When I first started this blog I had one source of books, other than my shelf and the books I borrowed from the library or friends. Over time, that’s built up to several sources, plus because all my reviews are on Amazon and I have quite high rankings, I sometimes get approached by companies asking me to review their products.
Which is great, I love reviewing things, and I get a lot of pleasure out of reading and out of testing things that companies send me.
But, I have learned a few things in my time as a reviewer, and it is something I’m starting to be more judicious about now that I’m getting more books than ever.
1. The lure of the free shouldn’t always be listened to
It’s easy to just say yes to everything. I used to. I used to agree to review every author book, and would request far more than I had capacity to get through. With products, I’d be so pleased that someone valued what I could write enough to give me stuff (and hey, who doesn’t want free stuff?) that I wasn’t always making good choices about what I was taking on. This has lead to a number of things – mostly stress of getting reviews out in a reasonable time, which takes the pleasure out of doing the reviews in the first place, but also cluttering my house with things that I don’t really need or sometimes even want. I’ve made the decision to stop requesting review books for a time because my study is so full of review books that I can’t actually use my desk very easily. I look at my TBR pile with dread, not pleasure. Reviewing should be about saying nice things about stuff you’ve really liked, giving something back to the companies and authors that have trusted you with their product, not stressing about getting through everything on time so much that you start wondering if it wouldn’t be better to just make it all up…
2. It’s not better just to make it all up
I’ve faked two book reviews in my time because I didn’t have time to get through them before the deadline came up. They were both sequels, and I’d read both of the first books and enjoyed them, so I had a good idea what they were going to be like, and what I would like about them. I read more than half of one, but it was so long I ran out of time. The other I read about three chapters of. (It wasn’t a good time, I was seriously overstressed by work.) Neither of those reviews posted on here, and the long book I finished reading and did review on here. I said much the same things about it in the full review as I did about the first half of the book. I was lucky in that regard – imagine if I’d recommended the book based on the first half and the second half was terrible. The other book I never finished. I didn’t give it an overly glowing review, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about it. Two books in over five years isn’t bad going, but I like to be honest with readers, because I feel that’s my job. And I felt awful both times I wasn’t able to give a proper review.
3. Companies do reward positive reviews
I know people who gush about everything they’re given on their blogs in order to get more stuff. I can’t even blame them for it – it’s lucrative. You don’t ever have to buy things again if you get good enough, and you can earn a pretty penny from sponsored posts if companies know you’re willing to say what they want you to. With monetary and product rewards for those who will say what companies want to hear, is it surprising that lots of people do it? It’s just one thing I can’t do. I’m pretty easy going – not hard to please, and I feel that this attitude allows me to be positive about most things. But if I hate something, I’m not going to not say so. I worry sometimes that this will make me enemies, especially if I want to publish my own books in the future. But then reviews less than 2 stars on this blog are so few and far between, I like to think people reading my reviews trust that a book has to be pretty dire in my opinion before it gets that far.
4. Companies send stuff through unsolicited, and you will feel an obligation to review
I came home to a brand new book on the table the other day that I had no idea where it came from. The Boyfriend, so used to me receiving book packages all the time, had opened the parcel, thrown away the marketing page that came with it, and left the book to be added to my pile. He gave me an eye-roll when I got home and said ‘What are you doing ordering more, you’ve got enough!’ I had no idea what he was talking about. It’s really, really nice to receive stuff out of the blue like that, don’t get me wrong. But I always feel a sense of obligation to provide a review in exchange for a book I didn’t even ask for. This book is a crime novel, and not the sort of thing I usually read. I’m pretty easy, and will hop genres fairly often, but harking back to point 3, I like to pick things that I’m pretty sure I’m going to like. And I wouldn’t have chosen this book. Now I have it, I’ll read it, and though as a ‘freelancer’ (effectively) I know I shouldn’t feel bad about turning away ‘work’ that I haven’t asked for, and didn’t necessarily need/want, because I like to believe I’m fundamentally nice person, I really do feel bad. If I received much more unsolicited stuff, I would have to.
5. I have to stick to my beliefs
A company challenged me about the rating I gave a product of theirs once. I’m ninety percent sure they did it to see if I would take criticism and work with them effectively, but I also think there was a part of them that wanted me to bump the rating up. Understandable – the more good reviews they get, the better their products will do. And I hadn’t even given the product a bad review, I just hadn’t given it full marks.
I contemplated putting the review up to full marks to secure my chance of working with them again. But I couldn’t do it. If I don’t stay true to what I really think, then I personally can’t put my name to what I’m saying. I totally understand why other people do it – as I said above, it’s incredibly lucrative – but personally for me, I have to be honest. Too honest, I’m sure a few people who know me would say. But be it a strength, or flaw, it’s what I’m like.