To give or not to give away. . .

My little announcement that I was considering reducing the number of book giveaways I do via the Hotlist doesn't seem to sit well with some of you. So let me elaborate a little before I call it a night. . .

If you've been reading this blog for a while, I'm sure you're aware that I've been working hard to give credibility and respectability to online reviewers. From the very beginning -- well, as soon as I realized I had a following -- I've been striving to offer quality content. Little by little, my work was ultimately recognized and appreciated by the more and more people in the publishing industry. Knowing that I was far from being the only one with quality content, on numerous occasions I invited fellow bloggers such as Jake, Larry, Rob, William, Ken, and others to work on some project or another with me, hoping that these collaborative efforts would help give them exposure. I put in a good word for many people whose work I enjoy and respect when publicists and editors asked me if I knew of any good blogs out there.

The long and the short of it is that I've spent the last two years or so attempting to establish that some online reviewers can write honest, fair and insightful book reviews. I'd like to believe that I fall into this category.:-)

When guys like Jay, Rob, Gabe, William and I began blogging, we were just a couple of punks (heck, maybe we still are. I know I am!) with absolutely no pretentions of being "true" reviewers. The only thing we all had in common was the fact that we were all huge SFF fans. As such, we probably created our own little sandbox on the internet in order to have an outlet to share our love of the genre with kindred spirits. There was no notion of ever receiving ARCs, doing interviews, or getting free stuff. After all, we were just a couple of punks, right!?!

It was a day and age in which not every other person had a blog, a LJ, Facebook, etc. Hence, it was much easier to follow what our fellow bloggers were doing. Which probably explains why we became quite popular and suddenly found ourselves with people who read our stuff because they had grown to trust our judgement and respected what we did. I can't even begin to explain how I felt when I first realized that over 100 people a day were checking out Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. When you consider that I rack up nearly ten times those numbers nowadays, you can imagine how I feel about the whole thing. . .

Since there were just a few of us who were doing it "seriously" back then, it was easier to be original. We all had our own voice, our own style, and that's what was so cool about it. Although most people believed that it couldn't be done, I always pushed the envelope, trying to get the publishers to do things they normally didn't do. Don't forget that blogs were virtual turds at the time, and most publicists wanted to have nothing to do with you. I have to thank Dave for giving me my first gig with Gryphonwood Magazine, which opened a few doors for me. Though the Hotlist was generating numbers that surpassed those of the magazine, "working" for print media made some people in the industry deign to look down on what I was doing.

Soon afterward, I had publicists, authors, and editors knocking on my door, eager to work with me. In retrospect, I must admit that it was a sweet victory/vengeance!;-) If memory serves me right, Jay Tomio and I were the first two bloggers who began offering book giveaways via our sites. A rarity at the time, these competitions and contests became an immediate success. Still, they were few and far between, and hence more of a bonus than anything else. The emphasis remained on the content.

What differentiated us from the print reviewers and the newer generation of bloggers is the fact that we were doing it for the love of the genre, nothing else. As I said, there was no promise of rewards such as review copies and other such concepts. We were just a bunch of guys who read books and then reviewed them. At times brutally honest (Gabe Chouinard and William Lexner, anyone!), we didn't really worry about ruffling any feathers. The online community is a small world, regardless of the fact that it spans the entire globe, and those were the people we were writing for. Gradually, the blogosphere grew and so did we. New bloggers saw the light, and each added his or her own flavor to something that has never ceased to gain momentum.

I believe that Jay was the first one of the original "punks" to gain notoriety. I edged my way into the limelight at the end of 2005, but it's in 2006 and the Hotlist took off and never came back down. As I mentioned, I did my very best to continue to offer quality content, meaning that I endeavor to write honest and fair book reviews. The content makes a blog, nothing else. Perhaps my efforts paid off at some point, but suffice to say that publishers finally realized that SFF blogs and websites could be wonderful tools to promote authors and their work.

Not so long ago, it used to be a major pain in the ass just to get a publicist to accept to supply a single copy of a novel for an online giveaway. Today, I could probably do a different competition every week, perhaps more. Publishers will shower you with books to giveaway, no matter who you are. It seems that all you need is a fantasy/scifi blog and you're in the clear. The danger here is that SFF blogs/sites could rapidly become little more than windows in which publishers pimp their stuff.

Of course, I'm fortunate enough to be in a position where running one of those contests doesn't increase my traffic. Unless I'm giving away a set of GRRM books, the newest Malazan volume, or a Subpress limited edition of Scott Lynch's debut, doing those giveaways does nothing for me. I see them as a way to say thank you to my readers for sticking with me. They, in turn, appear to enjoy the opportunities to win free books! But such is not the case with everyone. . . And when you're being offered novels to give away, many are not in a position to refuse. I know, for I would have been hard-pressed to say back in the days when the Hotlist was new.

The problem is that if blogs become little more than venues where publishers peddle their stuff, what little respect online reviewers have gained in recent months will evaporate before we have time to blink. Ken wrote an interesting post pertaining to Matt Denault's report on Readercon 18. Needless to say, this "Reviewing in the Blogosphere" panel shows you how far we are from credibility and respectablity.

It is my opinion -- and as such its worth is relative -- that there are too many giveaways nowadays. So much so that they are overlapping one another to such a degree that they no longer truly grant authors and their work as much exposure as they used to. The more there are, the less impact they generate. Not so long ago, such contests were a great tool to promote a book. But when you have ten simultaneous giveaways being pimped all over the place, they all sort of blur into one another. Unless they want to see their efficiency disappear altogether, publishers and bloggers will have to establish some sort of balance. For without that happy medium, giveaways will cease to be an efficacious means to spread the word about writers and books.

As Guy Gavriel Kay reminded me last fall, online reviewers striving for respect walk a very fine line. If we "sell out" and become little more than venues advertizing upcoming releases for various imprints that we give away for free, we instantly undermine our own credibility and that of the blog-reviewing world. Indeed, it gives ammunition to those who might suggest that blog reviewers are mainly about themselves and their own exposure. It feeds into the contempt implied by those who claim that we accept "bribes."

As I said earlier, I'm in a position where it's easy for me to make this judgement call. After all, most giveaways don't put more asses in the seats. Which is why I'm thinking about reducing the number of contests I do each month. Six in the last two weeks or so is simply too much. A publicist told me that I couldn't be serious, since the Hotlist is like the Super Bowl in terms of exposure their giveaway gets from a post from me. Be that as it may, content remains my number 1 priority.

Another problem seems to be that a growing number of people on various message boards consider a lot of people pimping those giveaways to be spammers. And in a way, we are. When there was two or three competitions per month, no one said anything. But now that there are countless threads pertaining to one giveaway or another, it sure changes the scenery on many boards. Which makes me realize just why the people at www.sffworld.com decided that members could no longer simply post links to their reviews, etc.

The timing is perfect, however. I'll be meeting quite a few people in the publishing industry in NYC this coming week, so I'll certainly bring this up in the conversations, if only to see what they think.

Okay, I have no idea if this makes sense. But I have a plane to catch tomorrow morning, so I'm going to sign off now!:-)

28 commentaires:

Larry said...

Interesting thoughts there, Pat. I've always been of two minds when it comes to working with publishers and authors on promotional giveaways. While part of me loves to see the people at wotmania and elsewhere get excited about new releases (which often translates into increased MB activity, which is good for me in a great many ways), another part of me just doesn't want to promote that which doesn't interest me.

I remember well the first contest that I helped set up, all the way back in the summer of 2004. Scott Bakker and I had started chatting a bit via email and on a few sites, including Three-Seas, after a June 2004 booksigning in Nashville and he raised the possibility of having a contest for 7 personalized hardcover copies of TDTCB, in which people would write the best/funniest one paragraph statement answering this question: "What is the Darkness That Comes Before?" This contest was posted on Three-Seas, wotmania's OF section, and I think a couple other places. It was an enjoyable exercise and that was that.

Little did I know that a few months later, there had been a discussion at Time Warner UK about how Scott and I had done this (Scott told me about this some months later here). It was quite the eye-opener, although I had no real interest then in trying to further things, as I was then splitting time between working full-time and taking 15 hours of classes that semester. So I put it to the backburner, thinking it might be best if I just posted only what interested me and not seek any "freebies" from publishers.

So it was with some interest that I saw you, Jay, and then others make arrangements for giveaways and receive ARCs. After reading the reviews and after some pressure from Ken and a few others, I finally decided that I would toss my hat into the ring this year and it's been a mostly enjoyable experience.

But I do worry about that "fine line" still. Maybe part of it comes from my experiences as a grad student having to write academic reviews and knowing that out there I will encounter those that will skewer everything I say, just to see whose good I'm considering. That alone, I believe, has helped keep me from the excesses of praise (I also refuse to do a ranking/star system for reviews due to the potential for people misunderstanding what qualities I hold most dear in stories/writing). But it also makes me very wary of matters.

So yes, I understand and agree with your takes on matters. You have enough cache that you can pick and choose what contests you want to hold and when. It certainly wouldn't be any skin off of my nose if the bloggers in the field were to hold only monthly contests to be divided among many places (I keep mine to wotmania only because I want the OF Blog to be for reviews, interviews, and critical commentaries only). I wonder if that's something that can be arranged.

Let us know what the results of your planned conversations on this issue will be, okay?

Neth said...

Pat - do what you feel is best for you. I won't show up any less because you don't run as many contests.

I understand your fears here pretty well, and know as good as anyone can where you're coming from. When I started blogging in early '06 (about a year after you) I didn't have any asperations of getting free books of any sort - heck I remember those first few sparse months when it shocked me to that even 20 people out there were reading my blog (you see, I expected even less). I never dreamed my blog would grow as it has and I'm still an order of magnitude behind yours.

As for contests, well I'm sure I could sponsor them if I tried, and I probably would if asked directly, but I decided a while ago not to seek them out. My blog began from my love of reading and a goal to share my opinion as a fan (rather than a reviewer or critic). I aim to keep it that way and avoid becoming little more than unpaid marketer for various publishers. I'll take the ARCs that are sent my way, but I only read (or ask for) books that interst me as a fan and lover of reading.

I think it's a good and healthy exercise to take a step back to see what you've become - and that seems to be what you are doing here. You've got my support (which of course is only fair since you've sent so much my way).

Have fun in NYC meeting with the bigshots. Send 'em my way if they ask (or not), and keep me on the list for your own ARC if/when it comes out ;)

scribbler said...

I won't kid you Pat, I love a good giveaway--I mean, come on, free books!--but I'll be checking your site one way or the other. In one regard I think the whole seeking after legitimacy from the literary, or at least, reviewing establishment is misguided. Do you really care what print reviewers or critics think? On the other hand, you have to do what you think is right. Either way, this is one Hotlist fan that is here to stay.

Anonymous said...

Well there might be a lot of contests, but I sure haven't won yet!! One of my things I did every day was check if I won, lol. Well, I'd probably still visit every day cause I get bored and it's bookmarked and I need to know some fantasy news and reviews. But it won't be as high a priority since I'm not ready to see my name announced as the champion book winner of them all!!

Robert said...

Well, here are my thoughts on the subject. First off, obviously for most people that I’ve talked to, running a blog is a labor of love for them, which in this case are books in the SF/Fantasy genre. For me, it’s a bit different because I’ve had experience running websites where I promoted bands and worked professionally with record labels, and I’ve used that experience in running Fantasy Book Critic.

That doesn’t mean I’m not passionate about what I do. On the contrary, my number one goal with Fantasy Book Critic is to promote the books & authors that I personally love & respect through what I hope are thoughtful reviews and enlightening interviews. However, because of my past experience, I’ve learned a lot of useful online techniques in successfully promoting an artist using a website, and I’ve applied those same techniques to Fantasy Book Critic. Like I said, I run FBC because I love to, and because of that, I want to do as much as I possibly can in helping an author and his/her book, and if that means working with publishers, running giveaways, hosting banners, or whatnot, then why not?

That said, I don’t promote an author or book just because a publisher or author asks it of me. 99% of the books I’ve reviewed are ones that I’ve personally requested from publishers or bought on my own. The same with interviews. I interview certain authors because I respect their work, want to know more about them, and hope that the interviews will provide additional coverage. ALL of the giveaways I’ve set up are because I initiated them, as well as ALL of the banners that I host on my website. And to those that may be wondering, no, I do not make a single cent off of Fantasy Book Critic, and I actually pay monthly fees to make certain features run at an optimum level. In short, Fantasy Book Critic is not about making money, it’s about promoting the authors & books that I love & respect…

As far as Pat reducing the number of giveaways he hosts, well that seems to be a different situation. Unlike me, it seems like all of the publishers are coming to HIM with their giveaways. A drawback I guess of being the most popular SF/Fantasy book blog ;) So, in this matter, I’m not sure how I would respond.

I don’t fully agree with everything that Pat says though. I compare my experience in the music industry a lot with the book scene, because I think the two businesses are highly comparable, especially when it comes to online promotion, and in my opinion, record labels are much more knowledgeable in using the Internet as a promotional tool than publishers. Heck, techniques that publishers are just starting to do nowadays were utilized several years ago by record labels. For instance, practically every band out there, whether they are on a major record label, an indie, or unsigned, have a Myspace page. It’s quick, easy & free to use, and millions of people populate the site. Yet, only a very small number of authors or publishers use this tool, why? Additionally, go to any band’s Myspace page, and more likely than not, you’ll find several banners promoting the artist, which comes with the html code so that ANYONE can copy & paste the banner onto their own website. I mean, in this day & age, just about everyone has their own website, so why wouldn’t authors & publishers want to take advantage of that opportunity? Some people might call it pimpin’, but it’s just smart advertising.

Regarding giveaways, I will always believe that they’re a great promotional tool, and you can never have too many of them as long as they don’t take away from the rest of a website’s content. With FBC, my primary focus will always be book reviews and interviews. Giveaways, hosting banners and whatever other articles or techniques that I may use will never replace a review or interview…they are there in ADDITION to the reviews & interviews I already do.

As far as traffic, I have mixed opinions on that. I’m just as happy if one person reads my blog a day as if a thousand were to. Of course, I am trying to help out authors as best I can, so the more people I can reach out to, the better.

In short, I believe blogs should be run by individuals who are passionate about whatever it is their website caters to. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be professional about it as well…

Bob Lock said...

Pat,
Primarily I visit your site to gain background on the genre of books that interest me and to help me decide which are worth purchasing or not, the chance of winning something through your competitions is just an added bonus and personally I don't think I'd miss it if you did decide to remove that feature. Sometimes I did enter (especially if it was a limited copy etc) but I think the strength of the site resides in its reviews.
Cheers,
Bob

Patrick said...

Interesting responses so far. . . I just went through them eating breakfast.

Just a quick note: I'm not thinking of getting rid of giveaways altogether -- just to reduce the number of them.

In the end, it's up to every site owner to do what he or she thinks is right.

It will be interesting to see what people in the business think about this. I have two lunches schedules with a president and two editors-in chief, plus Matt is trying to get me in touch with another editor-in-chief. Publicists will probably have a different take on this than editors, yet that remains to be seen. . .

In short, the point I was trying to make was that book giveaways must never overshadow the "true" content of a site, namely the reviews, articles, and, to a lesser extent, the interviews.

On that note, I must sign off! See you in a couple of days!;-)

Graeme Flory said...

Some good points raised here by bloggers who have been doing this a lot longer than I have! It's certainly true that the reason we're all doing this should not be lost behind a mass of what may come across as publicity stunts aimed at boosting our own ratings (not that certain bloggers need to!) On the other hand though, it's nice to see more established bloggers acknowledge the situation that new bloggers find themselves in with this kind of thing. If a publisher offers me the chance to run a comp, I could say no (for good reasons) but lose goodwill that I've built up. On the other hand, the last thing I want is to appear that I'm just doing some publicist's work for them!
The main aim of my blog is to test myself and see if I can write reviews that people enjoy readng. Competitions are a sign that I'm doing something right but I honestly can't see myself doing that many in the future. Now of all times, I don't want to 'sell out'!
Cheers guys

Shara Saunsaucie said...

I barely have a hat to throw in this conversation, but I can understand where you're coming from. I know I'll continue to watch this blog regardless of the number of contests, and I'm sure others will too. If anything, it may not hurt to reduce the number of giveaways and make it more of an "event". A weekly giveaway thing, or something. I don't know. :) But good luck with whatever you decide.

SQT said...

I have a lot more respect for the reviews on this blog than most others with or without the giveaways.

I have seen too many blogs who give positive reviews on absolutely everything just because the publisher gives them ARC's. I mean, they're not even doing giveaways, they're just trying to make sure the publisher keeps giving them free books.

This bugs the heck out of me. A lot of blogs have become nothing but publicity machines without integrity.

maschine said...

Well, I guess as long as the books you give away are good there won't be much harm done.
So perhaps you should reduce the contests to books you already read/reviewed so that when somebody enters it, he can be sure to receive a book that deserves to be advertised

Maurice said...

Even though there have been alot of Giveaways, I have never felt as if they overshadowed the reviews or news on the site. As long as whatever Erikson or Martin writes is up for offer, I won't shed a tear. What I would be sad to see would be the absence of this blog, but I hope that won't happen for many years to come.

Anonymous said...

Oh that sounds cool to me, Pat. Just don't go turning down any Scott Bakker contests. The guy is a god.

And let me assure you, Pat, the contests haven't overshadowed your content one bit yet. I think most people would agree the reason the Hotlist is the #1 fantasy blog in the world is because of the lighthearted personality and honesty of your content!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you are considering this for a couple of reasons.
1) I'd given up trying to win free books after learning how many 100s of people view your site each day (never been lucky at winning anything anyway). So many people liking your site is a compliment to you.

2) Then I got worried with so many books being given away on your site that you were pimping for the publishers, so wasn't sure whether or not to trust your reviews anymore.

Just so you keep getting free advanced copies from the publishers and give honest reviews--maybe if publishers are afraid of an honest review they'll be more careful of what they publish.

Dave said...

You're welcome! You'll permit me the illusion that all of your success was due to the leg up from my little webzine?

Aidan said...

This has been fascinating to follow. I've recently been thinking a lot about contests and their relationship to blogs and the credibility of said blogs.

I've often thought about what I would do if a Publisher approached me and A Dribble of Ink to do giveaways. It's not a position I've been in yet, my blog is still too new and too small, but I'm not sure what my reaction would be.

I know readers like them, I know it would up my viewers, but, as you mentioned, would I be willing to, essentially, be a marketing tool for the major publishers.

I, as a reader of many SFF blogs, appreciate contests and giveaways, but don't often enter them. In fact, I could probably count on both my hands the number of contests I've entered for the simple fact that I only enter them when it's a book I would love to get my hands on, especially if it's an early copy that I could then review for my own blog.

So, that being said, would I be happy to give away copies of The Wanderer's Tale? A book I have no interest in and, in fact, hear is quite dreadful? Not particularly.

In any case, at this point in the life of A Dribble of Ink I'm just thrilled at the fact that my blog is being taken seriously and that even just a small group of people read it regularly.

I'm curious to see how things change as my blog grows and publishers begin to take notice... if that even happens at all!

~Aidan
A Dribble of Ink

Anonymous said...

Whether there are giveaways on this blog or any other blog I read makes no difference to me. I'm just looking for good reviews I can trust. If fewer giveaways means more reviews or more news about the SFF world, then I'm even more for it. I trust Pat (and some other bloggers) because I know who some of their favorite authors and can use that as background for reading the reviews and choosing what to pick up next. If you're going to change the number of giveaways I'd rather see fewer but have them be more personalized, being only from authors/books you really like and appreciate. It would be great if they could be special editions or signed copies, rather than 7 copies of every new book that comes out. In other words, something we couldn't just pick up at the local B&N or Amazon.

Tia Nevitt said...

I am in the same position as Adian. I've only been running Fantasy Debut for a short while and no one has offered me any ARCs or books to give away. I didn't know much about the blogger review scene when I got started, and I actually figured that publishers would hold a blogger such as I in disdain. Therefore, when I saw the book giveaways on this and other sites, I was a bit surprised.

However, if they want to use us, it shows that they think we have some value. Maybe we should come up with some sort of Blog Reviewer Canon of Ethics.

Jebus said...

The solution seems pretty damn obvious to me.

Accept ARC and other freebies from the publishers, only give away or ask for extra copies of ones you like. That way you get to review plenty of books (your main purpose) and pass on copies of ones you respect, admire or genuinely like.

There is so much crap out there in the SFF world that frankly someone that sticks to their guns and will only promote what they like - no matter how many freebies a publisher or author offers them - can only be respected. Review books of every ilk and shade and be hard on the ones you don't like.

Simple.

Anonymous said...

I'll keep visiting the site no matter what you decide Pat, I came here initially for the reviews and interviews and have only recently started entering the competitions. I won't deny that I'll happily accept a free book, but it's the other content that makes this blog one of the best.

Eric said...

I think that you have a great site, and I will be back...
contests or not. I respect your reviews whether or not I agree with them. Usually, if you give the book a good review, it is on my "look at this..." list. If you pan one, I don't even bother. So, I know you keep looking for respect or credibility, but I think your readers and fanbase provide you the credibility you need. People come here for your reviews. I think that would be all the respect a reviewer would need.

Cheers,
Eric
silat78(no spam)@hotmail.com

remy said...

I think all of the other comments summed it up but I don't want to be one of the only bloggers not to leave a comment!

I am a small blog as well and I have not had the pleasure of giving away books provided by the publisher. I like to think that given the opportunity I would only give away books that I could personally vouch for. This is sort of the same thing as only receiving review copies of books that you personally want to read.

Everything is fine as long as you don't overuse the privilege whether it is ARCs or giveaways

Jebus makes a great point about giving

Blend said...

Though I certainly come here to read your reviews, Q&As and other content, I still believe that the giveaways are, or should be, an integral part of your blog. Whether you like the book or not, the giveaways give people from all over the world a chance to be exposed to books they otherwise may not have been.

I recently won a copy of Raymond Feist's "Into a Dark Realm" and, to be honest, I never would have bought any other Feist novels (Magician, although good, didn't astound me in any way) had it not been for that. Now that I have it, and that I've read it as well as "Flight of the Nighthawks", I look forward to the third novel to get the rest of the story. Your giveaway opened up a whole new world of books to look into (as I may look into reading the Riftwar and Serpentwar novels, now, as well).

Anyway, rather than quitting the giveaways, you might think of reformatting your blog, perhaps having a separate page, completely, for giveaways, so that the numerous giveaways don't clutter up the blog space. Just a suggestion, at any rate. I haven't been reading the blog for as long as some of the people here, but for the last year or so there hasn't been any change in the way the blog looks. Perhaps it's time for a new look?

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Hi, Pat. Just wanted to say, I found your blog about a year and a half ago, by complete accident, with little interest in the fantasy/sci-fi genre.

I have to admit, it was the giveaways that caught my attention first, but, as I started working my way back through your archives; reading interviews, reviews, etc before I went out and spent about £150 on books on amazon--it was then that I fell in love with fantasy--and I'll always thank you for that.

I trust your blog like I trust only a handful of others, which I check almost every day. Your reviews are what keep me here--and though I love free books (I was lucky enough to win Brian Ruckley's fantastic Winterbirth) and I think most people will stay, regardless.

I also feel a bit guilty, since I have recently started a fantasy review blog, and though I've been getting quite good feedback from some of the "old timers", I've also been guilty of trying to draw people in with contests, which, I feel sad about. I do, however, and always shall, I hope, continue to focus on reviews, of which people seem to be liking.

I totally agree with your decision.

~Chris Hyland

John Dent said...

"Accept ARC and other freebies from the publishers, only give away or ask for extra copies of ones you like. That way you get to review plenty of books (your main purpose) and pass on copies of ones you respect, admire or genuinely like."

Well said Jebus. I have nothing to add to that.

Patrick said...

Hey guys!

Just had lunch with the Director of Publicity of Orbit Books USA.

It's nice to see that this post got people thinking and talking!:-)

Having fun in NYC!;-)

iskander said...

to be honest, I was feeling like the giveaways were becoming overwhelming, so I would be relieved if the number reduced.

nunof22 said...

I've just won one of those books. And I've found out about the blog because the book author's blog refered it. I am glad I've found it, though. Keep it up as you see fit; I'll keep coming back now beacause I liked what I read in it, not because I've won a book through it.