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Hello there, faithful readers! Or brand-new readers who aren’t remotely faithful…yet! Welcome to the first edition of a brand-new series on my blog I have creatively called “Dialogues with Dahlia.” Basically, it’s a thing where I’ll be gathering up groups of qualified people on a particular topic, and forcing them to talk to me about said topic on pain of death. (Or for love of the industry, I guess, but that sounds so boring.)

Because I’ve got a lot of questions, I’m gonna be doing these posts in parts, and eventually they’re going to get archived up top, the same way Perpetual WIPs are now. But right now, this is the very first Dialogue, and the very first Round, and so here we are.

For the first round, I’ve got four gorgeous guinea pigs in the form of book bloggers, and they’ve graciously answered the questions I threw at them below.

Why did I particularly want to start with book bloggers? Well, for one thing, I happen to adore these four ladies, and admire the crap out of how much time and effort they – and the many other devoted book bloggers out there – put into promoting and supporting books and authors.

For another, I wanted to give a more insider look into how this all works, to help both publicists and authors understand what works and what doesn’t, what the process looks like, why not everything gets covered, why your book doesn’t necessarily get read when you think it will, and many other such things.

And so, please welcome to the blog:

Wendy Darling, from The Midnight Garden

Blythe Harris, from Finding Bliss in Books

Steph, from the Cuddlebuggery, YA Books Central, and Tor.Com

Christina, from Reader of Fictions and YA Books Central

And, because I do some book blogging, albeit mostly for Barnes & Noble, I’ll be chiming in around their responses

OK, enough housekeeping-ish stuff and on to the questions!

Where do the ARCs/books you review come from primarily?

Christina: Oh, ARCs, those tricksy little hobbitses. I’ve got various sources from which I get review copies, but they are often not especially consistent. For example, Harper Teen and Penguin Young Readers Group have sent me a fair number of ARCs in the past, but the relationship has been very up and down. Sometimes I get just about everything for a couple of months and then, in the next mailing, I get nothing. What changed? Couldn’t tell you.

My most reliable sources for review books currently are: MacKids, Orbit, Tor/Tor Teen, Harper Audio, Penguin Audio, Random House, Audio, Listening Library and YA Books Central. Being an editor for YABC gets me access to ARCs from publishers who generally won’t deal with me as a blogger. Oh, BEA/ALA have also been major sources of review books. At this point, I’ve gotten review books from pretty much every major publisher, both YA and adult groups, but the only connections reliable enough that I can count on getting what I request are the ones listed at the start of this paragraph. Oh, I also do have auto-approval for Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins’ teen books on Edelweiss and Disney on NetGalley, though Disney’s also been really great with physical ARCs lately as well.

(HUGE yes to the difference having auto-approval on Edelweiss makes. Ditto sending physical ARCs or, for me, since I can only blog about published books for B&N, finished copies.)

Almost all the most stress-free publisher relationships I have are with groups that send out a catalog from which the reviewer can choose. It’s basically the best thing, because I can put them in my calendar early and plan for them. It’s also pretty obvious at the end of the year which publishers I’ve been getting books from, because I mostly read review books (so far this year, 49 of the 66 books I’ve read were for review).

Steph: 95% of the books I read and review these days are from publishers. I do buy a few books (books that I received for review and would re-read or books that I’m just interested in checking out), but rarely do I review them. They have the lowest priority on my TBR list and, as a result, I don’t always get to them. 

Big difference here for me – I buy a huge portion of the books I review. But I’m unusual in this, and I’m also an author, so there’s a huge “fellow author support” aspect to that for me as well. Another part of being an author is that I get a lot of ARCs via the OneFourKidLit ARC tours, so it definitely does have its perks while also affecting what I read.

I know a lot of people will side-eye me when I say this, but these days, if I don’t get a book that is a physical review copy, I might not ever read it or it’ll be a year or more until I do. My review pile is so huge and I’m such a slow reader, that I don’t always have time to deviate from the review pile. I can barely read all the review copies that I have, let alone books I’ve purchased.

I feel a sense of obligation to prioritize ARCs and I’ll almost always reach for the pile first. But I don’t get to them all and sometimes I don’t review them all. As much as I want to say yes to every request and review ALL THE BOOKS, it’s unrealistic. I have to keep blogging in its “Hobby Box” and not let it take over my life. This is supposed to be something fun that I do on the side of Real Life and I don’t want it to become this huge responsibility that I regret starting in the first place. 

Sometimes it feels like some authors view bloggers as an extension of their publisher, who exist solely to promote them. Most are gracious and kind, but I’ve ran into a few that made me feel “used” and it sucks because I don’t get paid for this. 

In fact, when I think of the amount of time and money that I have donated freely to this hobby, it’s shocking. Site fees, giveaway shipping (and we do a lot of international shipping, NOT including shipping boxes to Kat who’s in Australia), BEA. Thank goodness for blog ads because I’ll be frank and say there is no way Cuddlebuggery could stay up without them.  

Andddd… I went off on a tangent there.

(But it’s a really, really good tangent. I know I get exhausted by book blogging sometimes, and feeling the need to read evvvverything, and I read far less than these bloggers do and I get paid. Bloggers working independently generally don’t. Income might come from site ads, but that’s so freaking minimal, and like Steph says, there are so many costs to book blogging, even when the sites are free. Bottom line: Book bloggers are not paid publicists. It would do everyone on all sides well to remember that!)

tl;dr version: there’s too many books and not enough time to read and review them.

(So true, and for me, it’s immeasurably irritating when people jump on you about what you didn’t cover. It’s like people think bloggers have extra hours in the day. WE DO NOT.)

Wendy: When I first started out on GoodReads, I reviewed books I purchased or got from the library. These days I’m so busy that the majority of the books I review come from publishers as well–it takes a really exceptional book to jolt me into a burning need to talk about it if I’m not required to, but it does happen from time to time, as with Leah Raeder’s Unteachable. (C’mon, I’m here at the unofficial fan page, so I had to bring it up, right?) (Bahahahahahahahaha that is the saddest and also my most favorite thing) I do try to leave quickie reactions on GoodReads even if I’m not formally reviewing something, though. I read a lot more than I review or publish officially to my GR feed.

It’s a privilege to receive ARCs (I also prefer physical copies because they’re easier to take notes in), and I’m tremendously grateful to have relationships with some fantastic publishers. There is a lot of pressure that comes with running a blog, of course–I feel obligated to do something with most of the books I receive, whether it’s a review, a giveaway, or passing it along to another blogger. The pressure doesn’t come from the publishers, interestingly enough–they know we can’t get to everything, and they know that I go bananas over stuff I really, really love. But doing “something” with all those books is a very time-consuming and expensive hobby, and at The Midnight Garden, we don’t have ads to offset our costs and therefore can’t write them off our taxes. It’s honestly a pleasure to do all this, though–I love talking to people about books, and there’s nothing better than someone telling you they’ve enjoyed a book you recommended. I don’t get ruffled over the time or expense too often, it’s mostly only when an author has a meltdown or you put a lot of effort into helping someone and they don’t appreciate it that I start questioning what I’ve invested.

Blythe: I would go out on a limb and say that at least 75% of the ARCs I read and review come digitally from Edelweiss. I’ve only just begun in the past few months to get physical ARCs from publishers on a weekly basis, but the vast majority of ARCs I receive are eARCs.

How do you choose what you’ll review, and how do you schedule your reading/reviews?

Steph: For me, I’m a mood reader and it’ll depend on what I’m hungering for at the time. But since I review at three different review sites (Cuddlebuggery, YABC and Tor.com), I alternate review piles. Sometimes I’ll have the same book on more than one pile, which is awesome because I end up killing two birds with one stone. 

I know this seems like A LOT, but my review piles for YABC and Tor.com are really small since I already get most of my books through my own blog. Also, I do a lot of cross-posting.

Christina: I actually did a BIG post on what I read and when and why, so you can check that out for a more detailed answer and pictures of my scary review calendar. The short version is that I read by publication date, though there’s some finagling necessary for finished copies. ARCs I read almost entirely strictly in order by publication date. While I do hope to get ahead enough I can read some things early, at this time, I just can’t. Besides, even if I DO read the ARC early, the common practice is not to post a review more than a month ahead of time, so if I read my furthest out ARC (currently September) now, I wouldn’t be able to post the review until August. Sometimes I do post advance reviews, but there’s no reason to hurry and do that when I still have March books. It does feel a bit silly when I have one of my most anticipated books, like We Were Liars, sitting there and not reading it, but, if I don’t, I’ll fall apart.

My calendar of publication dates is pretty intense and scary, what with all the auto-approvals. Essentially, if I don’t have time for everything, the ebooks are first to go. Auto-approval also leaves me free to download something, sample it, and pass it by if it doesn’t immediately grab me. Print review copies take priority, essentially, and I’ll give them more time before I DNF.

Since I read by publication date, I basically schedule the books by when I finish them, with ARCs generally being no more than a month ahead. It’s a bit messier than that, since I generally have a finished review copy, an ARC, and a review audiobook going at any given time. Essentially, I don’t know that there’s a perfect time to post, so I read it and schedule it for the first open slot.

Steph: (re: scheduling reviews) I don’t. My life is too sporadic and complicated for me to schedule my hobby. Reviews I write are usually written the day before or the day of posting. 

I’ve thought of trying out a schedule and getting super organized like Christina, but I don’t think it’s in the cards for me. 
Right now I have a Chaotic Organization Plan that allows me to get to the books I really need to, but still gives me the flexibility to read whatever I want should I choose to.

Wendy: We don’t request any titles unless there’s a good chance we’ll like it. I get a lot of unsolicited copies as well, which some bloggers don’t like, but I actually love because some of my favorite books have been ones that weren’t even on my radar!

With access to a lot of books, I review a lot more books I love than books I don’t, since I end up DNFing pretty quickly if I know a book isn’t working for me. Still, sometimes there are things I want to say about a book I disliked if I find certain elements extremely problematic, such as blatant sexist/racist depictions, etc. The books I dread reviewing are really the ones that fall somewhere in the middle, because there are only so many ways you can say “I liked it, but I didn’t love it.” But I confess I’m sitting on a couple of books I adored, because I just feel inadequate when I try to find the words to explain how much they moved me. I DON’T HAVE THE WORDS, GUYS.

One thing you didn’t ask, but I assume you mean what we cover as well as what we review: how we choose what we do promotionally. We do very few purely promo posts at TMG, and they always have some sort of interesting component to them rather than being just a jpg with a blurb. We usually only do promos for books/authors we love or publishers with whom we have a really great relationship, so the rarest thing of all for us to do is a cover reveal. I look on everything we do as an endorsement of sorts, so taking a chance on a book or author I haven’t read yet is very rare. I also flat out refuse to give away books that I wouldn’t recommend to some portion of our audience. Absolutely refuse. There’s a pile of terrible books in our spare bedroom right this minute that I don’t want to admit to ever crossed our threshold.

(Re: Scheduling): Wendy: With four of us, we have to be somewhat organized. We keep a Google planning calendar where everyone has set review days, and we pretty much just call dibs on the books we plan on reviewing. There are some exceptions, like we’ll yield to the person who reviewed the previous book in a series. In cases where one or the other of us is friendlier with an author (beyond just happy Twitter convos), I usually also prefer it if someone else handles the actual review for a book, just so we’re being as impartial as possible.

For my own reading habits, I keep ARCs in publication order on my nightstand. But as a mood reader, I go out of order more often than not. I also switch around so I’m usually not reading more than one genre at the same time, and I’ll even space out books that I think I have a good shot of loving. I mean, my heart can only take so much excitement within a short period of time.

Oh, and scheduling-wise, we try to review books within the month or so before publication if possible. With so many books releasing, that’s not always possible, but we do the best we can. I’m trying to do more mini reviews, but even that makes me feel guilty sometimes.

Blythe: I usually try to break down what I read by schedule and release date, initially. For instance, there are a bunch of April ARCs I’m currently making my way through. So, I’ve compiled a list of all the April ARCs I have, and what I’ve done is I either read what I want from that list based on mood, or break it down to my priorities and have my followers on Twitter vote. But mostly, I go by mood on what I read next. Which, more often than not, interferes with my reading schedule. 

And also as for how I schedule my reviews, I’m mostly a slacker. I’ve tried setting a schedule of books I’ll read and the days the reviews would go up, but I find that rarely ever works. I really just end up writing my reviews a day before they go up on the blog, and a week or so before they go up if I’m super productive. I’m not really organized enough to read entirely off a schedule, and then there’s the whole mood thing to mess with that. But what I’ve found helpful is that I post a pre-review for the books that didn’t follow my schedule, but I was in the mood to read. That way, I can read books not published for a while and still have a post to go up about it without cheating publishers, since they prefer reviews go up a month before release date. Also, like Wendy said, with many co-bloggers you kind of have to be pretty organized. We’re…working on that? As of right now, we’re mostly like, “Hey, is Thursday free?” “Yeah.” “Okay, this is going up.” And that’s how we schedule reviews. Really efficient, I know. 

Where do you send/post your reviews?

Christina: My reviews get posted to my blog, A Reader of Fictions, of course. If they’re from YA Books Central, I post them there first and they go up on my blog later on. For the review books which came to me personally (as opposed to as a YABC reviewer), I crosspost all of my positive reviews to YABC once the review is up on my blog. In addition, I do post a snippet and a link to the review with a rating on Goodreads and LibraryThing. Occasionally I crosspost to Amazon, though I tend to go in phases with that, for fear of trolls or random untrue accusations of spoilers. DNF reviews go only on Goodreads, appearing on my blog only in the monthly roundup, with just the briefest comment on why the book didn’t work for me.

So far as sending, I do try to remember to send out review links to publicists/to post the reviews to EW/NG. I will admit that sometimes I might forget with the negative ones, because I feel really bad about it. Publicists have actually traditionally been really cool about it, though. A couple (one at Tor and one at Penguin) were even really sweet and asked me what sorts of books DO work for me, which I thought was above and beyond the call of duty. The worst is having to email an author that I didn’t like their book, which is why I almost never accept review requests from authors anymore, unless they’re ones I’ve worked with in the past who I know won’t hate me if I don’t like their book.

Steph: The easiest answer is GR. Most of my reviews and old reviews are there. I also, have a few mini reviews of books/ARCs I read, but didn’t have motivation to write a full review. Everything else is on my blog. Sometimes I will post on Shelfari and Amazon (though, I really dislike posting on Amazon because people will down vote anything and complain about everything in your review). I post all my positive YA reviews at YABC and select reviews of books on Tor that I signed up for. 

I don’t always send my reviews to publishers. For audiobook reviews, I send those to the publisher because they specifically ask for it.  For ARCs that I review positively, I’ll @ the pub on twitter. If it’s a pub I don’t frequently work with, I’ll email the publicist that sent me the book. Otherwise, I’ll send through NetGalley or Edelweiss.

Wendy:  Always GoodReads. I don’t post full reviews there anymore after they changed their terms of service, but I do post a rating, reaction, and link to the blog review. I used to also post on Amazon, but frankly, dealing with the toxic atmosphere over there (sometimes even on positive reviews!) isn’t worth the hassle to me anymore. I almost never use NetGalley or Edelweiss, but I’ll send reviews there as well when necessary. I always post our reviews to our Facebook page, and sometimes I’ll also post to Pinterest or Tumblr if I remember. Which is not very often.

I’m terrible about sending my reviews to publishers, honestly–I’m lucky that they are lenient with me and trust that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I usually remember to send a round-up every few months, though I try to tag the publisher on Twitter if it’s a positive review. While there are some publicists that I don’t talk to as frequently, there are also others that I feel pretty connected to them as far as knowing what’s coming out and should be on my radar.

Blythe: The only platform on which I really actively post my reviews is Goodreads, honestly. I’ve tried getting into posting my reviews on Amazon, but I’ve found it’s not worth the hassle, especially with the trolls and down-voters (if the review is negative, the latter will come. It’s like Field of Dreams but for scary internet people.).

If the review is positive, I will usually mention both the author and the publisher on Twitter; this usually depends, though, because I could like a book overall but point out that the writing sucks, in which case I’d feel awkward having the author see that. I’ll also send my reviews along to the publicist who sent me them, if it’s a physical ARC, and on Edelweiss or NetGalley if it’s an eARC.

So, in case you didn’t catch that, book bloggers work really freakin’ hard 😉 Got any questions for the bloggers? Learn anything new?

And make sure you tune in for Round 2 in the next couple of weeks, which will focus on the working-with-authors aspect…