Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why I Don't Like Free Books



For those of you who already have a heart attack from reading the title, let me back up just a bit here.  I'm not saying I don't like all free books.  That is most certainly not true.  I like free books for birthday gifts.  I like it when I find books on the free cart at the library.  I like it when I get Barnes and Nobel gift cards or when ebooks are free on Amazon.

But I'm involved in the book blogging/writing/publishing community.  Which means that sometimes I get books for free for other reasons.  Writers and publishers offer me ARCs (Advance Reader Copies.) Lately more than one publicity person from HarperCollins has asked me to review their books in exchange for a free copy.  These are the types of free books I don't like.

It's not that I don't enjoy getting the book.  I do.  It's really fun to get the book.  I don't order many books, so when a free one comes in the mail, I always give out a sequel of joy.  But then, after I've read the book, I know I should write a review.  And I hate writing reviews.  They are something I do only rarely and only for certain people whom I really, really like.  It doesn't take much to make me feel guilty, but I feel some seriously major guilt for not writing a review of a free book.  Major, major book-review guilt.

But I only get book review guilt if I actually finish the book.  For some reason books that aren't due back at the library in two weeks have no where near the urgency to them.  It doesn't really matter if I finish them today, tomorrow, or next month.  They'll be there when I get around to them, unlike the beautiful shiny covers gracing my library shelf.  With books I get for free, I have no money sunk into them and no deadline to reading them, the only thing I have is major book-guilt over not finishing the stories these authors took time and energy to send to me.

And then I finally get past reading the books, and start writing the review.  I write the first paragraph, a little blurb about what the book was about, and then I mention overall some pros and cons of the book.  In the next few paragraphs, I explore these pros and cons.  But with a book I got for free, I feel really bad talking about any of the cons.  I know some people liked the book.  I point out the wonderful font and the amazing cover.  And then I might write a sentence or two about how I didn't like the POV switches, or felt like the middle was rushed.  But if I got the book for free, I would never, ever dwell on these things.  1) Because I know the author is probably going to read the review I wrote and 2) even if they don't, I'll feel like I'm looking a gift horse in the mouth.

In short, I feel like the point of getting a lot of free books is to write a review, but I feel like the fact that I got the book for free changes my review.  The fact that I let myself be bribed makes me a sell-out, and that is something I never want to be.  A vulnerability to bribery is one of my least favorite character traits of all time, in characters fictional and otherwise.

How do you feel about free books?  Do you change your review if you got the book for free?  Do you suffer from book-guilt of any kind?  Or am I alone in all this because the title of the post gave you all heart attacks?  Leave me a comment and let me know, or better yet, write up a blog post of your own in response and leave the link in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

18 comments:

  1. When I read your title I was like "What?" and then I was like "Oh, she's probably talking about how we need to support authors and stuff." And then I read your post.

    I definitely see where you're coming from, though I have this problem with a lot of books. I don't like writing reviews much because whether or not I got the book free, the author put an enormous amount of time and energy into making the book good. And that makes me feel a bit guilty if I say I didn't like the book, or if I'm too critical of it.

    I would like to note that this can be something of a good thing. The first time I read Goddess Tithe, I wasn't all that crazy about it. That forced me to read it again before I wrote my review and find out that I did like it after all.

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    1. Sometimes when I think about a book I didn't like when I'm writing the review, I realize I actually liked certain parts. But sometimes when I'm writing a review I notice things I really hated about a novel. So it can work for good or bad.
      Thanks for commenting!
      ~Sarah

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  2. I feel this way whenever an author asks me to review their books (which has ony happened a coupe times, but still). I love writing reviews because I have discovered that I read ver critically (probably a side effect from writing reviews?) and if I don't get my thoughts of the book on a blog or notebook paper I go crazy, and feel like I'm going to forget every profound thought I had on a book. When an author asks me to review a book, it is hard, but I just have to keep telling myself to be honest, even if the author will sneak into my house and shove a pie in my face (or something worse). Not being honest doesn't help the author at all, that's the way I think of it. And if they aren't happy with the review, it's their problem, not mine.

    But anyway, I'm okay with free books.

    There's my thoughts and such.

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    1. I do feel like I read a book differently if I know I'm going to be writing a review on it. This is rarely a good thing.
      Thanks for reading!
      ~Sarah

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  3. Ah, see your point. I enjoy writing reviews, and have some journalism experience. It's taught me a lot about euphemism and constructive criticism. I also only request books I almost know I'll enjoy.

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    1. Yes, saying yes to books I'm not certain I'll like is one of my problems, too.
      Thanks for reading!
      ~Sarah

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  4. I'm like you - writing reviews is not something I enjoy. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to write long, professional reviews. I've stopped doing that, and I've started writing my reviews in just 5-10 sentences. What I liked. What seemed exceptionally creative. Maybe, MAYBE something I thought was a weak point in the story.

    As a writer, I would rather people write short reviews than no review at all.

    One more thing, with those free books, often once you've agreed to write a review then you make it on a list and they start sending you every similar book that comes out. If you DIDN'T agree to write reviews for those books, then I would feel zero guilt about not reviewing. If you want, you can Tweet a picture or something to do a little promotion, or give it away on your blog, but don't let yourself feel guilty just because they've decided you're an awesome reviewer :)

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    1. I do put a lot of pressure on myself to write well rounded and professional reviews. Probably this does not help my love of writing them. Thanks so much for commenting and sharing this post, Stephanie!
      ~Sarah

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  5. I love writing book reviews. In fact I write one on Goodreads for almost every book I read. But I do feel a little more guilty writing anything less than glowing when I receive review copies. However, there are always pros and I try to only mention cons for any book if I feel it is important to do so too maintain my credibility as a reviewer.

    Interesting thoughts. Thanks to Stephanie Morrill for pinning the link.

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    1. It is really important to me that I write an honest review, and if there was something I didn't like about a book that I leave out of a review, it really eats away at me, to the point that I often delete the review.
      Thanks for commenting!
      ~Sarah

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  6. FOREWARNING: Very long, bordering-on-rantish comment here.

    I love reviewing books -- I'm actually member of several programs for that. I think of it like a job, but I get paid for my reading time + honest review via books rather than money. I *do* feel guilty if I don't write a review. It's like getting paid for a job, and then not doing it. However, I *don't* feel guilty for writing a bad/negative review. If I disagreed with the author's worldview, or didn't like their writing style, or couldn't connect with the main character, or felt lost in the world building, then I say so. That's the point of writing reviews: to give an honest opinion in order to help other readers decide which books they want to buy, and which ones to pass/get at the library.

    Now, if I were an *influencer* for a book, then that'd be different. I don't like doing book influencing (which, in many cases, allows actually reading the book first to be optional) because it's more about selling books than helping other readers or sharing your opinion. But as a *reviewer,* authors and publishers are made aware before our transaction that honesty and fellow readers come first. So if they don't like my review... *shrug* well, that day's gonna come for every author eventually.

    (I also don't feel bad promoting this brazen view, which some may seem as inconsiderate of authors' feelings, because as an author myself I still totally support this stand on book reviews. If someone hates my book, I'd rather they write a review saying so than try to act like they never read it. It helps other readers make decisions, AND it helps me know what they didn't like to keep in mind for future books.)

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    1. I really appreciate this comment, Emily. It made me think of things is a way I hadn't before, so thank you!
      ~Sarah

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  7. As I writer who doesn't want to inflict an extreme amount of pain on another writer by terribly bashing their story, I tend to go gentler on my reviews than some reviewers by trying to find something nice to say. However, if there is something in it that I did not agree with/like, I usually state it. But there is an amount of pressure I feel when I read a review book, not like it too much, and know that most likely the author is going to read it. It's one of the cons of review books, but the pros outweigh the cons for me. I love getting the newest books for free. :-D

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    1. Agreed. I'm a writer, and I feel horrible bashing a new writer's first book. Since I only read books I know I'll like, if I didn't give it at least 4 stars, something is definitely wrong and I usually state it. (I'm somewhat blunt...lol can't help it)

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  8. I think you should be bluntly honest in your book reviews. Authors will learn to cope with criticism one way or another, through terrible people who just like to say mean things about a book, or through someone who is being gentle but honest, and authors might learn more that way. I don't think I've ever received a free book for a review, but even if I did I would be blunt. I wouldn't allow a "free book" to bribe me into writing a review everyone wants to hear. Because there are too many books in the world (we couldn't read a tenth of them all in our life-time) and not all of them are worth reading. That's why book reviews are supposed to help readers. And even if I read a negative review I might read the book anyway. It's only when I read nonstop good reviews about a book that I don't feel like reading it. All good books have a controversy about them.
    And book reviews that are honest help the author to 1. Remember that they are not perfect writers (no one is perfect, and I'm a writer too!), and 2. Learn from their mistakes.
    Once, I did buy a book to support a newish author and I read the book and wrote an honest review. I did like it overall, and was pleasantly surprised by it. At the same time I knew there were some things that could have been better. I knew there weren't a lot of reviews out for the book, so I knew that the author would probably read mine one day. So I added a bit of encouragement to the end, that the author had potential to write very well in her future books. And that is true. I do believe she has potential to write really good next books, especially since she wrote this one when she was only 14. (the book was the Soldier's Cross)

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  9. If I let someone review my book, it means I want to know what I could do better as well as what I did well. So as long as it's not mean, I like criticism. I just need some encouragement to go along with it. (Does that make sense? I don't think my brain has quite woken up yet.)

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  10. Free or not, I say what I think, which may be why I don't have as many friends as would be useful. But also, if I can't give a three or above, I won't review the book at all. As an author, I don't think I can afford pissing contests. For some reason, I know my books won't appeal to everybody, or even very many, so I don't care if somebody says they don't like (whatever). I did not expect them to.

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  11. I totally agree. I tried reviewing for a few weeks on TCWT, and I just could not do it. I'm really, really awful at being negative, especially because I know how much work goes into a novel, and I hate feeling like I'm taking all of those thousands of hours the author put in for nothing. So, if I love something, I'll share it, but only when I bought it myself--because that way, if I DON'T love it, I'll feel okay about not saying anything at all.

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Comments are awesome, rudeness is not. 'Nough said.