Reviewing vs. Promotion

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I am a book reviewer.

I know, this comes as a shock to you. Bear with me.

My blog was created to review works of fiction provided to me by authors, publishers, and promotion companies. I receive a copy of the work (usually in advance of the release date), and in exchange I agree  to the following:

I will always give a fair and honest review, but it will be my personal reaction to the work. I do post reviews of books that I did not enjoy.

You can read my review policy in full here.

I also sometimes do promotional posts, including blog tours, interviews, or other content. Often these are through a promotion company or publisher.

Working with promo companies is an interesting aspect of blogging. It means posting information about a book on my blog in an attempt to raise awareness of that book. It does not mean lying about a book, saying that it’s a must-read or fantastic, unless I have already reviewed it myself (fairly and honestly).

These are two separate types of blog posts: a review is a fair and honest response to a work. A promotional post is a “heads up” about a book that I may or may not have read.

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Some promo companies also handle ARC distribution for reviews. Sometimes they ask if you want to sign up to review and/or do a promo post for an upcoming release.

In January I requested an ARC from a promotion company. I agreed to post a review before the release date, as well as a promotional post (an “interview” with the author) on a specific date. After receiving the review copy, they sent an email with this statement:

If you are unable to respectfully rate the book at 3 stars or more we ask that you hold off on posting your review until after the tour. You are welcome to post a promo in its place.

First of all, respectfully? As though to imply that a negative review is disrespectful? That got me raging, lemme tell you. And then to say that negative reviews should be hidden away? NUH UH.

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I had agreed to review a novel. I had agreed to post that review on a specific date. And then they said, “But only post the review if it’s a positive one”.

I expressed my concern (politely!), and received a very eloquent response:

Blog tours are meant to be a positive, fun experience for all involved and the statements in my email are an attempt to prevent disrespectful / hurtful reviews from souring the experience. My request to not post a negative review during the tour is just a suggestion – it is not mandatory and not something I demand of a blogger. Joining a blog tour is completely voluntary and blogs are free to post whatever they feel comfortable with, at anytime they want. I have never and will never ask a blogger to remove a review due to it’s rating.

Okay. I get it. I’m not happy about it, but I can understand where they’re coming from. Blog tours are meant to be positive. And they weren’t going to squash a potentially bad review, they said. So I posted my review a couple of days before the promo, and moved on.

But there was still a sour taste in my mouth.

This was the first time I had encountered a promo company attempting to combine a promotional event with book reviews. I’m sure it happens elsewhere, but I hadn’t seen it before. They wanted to tie these together, so that a review must be positive because it is going hand-in-hand with a promotional post.

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I recently requested and received a review copy from a different promo company. This time, I only signed up to review in advance. There was no mention in that sign-up about a promotional tour, just for posting reviews. So, no promotional aspect, I assumed.

For the second time, I received an email after ARC copies were sent out:

If you find that you can’t rate this novel at least 3.5 stars please contact us prior to the… release blitz.

Being more wary, I double checked the form before signing up. The only requirement stated was to “read [the book] and leave an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads and your blog, on or before release day“. (Emphasis mine.)

I want to emphasize again: this was not a promotional tour. It was a request for bloggers to read and review an upcoming release.

But then this caveat was added. I emailed the promo company back, asking for clarification.

Also, can you please clarify the request to contact you if we are unable to rate this novel at about 3.5 stars? While I don’t anticipate a negative review, I’m curious to know what a negative review might result in.

And their response brought back that sour taste in my mouth:

Yes if you can’t rate this novel 3.5 stars or greater we do ask that you contact us prior to release and hold off on your review until after release.

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Let me refresh your memory here: I am a book reviewer. I may not have the biggest blog, but I do have a specific policy that I adhere to. I agreed to review a novel on or before the release day. That was literally the first and only requirement in the form I filled out.

This was my response:

I have come to the decision that I will not be able to review [this book]. Your policy regarding reviews lower than 3.5 stars goes against my own review policy and my personal ethics, which is to present a fair and honest review to my readers. By hiding reviews lower than 3.5 stars until after release day, I feel as though you are being dishonest and deceitful to potential buyers by only showing them the positive reviews on release day, and therefore not presenting them with the full information they may wish to see when purchasing a book.

Again, I want to emphasize that I did not anticipate a negative review. But knowing that this company would try to hide a fair and honest negative review made me uncertain if I could read the book unbiased.

(On a personal note, a 3 out of 5 star review is not a bad one for me. From my Ratings Deciphered post, a 3/5 star review means “This book was good. It was not amazing, and it did not rock my world, but it was enjoyable. I would recommend it, although possibly with a caveat or two.”)

I enjoy doing promo for new releases. I have enjoyed working with promotional companies in the past; they’re a fantastic resource to help authors get the word out about their book. And most of them understand the difference between Reviews and Promo.

A review is not a promo post. A review is a reader’s response to a book. It can be positive or negative, but should always be honest.

(Yes, positive reviews can and often are used as promo. I generally tag an author in to a 4 or 5-star review, so they can use it as promo if they want. But I do NOT write that review intended it to be promo.)

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By requiring bloggers to consider their reviews promotional posts, these promo companies are, in my opinion, deceiving potential readers. They’re trying to hide anything negative associated with a book before it comes out.

Maybe I’m over-reacting. But I think it’s wrong to tie reviews in with promo posts and tours. If you don’t want negative reviews of a book, then don’t send ARCs out. By sending a review copy out, an author/publisher/promo company cannot and should not expect only positive reviews to be posted in advance.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you encountered something similar, or do you disagree?

(I’ve chosen not to mention the promo companies involved. Both companies were polite, and don’t deserve negative press. But as a blogger, please be aware that there are some promo companies who will expect only a positive advanced review of a novel, and who will ask you to hide your negative reviews until after a book is released.)

11 thoughts on “Reviewing vs. Promotion

  1. When I first started blogging I had a similar problem. I signed up for a couple of blog tours and was promptly told that if my review was not 3 stars or higher I would be asked to make a promo post instead. This happened no less than three times. I backed out of each tour. I created my blog so I could share my opinions of books, not hide them.

    On the other hand I do see why they ask for those reviews to be delayed. They are a promotional company. They are trying to hype to book. Negative reviews might not do that.

    So, while I see their point. I don’t personally censor myself (even for a week). Blog tours probably just aren’t for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • But I think you can have both! You can have a negative review *and* a promo post! With the first example above, my review was very mixed; it definitely did not qualify as a “good” review, although it was higher than 3 stars (in short, the summary did not match an otherwise very well-written book, so I gave it a lower review because it wasn’t what I’d expected going in). But then I did a promo two days later. I didn’t post them back to back.

      It’s possible to generate publicity about a book, but still allow for negative reviews. I can see requesting certain things: “We welcome all reviews, posititive and negative, in advance of the release date. However, if posting a negative review we do ask that you not post it alongside a promotional post, and we ask you not to link to your negative review in the promo post. Also, please note that we will not link to, retweet, or promote a review of less than 3 out of 5 stars.”

      I think it’s that easy! Not censoring, not hiding reviews, but still allowing for only positive press to be spread.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll never understand this. I appreciate your posting your honest opinion. You at least outline the issues you found with the book. Any editor or writer who truly values quality should appreciate candor when it is constructive. Keep up the good work. ^^

    Liked by 2 people

    • I definitely try to outline what I like and dislike, especially when the story is a great one with just a single “flaw” that keeps me from liking it… because while I may not like, for example, a book written in present tense, other people may *love* that.

      Thank you 😀

      Liked by 3 people

  3. The politics of reviews is one of the biggest reasons that I don’t do the reviewing thing. I’d definitely feel uncomfortable about a company wanting me to delay or hide a review that wasn’t completely positive – it would feel like I wasn’t being honest with readers. When ARCs are out, I don’t think promo companies can (or should be able to) control what people say. If they don’t want any potentially negative early reviews, they shouldn’t be sending out ARCs!

    I appreciate that your reviews are honest. It makes them trustworthy. And I appreciate that you say why a book didn’t work for you – sometimes what doesn’t work for one person is a selling point for another. Knowing the reasons for someone’s reaction to a book is as useful to me, as a reader, as seeing a bunch of stars.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Katherine! Yes, there are a LOT of politics in blogging… and a lot of potential drama. I see reviews and blog posts that inspire a lot of response, both positive and negative, so it’s definitely a bit of a minefield to navigate sometimes.

      I’m really glad that people find me to be an honest reviewer. It’s not always easy; as a blogger you have to balance being honest with building a readership and increasing page views. And positive reviews definitely inspire more publicity from publishers and authors, which in turn leads to more people reading your blog. So if you want to be a BIG NAME BLOG! then one way to do that is to only post positive reviews. And I’ve kind of realized that I may never be a BIG NAME BLOG! because I *do* post (honest) negative reviews, sometimes for really big releases or very popular authors.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, I can’t think of anything more wrong than a publisher asking a reviewer to withhold their review if it isn’t an overtly positive one. Regardless of the degree of politeness they might use when doing so, to request such a thing is incredibly dishonest.

    With so many books in the market, I am trusting reviewers to give me truthful impressions about the novels that get reviewed.

    I have to say that this post has made me realize why I am so skeptical of certain sites and reviewers who tend to not only like about 90% of the books they post about but also be overwhelmingly positive in their reviews.

    Thank you for this post and for your honesty and transparency. Although I am a new visitor to this site, I intend to continue reading and enjoying your posts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is definitely one reason that I started reviewing. I’d read a 4 or 5 star review for a book and go buy it, only to discover that the review did not match up with what I was reading. And I’m not accusing any sites of being dishonest, just that I’m the kind of person who loves some books and dislikes others, and possibly there are people like me with similar tastes. So I blog for myself and them, to give people more information.

      Thank you for your comment! I really appreciate it 😀

      Like

  5. I’ve never done a blog tour before (I was asked to do one, but never heard from them again… and I couldn’t find the tour anywhere, so strange), but I would do the same thing as you’ve done.

    And I still don’t understand why a 3 or 3.5 review is a bad one. I don’t regret reading 3 stars books. I just won’t read them again…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great article

    That survives a good deal more stimulating, as well as supporting your attendees achieve some type of result that they are in fact yearning for.

    Thanks for reviewing these suggestions, as routinely.

    Like

  7. Great article about a sensitive issue. I also do reviews for the sake of fair reviewing. My first problem started with Amazon who decided to delete all my reviews because of conflict of interest with authors? Their answer to my request for help was that I was promoting books? I do not have a big blog but love reading and especially new releases, a few pre-release reviews, normal reviews etc. The second problem was the same as you experienced…no “bad” reviews please. This just makes no sense at all to me…do you want an honest fair opinion of one person or do you want a lie? The world of reviewing has become something of a mine field and with a lot of really “not good” books being published daily a bit of catch 22…

    Like

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