Thursday, May 19, 2016

Little Miss Crabby Pants and the Blogging Reality Check

Yes, I am well aware Dearest Bat Cave Visitors and Honored Guests that we all need another "post about blogging" like we need a hole in the head - and yet, here we are.  These days, when it comes to Little Miss Crabby Pants breaking out of her self-imposed silence it's usually not over any one thing, rather a culmination of several things that end up swirling around in my brain for...well, a while.

It all started with the fairly recent phenomenon I've seen cropping up around social media - mostly on Facebook, but I think it's been floating around on blogs, web sites and Twitter as well.  The posts that go something like I'm An Author And This Is What You, Dear Reader, Can Do To Help Support Authors/Me - and then it devolves into a list of things like posting reviews on Amazon, putting books on your various GoodReads shelves yada yada yada.  And while it's not always boldly spelled out, it's implied that we're talking Squee-Worthy This Book Is Awesome Sauce chatter only.  If you desire to post a genuine not-so-hot or this-was-blah review just ignore the Author's/Publicist's/Publisher's pleas thankyouverymuch.

Then, BEA happened.  For those that aren't aware - BEA or BookExpo America is a Big Ol' Convention for Industry Professionals.  So publishers, booksellers, librarians and in the past several years more readers and bloggers have been attending the event.  BEA is a Book Orgy. Seriously.  All kinds of books.  All reading levels.  All genres.  Book. Orgy.  Ergo, there are a ton of ARCs and it usually takes 12 hours after the event ends for people to pop up on social media to gripe about "greedy bloggers selling ARCs."  Always bloggers.  Booksellers, librarians and publishing employees never seem to get accused #shockednotshocked

I'm going to state the obvious upfront: I'm old. I've been book blogging since 2003 and I started reviewing for The Romance Reader (RIP) in 1999.  Old.  This is going to sound very Damn Kids Get Off My Lawn, but blogging truly was more pure back then because it was easier to keep it pure.  As more and more people began blogging (which, yippeee!), the industry took notice.  They saw it as a way to harness that elusive marketing tool, "word of mouth" and relationships began forming.

Now lest you all think I'm going to talk about "corruption" and how Big Publishing Ruined Blogging - bloggers couldn't run fast enough through that open door that publishers were holding open for us.  Free books?!  OMG, I can get ARCs of coveted books I'm DYING to read?!?!  Sign me up!  So what publishers and authors got, essentially, was an extension of their PR departments and all they had to do was pay us in free books.  Granted those books aren't free to the publishers.  They need to produce them.  They need to mail them out (although now that we have digital I imagine postage costs are down).  But they're not paying bloggers a salary, benefits, putting money into our 401Ks yada yada yada.  So really, it's a bargain for them.

Subconsciously, even if we didn't acknowledge this, I think bloggers realized we were working for free.  So we monetized.  Getting "paid" in free books isn't going to cover things like web hosting, postage, not to mention time and labor.  Blogging is a hobby for a good many bloggers, but it can be an expensive one.  How much blogs monetized has varied wildly.  It ranges from the larger blogs joining multiple affiliate programs and selling ad space to quirky individual bloggers who have stayed relatively ad free.

This post is my way of issuing a reality check.  To publishers, to publicists, to authors and to bloggers.  I have monetized this blog, but like most things in my life I've done it kind of half-assed.  I earn money through my blogging two ways: 1) I'm a member of Amazon's Affiliate program and 2) I blog at Heroes & Heartbreakers.  The only expenses I have are my time and energy.  I've stayed on Blogger all these years (since 2003) because it's 1) easy and 2) free.  Would I have a larger reach if I paid for web hosting and spiffed up my blog?  Sure.  But 1) easy 2) free and 3) I'm from the Midwest and bleed frugality.

In 2015 my blogging, my online "presence" if you will, earned me $683.  Granted, $683 is $683.  It's nothing to sneeze at.  But what can one do with $683?  I don't have kids - so while it doesn't come close to covering one month's rent, it would cover my grocery bills for a while.  It covers RWA conference registration and a night in the hotel.  But I'm not going to live off this money.  It's "mad money."  It would pay my electric bill for several months, but it also means that if I didn't have another source of income (hello, Day Job!), my blogging (such as it is) isn't going to keep me financially afloat.  Not by a long shot.

I can only speak for me, and granted I've never made moves to take my blog "big time."  So what I earn?  That's been my choice.  I started doing what I do because I love the romance genre, I love reading, I love the community and I want to share that love with other people.  I didn't start this gig to Get Rich Or Die Tryin' and it's not why I've kept doing it all these years.  So please do not confuse my $683 with whining.  I'm not whining.  If I wanted to make more money off my blog I probably could.  I'm also not saying it's OK for people to sell ARCs online or in their bookstores or on the local street corner either.  I'm just saying - slow your roll and let's all have a reality check.

Bloggers do what we do because we love it and yes, we truly do want to support authors - and by extension publishing as a whole.  But this is a two-way street folks.  Telling us "how you can support authors" can often smack of What Have You Done For Me Lately?  And just as authors sometimes sit behind their computer monitors, feeling isolated, pondering "Why do I do this?"  Newsflash: bloggers think that to.  We're not doing it for the money, we're doing it for the love.  But even The Collective Blogging We can feel taken for granted, discouraged, and overlooked.  You know how great you feel when you get a gushing fan letter in your e-mail?  Nothing cranks my handle more than when somebody says, "I read this book based on Wendy's recommendation and OMG IT WAS SO GOOD THE BOOK AND I ARE PLANNING ON ELOPING!!!!" 

Am I suggesting we all hold hands and sing Kumbaya?  Ha!  No.  What I am saying is that every once in a while a reality check is in order.  Bloggers love getting ARCs, we love talking about books, none of that will change.  But....two way street.  It's terribly easy to sit behind your computer monitor and rant about the latest whatever that's going on - but somehow it's not quite as easy for us to express how much we appreciate each other.  For better or worse, this is a symbiotic relationship.  I think that's worth some least until the next brouhaha blows up.


Mrs Giggles said...

I keep getting more and more emails by people (mostly indie authors) asking me to review their books and, more importantly, post those reviews on Amazon, etc. Some actually have a list of things they'd like me to do. I suppose they think I have nothing better to do that to be an unpaid member of their street team. At least personalize that email, for heaven's sake, instead of just "Dear Blogger!"

Then there are all these blog tour organizers - I don't know how they get my email, but they will also send me invitations to set up advanced reviews, book cover reveals, posts of "interviews" with canned answers, etc - it all sounds like a lot of work, with no payment offered to compensate for the time.

It seems like we are in a time where everyone sees bloggers as a means to an end (ticket to Bookbub and subsequent book sales for authors, unpaid slaves for advertisers and marketers), but heaven forbid some of us try to get even a small slice of the pie they are all enjoying!

Melanie Simmons (mlsimmons) said...

Very well said. I also think this issue is something that gets blown way out of per portion. Out of the many thousands of people at BEA, how many of them are selling their ARCs, I'm guessing it is a pretty small percentage. Let's not have a few bad apples spoiled the whole bunch. Great post!

azteclady said...

I have another comment: the "oh my dog, you thief, selling ARCs is illegal!!!!" rallying cry? Bullshit.

Once an author or publisher have given a reviewer/blogger that paper ARC, the physical object becomes that person's property, and the selling thereof is covered by the First Sale doctrine.

Note: I am not a lawyer, but this is not a new argument, it has been discussed online for at least ten years; I'm pretty sure if I wanted to devote some time to it, I could find a comment somewhere by Nora Roberts, talking about it, back when she had a social media/blogs presence. Don't believe me? Then check Courtney Milan (who is a lawyer and who taught intellectual property law), she tweeted about this a few days ago.

Amber said...

I completely ignored this kerfuffle because it happens every year. Every. Year. A large part of that is authors who are naive about the process of getting reviews and how ARCs work. They just don't have a good knowledge base, so they react emotionally. And yes, those book hauls with multiple copies of a single book are tacky, but tacky people exist. It's like when authors are shocked to discover that books end up in dumpsters as strips.

And I'm going to fess up here. I've SOLD ARCs. Not since I was a book blogger, though, because I consider it tacky, but it's NOT illegal. I sold the ones I received while working for B&N. Unless the ARC is given with the expectation of the item being returned to the publisher, that book becomes property of the reviewer and she (or he) can dispose of it in whatever manner they choose.

Instead of being outraged that BEA attendees are making a buck (maybe trying to recoup the cost of attending?) and blaming a single group of people, authors and publishers should look at who is BUYING those ARCs. Because it shows that people are excited enough about a book to want early access. And even if it's not the original reviewer reading it, someone surely is. And paying for the privilege. All of that means that the ARC is ultimately doing what it should: create buzz.

Just my 2 cents.

nath said...

Great post, Wendy!!

That's why I try to draw a line between me and authors. My blog is mine. I endorsed authors, not because they asked me, but because I enjoyed their books. At the beginning, when the publishers realize blogs were great for publicity and start sending out ARCs, I have to admit I was envious of the blogs that received them. But seriously, I don't want the commitment it requires... and I actually started caring less and less about "industry" blogs. Just not my cup of tea. So in the end, I'm happy I wasn't chosen :)

Bona Caballero said...

Free books are never free because you spend your precious time reading them.
That's one of the reasons I don't usually accept free books, because I want to read and review the books I choose. I'm lucky enough to have a great job that allows me this hobby of mine. I blog just because I love romance novels and in orden to support the genre, so I don't earn money with it. Therefore, I'm free to read and review what I want and not what the publishing houses want me to sell for them. I couldn't do it, anyway, as it's a little blog and one of the drawbacks of my job is that I am not allowed to go into any kind of business.
Personally, I find that the reviews of those bloggers that only write reviews to get books for free are not usually very candid or interesting.
About TRR, have you seen that lately the same page has a little content?

Wendy said...

Mrs. G: I've got it down to a system now. The e-mails that read like spam, the e-mails that are for blog tours, the e-mails that want me to post during a specific day/time/week and in 5 different places...


Melanie: Soooo true. BEA is such a book orgy. There's literally a ton of ARCs, a ton of swag - out of all that's given out, how much is actually ending up on eBay 6 hours later? My guess is very little.

AL: Yep. It may be tacky, but it's not illegal.

Amber: Agreed. In Library Land we use ARCs to help make buying decisions, use them for staff development (Reader's Advisory) and even use them as giveaways to library patrons (my experience is that average readers not juiced in on the industry really think they're cool - hey, I used to think ARCS were cool before I got all jaded ;) )

Nath: I'm at the point now where I get all my ARCs either through work or through services like NetGalley. When I'm dealing directly with authors or publicists? I'm upfront about my backlog and that if they're looking for release day reviews etc. that I am not their gal. And you know what? Most of them are cool with that. And if they aren't? That's OK. No hard feelings. They have a job to do and I may not be the right fit.

Bona: There are similar situations here in the States. You can have the second income but if you're in public service and/or government work of some sort? You'll probably have to declare it in the name of avoiding conflict of interest.

OMG thank you so much for telling me about TRR!!! Looks like they're playing around with WordPress. When I have time I'll have to poke around more in the reviews - see if the entire archive is up.

Bona Caballero said...

Yes, I work in a kind of public service that does not allow me to have a second job. And, secondly, I don't think they've got all the TRR archives back. At least not yet.