Eisha are working your way through. I was only referring to your post because it did get me thinking (and all the others built off of it.) It couled very well be that receiving review copies is not a good idea for you, period, and that is okay. Basically, following your lead, this is me figuring out what I need to do!

I'm glad we provided food-for-thought! And I'm glad you're continuing the conversation, Colleen, even in new directions. If you email the pubs, let us know how it works out. :)

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