But I'm interrupting our normally scheduled programming to talk to you about something else. I'm going to talk about book reviews. And I'm going to talk about Crown Publishing. Specifically, I'm going to talk to you about how Crown Publishing puts their books into the hands of book reviewers. As many of you know, book bloggers receive their books from a myriad of sources. Personally, I review books that I've purchased, books that I've grabbed from the library, and books that are sent to me ahead of publication by various publishers.
Recently, Crown Publishers made the decision to switch from sending advance copies of books (including e-books) to reviewers to a new program called Blogging for Books. I'd heard a few rumblings through the grapevine about this program over the past couple of months, chiefly from book reviewers concerned about certain restrictions with the program, but I wasn't too concerned about the change. After all, Penguin has their own in-house program that I find wonderful. Another long-time program through Amazon, the Vine Program, also has reasonable restrictions (ie, you must actually write your reviews before you order new books). And as an admitted introvert, I'm always happy with programs that reduce actual human contact with publishers and publicists, boiling it all down a few clicks on a website with the books I'd like to review.
Clearly, I approached Crown's new program with an open mind.
My first clue that something might be amiss came as I signed up for the Blogging for Books program. According to Crown Publishers, what books I would be offered would be entirely dependent on my Klout Score.
At this point you might want to plug your ears. Because my verbal response to my computer was probably what you'd expect: "What the FUCK is a Klout Score?"
Okay. I'll bite. I followed the link. As it turns out, Klout is a website designed to "measure" your online influence. They do so via your Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram accounts by - from what I can gather - measuring the responses your posts garner. It then does the hoogly-googly math and comes up with something called your KLOUT SCORE. And this is what Crown Publishers use to decide whether you are a SOMEBODY and therefore worthy of them allowing you to review one of their books, or a NOBODY and not worthy of even gazing upon their hallowed works. Crown lets you know right away that the higher your Klout Score, the better books that will be made available for you. (It is at this point that I felt a little bad for the authors whose work was made available for those with the low Klout Scores -- I mean, how bad is that? Even your own publisher knows that they can't give your book away to the loser bloggers, geez.)
Right away, I figured out that their Klout Score formula was utter crap. How did I figure this out? Because mine was so high. Yep, that's right. According to Klout, I am extremely influential. I nearly spewed my coffee on the keyboard because we all know I have about five loyal blog readers here. But because I can spout off a political rant on Facebook and garner a bazillion "LOL"s each time, Klout measures that and deems that I am a VERY INFLUENTIAL PERSON. Way to go, Crown. But Crown's sign up told me that if a blogger had a Klout Score greater than 60, well then, they would have all doors open to them. A Reader's Respite blew that 60 out of the water. [Eye roll]
Now that we've determined how VERY INFLUENTIAL I am, let's move right along. Crown said I had a lot of books to choose from but at the time I'll admit I only took a cursory glance. I happened to spot a novel that I had heard some good things about called BITTERSWEET and so I went ahead and ordered it.
It took over two weeks for the book to arrive. After reading the book, as I prepared to return to the Blogging for Books website to write my review, a friend and fellow book reviewer urged me to closely read the fine print --- you know, the part where Crown Publishers lays out their review requirements. I did so and was more than a little disturbed by what I found. Perhaps I was shocked because I am a book reviewer who strongly, STRONGLY feels that the reviewer is in no way beholden to the author, publicist, or publisher in any way, shape, or form. Not only is there no guarantee of a glowing review - only an honest one - but there is no obligation to be a one-person publicity storm for that book either.
Here is how Crown Publisher's would like you to write your review:
Your review needs to be at least three paragraphs long. It must be original and thoughtful. If your reviews are determined to be of poor quality (too short, typos, not thoughtful, etc.) your account will be suspended. Here are a few examples that make up a strong review:
- Sharing specific examples/quotes that you enjoyed
- Talking about how the book moved or impacted you
- Creative and original reviews
- Embedding book trailer videos, links to purchase or embedding the first chapter on www.Scribd.com (all first chapter excerpts should be up on Scribd).
- Including a photo of the book in your review (we automatically email you a link to download the cover after you select a book to review).
- Coming up with a question for your readers to answer at the end of your review (they'd respond in the comments section).
Now, I didn't want to get too worried. After all, some folks might indeed need a little guidance writing a review, especially if they were new to the whole book reviewing gig. And Crown does specifically state - and I want to be clear on this - that a positive review isn't required:
Yes, we ask for an honest review. We realize that you may not enjoy or agree with some books. However, we hope that our publishing standards mean that each book will have at least something for everyone to enjoy. Also, if you have a negative review to post, please be specific in what you did not like about the book. Please don't just put "I didn't like it," rather, share specific quotes from the book and talk, at length, as to what you disagree on or what you didn't like.
That sounds reasonable. Right? Sort of? I tried to put the best spin on it as I continued reading the fine print, which told me that I must wait a minimum of five days between the time the book is shipped to me and writing my review (no problem there since the book took two damned weeks to arrive) because:
This is in place in order to keep evil-warlord-book-hoarding bloggers at bay (yes, they're real).
Yes. That is an actual quote from Crown's fine print. Nice, huh? Don't you feel like they are cultivating a warm and fuzzy relationship with book reviewers everywhere?
Moving right along....by the time I had read all of this fine print and discovered all the uncomfortable restrictions I was bound to, the damned book arrived and I was contractually committed. (Worse, the book wasn't awful, which was somewhat of a disappointment because I would have loved to have written a scathing review at this point. Alas, that honest review thing came into play again.)
And so the day arrived when I actually wrote the review. Off I toddled to Blogging for Books to perform my contractual duty. Logging into my account, I diligently posted my four-star review of BITTERSWEET. The site accepted my review and then required me to post a link to my blog where I had posted the review. That is odd, thought I. I've never seen a review program that requires the review to also be posted on a blog. Amazon Vine and Penguin Books certainly do not. (In case you're wondering, I posted the review to my Tumblr blog - there is a link on the sidebar.)
The site then required me to post a link to a COMMERCIAL BOOK SELLER SITE (ie, Amazon, Powell's, and independent book store) where I had posted the review. Whoa. Wait just a freaking minute here. Since when am I required to sell their books for them, too? Recommending their books is one thing. Selling them on a commercial website? No. I never agreed to do that.
It gets better. Once I had submitted all that, the site actually required me to post my review to Facebook or Twitter. I kid you not.
Crown Publishers has crossed over the ethical line here. And if you review books, you're likely to experience Crown's hard sell, too. Book reviewers who use e-book services such as Edelweiss will now receive the following message when requesting any Crown book:
Thank you for your interest in this book! We recently re-launched our blogger based website Blogging for Books where you can receive free books in exchange for honest reviews. For more information and to join this program, please visit www.bloggingforbooks.org.
My hope is that this adequately explains to you why you will no longer be seeing any Crown books reviewed on A Reader's Respite. Oh you might think that with all the purchased and library books that I read and review that you'd be seeing some Crown books pop up there, wouldn't you? No, I'm sorry to say, you won't. Until Crown Publishers backs off with the unethical review requirements, it's my belief that any review of a Crown book is suspect at best. And so I won't be offering any until their policy changes.
I'd offer to return to our normal programming at this point, but THE GOOD SPY is, unfortunately, a Crown Publishers book. Tune in tomorrow when we will be featuring a review of a book not published by Crown.
UPDATE: Please see what Crown's reaction has been