Books and publicity, Part Deux

The whole issue of book bloggers and publicity continues to be discussed around literary the blogosphere and I thought I would take a break from the football (and the pain) and talk books again. Debra Hamel returns to the Kimbofo imbroglio and raises the controversy surrounding The Thirteenth Tale over at MetaxuCafe. Debra asks a honest question:

Read the above carefully. Here’s what’s being asked of bloggers who want to take part in this contest.

1. Mention the sweepstakes in your blog with a link to the contest.
2. Have your readers write in the name of your blog when they enter the contest.

That’s it. Nowhere does it ask that bloggers review the book, or say anything favorable about it. It’s promoting a contest related to the book. It’s asking for links to the contest and providing incentive for those links. Can someone please explain to me what’s so disgusting about this?

I have to say I too fail to see the issue here. Booknija called it a “Skeevy promotion.” Here is the comment I left there:

Perhaps it is different for folks that write reviews professionally or hope to, but I don’t see any ethical issues here. As a blogger people read my reviews, I assume, because they either enjoy them or find them useful. I also assume if I started flaking for certain publishers or writers when I have a clear financial gain they would take my opinion less seriously. I post my honest opinion on the books I review whether the publisher sends them to me; I buy it, or check it out of the library. If readers like that, they click over. If they don’t, they don’t.

In this case, I simply made note of a web page and a connected contest. If people want to try and win a free book they can. I noted that I stood to gain in certain circumstances and my cynicism about my chances. If I happen to win will I have some sort of debt to S&S/Atria? No. I got lucky and won a contest. I fail to see how that changes how I operate my blog.

I think the whole thing comes down to how you feel about marketing and advertising. There are a number of folks who seem to feel that these areas are composed largely of manipulation and often outright deception. Being part of a marketing campaign is distasteful to these types of people.

I simply don’t share that sense or attitude. Don’t get me wrong, I am as cynical about marketing and advertisements as the next person and I understand that there are legitimate concerns about integrity that can become involved. Let’s all be honest, does anyone find what Harriet Klausner says interesting? She simply writes bland positive feedback of a billion books a year. If all you do is dash off glowing reviews of every book that comes down the pike then you deserve to lose some credibility. I have no problem with Ms. Klausner, she is free to spend her free time as she chooses, but I also don’t value here input when choosing whether to read a book. Readers make the decisions about who they trust or don’t.

And I might have concerns if I felt that blogger was getting paid to write positive reviews for a certain publisher or if they were simply flaking books to make money. But as Debra noted, I didn’t offer anything except a link to a contest. I disclosed my interest if the reader wanted to click over and put my blog as a reference. As I see it this is no different than providing a link to a review or a new book that was just published. I provide information. It is up to the reader to decided whether to trust that information and how to act on it. There isn’t fee for services arrangement here.

As to the Thirteenth Tale, when it came time to review the book, I offered what I would like to think is a thoughtful and interesting discussion/review. In addition to my own thoughts, I offered links to other reviews. Did I provide a link to the contest and eventually a review and link to Amazon? Yes. But I simply can’t see any ethical issues. There is no quid pro quo of any kind. The reader wasn’t deceived in any way. Don’t want to participate in the contest? No problem, don’t click over. Don’t agree with my review? Feel free to disagree and leave a comment or post your own review.

The idea that some silly contest, a few free books, or the trickle of Amazon revenue somehow constitutes a conflict of interest is quite absurd. The concept here is really quite simple: I read books and I write about my reactions. As I, and others, have stated a number of times there has never been an ounce of pressure to review, or positively review, books by the publishers and authors who send them. They send you books because they think you will like them and they hope to help get the word out so more people will read them. That is there job, to promote books. Our job is to read them and offer our reaction for the information and entertainment of our readers. I fail to see how those two goals are in conflict.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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