Dear Author is not any publisher’s bitch
The title to this post reflects my verbatim response last year when I received word that a traditional publisher had restricted Dear Author’s access to some of its ARCs on the basis of an op-ed post that appeared on the site. Now here’s the thing: I’m not going to tell you who the publisher is or which op-ed piece catalyzed the reaction. But the story is important, nonetheless, because it frames a larger, more important issue, namely that of which books do and don’t get reviewed here and why.
So anyway, once we were made aware of this restriction, a great deal of debate ensued among those of us who blog at Dear Author: first, should we make this news public; second, should we continue to review this publisher’s books at all out of fairness to the authors who had nothing to do with the ARC ban; third, what was the best way to make it known that Dear Author would never self-censor out of fear that an author or publisher wouldn’t like what we said.
We ultimately decided against announcing the ARC ban (in part, I think, because quite a few of us come from fields where confidentiality is a matter of professional expectation), and instead decided to institute a year-long review boycott for those books to which this publisher decided to restrict our ARC access. That way we figured we could signal to the publisher that we were not cowed by their displeasure, nor would we kowtow to their implicit demand that we edit or censor opinions that they (or any publisher or author, for that matter) might not like.
But at the same time, we could maintain the level of confidentiality we routinely do around issues that are not innately public concerns (e.g. plagiarism or copyright infringement). When it comes to disclosing things that could signal a conflict of interest on our part, we will happily do so. But when it comes to releasing private information that would primarily qualify as gossip, or that would endanger someone’s livelihood in disproportion to the public’s right to know, then we generally hold the confidence, even when the result is that someone makes an inaccurate, negative judgment about Dear Author.
So back to the story. Recently, our year-long review boycott ended, and debate ensued again as to whether we should make public the situation (inclusive of naming the publisher) and whether we should resume seeking ARCs and reviewing this publisher’s books. One of the strongest arguments for making the situation public, we felt, is that authors who release books through this publisher may have no idea what has happened, and may have been feeling slighted because their books were not getting reviewed here. This, in fact, has been the most difficult aspect of the review boycott and the discretion in not naming the publisher or even alluding to the situation.
Still, naming the publisher still does not feel right to a number of us, in part because doing so will undoubtedly target and/or implicate people who have had nothing to do with the ARC ban. And really, it wasn’t the ban that frustrated us – it was the fact that we felt that a publisher was trying to punish us for saying something we had every right to say. That, more than anything else, needed to be addressed, and ultimately we decided we could adequately address it without publicizing it. To this day I’m not certain we made the right decision, but speaking only for myself, it felt like the most responsible and “professional” choice (and I’m relying here on the ethics that guide me in my professional life, which are compelling and not wholly inapplicable to my life as an amateur blogger and reviewer). I’m sorry about the books that didn’t get reviewed during the boycott, but I also hope we saved everyone from what could have been a pretty ugly situation had we chosen to go public last year.
However, we know that some authors have questioned why their books have not been getting reviewed on the blog, and we know it’s possible that some have taken that personally. I’m not sure any authors knew about the ARC ban, but even if they did, they did not know about the Dear Author review boycott response. But now that we have – hopefully – made our own point to the publisher in question, we did want to go somewhat public with the situation in order to clarify some things to those who read reviews here and those who may want their books reviewed here. And no, we’re not going to confirm or deny any guesses in the comments, because a) that defeats the purpose of the decision to hold the confidence, and b) this is not the first (or likely the last) issue we’ve had with a publisher. That said, I do want to thank those publishers who have never tried to manipulate or dictate our content, and who have never used review copies or other resources as leverage or punishment for our honestly rendered opinions. At its best, this community is a complex, multi-layered ecosystem in which we all share a respect for reading and for books, even if we don’t all share the same taste and insights/perspectives on the genre.
First and most important, ARCs have never been a defining or even primary motivation for writing reviews here. Sure, they help, especially in a field that is increasingly crowded with books and authors. It’s so much easier to take a risk on a book when an author or publisher provides it. And not all of our reviewers can afford to buy books in volume, especially when a book represents an untried direction. Also, having an advanced copy of a manuscript ensures a timely review, which can help readers make crucial buying decisions, especially on those days when multiple books release. I know I’m much more conscientious about getting a review done when I know there’s a release date to pay attention to. I like to think of ARCs as something mutually and independently beneficial to authors, readers, publishers and reviewers alike. Still, Dear Author would have more than enough content if every single publisher and author stopped furnishing ARCs to us.
Also, there are no assignments at Dear Author, so reviewers take on the books they choose. We know we’re down a reviewer or two who wants to focus on historicals, and we’re trying to remedy that. However, we’ve had a couple of reviewers come on board with the intention of focusing on historicals, and then they’ve shifted to more books from other sub genres. Again, this is a reflection of the volunteer nature of contributing to the blog and, for me, at least, one of the reasons I love it here. Unfortunately, it means we don’t have complete coverage of any specific aspect of the genre.
For those authors who want your books reviewed at Dear Author, you can submit them directly here. The reality is that we have too many submissions in proportion to the number of review spots available, but the more choice reviewers have, the more likely it is that they will pick something new to try. And the tastes of reviewers here are quite diverse, so if one reviewer is not interested in something, chances are another reviewer will be. Of course, if you don’t want your book reviewed here, or you don’t want to submit it for review for any reason, please do not in any way feel pressured to do so. As I noted above, we’re not in need of additional content. I only mention the submission form, because I have spoken with authors who read the site but did not know they even could submit their books directly for review consideration.
And for readers, here’s where you can help us out, as well. How important is it to you to have books reviewed on the date of their release or in close proximity to that date? I am ambivalent about this, frankly, because when a review posts the first day a book releases, few people have had a chance to read it and therefore comment knowingly on the review. On the other hand, if you wait too long, readers have moved on to other books, and you don’t get the kind of good, substantive discussion you can have when a bunch of different people have read the same thing. So is it more helpful to you to have reviews post on or near the day of release, or would you like more lag time between release and review? And where do you think our biggest reviewing gaps are?