The Reviewer’s Dilemma is (apparently) a weekly feature in which I talk about the other side of reviewing. Not just the reviews themselves and how great it is to be a reviewer (and it is!) but a lot of the obstacles that reviewers often run up against and how it can and does affect what they do.
We love books. That’s why we do what we do. I think I’m safe in saying that nobody started reviewing because they despise books and want to tell the world how much reading is for losers. And I also think that I’m safe in saying that just about every one of us did some variety of happy dance when we received our first review copy from an author or publisher. It seems to be an almost universal Reviewer Thing.
Review copies are wonderful things. They signify more than just a free book. They signify a degree of trust between provider and recipient. If you’re a reviewer who’s getting review copies, either from a publisher or an individual author, then what it means is that they’re taking a chance on you, hoping that in exchange for giving up a potential sale and/or paying for shipping, as well as sometimes allowing you access to the book before someone can just walk into a bookstore and buy it themselves, you’ll read and favourably review the book and that will lead to greater publicity and more sales for the road.
There’s no guarantee you’ll read the book. There’s no guarantee you’ll even like it if you do read it.
So assuming you didn’t just get a case of stage fright over what I just said, let’s not forget that ARCs are still a beautiful and wonderful thing. That trust is a good thing. It means that people are paying attention to what you say and what you write about the books you read. It means that people think you’re worth taking a chance on.
So where does the downside come in? When you end up with enough books to build an add-on to your home.
And I’m sure some people could literally do that. (Even if it wouldn’t pass inspection.) I don’t think I could personally, but let me put it this way: if society collapsed tomorrow and the only books, physical and electronic both, were the ones that currently exist inside my apartment, I would have enough to keep me happily reading at my current pace for about the next 10 years. A substantial number of these are review copies.
I’m not bragging here. This isn’t some sort of humblebrag where I’m actually in the background going, “Nyeh nyeh, look at how many more books I have than you!” It’s actually intimidating to realise. I don’t want to say there’s actually such a thing as too many books (because what if society really does collapse tomorrow?!), but considering a large number of the books I have are books that I haven’t actually read yet, I’m starting to wonder.
It’s intimidating. It’s actually led to some reviewers throwing in the towel, ceasing their reviews because they can’t keep up with the influx of books that are coming into their lives. But it’s something we don’t talk about that often because it leads to the impression that we don’t actually want anymore books at all, and I think a lot of us are afraid that if we talk about what we have on our plates, one or more of our contacts will take it as a sign to cease the relationship we’ve built up and we’ll be shooting ourselves in the foot. Or that we’ll seem ungrateful for the gifts we’ve received, like we’re doing that privileged thing of declaring that we have oh so much and look, see how much of a burden all this luxury is? I rarely see anyone talk about it until it becomes a large enough problem that we call it quits from the pressure.
At this moment, I have a very low rate of reviews to review copies. Somewhere in the region of 20%: for every 5 books I’ve received, I get to read and review 1 of them. In fairness, that’s looking at all the review copies I’ve gotten since starting to review over 4 years ago, and that includes the early days on NetGalley where I foolishly requested everything that looked like it might be interesting under the logic of, “If I finish everything else, I’ll eventually get around to reading that.” Add to that the fact that my e-reader crashed some time ago and I lost a good number of review copies that I actually wanted to read and would have read had the option still been open to me… If you look at only my stats from the past 2 years, the ratio is probably a lot better, maybe around 50% or so. A 1 in 2 chance that a book I receive will be read and reviewed. Still lower than I’d like, but much better.
It’s a fine line to walk.
And it’s intimidated me to the point where I’m temporarily stopped reviewing for months at a time. At the beginning of 2013, I took 3 months away from this blog. I was tired. I was tired of seeing books stack up and knowing that there was no way I’d get to read them all. I felt worn out by the idea that I had an obligation to read review copies before I read anything else, even when all I wanted to do was curl up with an old comfort read. I didn’t deserve old comfort reads. I had a responsibility, dagnabbit! And I knew I wasn’t up to the task. So I stepped back. Best thing I could have done, especially given my health at the time, but giving myself allowance to read what I want when I wanted revitalized me. I’ve been steadily reviewing without another break since.
And you know what? Even during that break, even when I knew what I was going through, it still gave me a little thrill to see another email with an author I wanted to read offering me a copy of their book in exchange for a review.
It also creates a priority problem. When you know you’ve got 5 books with release dates within 2 weeks, and you know you only have time to read 3, which 3 do you pick? What do you do with the remaining 2? Review them after the release date? (Why not?) What about the books that you’ll get later on that will interfere with that? This is how it begins, really. Having to leave 1 book behind. Finish it, and you find you’ve left another behind. if you read 4 books in a month but consistently receive 5, you’re leaving 1 book unread. That’s 12 books a year. That’s another 3 months of reading at that pace. Do you concentrate on catching up with those 12 books, or do you stick with 4 out of the new 5 you’ll be getting soon?
Hobbies aren’t supposed to cause this level of stress, are they?
So what does all of this mean? It means we love books. It means that even when we know we have more than we can handle, we still suffer ARC envy when others get books we’re salivating over. I think on some level most reviewers are compulsive book hoarders, and we’re kind of happy about it even when it stresses us. It’s an intimidating thing, knowing the responsibility a hobby has placed on our shoulders, and also feeling that we shouldn’t talk about it without seeming ungrateful.
But just about every review blogger has felt it. Even if they don’t say it. Even if it was just for a month where suddenly they ended up getting 20 books coming their way with no way they could read them all on time. We’ve all been there.
There’s no reason we shouldn’t talk about it. It’s a legitimate issue. And even if all talking about it does is let us blow off some steam so that we can get back to things with a little bit less pressure weighing on us, then we ought to have the safe space to do that in. So chime in here, if you like. Rant for a little about having too many books. Let me know how you handle it, or don’t handle it, whatever the case may be. How do you prioritize? Ever feel like quitting? Consider this the safe space. Nobody’s judging.
After all, just admitted that my review rate is only about 20%. If anyone’s going to be judged, it ought to be me.