My first book review for a major publication was of The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld. I didn’t pick the book — the then-book editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Frank Wilson, picked it for me based on my clips, my age, and my interests.
I didn’t rush out and buy the book. It wasn’t even out yet. Wilson mailed me a bound copy, which is the novel in what looks like a book report form, without the final covers, but all the text and marketing information. For subsequent reviews, he’d sometimes send me a bound copy, or I’d go into the Inquirer book room and pick something from racks and racks of galleys, which are also preview copies of books but in what would look like a trade paperback form, sometimes with final covers, sometimes not. The paper is sent so many of these bound copies, galleys and finished books that Wilson gave unused copies to prisons.
I tell you this story because of the recent FTC ruling that bloggers must disclose what they receive for free. This seems ludicrous to those of us who work in the book world. We’ve always used bound copies, galleys and finished books mailed from the publishers to do our reviews. Thousands of books are printed a year — we, nor any publication we work for, could ever afford to buy all of them. It’s standard practice, and I don’t feel obligated to give someone a good review because I’m sent a copy. Because every publisher does it, I don’t feel like I’m getting special treatment. In fact, I’d like to tell some of them to stop sending books because I can never get to everything that’s sent to my office (what I don’t read goes to family, friends, and the Collingswood Library).
But just so I don’t get whacked with an $11,000 fee for not disclosing so on a blog that I consider a volunteer effort: Publishers send me free books. I probably read 2 percent of what’s sent, and sometimes review those books on this blog. If I review something before it comes out, it’s a galley. If the book is brand new, it’s most likely a galley.
So there’s my disclosure. And just to prove I don’t feel like I have to give a good review to something sent for free: I hated The Man of My Dreams, and wrote so. A quote from that review: “It’s not that the reader can’t sympathize when Hannah makes mistakes–and she makes some big ones, like allowing an older man to get her drunk at an office party, and letting a sex addict convince her that his side dalliances have no impact on their relationship. But she doesn’t learn from them, and the repetition is grating.”
I will never hold back in telling you what I think about a book, whether I buy the copy or not. My job to you is to give you my opinion of what I read. I write for you, not for authors, not for publishers, and not even for myself. So there’s my full disclosure.