I had a disheartening experience this week. There’s an author AAR has reviewed 13 times in the past six years. In that time, we’ve given her work three As, three A-s, three B+s, one B, one B-, and one C. Since 2017, she has only gotten As and B+s here. She has a new book coming out next month and I reached out to her publicist to see if we could get a review copy.
At first said publisher asked where we would post our reviews. When I told her we only promise postings on our site and explained who we are, she then wrote me this:
I’m familiar with you guys and I’ve given ARCs to you before, but I’ve never given one without knowing who the reviewer is. As I’m sure you can understand, I’m not likely to give someone a free book who has generally disliked her books in the past. Can you tell me who the reviewer is?
I wrote back:
We don’t release reviewer names to publishers nor can we promise positive reviews. We are a professional, unbiased site.
I never heard from her again.
Most of the books AAR reviews come from Netgalley, Edelweiss, or publishers. I’ve never been asked before who the reviewer of a certain book might be and I’ve certainly never had it–implicitly–told to me that in order to get a book, AAR needs to have liked an author’s work in the past. Now, I’m sure publicists have wished that and that we’ve been turned down–anonymously–because we’re not a street team. But this interaction was so nakedly we only are giving out ARCs to those whom we are reasonably sure will rave about the book. (Don’t even get me started on the free book thing. We don’t charge for reviews and we never tell anyone give us your book and we’ll do it for free if you…..)
And I get it. I do. Writing a book is both an act of love and of great labor. To give your hard won words to someone who might trash them seems counter intuitive and perhaps self-defeating. Why should authors let us review their books with no guarantee?
I know what I think about that but I am curious? What do you think?
Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day.
Maybe I’m missing something here, but doesn’t the author pay the publicist? If the publicist is exceeding his/her authority, the author is still responsible for this refusal; after all, the author chose the publicist, right? If the publicist is paid by the publishing company, they are poisoning their own well.
If all books get an A, then an A has no value.
Presumably, the author, if she doesn’t know that her publicist did not send a copy, will notice there is no review on AAR. Sometimes, I read bad reviews, but I buy the book anyway. Reviews exist, partially, just to tell the public (here at AAR, even better: a select public) that an author has a new book. This author has chosen to discard this service.
A professional takes criticism and either discards its validity or learns from it, in contrast to an amateur who expects everyone to applaud. Pressuring reviewers to give her an A is poor investment, as eventually, she will lose readers, but it’ll take a while. If the earlier books got better grades, then she is discarding valuable information.
Books have always been an expensive gamble–“Will I like this?”–in both time and money, even when paperbacks were a quarter (minimum wage was low, too).
I’d say to the author: “Grow up.”
This really irritates me and I wish I knew who it was (I know you all won’t say) thank you from the bottom of my book addict, high spender on books so need to vet them first, reader heart for the honest reviews! I rely on them!
I posted just now about how I purchase. Thinking about the person who refused a copy of the book, I am wondering if life as a publicist has become something like life as a call center worker or other service worker — that is, success in the job is measured by metrics that do not serve the consumer.
I no longer answer any “survey” about services because if I tell a business it needs to correct something, it will blame the worker. If the clinic intake form is gibberish, but the only way the “survey” lets me complain about it is for me to say my experience at the front desk was a 1 when 5 is excellent, who will suffer? Not the salaried idiot who devised the form, not the salaried idiot who contracted for the form or the survey, not the salaried idiots who hired and trained the employee — the only person who will suffer is the frontline employee who is cannon fodder for upperclass mismanagement. And the problem will not get fixed, either.
That’s a great point. I feel as if so much of how we interact with products and services no longer offers us anyway to give clear feedback or to have the ability to choose.
Boy, did you hit the nail on the head Still reading! I’m so tired of technology (web sites and phone apps) getting in the way. They are designed specifically to make corporations more profitable at all of our expense – in both time and effort. I’m so tired of being told there’s an app for that . . .
Over and above the convenience factor (life used to be so much more efficient when a person answered phones for a company) but now it is cutting very close to life and death issues. My elderly father was hospitalized (here in the US) for one evening with something fairly routine but no one seemed to notice that 1) he doesn’t hear very well, so was missing most of the information he was being given by the multitudes of people who were on shift at the moment (he didn’t think he’d been seen by “the doctor” because he didn’t recognize the new one who came on shift the next morning, and 2) no one noticed he was going without eating because getting a meal required that he download an app to his phone that, frankly, he barely knows how to make a phone call with. He didn’t hear/understand staff when they mentioned that he could order food with his phone. What a mess unfettered technology has made of our lives!
As a reader, the ‘street team reviews’ are useless. I only trust people who, I know, are unbiased and are not afraid to give 1-star or 2-stars reviews. Because, when they say something is great, I trust their words. Publicists giving only books to people who are going to say it’s great is a trick that you can use very few times, because us, readers, soon discover that those great reviews are not something we can trust.
Call me naive but I’m truly disappointed that some “profissionals” in the book review business doesn’t understand the importance of a honest review ou the disservice of a dishonest one.
I’ve been reading AAR’s reviews for some time and I really appreciate all the effort, care and talent you all put in single one of them. Thank you so much for your work.
Sending hugs and the best wishes from Brazil.
An honest book review is genuinely from the heart and mind of the reviewer. It will be written with thought, care and consideration of as many aspects of the book as possible. It will not be flippant, rude nor careless and most certainly will not be a simple “great book, 5 stars” or “this book was crap”. I used to review a lot on Amazon with some 200 or so reviews posted but eventually the old system of voting up or down on a review disheartened me because those who took issue with me rarely bothered to enter polite conversation. This is what AAR excels in: conversation about a review both positive and negative. Like others here, I always consider negative reviews before spending my money – even with those authors I deem personal auto-buys. All of us, every author certainly, fail to succeed every time. I always hoped that by courteously explaining my negative criticism that it would be a positive for the writer, that they would think about my comments because I always made the effort to be detailed and specific about what I thought was a shortcoming. It’s how we learn after all. I personally don’t agree with the philosophy of “all must win prizes” as it often discourages competition to be the best and in real life, some win, some lose and that’s just a fact of living. It was good when AAR stopped the up/down arrows because it helped to widen discussion and made discourse here more inclusive and less “threatening” when one disagreed with the main flow of a discussion for sometimes the conversation became unhealthily hot, one-sided and dismissive. Some members left and that was too bad. I miss those I disagreed with.
Dabney, can you tell us how many people frequent AAR per month? I know that there are many serious romance readers frequenting this site who enjoy the thoughtful reviews and good conversation. I imagine that many of us post on other sites, make recommendations to friends, leave reviews on Goodreads, etc. That is, your coterie of readers can be influential in driving sales. I cannot think of one good reason why an author would not want their book reviewed here unless they think it will get a bad review. And why put a book out there if you don’t think it merits a good review? I think the publicist is doing the author a disservice.
To answer your question: The point of an honest book review is to inform your readership of the content and quality of a book. And AAR’s reviewers do a wonderful job of this, and I am very grateful to have this resource to help me find good books. Thank you everyone!!
According to Google Analytics, thus far this year, we’ve had 229K users, 789K views, with an individual (each visit) engagement time of 1 minute, 48 seconds.
Those seem like big numbers to me. Maybe not BookTok big, but significant. I imagine lots of authors would love to know that they have a chance at over 200k readers if they get a good review.
That’s assuming our requests get as far as the authors- and I’m not sure they always do. Authors often employ PAs and publicists to run the business side of being an author, which includes distributing ARCs. I get that – collating requests and sending copies out is a laborious admin task (I did it in my ‘past life’) so you employ someone to do it, you work out a system and you leave them to get on with it. The trouble is that those systems are often very rigid and don’t allow for any variation. An individual might post a review to Amazon, BookBub, Instagram, Goodreads and lots of other places. But we, as AAR, are not just one individual. I do actually cross post my reviews (to GR and my personal blog) and I know some of the other reviewers here do as well, but that isn’t as AAR – when you’re faced with a Google Form that only allows you to tick boxes, it’s really frustrating when you know not answering a particular question will likely mean you won’t get the book. Sorry, I know this is a bit tangential, but it’s one of those “behind the scenes” things that can have quite an impact on what we’re able to review, so I thought I’d share.
Would it make a difference if each AAR review was posted elsewhere, either by the site and/or each reviewer (either on their own or as an AAR reviewer)?
Tbh, we’ve never been asked and not all of us post our reviews elsewhere. To even get onto some ARC distribution lists you have to provide follower numbers, links to all the places you post, etc.- we’re vetted! Individually, we might not have the numbers they demand. And as I’ve said elsewhere on this thread, most times, you get a google form to fill
in which only lets you tick boxes. There are good publicists out there who are more flexible, but the ones who work for the big names are probably inundated with requests and can easily ignore any that don’t fit their system. Which is what happened to Dabney. They really don’t seem to care about engagement numbers – if they did, they wouldn’t be focusing so much on individual reviewers and bloggers.
And, just like most of life, having accomplished a lot and having been around a long time isn’t something that publicists care about. For them, AAR has no intrinsic value.
Yep. All I can add is that when I worked in PR it was about building relationships with whoever your audience was – I wasn’t often in the position of having critics and reviewers beating down the door so I had to approach them, and there’s no way some of them would have listened to me had I not built a reputation based on being honest and an ability to know what was likely to work for them or not. I suspect that so many of those working for the big names don’t need to do that, so they’ve never bothered to consider there might be other ways of doing things.
In this case, I felt as if the author knew, she wouldn’t agree. But if you go through publicists, you have no way of knowing if the author even knows of your request. I could contact the author directly but now I feel like I’d be trashing the publicist which I don’t want to do. As I’ve said, I think they were probably just doing their job.
I plan to read the book when it comes out and review it. It is, of course, on KU.
Yep – I reckon that’s par for the course (the author not knowing) – and I understand that – why employ someone to do a job and then interfere? It’s just so very frustrating.
Dabney, what about putting some of the data about AAR readership on the AAR site, particularly the “About Us” page? Even a line or two about approximate numbers of readers or page views on release days might give authors an incentive to make sure an ARC of their books get sent to AAR. I get that AAR has always been reader focused (by readers, for readers) but it wouldn’t hurt to provide a bit of data throughout the site to incentivize authors as well. Also, a statement explaining that reviewers are volunteers who get to pick what they will review/are interested in reading (e.g. reviews from people who start out inclined to like a book).
With numbers like that Dabney I’m not surprised a publicist would choose not to risk a negative review here! A bad review or two at Amazon or GR doesn’t mean much in the overall scheme of things when balanced out by street teams of 5-star fangirl squees. But a thoughtful, negative assessment that might be viewed by thousands of romance fans?
As much as I love AAR, as a former PR person in a totally different industry, I can see where book publicists will act to control for the low hanging fruit of fangirl reviews, especially for an established author whose work is likely to sell with or without reviews because of a huge fan base.
OTOH, I’ll continue to be a faithful AAR reader – and contributor – because I have limited time and funds to spend on my reading, and AAR helps me to make the most of both.
I get that and I can see it from the perspective of a publicist. BUT. It’s not good for the world IMHO–reviews are, in the big picture, what keeps corporate America from defining what we read and see. For a better world, we need review sites and reviewers whose passion, good and bad, keep readers informed.
I totally agree with you Dabney. The world is a better place with thoughtful reviews. As you note elsewhere in this conversation, it just means that some AAR reviews will appear a little later than day of publication.
I discovered AAR only about two years ago but only in the last few months I have been reading the reviews, forum discussions etc. with greater engagement. But for this site, I would not have discovered excellent authors like Laura Kinsale, Stella Riley or Mia Vincy. I now rely on AAR to curate romance books for me to read with good, well-written reviews. I may not always agree with the reviews but I recognize that a good deal of thought goes into writing them. The only other site that influences my book reading is the New York Times Books/Book Reviews. I have been reading NYT for thirty years now. I have never bothered with Good Reads.
I don’t know anything about book review business but I sense that for the people at AAR it is very much a labor of love. Though reviewers and authors address the same customers, your interests are not the same. The worth of your work is measured in the reputation you have built (and will continue to build) for neutral and bias free reviews. One day, hopefully, authors and their publicists will be banging on your doors to get their books reviewed, And that’s the ultimate point.
That is lovely to hear. I’m so happy you found us!
I just want to say how much this comment meant to me. Thank you for noticing how hard we work.
I can’t imagine why the publisher would say such a thing. As a reader, I always read the negative reviews first, because they give me a better idea of whether I’m going to like the book or not. Most of the positive ones on places like Amazon and Goodreads just say “This was great!” And as a writer I always read them because they may tell me something I can improve. (Although sometimes they’re just dumb. I’m still irritated by the reader who complained that I was inaccurate about something when I was right and she was wrong.)
This is not to say I’m in favor of negative reviews—just thorough, considered ones. There is no such thing as a book everyone loves.
Sounds like that’s a publisher problem versus an author problem.
I find that sort of ridiculous that these publishers are being so particular about what they’ll give to this place when I’ve seen one to two star reviews on Goodreads that would make any good publisher’s eyes water. Here you give actual analysis of why a book is bad and it’s not at all petty. To be an author is to have a thick skin, and I feel like the TikTokification of publishing has made author’s hides thinner. I tend to be critical of this place but I definitely see its worth.
And yet, the publicists – whether they work for big houses, indies or directly for authors – are all about the individual blogger or reviewer on Amazon etc. Like you, I’ve seen some scathing reviews of ARCs and I have to wonder if those reviewers got the same third degree Dabney did.
I’ve been curious about what authors think about this. I can picture a publicist saying “Trust me, we shouldn’t send them your book,” and the authors deferring, but I can also picture them not telling the authors this is their policy and the author having no idea.
I suspect that the big name self-publishing authors don’t get involved with ARCs and probably don’t know who gets what (or doesn’t,) Like I’ve said upthread, I get it – no point in employing a publicist and then getting involved yourself – but they can be so inflexible and narrowly focused.
Personal experience : When my first book was released, I sent a hard copy to AAR (this was back in the day). I didn’t get any reply, but a review appeared on Goodreads from someone related to one of the AAR team, trashing the book*. I was really disappointed, but this sort of thing happens. No author can expect their books to be loved by everyone.
When my fifth book came out, I tried AAR again, and got a B+ review.
So if an author doesn’t want their book reviewed because it might get less than satisfactory feedback, there’s always the possibility that they could miss out on a much better review.
*The review referred to me as being “a dirty old pervert”. I really wanted to reply, “Excuse me, I am not old.”
Good heavens. I am so sorry that happened to you!
Thanks! It wasn’t a fun experience, but at least it taught me the importance of being professional. Better to ignore such a review than to react to the reviewer and end up in a flame war.
Plus, it could always have been worse. I once read the following review on Amazon, about a Terry Goodkind novel :
“This is literally the worst book, and Goodkind is literally the worst man.
I hope seals eat him.”
I was your reviewer!
Not the one that said “dirty old pervert.”
Haha, no!!! Just the one here. Definitely did not leak any arc to anybody else either.
And a very good review it was too! :)
Another point to mention; with the price of books now being so steep – I regularly see new ebooks at over $15 on Amazon US – I think sites like ours have a massively valuable role to play in helping readers to decide where to spend their hard-earned and increasingly dwindling disposable income. But cynicism tells me that the publishers don’t care because once the book is purchased, they have the money in their pockets. There’s no element now of building a relationship based on trust with the reading public. We’ve all seen the angry Twitter threads about readers who buy a book thinking it’s one thing and it turned out to be something else (an “unconventional romance” where the protags die or something like that!) – and that sort of trust, once lost, is hard to rebuild. It’s all about the “now” and nobody is really thinking ahead. Which is the same pretty much anywhere you look, these days… (or so it seems to me!)
I’m sorry this is becoming a problem. Of course, there is nothing stopping anyone from reviewing books once they are “in the wild,” so there’s that. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the reviews that upset some authors. Blog type sites like AAR regularly have discussions about the book in the comments under the review. A book can be given an A by the reviewer, then there might be a discussion about why the book didn’t work for some readers in the comments. There’s at least one contemporary author who has been well reviewed here who no longer wants their books reviewed on “blog sites,” and I think this is the reason.
As a reader I want honest reviews. I read them to get a feel for the tone of the book and look for things I particularly enjoy, or things I particularly avoid. I have reviewers I know often align with my tastes and I tend to give their reviews more weight, but most often I read two or three reviews if it’s a book I’m not sure of. I’ll often seek out a few mid- to low-grade reviews to get a fuller picture.
I don’t know many authors, even one’s I generally love, who haven’t written books that haven’t worked for me. Authors need to understand that every book they write won’t be universally loved.
As a reviewer, I try to be honest without being brutal, whether it’s on my GR feed or for a review site. (I tend to be a little more unfiltered on GR, mostly because I doubt anyone else actually reads my reviews, so it’s mostly so I can remember the books details years down the road.)
Like Caz mentioned, I actively avoid buying books that get a bunch of “squee” reviews. That’s not the same as a book with mostly positive reviews that actually say something about the book. Squee reviews are mostly fangirls and include words like “so hawt!” :-)
As a reviewer and member of the AAR team, I’m with Dabney on this all the way. Some years ago, I reviewed a couple of books by a then newly emerging HR author and gave her grades in the B/B- range. Her next book, however, was a total dud, and I gave it a D+ (IIRC). Dabney then received an email from the publisher requesting that I not be allowed to review any more books by that author. (Needless to say we weren’t impressed, and I did actually review the author’s next book! I gave it a C.)
Publicists may be wary of sending a book to someone who isn’t likely to react positively to it – but I’m sure we’ve all read below-par books by authors whose books we’ve previously liked. I’ve just edited a review from one of the AAR team, of a book by an author whose work she’s enjoyed before, but which was a disappointment. A publicist shouldn’t expect a positive review just because Reviewer X likes Author Y’s books – they might not like this one.
Back in the dim and distant past, I worked in Marketing and PR in the music industry, and I would never have operated the way today’s book publicists do, whether they work for a big publishing house, an indie or authors. Some of these people act more like gatekeepers who want to keep reviewers AWAY from books!
There’s also been a big shift towards prioritising individual reviewers, Amazon reviews, BookBub, Instagram etc. etc. over places like AAR. And in many – not all – cases all the publicists are interested in is 4 and 5 star reviews to swing the Amazon algorhythm the way they want. Someone who regularly posts 5 star reviews to Amazon that say “Great book!” and nothing else is more likely to get a review copy than a site like this, where we take the time to write thoughtful, balanced reviews.
Amy says this: There are a lot of popular romance books for a reason that I don’t see reviewed here, possibly because the site isn’t interested.
It’s usually not that we’re not interested – it’s that we can’t get the books, for the reasons Dabney has described, or because the publicists aren’t interested in balanced reviews, or because they insist we have to post a review on a certain date, which, on a multi-reviewer site like this one isn’t always going to be possible, especially as publishers continue to publish the bulk of their new releases on the same day each month.
Back in the day, I saw it as my job, as a PR person, to remove obstacles for those who were interested in the product I was promoting. Nowadays, it seems it’s the opposite.
Finally, with my Reader hat on… I’ve always believed that reviews are for readers, to help them to find books they are likely to enjoy, and if all I can find are 5 star “squee” reviews, that isn’t going to help me to make that decision, and I’ll likely forget all about that book when something new comes along. Example – an audiobook by a well known-author with two fantastic narrators came out a few months ago, but I still haven’t bought it because I can’t find any non-gushy reviews about the story (I know I’ll like the performance!) At it is, this audiobook has already slipped down to the middle of my Audible wish list, and I may end up not purchasing it at all as newer titles I’m more sure of come out. I’m probably a minority on that, but it’s still a lost sale, and isn’t the only time this has happened.
And in the end, once you put something out there in the public domain you have to be able to take the rough with the smooth. Most writers understand this, and don’t read reviews (or not often.) But there seems to be an increasing number who can’t take criticism of any stripe, and that’s not a good thing.
To Caz’s point–we have a hard time getting contemporary romance self-pubbed books. I suspect that many of the publicists think AAR is an old lady site, stuck in the past, only looking for Austen knockoffs to read.
Of course that is not the case and many of our readers and reviewers love contemporary romance. It becomes, however, a self-fulfilling and limiting prophecy if we can’t get those books to show to our readers.
Hmm I guess half and half…I think not wanting to send a book to a reviewer who has never loved your work makes sense, people who love an author too much can be as biased about that book as they want to hate an author too much. author I get the idea.
But if a site asks for a book to be reviewed, I think it’s quite obvious that for some reason they are interested in that book, right? There are a lot of popular romance books for a reason that I don’t see reviewed here, possibly because the site isn’t interested.
I think if you want to be a writer you can’t expect to only give positive reviews partly because it’s false, it doesn’t help you improve and it might make it harder for the book to reach your specific readership romance has become so Popular with so many themes and sub-genres I’m not the only one who reads negative and one star reviews on goodreads to know whether to read a book or not, positive reviews are a lot of praise just “read this book it’s fabulous” no! I like the honesty ofpeople when they are upset.
I almost always look up the 3 star and under reviews for books I’m interested in to get a balanced view of the book. Too many “squee” reviews are not only useless, they tend to make me hesitiate. The only times I don’t look for the mid to low grade reviews is when a reviewer I regularly follow and often align with writes a review, or if it’s an author I’ve enjoyed in the past and am willing to go in without more knowledge.
I haven’t noticed any biases involved in the reviews here.
There are a lot of popular romance books for a reason that I don’t see reviewed here, possibly because the site isn’t interested.
Interesting because this website, Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books all seem to generally review the same books.
I have to politely disagree with your last sentence. I visit all three sites daily and, frankly, it’s always a bit of a surprise when any of the sites are reviewing the same book at the same time. For example, this morning AAR and SBTB both ran (very positive) reviews for ROMANTIC COMEDY, but that was an unusual circumstance to me. Of course, this is just anecdotal and based only on my experience, but I don’t see a tremendous amount of overlap in what the three sites review—and I like it that way, because I can get different book recommendations from different sites.
I agree. There is very little overlap between the three sites except some random ones. Both AAR and Dear Author reviewed Funny Guy the same week and gave the same grade.
Yes – I think there is bound to be some element of overlap as we all get a lot of our review books from the same places, but in general we seem to steer different paths.
I read SBTB daily for several years but stopped for a couple of reasons, the main one being I never landed on a reviewer there that consistently liked the same kind of books I do. That’s fine, that’s no one’s fault, but it really helps to follow reviewers who’s opinions often align with yours so that you can better judge which books you’ll probably like, too. Of course no one is going to have the exact same tastes, and that’s absolutely ok, but I never found a reviewer on SBTB that I felt like, “Oh! So-snd-so likes this, so I’m pretty sure I will, too!”
I’ve only ever visited Dear Author infrequently. I have a fairly narrow swath of romance books I’m interested in (mainly m/m and/or RS/mysteries) and rarely saw them reviewing books I would read. Again, that’s A-OK! It just makes it less likely I’m going to stop by very often.
Just for clarification, at least two things have to happen for a book to be reviewed at AAR: 1) a (review) copy is provided or obtained, and 2) a reviewer is willing to write a review. AAR does not “assign” anyone to review anything – volunteer reviewers pick from ARCs provided, based on their own reading interests. So, if there are books “missing” from the site, it is because there is no current reviewer reading that author or type of book.
(AAR does run reviews for books well past their publication dates. In those cases, the reviewer obtained a copy of the book on their own, either through purchase or loan, and was motivated enough to share their reading experience to write a review. In my experience, these “delayed” reviews generally are for books the reviewer liked and wanted to share them with other like-minded readers.)
As a volunteer-run organization (again in my experience), the only thing keeping “missing” books, tropes or authors from the site is someone willing to contribute thoughtful, well-written reviews for those books, tropes or authors.