I think this has been a case of email blindness—the writer reading the tone differently to the reader. With that, I felt there were a few things needed to clarify the position of the marketing department and the publisher. (Note: I’ve never worked with William Morrow or their parent HarperCollins and I’m writing from my own experience as a book publicist/marketer.)
Cutting off reviewers if they’ve received multiple books and failed to review any of them. While the refrain in the blogger reaction is: “They wouldn’t do that to the New York Times,” I can tell you that isn’t true. All publicists cut off reviewers whether they are book bloggers or traditional media. This is usually done informally, with a quiet transfer to the house/imprint “Banned” list, without notification. I admire the tracking system William Morrow is implementing and their candor with bloggers.
I’ll admit I judge the cut off differently for bloggers and traditional media. With book bloggers, I tend to cut them off at five or six books, usually because I’ve checked their blog, noticed they are blogging less and less, and recognize the blog is about to die. With traditional media, I usually cut someone off at a dozen. Why the difference? Book bloggers control when, how, and if they blog. Traditional media have editors with changeable minds, breaking news that bumps stories, shifting priorities, and new beats. Moreover, I reach out before the cut off for an explanation—ill health, an unfriendly editor, injury by falling book pile—and will give an extension if I get one.
Only providing books a month before publication. This means they only provide finished books, not galleys or ARCs. While it may seem galleys are cheap, anyone who’s looked at a publicity department budget knows that they decidedly are not. Galleys cost five times more to make than the finished book, so William Morrow’s choice to stay within their budget makes complete sense. The number of galleys per title has shrunk, if galleys are made at all.
Sending books only to people who request them. But you only want your requested books, so why are William Morrow turning this into a threat? Because many reviewers—including book bloggers—want and expect you to just send them books without pre-pitching. I’ve even received email auto-replys and voicemails saying: “I receive so many books on my doorstep and I don’t have time to read your pitches, so just send the book.” And then there are people who want only the catalog, or only one pitch per month, or one pitch per title, etc. This is why I prefer individual approaches because everyone has their own way of doing things (as much as they think this is how everyone wants it).
It is my personal policy only to send books to those who request them, and as publicity department budgets shrink, most publicists now have this policy. The era when we could send out hundreds of books without blinking an eye is over—it’s been in decline since 2000 and ended about five years ago. Who receives review copies is always the decision of an individual publicist and no one should simply expect to get free books.
Reviewing the books within one month of publication. The reason publicists want the book reviewed within that time frame is critical mass—get the book the most attention when it is at its greatest availability. Most people need to see something four or five times for it to stick in their head, so concentrated coverage will lead to book sales. Additionally, bookstores (remember those indies you love so much?) give publishers three to four weeks to sell books or they’re returned. By the time your review appears four months after publication, the book is gathering dust in the publisher’s warehouse and only a certain online retailer is carrying it (with four copies in stock).
Much has been made of this unfair deadline on book bloggers—undoubtedly the greatest source of ire in the backlash. Yes, it is unfair. I understand book blogging is hobby for most and I know a few bloggers who are booked up six months out. William Morrow’s original email stated “ideally… within two weeks to a month” and they have since followed-up and clarified that bloggers aren’t on deadline. I understand their reasoning, but the bloggers didn’t, so this should have been handled more delicately.
Eligibility for one giveaway book after reviewing the title—sending it direct to the winner. I’m tired of denying requests for over five giveaway copies of a book. I’m not making any sales if I’m giving a free book to anyone who may have bought it. How does it help the author whose book you loved? You can’t wait until their next book… which no one will sign because the last one didn’t make enough sales. And as silly as it may seem, authors email us when their book goes up on eBay or turns up in Housing Works before publication.
The email certainly could have been clearer (“your job”?), but I believe William Morrow’s intent was good. They’re attempting to build a stronger, more defined database of valuable contacts transparently—and I can’t think of another publisher being so explicit about their own efforts.
If you aren’t willing to accept the conditions of a publisher, stop accepting review copies and start reviewing books from your local library. While you are under no obligation to review their books, they are under no obligation to send them.