When I decided to join the #bloggerblackout, I did it for a lot of reasons, all of them personal. In the post I made about why I was doing it, I mentioned my concern over the fact I was late with a couple of reviews and in joining the blackout they would be made later. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter and it makes very little difference to those books and their success - however, it was still important to me that I try and behave in a professional way, which means getting ARC reviews done in a timely fashion.
I knew when I went into it that some people thought the blackout was designed to, or was about, hurting or punishing authors. It was never about that for me - I don't think it's about that for anybody. I didn't realise some people thought an ARC meant I owed them something beyond an honest review. I didn't realise that accepting books for review made me, in the eyes of some, obligated to the people who'd provided it.
Amateur reviews are a pretty useful thing for the publishing industry. An awful lot of the online activity I see is around the areas of Romance and YA/NA, two genres which don't have much traction in the mainstream press. Without sites like Dear Author, or Smart Bitches, or any one of the hundreds of small blogs contributing to the accumulation of reviews on Goodreads, there are an awful lot of books which wouldn't receive any publicity. I had a quick Google to see where Hale's novel would have been covered without the blogs and the answer from the first few pages of my results is: Kirkus, and Bustle. YMMV.
That's not Blogs only value - it also lies *in* being amateur. To work in publishing, the usual route is via the unpaid internship. In the US I understand some places offer remote work placements, but in the UK it means working for free, in London, which gives something of an insight into why the industry is so very, very white, and why there's an industry perception that POC characters will harm a book's chances in the market. #WeNeedDiverseBooks, not more privileged Oxbridge/Red Brick graduates out of touch with the book buying public. Even I, white, middle-class, find few people like me in the newspaper. There was an article in the Guardian some weeks ago in which a woman struggling with money tried an experiment with Supermarket own brands to see if they were worth the saving (spoiler alert - some were). It mainly illustrated to me that the good people of that newspaper aren't actually in touch with the whole "struggling with money" thing. Anybody who thinks having to stop using Ocado counts as "struggling with money" needs a sharp reality check. Some weeks I genuinely can't tell if The Sunday Times Style magazine has been secretly taken over by The Onion.
Blogs though - bloggers are people like me. They post pictures of their cats sitting in cardboard boxes, and they have terrible days at work, and they celebrate losing weight or having a haircut, and they're excited about a new TV show, or maybe they're annoyed about it, whatever - they're all people who live lives far closer to mine even though I should have far more in common with those broadsheet journalists who are so very keen to show just how ordinary they are.
And because Bloggers are people like me, I trust them. I trust that most of them are doing what I do - reading a book and writing down what they think of it.
If we become obliged to publishers, or authors, or anybody but ourselves, we lose the thing which makes us useful.
So, to you, those people saying (or thinking) that bloggers owe authors/publishers something: is that what you want? Free adverts spread across the internet? Do you want us to be good little boys and girls? Do you want us to write enthusiastically about everything you provide us with? And, do you think, in your infinite wisdoms, that this will do you any good? Or do you suppose that having these "independent" reviewers in your pockets will mean people get their reviews from people who don't accept ARCS? Because hear this: if I never get another ARC, I will still have plenty to read. And it will not be hurting authors to not accept ARCs because I will still be reviewing, just not the books freshly available this week. But then, this is so tangled it would not surprise me if you did think closing to ARCs was hurting authors, and this is so far past the point of appropriateness it's almost worth doing so to laugh at your self-important Twitter attacks. Oh noes! Am I functioning as an autonomous human being? Won't somebody please stop me?! Think of teh authors!
If you are an author, it is in your very best interests to have an independent group of people saying what they think about your book. It is in your interest to have this group of people able to say what they want about things without having to worry about you butting in, which, if there's no f***ing @reply including you, is exactly what it is. If it's not emailed to you, or tweeted at you, or facebooked at you, or whatever the hell the cool kids are doing these days, you are butting in. You are doing the internet equivalent of announcing yourself to the people having a conversation at the next table in a restaurant. Consider street harassment - even just those simple thank yous, those little harmless words which nobody in their right mind could have a problem with unless they drip, drip, all day, every day, until every time you leave the house you're braced for it. Reviewers have these small words all the time, and all the people in their community do too, and they don't know, when you say those little words, whether that's all you'll do because you are Schroedinger's Author.
The only difference between Kathleen Hale and Richard Brittain('s alleged actions) is a bottle. Until that bottle hit the head of a reviewer, their actions were the same. Do not justify Hale to me on the basis of her walking away. Do not tell me you have the right to respond to reviews, or to chat up a woman who wants nothing to do with you, because they are the same thing and neither are okay. Forcing interaction is not cool.
One of the things which has made me saddest about this whole situation are the number of stories I'm hearing about reviewer harassment, a lot of it from trade published authors. Most of it isn't a big deal, but - like street harassment - when it's this constant background noise which occasionally turns into something worse, do you really think your right as the author (or simply as a human being) to comment on a review trumps the right of the reviewer to go on through their day unimpeded?
I've thought about this a lot. I love ARCs. I love seeing a book in the best-seller list and smugly mentioning I had a review copy of it. I've never claimed to be a good person.
I don't want to stop requesting them but my independence as a reviewer is far more important to me than a few free books. I haven't done a proper breakdown, but ARCs have been roughly 10% of my reading material this year. If an ARC means I owe anybody anything, in the nicest possible way, keep it. I am not the enthusiastic promo-bot you are looking for. This one actually is about ethics in journalism.
I already had plans to cut back on ARCs for a bit so this isn't some grand move, it's more something I was kind of doing anyway, and it's not intended to be permanent. It's for as long as I feel like and it's not about anybody who isn't me.