I just read a post on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist that... irked me. He saw a letter posted by a publisher re their new reviewer guidelines and didn't like what he read. It's this line in his post I didn't really like:
"I ultimately decide if and when I review a novel, not the publisher."
Now, as a book reviewer, I understand where he's coming from. And he is correct, he does have the right to decide if he will review a book and when. And looking at my own TBR pile, that time can be a week from now to several years from now. Or never.
What I didn't like was the assumption that publishers are somehow obliged to send reviewers books and that reviewers have the right to shrug and toss the book in a corner if they so choose. There is a reciprocal part to this arrangement.
But first, let me paraphrase the letter he's complaining about. The publisher (William Morrow, a subsidiary of Harper Collins) has decided that to lower costs they will stop randomly mailing out books. Instead, reviewers will be able to choose up to three books from a list of upcoming titles each month. They will mail the books out to you at their cost. Your obligation is to read the books they send you within a month of receiving them.
Yes, that's a short timeline, but it is a doable one for reviewers who plan their time. I consider many things when requesting books, and try not to request more than I can read within a reasonable amount of time. I generally try for 1-3 months, so yes, this timeline would be a bit tight even for me. The point here is that if you request a book you need to make sure you can put that at the top of your pile. In fact, I've arranged my NetGalley requests so that I don't ask for something unless I have a time slot open for it - within a month (or within a month of the book's publication date, which isn't always the same thing).
In other words you can do it, but it takes more planning and consideration on the reviewers side.
And while I can't read everything I'm sent, if I've requested a book I make it a point to read it. I turn down a lot of review requests because I don't have time to review the books within a reasonable amount of time. And I feel bad about the books I don't request that publishers spend money mailing me, books that I know I won't read (and to put this into perspective, a hardcover send to Canada from the US costs - according to one package - $26. That's $26 outside the cost of the actual book).
I guess what really disturbed me about Pat's post was the idea that publishers are somehow obligated to send reviewers books. And that as a reviewer, we can decide if we read that book or not. Let me make this clear: we are not entitled to free books. There is nothing that states publishers must supply book reviewers with free books. It is a privilege which can be revoked if the reciprocal part of that arrangement isn't kept.
Thank you to all the publishers who have given me books over the years. I greatly appreciate it.