The OF Blog: Belatedly for me, an "ethical" decision

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Belatedly for me, an "ethical" decision

Today, I received yet another review copy in the mail.  It might be my fourth or fifth one this week so far; I can't recall for certain.  It is a slim enough volume, perhaps a little over 300 pages.  The description is intriguing enough that I might read it and if I like it, perhaps review it sometime in the next couple of months, time permitting.  The title of the book does not matter, as it could describe any number of books, received as a review copy or purchased by myself, over the past 3.5 years.

What does matter, I suppose, is how I prioritize things.  For the past year and a half or so, I've felt more and more disinclined to participate in "herd" activities.  Sometimes, I am lauded for that, other times I am castigated, sometimes rightly.  I do try to stay true to myself, but that does not always happen.  Errare humanum est and all that.

Recently, I slipped up and said more than I meant in regards to my general impressions regarding a certain book.  I did not sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (although I have signed one in the past), but I had meant to try and keep to the letter of the request not to divulge content from the upcoming book, the thirteenth Wheel of Time book, Towers of Midnight.  I made the mistake of responding too frankly to some comments on a thread I posted at the Read and Find Out site about receiving the book and in trying to walk the fine line between not revealing spoilers and trying to answer questions about my general impressions, I slipped and in the minds of many, especially WoT fans, I crossed a line which I regret crossing.  While I do not believe that I definitively revealed anything of importance, the shadings caused by a few responses have created some regrettable controversy.

Of course, I was not alone and it seems another has been a bit more direct in stating his opinions on what he has read so far.  Perhaps Pat's posting of his initial impressions 2/3 into the book violates not just the spirit but also the letter of the "review embargo."  I'll leave that for you to decide.  But what I found to be more interesting, however, were some of the responses.  I see that in the past day or so, there have been a couple of posts by other bloggers about "ethics" and "embargoes."  In addition, I have seen in my Twitter feed several comments regarding the "legitimacy" of "certain reviewers" getting to review said books and/or whether or not "they" ought to be permitted to receive more advance review copies.  Several interesting points were made.

In reading through these (I have not responded directly to anything until now), I first found myself thinking, "well, I guess I fucked up worse than I thought," only to have that thought followed with "wait a minute, weren't some of those complainers just blogging or tweeting about receiving the 'latest' book weeks or months before its release date? "  I am not going to state much more on this line of thought except to say that it led to me considering a couple of comments in one of the links above.

In those comments, two people discuss "ethics" from the vantage point of reviewers and their relationship with companies.  One opines that perhaps "embargoes" are a ridiculous concept that only serves in the end to make the reviewer a presumed extension of the publisher's publicity department, while the other notes that there is a risk involved in breaking such embargoes, ridiculous as they might seem to others, and that perhaps the price for true reviewing "independence" might be giving up access to those advance review copies.

I have seen iterations of these arguments several times before, but this recent situation, coupled with a sea shift in interests away from focusing on recent releases and toward a mixture of exploring older fictions, promoting offbeat fictions that appeal to me, and freelance translations on occasion. Perhaps it might be more "ethical" for me to have this blog focus more on those interests, with only occasional "new" releases discussed because they interest me.

So what I have decided to do is this:  I am not going to actively agree to receive review copies or sign any more "embargoes."  I will respond to personalized inquiries, but I will not seek out any more releases unless I personally know the other party.  If I am dropped from mass mailing lists, I will understand.  If I do receive an unsolicited book, I will consider the book, but I will not "slot" it into a specific release date window.  The latest book I received is scheduled to be released in the US on October 26.  I may read it this weekend, or it might not be until mid-November before I read and possibly review it.  That way, there can be something more "natural" about the reviewing, I hope.  As for the book at the heart of this, I did have genuine interest in it after the last volume and I will review it.  However, since my comments elsewhere have stirred up enough attention as it is, I will likely wait a few days after its November 2nd release and write a review that will be more formal and thus more "spoiler-laden" than typical.  I think that will allow me to have the space for a better-written review than what I might have done and not "reward" myself with increased hits that tend to come when publishers post links to release-day reviews.

So if this means I won't receive as many advance review copies or only from people I know personally, so be it.  I believe this will be the best course of action for me in the future.  Too bad it came after a stupid mistake on my part.

14 comments:

Amy said...

I'm sorry to hear that this has all blown up. Things blowing up on the blogging front is never fun. I didn't read your comments on the other site, I only saw your post here on your blog, and thought there was nothing in it worth freaking out about... I hope you don't take anything too seriously and you stick around! I might not read your review when you post it, but that will only be because I'm not sure I'll have caught up in my re-read by then to have read the book myself! (About to start book 4...)

Larry said...

Amy,

I'm not abandoning blogging or anything like that. Just being more honest with myself. I prefer more obscure and older works and it seems like a ripoff for me to receive hundreds of books that I know I'll never read, much less review. I have to trade them in at a used bookstore every so often so I can have space to walk! It just isn't fair to anyone else and I've been thinking about this much longer than the past week. I just feel relieved more than anything else.

That being said, look for a review of Room this weekend or next. I have lots of things to say about this book once I finish it. Only reading 50 pages a day in it, however.

Amy said...

I'm glad to hear it Larry - and looking forward to Room! I'm finding I am needing to step back from new releases too. Too many older books that are fantastic to read.

Larry said...

Exactly! That and many of them are just superior to what's being published these days. One day, I'll have to publish a list of favorite fictions that includes reads from the past four years.

Amy said...

Oh yes! I think you should do that! I love seeing lists of people's favorites.

Larry said...

Maybe in a few months, when I have time to re-read some books to decide on a few dozen of them.

Harry Markov said...

Larry,

You can always send all those hundreds of books to someone, who needs them [like me, okay so I do not need them, but I want them]. I am a certified hoarder.

It's good to see that someone is actually thinking about the ethics and what you are doing deserves the thumbs-up.

Larry said...

I do send the galleys to friends of mine after the release date, but the others I trade away after the release date, since I neither requested them nor read them, since they take up too much space. I don't make money directly off of them, however.

The "ethical" is in scare quotes in part because it's more than just ethics; it's disillusionment with others as much as with myself.

Adam Whitehead said...

I have never been asked to sign a NDA or take part in an embargo. I have received I believe exactly one request in four years to hold back on a review until the book is closer to release, but since I didn't get round to reading it until months later, that wasn't an issue.

In this particular instance, the notion of embargoes and waiting times is even more ridiculous, as the book is out less than three weeks after most reviewers got their copies and it is likely, as with previous books in the series, that a non-reviewer will get hold of an advance copy and spoil it thoroughly before release (or, more likely, a bookshop will put the book out days or even a week early and spoilers will result from that).

Certainly you cannot withold frank opinions based on 'fear' of losing ARCs, especially since in many cases a good review of a book not many people have heard of is worth far more than a bad review of a huge-profile release that's going to sell millions regardless.

Larry said...

Yeah, I rarely get any of those requests and generally they're for books that aren't high priorities on my reading list, to say the least, so I didn't think much of that, I suppose. Guess this was a bit different and what's happened has happened, to say the least.

But the final point I think is the crucial one here: While I am not quitting advance reviewing completely (after all, there are several databases that send me books, some of which I do have an interest in reading/reviewing), it probably is the best for me to step away from this somewhat incestuous relationship that's developing between publishers and some reviewers. Probably can't do it completely, but at least I can limit such relationships to only those cases where I have a greater interest in the works being promoted.

Cheryl said...

It sounds like you have reached the same decision I made 4 years ago. You'll be happier.

Larry said...

I hope I am, Cheryl. I know I feel better now than I did last weekend, enduring the first of the ridiculous comments elsewhere.

Joel said...

For what it's worth, I think there was a LOT of overreaction to your RAFO comment. It revealed so much that despite visiting the thread when you posted it I had to spend a full 24 hours on the one complaining about it to realize WHAT drew the complaint. There was virtually NOTHING in the other, so something else MUST have provoked the controversy. Or not.

You're the final arbiter of your own ethics though, and, all things considered, your decision makes a lot of sense. Err on the side of caution and all that, and if you don't read any books until after their release people finding spoilers in your comments then should expect them. It's too bad it has to come to that, but it probably will make your life a lot easier in ways that have nada to do with spoilers, so congrats on that.

Larry said...

That little bit on RAFO was only the tip of the iceberg; I happened to have read through enough comments elsewhere to become exasperated enough with it. I didn't do anything really different from the TGS pre-release, but if it was meant to be something different this time, my apology was strictly for misinterpreting it. Doesn't mean I think certain others are "correct," however.

 
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