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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)