EDIT: A point has been raised with me about the original introductory paragraph that I entirely agree with. It named a specific book which, in addition to potentially making things uncomfortable for the author, also made it very easy to identify a particular blog tour organiser, who have been seen as the specific target of the points I make in this post. I want to make it crystal clear that, while I stand by the points I’ve made, this is in no way a personal or targeted attack on any one blog tour organiser. In that spirit, I’ve deleted the introductory paragraph. Everything else remains the same.
For anyone who doesn’t know about blog tours, they’re basically publicity events for books where a bunch of reviewers and bloggers review and blog about the book over the course of, say, a week. They can be organised by the author, a publicist or a third party. Usually the participants get a free copy of the book to read and review. Seems fine right? Not all that different from getting a free copy from NetGalley or the publisher in exchange for a review? Nah man, blog tours are bullshit, and here’s why.
For starters, it’s pretty standard practice for most blog tours to have a policy of no negative reviews during the tour. Not only that, but if you didn’t like the book, you’re still usually asked to promote it regardless, by spotlighting it and posting an excerpt. This is how I came to be required to promote a book I didn’t like. And I mean look, that’s all well and good right, I recognise that taste is subjective and a book I didn’t get along with might be someone else’s five star book of the year, so I have no problem talking about books that weren’t my cup of tea. Hell, in past reviews I’ve said stuff like “this didn’t work for me, but if you’re a fan of this trope/writing style/type of humour etc then you’d probably enjoy this book.” The problem for me arises when I have to uncritically promote it and mask the fact I didn’t like it. Besides the intellectual dishonesty wound up in that it also just seems obvious, on a practical level, that discerning readers will pick up on the fact that excerpt is just code for bad book anyway, especially if the excerpts are continuously followed by negative reviews the following week.
And hey, this just sounds like my own personal discomfort with blog tours. And of course that’s true, this is just my opinion, and many other bloggers and reviewers out there won’t share my views and be more than happy to spotlight books and hold off on (or never even write) negative reviews. I still think that’s perfectly legitimate stance. However, I do think if that’s the position you’re going to take then you owe it to the readers to think about why you’re happy to carry on doing that. Because this is where my big gripe with blog tours surfaces. While I’m more than enthusiastic to shout from the rooftops about great books and get the word out about the authors I love, I never lose sight of the fact that fundamentally reviews are for readers. And if we’re honest about it, blog tours are for authors. They’re for authors to drum up positive reviews, and only positive reviews, that leave the reader with a warped and frankly, inaccurate reception of the book. Given that blog tours are often organised to promote new books with very few (if any) other reviews to balance this out, that leaves the reader, who the review is supposedly intended for, in a very shitty, uninformed position. As a side note to this, I actually think some negative reviews are a good thing for authors. No book is universally loved. Even the most critically acclaimed best-sellers have their detractors and one star reviews. So if I see a small title with twenty ratings, and those ratings are all five stars, I wouldn’t trust that book not to keep my change. The positive reviews become meaningless. Whereas if most people enjoyed it, but there’s some people in there saying it didn’t work for them, it actually lends a degree of authenticity to the book’s reception.
The other (and I think most insidious) thing I want to talk about is money. Payment. Publicists and blog tour companies are usually being paid to organise these things. And they don’t let you write negative reviews. Think about that. Most people would consider it reprehensible for an author to pay a blogger directly and say they could only write a positive review. Yet this is precisely what is happening, albeit with the insertion of a middleman in the form of a publicist or blog tour company that masks the transaction. And it gets worse! I’ve actually seen the organisers of blog tours – the individuals receiving payment – reviewing the book themselves. And shock fucking horror, they’re always positive and very often five stars. That’s messed up.
I took part in two blog tours before I came to the conclusion the whole ecosystem is a corrupt mess that subverts the purpose of reviews. I remember signing up for the first one and very quickly getting anxious about what to do if I didn’t like the book. As it turned out, I enjoyed the first one, which allowed me to sweep the problem under the rug and not think about it for a while. I couldn’t do this the second time round, when I had such a negative opinion of the book. When I talked about this, a few fellow bloggers got in touch to tell me about similar experiences they’ve had. Some went so far as pulling out of tours altogether because they didn’t feel comfortable promoting a book they didn’t like. That’s always an option, but for me there’s a couple of problems with that approach. The first is simply a matter of professionalism. When I signed up to those blog tours I made an agreement right? And the rules of that agreement stated that if I didn’t like the book I was still expected to promote it. To wait and see if I like the book before deciding whether to uphold my side of the agreement just doesn’t seem right. The second, most fundamental problem is that by participating in it and continuing to review books when I do like them and just withdrawing when I don’t, I’d still be propping up an ecosystem awash with the other faults and issues I’ve already highlighted. Either way, the practise goes on and I’m doing nothing to challenge it, even offering my tacit approval. And I’m not willing to do that.
If you’re a reader who’s followed blog tours and never considered this angle before, I honestly think you’d be better off avoiding them; they don’t serve you well. If you’re a blogger considering being part of a blog tour in future, just give some thought to what I’ve said. If you do that and still think I’m wrong, I’m always open to a good faith chat 🙂 Peace out bookwyrms.
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