Thursday, May 13, 2010

No, I Won't Write any Review on That Book

The average WoW blogger can't expect any substantial rewards for all the efforts we put into our hobby. Sure, if you're a Big Name Blogger you might monetize your work just a little, like Tobold does with his donation button. But it won't make anyone rich; at most you can cover your subscription fee. If you're lucky.

We're not spoiled with any other fringes either. I believe there are a handful of exceptions, but most of us won't receive an invitation to an exclusive Beta testing, or get a copy of an upcoming game in advance so we can write about it. I suppose the blogosphere isn't considered to have that much of impact , so we're not worth including in standard PR plans.

Until now I've only had an offer like that once, an offer I turned down, since I thought I couldn't make a serious job as a reviewer due to my lack of general gaming knowledge. And in the end it turned out that those who accepted the offer never got their copies in the end.

A recent book
The last couple of weeks we've seen an explosion on the blogs, where everybody and his uncle has been more or less openly marketing a recently published book on the topic of guild management. Those who came up with this promotion campaign can't be anything but pleased with the outcome. I think bloggers who are starved for attention and benefits and who might nourish "I want to make a living on my writing one day" dreams is the perfect target audience.

The author has a connection to the blogosphere, and I suppose that's how the idea came up for the publisher to send out letters to what must have been a huge amount of WoW and MMO bloggers, offering them free review copies, judging from the amount of posts about it.

I got one too. It was a very nice letter, which didn't just feel like spam, starting with a personal greeting: "Hi Larísa"... I must admit that I initially felt a little bit flattered. Wow, they want ME to write a review on this. Are they considering The Pink Pigtail Inn and my views that important? I almost did a /flex. Yeah, I know, they just used simple, human psychology, and I dare say it worked pretty well!

So I almost ordered a copy. As opposed to in the case of the free game review copy, I thought that I might be qualified enough to be able to make a good judgment. I've written tons of book reviews in the past, and even though I haven't lead a guild myself, I've got experience of leadership in real life and of being a member of a guild. I thought I could be able to say something about that book. And I like the topic, most definitely. The psychology of WoW, the challenges of team building and leadership, is one of the aspects of the game that interests me most.

Why I didn't order it
I never came around to accept the offer though. One reason was that it felt a bit weird to all of a sudden start to write book reviews at my blog. It's not something I regularly do, so why now, why highlight this book out of everything that is published?

I think it was the journalist in me who wanted to have a word in this. If I'm to write book reviews, I want to do it on a more regular basis, keeping up with and mirroring not just this one book, but everything that is connected to WoW or MMOs. And I want to pick the books I write about out of my own choice and will, monitoring the market and not just jumping at whatever book that randomly is sent to me.

And then there was this more pragmatic reason. I already spend quite a bit of time not only playing WoW, but thinking about it, writing about it, reading blogs and listening to podcasts. I could vividly picture the reactions from my family if they caught me reading WoW related books when I'm not playing the game. It would be the final nail in the coffin, proving once for all that I had lost it, and actually I would partly be ready to give them right.

A win-win situation
I might sound a little bit negative, but that's not my intention. I have no reason to believe it's a bad book; the writer seems qualified enough. And I don't think it's a bad idea to send it to the blogosphere, on the contrary.

It's a win-win situation. The bloggers get a free book copy, which is exciting and nice if you've never gotten anything like that before. The publisher gets tons of free marketing. (Grats on that!). And the blog readers... oh well I suppose they're happy too. With so many reviews to look at they certainly know what to expect if they decide to buy the book. I just hope they bear in mind that the blog writers might be a little bit biased since - as pointed out - they're not used to making reviews and might be under the influence of feeling flattered.

I admit though that it makes me a little bit giggly to see all those reviews promptly pop up so quickly and dutifully, as if it the bloggers were turning in their homework, with apologies if they're a little bit later to the party than the other reviewers.

As the veteran I am I want to send my fellow bloggers a piece of advice: just because you've got a free copy it doesn't mean that you're obliged to write a review. In the end you are the one in charge of your blog and if you don't think it deserves a post you can just put the book in a drawer and forget about it. They won't sue you.

16 comments:

We Fly Spitfires said...

Apologies if this comment upsets up and I know you probably didn't intend it but your article does come across as very cynical and disheartening. It makes me sad to think that some bloggers are so snobby and elitist to not even offer a budding author the chance of a tiny amount of exposure (and make no mistake, even the most popular MMORPG blog is still very small in terms of its readership in the grand scale of things).

Here's another way to look at it: Scott Andrews is a enthusiastic MMO gamer and blogger who's striving hard to establish himself as an author. He poured all of his knowledge and countless hours into a book about what he loves most and has been forced to approach a small indie publisher in order to get his work published.

Why shouldn't his publisher then approach bloggers to help promote and market his work? It's a logical and understandable step and without that sort of exposure, no one would even know about Andrews' book. And it's not like they're even being forceful over the matter or directly trying to "buy" reviews as you casually suggest.

I agree that bloggers shouldn't feel beholden to write a positive review (or even a review at all, if they don't want to) but to dismiss and condemn the whole affair, refusing to even acknowledge the author or book by name and thus denying them the opportunity to potentially change their life for the better out of nothing else than a case of moral superiority is quite shocking to me.

Larísa said...

@We Fly Spitfires: I don't get upset at all! Honestly. I love when we can get a good discussion going at the inn. I fail at it sometimes, probably being far too un-provocative and harmless in my views, writing without any real edge.

I'm sorry if you think I'm cynical. Maybe you are right though. I really might have become cynical about the whole media/marketing arena after spending years in it. It could also be a side effect of getting older I suppose.

You may be right that before making a judgement I should have looked a bit closer at the publisher and the economical interests behind it. Or rather the lack of it. Seeing it as a non-profit hobby project rather than someone trying to sell their stuff to an audience.

I think what bugs me a little is the once again so blurry lines between journalism and marketing and opinion. I'm old fashioned and old school and I want to keep the lines a bit straighter than you probably can these days. Call me a snob. Or rather: call me naïve.

Mind you: I'm still a newbie, trying to learn and understand this kind of media landscape. And maybe also trying to share a little bit of my experience from the media business as it has been up until now.

I definitely don't want to dishearten anyone from trying to establish himself as a professional writer. But I think everone benefits from somehow acknowledge when there's a commercial interest in marketing a product and to understand their role and responsability in this - towards the publisher as well as to their audience.

All this said - if I've misunderstood this book and taken it for a commercial product when it's in fact is non-profit and all a hobby/amateur project, I apologize. But my view on how to approach reveiw writing as a blogger actually remain the same.

Rem said...

It always amuses me when you mention your family's judgemental and prejudiced attitude towards your hobby, and how they basically hold you at gunpoint for every minute you invest in it. And when I say "amuses me", what I actually mean is "makes me sad". Because, you know, gaming is so different from other interests.

Take fishing for example. Someone who likes fishing, maintains a first class fishing equipment, participates in angler forums and maybe even blogs on the topic, reads angler books and subscribes to angler magazines, not to mention gets up at 4am in the morning to go sit at some cold lake, is clearly a totally normal and respectable person who is invested in their hobby. But Larisa the gamer is clearly a weirdo who requires restrictions and repercussions.

Now, I'd probably never consider fishing myself, but I can totally understand how people can find it an amazing experience. See what I did there? That's called looking beyond my own nose. Or empathising. Why is this advanced technique of human interactions so rarely applied to gaming?

You live in Sweden, for crying out loud, the land of the Dreamhack and other gaming craziness those of us living in warmer (or rainier) regions have always envied. Your kids should be proud of you. They should be going to school and when their peers talk about WoW they should proudly say "my mum is a hard-mode raider, and she downed Arthas last week! In addition to having a high-class job and education and being a top-class mother to us, too. She's awesome like that, ya know."

Why is spending an evening or a weekend killing brain cells with inordinate amounts of alcohol, vomiting in the corner and having unprotected casual sexual intercourse still more socially accepted (even encouraged!) than .. uhm .. gaming? What's wrong with us? Gah .. end of off-topic rant.

pugnaciouspriest.com said...

It is a good marketing idea, I did a google search after getting the email, to see where it was popping up, and it was mainly book seller reviews - no real independent reviews / discussions, I'm sure its changed by now with the variety of blogs google rankings. As a one day hoping to be published fiction author I understand the reaching out to the Wow community - any writers guides to publicity will tell you network network network, but the offer did put a lot of us in an interesting position, as some have included in their review, the excitement that we / they are acknowledged as a resource by somebody legit ( how many spam / gold sites try and tell us that) I didn't get a copy, or review it because I don't think the target audience is my readers, and I would feel obliged to at least mention the book because it would be a big deal for me, to be recognized as someone worthy of reviewing it, and it would be harder to remain objective and that would make me uncomfortable. I would also not feel good reviewing a book about Gming, when I have never done it. I'd rather give my book to my much respected GM, and ask their take on it.

Klepsacovic said...

I'm, slowly, writing a review because I asked for/accepted a copy. That doesn't mean I have to say it is great, and I probably won't.

Keredria said...

I don't think you're being cynical, it feels weird to me too.

And let me be cynical and say that I am boggled that there is even an actual book on managing a WoW guild. Maybe this is just me, but if you need to read a book to lead a guild, you probably don't have what it takes.

Tam said...

I was late to the party - as usual. I had no idea there was such a book until suddenly I saw a couple of bizarrely decontexualised reviews (I mean, decontextualised for me).

To be honest, I don't know how successful a marketing strategy it really is - I mean WoWblogging is a tiny tiny proportion of the WoW playing public. So I don't know if it's just feeding into an already very incestuous community.

Gronthe said...

You can choose to review what you like and you don't have to give any reasons why you won't review book x, game y, or movie z.

It's not your job to promote somebody else's book, that's their job. Now part of their plan is to distribute it to well known bloggers for review and susequent publicity, but if they find that route unsuccessful it's the publishers duty to find alternate routes of marketing the book they were willing to risk publishing in the first place.

It is "nice" to name drop and throw in a good word (if it's deserved)? Sure. But certainly it's not bad to refuse to review something either - it's just a choice. And if you change your mind, you're entitled to make that choice too.

We Fly Spitfires said...

I'm glad you weren't upset, Larisa, I was worrying that maybe my comment was too harsh! I found your article very interesting and it generated a passionate response in me so your writing skill definitely deserves credit for that :)

I can understand where you're coming from. My approach is to try and address these situations on an individual basis and in the context that surrounds them. In the case of the Guild Leader's Handbook, I felt that it was a honest and genuine approach to an attempt to market a book written by a fellow MMO enthusiast.

I've haven't read it completely yet nor reviewed it but I did mention it on my blog because I thought the product itself was worthy of attention. Plus, if my efforts even contribute in the tiniest amount to helping the author get onto the career path that he's always dreamed of then it's worth my time.

And yes, my efforts may end up putting a few dollars into Andrews' pocket as a result but I don't have an issue with that. He's selling a fair product at a fair price and there's no deception or manipulation or anything morally wrong with the item.

hound said...

Thank god for comments sections, because I would hate to put this one on my own blog.

First point: This is your blog and you get to do what you want. Congrats on making a decision and sticking with it, sometimes it is not easy to go against the grain. Now you get to be the hypocrite and review the very next offer you find in your email!

Second point: With all of the information available online, why would you even want to create a physical copy like this? In five minutes I can copy/paste all of the information within and have it stuck in a binder on my shelf.

Third point: A "budding writer" should consider whether people are "reading" his book because they received a free copy or because it really was intriguing.

Fourth point: The bloggers I have read are overwhelmingly nice. I suspect that giving a negative review might actually cause some drama, let alone choosing to not give one at all. I think Spitifires was WAY out of line with his comment and proves the point.

Fifth point: As for marketing, this was a good idea. If I were to look for a book about this topic, I would choose this one because I am already familiar with it. If I were cautious, I would research it first and seek out reviews, which would lead to some bloggers receiving traffic. Definitely a win-win. And precisely why I also might not trust it.

Chewy said...

@Rem

My wife used to work for an MMO, not Blizz, but one famous enough that it held some prestige with our children's friends. Eventually she gave it up because no amount of prestige will make up for the time she had to be away from them.

I think this is what Larisa is referring to, they're probably very proud of her, they just exclusively want their Mum's time.

Spinks said...

I assume the book sucks, because I didn't get one :)

Larísa said...

@Rem: Yeah, making me sad” is probably more appropriate than ”amuse”. I really wish there was any way that I could play the game without feeling that I’m somehow stealing time away from my family. I DO have a bad conscience about it, rightfully or not. I believe that as an adult you need to have a hobby of your own, that’s normal and sound. The question is how much time you can put into that hobby without being just too egotistical. And I’m afraid I’m probably crossing that line. WoW sort of has that effect on you sometimes, if you’re really honest. This doesn’t mean that I’m beyond help. But I watch myself constantly. I wish that there was any way that I could convey what it means to have killed Arthas or why writing hundreds of posts about a game can be creative, rewarding and fulfilling. But I just can’t see how I could explain it in a way that made sense. I appreciate the support I sense in your comment though!

@Pugnaciouspriest: Yeah, I think it’s a good idea from the PR perspective. This doesn’t mean that I have to jump on it from my independent writer-perspective. But they’ll probably have a great outcome of it. About writing a review you have a solid experience from many guilds if I don’t remember it wrong. I would definitely say that you’re as qualified as anyone else.

@Keredria: I don’t think the idea is bad. Mind you, guilds is –as far as I know of – something that exists not only in WoW but in many games. I think a lot of people with non or very little experience of leadership suddenly are put into a position that requires far more of them than they had imagined. Maybe a book can be the support they need. Although – to be honest – there’s already a LOT of blogposts that can give you great advice on different issues – for free.

@Tam: That observation about the incestuous community is quite on the spot. I find it especially true thinking about the podcasts, where they’re constantly appearing as guests with each other. It’s somehow become the norm and I wonder sometimes if it’s good in the long run. It’s warm and cosy enough, but what about a bit of fresh air?

@Gronthe: yeah it’s a free choice. I wonder if I should have remained quiet about it considering the feelings I seem to stir up. On the other hand I can’t see the harm in reflecting over the ethics of WoW blogging – who you promote and on what grounds. Regardless if you agree with me or not – pay it a thought at least.

@Hound: Thanks for a bit of moral support! And yeah, maybe I’m putting myself at risk by taking a stance like this. I may very well regret my words later on. On the other hand – I’ve changed my mind about issues before when I’ve thought something over and come to a different conclusion. It’s the privilege of being a blogger and not a politician.

@Chew: yeah. I think you understand some of the reasons for my pain.

@Spinks: BIG mistake from the one who made the send list. If anyone would be qualified to make a review about that book it’s you. Not that I know if you’d make one, but you’ve definitely got solid experience of guild leading and you’re an excellent analyser and writer as well.

William said...

My name is Bill Pollock and I'm Scott's publisher. I'm also the founder of No Starch Press (nostarch.com), the company that published Scott's book.

Your comments on why you'll choose not review this book are interesting to me but also puzzling. If you've ever been to the Strand bookstore in New York City you'll find hundreds if not thousands of resold reviewer copies. Those are free copies of books that hundreds of publishers sent to reviewers in hopes that they would consider reviewing that particular title.

The book business works this way: one of the key ways that all successful book publishers get the word out about the books they publish is by sending free copies to appropriate reviewers, most of whom (I would say 99%) fully *expect* those copies to be free or they won't even consider reviewing the book.

We never tell people what to say about our books but we do offer our books for free to appropriate reviewers. We encourage people to review our titles honestly and we send those review copies without stipulation.

Yes, this is marketing. And if we didn't market our books, why would our authors write for us? We're not talking about the next Danielle Steel novel here or Barack Obama's next bestseller; we'll be lucky if this books sells more than a few thousand copies. Still, we'll do our best to promote it as widely as possible because people won't buy a book if they don't know that it exists, and we owe it to our authors to market their books as effectively as possible.

Larísa said...

@Bill: Hi there and thanks for visiting! I have absolutely nothing against your marketing methods! Nothing at all. On the contrary I think you're doing it absolutely right.

I think it would be more natural to me write a review if MORE publishers did like you and took the blogs into consideration when wanting to get the word out.

And THAT'S what I'm trying to say. To me it looks a bit weird with all those bloggers who never have written reviews on antyhing at all, who suddenly writes about one particular book. And I wonder if it's the feeling of novelty that creates this. Maybe they don't see themselves as serious reviewers.

If I would write book reviews I'd like to do it on a fairly regular basis, knowing that I did a good job covering the market for books with connections to gaming/MMO.

But maybe that's just me being picky and a snob, as Gordon at We Fly Spitfires pointed out.

Maybe I'm just overdoing it.

Again: I have NOTHING against you and I think it's great that there's a book published in this area. It was a good idea and needed and I would probably have written about it if there was some sort of context at my blog that it would fit into.

Anonymous said...

I loved your blog. Thank you.