Wednesday 20 October 2010


On 2nd November one of the most hotly-anticipated fantasy books of the year is being released. The 13th book in the Wheel of Time - Towers of Midnight - is causing a frenzy of excitement as fans wait the last couple of weeks before getting their hands on what will be the penultimate novel in this long-running series started by Robert Jordan and continued by Brandon Sanderson due to RJ's untimely death.

For many fantasy readers, this release is beyond exciting - they just want to get their hands on the book and devour the new events, without having anything spoiled for them.

Hence, the limited amount of pre-release ARCs that went out to bloggers were embargoed. As in, bloggers were not supposed to release reviews of Towers of Midnight until 2nd November, so that everyone had the same chance to read the novel without risk of spoilers.

Embargo = a restraint or hindrance; prohibition

However, one particular blogger thinks that he is not restricted in the same manner as other bloggers. Most people have been respectful but there has been a certain amount of boasting about events/scenes in the book by one blogger - and I find this enormously distasteful.

Rules are rules, and there for a reason. Bloggers were asked to keep the lid on reviews til 2nd November - to go against this (even under the heading of "not a review - thoughts so far") is rude to the publishers who provided the early book and rude to the other bloggers who have managed to abide by the rule.

When Mockingjay came out, it was embargoed for EVERYONE until release day. Again, some people couldn't resist boasting about having secret copies, and spoilers were put on Goodreads that ruined it for many people.

Bloggers have a privilege of early copies. I have a copy of The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. I have been asked to sit on my review until much closer to the release date, and it is not in my nature to spoil anyone else's reading experience of this novel. I am abiding by the rules.

If one blogger breaks this rules, there is a chance that publishers will become more chary about allowing this privilege of early copies for *ANYBODY*.

My opinion is that embargoes are only given on few books - and bloggers should follow the rulings given. If a person breaks embargo, they should have their privilege stripped. It is a matter of ethics - the same as when people sell ARCs, even when asked not to by the publishers. I am angry that this is likely to go unpunished.

What do you think? Major over-reaction?


  1. I completely agree - if a book has been embargoed then that should apply to everyone. The sad thing is that I doubt there will be any consequences to the blogger who broke the embargo...

  2. If someone gives you a free, advance copy of a book to review, and you disobey their wishes with regard to this privilege, then quite frankly it displays an immense amount of arrogance and a complete lack of respect or manners. Blackball them, publishers. Herd needs thinning out a bit anyway.

  3. I think you're right.

    If you get ARCs that have an embargo date on it, you should respect it. The same goes for selling ARCs. I'd never sell any of the few ARCs I've gotten.
    It's a privilege getting ARCs and I don't think people should abuse it.

  4. Ah..., now I understand your ire. When you were just defining the word on twitter, I thought someone was using it incorrectly somewhere or something.

    No, I'm on your side. That's just not classy. You're given something, and the giver asks you for something reasonable about how its treated, you respect that. And although bloggers must give some spoilers to review, unreasonable spoiling is never cool, and this is beyond that.

  5. It's not a "rule". It's a request by the publisher, and to ignore that request, especially after being given an ARC, is discourteous. But all the publisher has to do then is not send that reviewer any more ARCs.

    It's not really a "privilege" either. ARCs are marketing tools. Publishers don't send them out to reward people. They do it in the hope people will review and promote the book... which will lead to higher sales... which will make them more money.

    As for "spoiling" the book for readers... Don't read the review, then. No one makes you read it. Just like the off switch on your telly - you control what you read and/or watch.

  6. If the publisher really cared about the embargo then yeah, they would probably punish people how broke it. But surely the embargo is just a publicity tool for the publishers? It certainly doesn't serve any other purpose.

  7. These things always happen. I recall when the last Harry Potter novel came out, several major newspapers came out with embargoed reviews because several bookstores broke the embargo and sold them copies. It adds to the mystique.

    That being said, I don't approve of the blogger in question, and I always honor publisher requests to hold reviews until after the release date.

    Maybe the publisher can hold all copies until a week before the release date.

  8. "It's not really a 'privilege" either.'

    It very much is: they've been allowed into a position of trust that the average reader hasn't been. Just because you've set up a free blogger/wordpress account and call yourself a blogger/reviewer, that doesn't mean anyone HAS to give you anything. No-one does this professionally: as laypeople you've been allowed access to a notoriously hard industry to crack, gifted with pre-release material that most people have to wait and lay down hard cash for, at a time when publishing's already under immense financial strain, and in return for this a little bit of common courtesy and humility might not be too much to ask for. As opposed to a monstrous and wholly unjustified sense of entitlement.

  9. Privilege? What privilege? What position of trust? It's an ARC. They exist to send to reviewers. They're not a reward. Publishers send them out because it's part of their marketing plan. If they don't send one to book blogger A, they'll send it to book blogger B. Or magazine C. Also, reviewers in genre magazines are "laypeople" too. They don't get paid for their reviews.

  10. I agree with you Amanda! I think it's very bad manners, both towards the publisher and towards other bloggers who do follow the rules/honour requests.

    Unfortunately, this particular blog gets so many hits he probably won't be punished for it. If it was a smaller blog they probably would be blackballed as someone else has said.

  11. I never said it was a 'reward' in those terms, merely that people who enjoy reading might be, you know, a bit grateful to receive early copies of eagerly awaited books by top authors...? You act like bloggers are doing authors and publishers a favour here, that it's pretty one-sided. This is the entitlement I'm talking about, taking things for granted.

    I mean, FFS, if someone sent me an ARC - sod it, even just a .pdf - of a new China Mieville novel, I'd name my firstborn after them. I wouldn't spoiler a single sentence under dire torture. But then I suppose I haven't become jaded to it all by being sent loads of free swag all the time.

  12. Of course it's part of a marketing plan, but it's one you buy into in being a reviewer, and it doesn't mean you still aren't being given something for free, ahead of everything else. My point is precisely that someone gave the reviewer something, as part of a marketing plan, and he or she knew it was a marketing plan, and despite the fact that they're benefitting from it, they've decided to go against the publisher's wishes.

    I'm not sure what the point about magazine vs blogger reviewer is. Except that in a magazine there's an editor deciding when things go out. Many bloggers also review in magazines, but it doesn't seem relevant to this discussion that we don't get paid for that either.

  13. It's a difficult problem and one I can relate to back when I worked in the collectibles world. I think in this specific case, the embargo is justified, but let's look a little wider.

    On the surface it's simple: the publisher (or manufacturer) tells you you can't talk about a book or product until a certain date. Where's the harm in holding off until nearer the release?

    The problem is when embargoes become commonplace. There are some PR people who would love to 'control' the media, tell them what they can say and when. Sometimes it can be to ensure a book or product gets the right level of attention at what they deem the right time. But what's to say that the blogger hasn't considered this? There were times when it came to collectibles, I knew far better than the PR person. And surely the volume of traffic my site got, attested to this? As anyone who runs a successful blog knows, they don't become successful without a lot of hard work and thought. Being controlled like that can feel like an insult.

    You can get to a stage where everything is embargoed and it gets a little stupid (I once had a row with Marvel over an embargo on mentioning they were doing a Hulk movie line of toys, when a shipping mistake meant they were already available in Walmart. As far as they were concerned, they didn't exist until the press release was issued). It serves no purpose, and I found myself getting to a stage where some PR people felt we were employees they could order around, rather than independents they worked WITH.

    The big issue I had when I wrote about collectibles was "where do I draw the line?". I don't think book blogging has reached that stage yet (and maybe never will, hopefully), but I found there were times when some PR people wanted to manage what I said and when to such a level that I felt it was starting to encroach on what integrity I felt I put into my work.

    And that's one of the reason's I stopped. It became such hard work after 10 years. Every manufacturer wanted (and sometimes ordered) me to go in different direction, when I was captain of my own ship, giving them free publicity for nothing.

    It should be a symbiotic relationship, but when a manufacturer decided it is not (and to be fair this has to happen over many, many instances not just the odd one or two a year) I found myself wondering who needed who more.

    It's possible that the blog concerned already feels that, that by obeying an embargo, they are compromising their integrity and their independence. Everyone's line in the sand is different. Personally, holding off a review until a certain date doesn't feel to me like it'll compromise a review, but maybe they feel different?

    Also please note that I'm not tarnishing all PR people with the same brush. I worked with some incredible PR people over the years

  14. I'm not a book blogger, I don't get sent ARCs. I review books for Interzone, but that's one book every two months. And at least one book I've reviewed there I bought myself. Book blog are, in many ways, like review columns in magazines. Publishers send those mags ARCs in the hope the books are reviewed. And mags have never been obliged to review every book they receive.

    If you want to squee about getting a copy of a book early, then fine. But that doesn't make it a privilege, it just makes you a fanboy/girl :-)

  15. I would agree. Embargo is an embargo. Though, it depends what was posted. I saw one post that just showed the book and said nothing about it which I didn't think was a big deal - would be like a mailbox post just showing that it came in. Just got me really excited for the book. If someone posted something with any facts, now that I'd be really really angry about!

  16. Overreaction, yes but that's fine. You're doing your part.

    For your own sake, I wouldn't get too involved in casting blame. Why worry what another reviewer is doing, on their own site? These are marketing ploys by the publisher - both ARCs and silly things like embargoes on reviews - and having controversy stirred up over a "rogue blogger" is just the sort of thing they love best.


    The blogger in question is doing exactly what the publisher wants: breaking the rules (a little) and stirring the pot.

    You're also doing them a favour as well, by posting and tweeting and getting hot and bothered about it and spreading news among all your readers and friends (for *free!*). This disseminates news of the book's approaching release, raises the excitement level, and gets people talking about the "discourteous" reviewer (boo, hiss!). Score another for PR.

    Fans will do the same in your wake, either ramping up their excitement like sharks at the scent of blood, or equally, their ire, baying like a pack of hounds at the dangling of hints and clues - amid of course, the barking of their righteous anger.

    So everyone is doing what they're supposed to be doing - so don't sweat it too much.



  17. Well, unless the embargo specifically said don't show it or say a word. I guess I don't know enough to know if you can show that it came in or if you can't say a single thing mentioning it...

  18. I've read the post in question, he's playing semantics with the word review. It's ill mannered and he should be ashamed of himself. It would be the last ARC I sent him if I was the publisher.

  19. By the way, I wasn't firing a broadside at all reviewers/bloggers here at all, just at perhaps some of the excesses of 'the scene'.

    And yep, Ian, I'm a fanboy and proud of it too. :D

  20. I think one particular book-blogger is being a dick.

    It was way more than a "tease". That's a partial-review, and I only say "partial" because he hasn't finished the book.

    Oh, and Eric: The "Blogger In Question" is NOT doing what the publisher wants by stirring the pot. The "Book in Question" is the latest Wheel of Time novel. They don't *need* the pot stirred like that. Nor do they want it.

    I get very few requests to embargo a review for a book I receive. When I do, I honor the request as a matter of courtesy and professionalism.

  21. Damn it. My post got eaten.

    Adrian Faulkner: I don't see the slippery slope argument follows. I can see how 'control' from a publisher could be annoying, but they don't literally have control over what you post, it's just an issue of what's polite. And I would say that simply mentioning that something exists is different to reviewing content that is not yet available and that you have been given for free and asked to hold off reviewing for a few weeks.

    I'm still not sure what Ian Sales's point is regarding blodding vs reviewing in a magazine. I have also done both, although I'm a bit newer to the blogging side. I have reviewed things I owned for a magazine. I have also reviewed things I was given for free. I have done both of these things BOTH for a magazine and on my blog. Only differences seem to me to be that the review in the magazine will only go out when the editor decides, and it will be sene by more people.

  22. I agree, really. If someone gives me a free something-or-other and asks that I not review it until a certain date, then that's the contract I end into when I agree to receiving whatever it is they give me. I may drop a hint or two here and there if I can't restrain myself, but I'd do my level best to limit such hints to things like, "You guys are totally going to love this book!" or "This book had some things in it that I didn't expect."

    Assuming that sort of thing was allowed. Otherwise, well, I don't want to break somebody's trust. If that person breaks the trust of the people who supply them with the very thing their blog is about, then they'll soon find themselves without easy content. One desperate bid for readers can ruin the whole thing. You don't mess your nest!

    Adrian Faulkner does have a good point when he mentions embargoes becoming the norm rather than the exception, though in fairness, I don't think this happens very often. More often than not, publishers and authors are quite happy to have some pre-release publicity drummed up for a relatively low cost to them. But it also seems like the bigger the company, the more control they want to have, so it can be a fine line to walk. But ultimately, I figure that when bookbloggers, who 99% of the time are doing reviews as a hobby rather than as a profession, don't like one of the restrictions placed on a free book deal, then they can say no rather than saying yes and then breaking their word.

  23. @Serenity Womble: Alex mentioned that book bloggers were "lay people". I simply added that so were magazine reviewers, so the non-pro status of book bloggers wasn't relevant.

  24. Ian: Fair enough. The non-pro thing was really just to point out how, although they've put in some hard work, reviewer-bloggers really aren't that far removed from the rest of the reading population, and that any special status they have is as much granted by publishers and authors as it is by the larger community. I get the feeling that the person who's committed the faux pas we're discussing right now probably wouldn't have done it without an inflated estimation of their own importance... Getting left off a few ARC distribution lists might take a pin to that.

    I actually have no idea how genre magazine reviewing works, and am surprised that reviewers don't get paid for it: I suppose that, like bloggers, they really MUST be doing it for the love... and the free swag, of course. ;)

  25. Alex, my last "free swag" was an ARC of LE Modesitt's latest. Terrible book. But yeah, most reviewers just get to keep the book they review. Different mags have different ways of choosing who reviews what - some just hand you a book, others let you pick, some let you make several choices from a list and you might get one of them...

  26. It's not a rule, it's a request. They'll enforce that request if you go against it. Bookstores are the same way, except that they can get fined or have their stock dumped by a distributor for releasing books early. I would imagine that if you leaked information from an embargoed book, you can kiss your chances of working with the publisher again goodbye.

    At the same time, I see book bloggers and others who write in this sort of field as a style of journalists. This depends on what you're writing about, obviously - reviews are a bit different than critical articles (there's similarities) In which case, why shouldn't you address issues that the book brings up as you get it, or look into it? On one hand, BBs are essentially pawns of the publishing industry, coaxed along with the chance to get free copies of books ahead of time, vs. writers who analyze the books and concivably report on them.

    From a journalism perspective, there's absolutely no reason why you should listen to the publisher when it comes to information, provided you're okay with potentially losing a source of early books and information. Journalists certainly won't (or don't) listen to politicians, law enforcement or the business community when reporting - they'll run a story. Why should book bloggers be different?

  27. I agree with Amanda here, as a fellow book reviewer I have always respected any embargo's that have been requested by the Publisher.

    I really don't think that the blogger leaking information about the book early is in any respect helpful to this particular campaign and worse it cast's us all in a bad light.

    If people start just disregarding embargo's then as book reviewers we may all lose out.

    Oh and Ian, the whole point of us reviewers doing what we do is the love of books, anyone spending vast amounts of their own free time reading and reviewing books hast to have a love of what they are doing.

    I personally don't like being labelled a "fanboy", I just love reading and to me being able to read something before the general public is a privilege.

  28. I once broke an embargo - quite by accident. I felt so embarrassed and awful about it I sent the links and stats of the hits on the site onto the PR company that sent me the PR sheet and apologised profusely. They understood that it was done in error and were very interested in the results at the end of the day. But they at least continued to keep me on their mailing list. These days, I make 150% sure about embargoed items before blabbing.

    Being a reviewer and reader and receiving books and sometimes manuscripts from publishers well in advance of the public and publication date, saddles you with a responsibility and shows that there is a bond of trust. These should not be taken lightly.

    However, I doubt that said blogger really cares - he's getting the hits, he's getting the controversy and maybe that's what it's all about? Getting people riled up about it and visiting his site in droves. This is cynical but hey, I've been doing this a little while.

    I do wonder though if he's done quite a bit of harm to the credibility of bloggers as a whole, by acting like a complete jackass and knowingly flying in the face of very reasonable request.

    You know, I would have understood him breaking the embargo if I could sense one iota of true excitement and "omg, I have to share this" in that write-up, but all I see is: how do I do something controversial so that the hits on my site can spike.

  29. We can't control what you do but we value and respect your opinions of our books - good or bad - and hope that you would return the courtesy when we ask to hold off on a review. We (Tor/Forge) don't ask very often so it's our hope that you understand how important it is to us, and the fans, when we do. Thank you Joe and Liz and the others that get it. And Ian or anyone else that is a reviewer and not receiving ARCs, all you have to do is ask, we're happy to send them. We appreciate your reviews and one person who doesn't abide by our embargo request isn't going to change that.

  30. I'm not sure I've ever received an embargoed fiction ARC (I have received embargoed non-fiction and politics books, though). I think, if a publisher wishes reviewers to hold off reviews until a certain date, for whatever reason, then a reviewer has to respect that. We're getting the books for free, and while we do review the book in return, we should play by any 'rules' the publisher requests (unless, of course, it is "we'll give you stuff only if you write good reviews", which I always felt happened with record labels...)

  31. @Joe Sherry

    We'll simply have to disagree on this point. If you were correct, then one could expect the publishers to not spend anything at all on marketing, advertising, or placement - but that's never going to happen. Marketing always likes free buzz no matter how much anticipation already exists.

    Yes, they may have asked for no reviews before a certain date, and I can't say if they'll be irritated at that person - or not, but I don't believe that it will either hurt the sales of the book which is their bottom line, or fail to deliver a nice bit of free controversy surrounding an otherwise uncontroversial novel. And I don't believe for a moment it will cause the well of free ARCs that so many reviewers slaver over, to dry up.

    Most of all, it won't keep the people who want to buy the book or who are WoT fans from purchasing it. The controversy in this sense, can only help - not hinder. If you can think of a way it would keep people from rushing out to grab the book - especially considering the blog entry in question provides more teasing then revealing - that's great, but I can't.

    Storm in a tea cup, I'd still say, and really, the only one who gets hurt by it is the blogger who is getting mud thrown at them - and as I understand it, they're not exactly universally well liked or lauded in the wider community of bloggers and reviewers - so I doubt they'll care or lose out on much either.

    Best wishes,


  32. Embargoes until the day of release? Sounds like they want to make sure no one reads any reviews before buying it.

  33. Let me suggest a hypothetical (or maybe not) situation: you receive a major book for review and you're very disappointed in the book, and believe others who buy the book will be as well. The publisher, however, has asked for an embargo on reviews until after the book is on sale. Should you as a reviewer wait until then to share your opinion and your reasons for it, or is waiting until people will have already bought the book an abdication of your role as someone who was sent an advance review copy?

    So going back a step, I find it discourteous of a publisher to even attempt to establish embargoes on reviews. A reviewer's calling card is their independence from a publisher's marketing efforts, and the best reviewers are those who write with the overall health of literature in mind. There are various tools at the reviewer's disposal in this regard, questions that must be answered when a reviewer reads a book: should I review this book at all; what should I say; and -- perhaps least important but not negligible -- when should I say it to best achieve the result I hope to bring about? Publishers have marketing strategies for their books, but reviewers, too, can have strategies (as can the venues that publish them) for pushing literature in the directions they believe it is best served to go. For publishers to request embargoes is essentially a power-grab, an attempt to alter the power dynamics in a way that reduces the ability of reviewers to perform their roles, whether that role be pragmatically offering buying recommendations, or more conceptually generating dialog and consensus about how to read a book in advance of its release.

  34. There have been several favorable(mostly non-spoiler)reviews that have already been published, but these have been done by bloggers who operate fan-based WOT websites.

    I think part of consternation is that the first two slightly negative "reviews" have come from two bloggers who don't have fan-based WOT websites.

    I am not suggesting that reviews done by woman at Tor, review done by the person who maintains Dragonmount, or the review done by the person who operates Theoryland are not helpful reviews, but for someone who is not a hard-core WOT fan like myself, I know that the reviews would most probably be positive. They are much more passionate about WOT than I am. Ever since the person from Dragonmount gave a very positive review of Crossroads of Twilight, I take his review with a grain of salt.

    However, if these two "reviews" were positive, I am sure there would not be such ruckus regarding violation of the publisher-imposed embargo.

    If the TOR/Forge publicists were considered about what effect the negative reviews would have on sales, then it would be best for Tor to lift the embargo and let other bloggers, who do not operate fan-based WOT sites, to publish their review more effusive and favorable reviews to maintain a balance.

    For me, I was excited about reading TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT (TOM)until I read WAY OF THE KINGS. I did not enjoy the book, and reading blogger's slightly negative review of TOM and the reasons why he was not enjoying reading it which were similar reasons that I had for Ways, I am less excited about reading TOM.

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  36. Our email from Justin, Tor publicist, says:

    "Because of the “spoiler-y” nature of these books, I do have to add that I’m only allowed to send out early review copies upon soliciting a promise that no reviews/content will be published prior to the November 2nd publication date. Anything you’d like to put up can go live as of midnight that day. :)"

    We promise, he sends. If we post content before Nov 2, we break our promise (and probably don't get next year's hot ARC).

  37. @andrewliptak

    "Journalists certainly won't (or don't) listen to politicians, law enforcement or the business community when reporting - they'll run a story."

    This is the theory. But I have a father who's been a journalist since before I was born (I'm 36), so I've had contact with journalists all my life. And it's not really a secret within the journalistic community that they sit on a lot of stories that would be in the public interest.
    Mostly they do this because they will loose their inside source if they publish. But they will also sit on a story if they get another one instead.
    Like one journalist said to me:
    "What's interesting is not what is in the paper, but what is not in the paper."

    What I'm getting at is that if Book Bloggers give consideration to a publisher's wishes they would be doing the same as normal journalists.
    Expecting them to do otherwise would be to hold BBs to a higher standard than the press.

    @Matt Denault
    For a reviewer to be totally independent from a publisher's marketing, they would have to decline getting ARCs, and buy the books themselves. And then they would be prevented from doing reviews until the book was released.

  38. As a reviewer who has worked extensively with Tor, I can say that they, at least only use embargoes in specific instances. In this case, it makes sense, even Sanderson himself is giving little away. This is, of course, to create hype and buzz over every little detail that is released, b ut personally I find that kind of fun.

    But anyone who breaks a contract (and this is a written contract, just not in legalese) should be shunned by the wider community. Maybe the publisher won't punish this guy, but readers certainly can, if they want to stand on principle.

    My review will be available on November 2 as requested, I will release no details of any kind before that date, other than vague excited utterances.

  39. Just a note - I can't see that it's being said - Embargoes exist solely so books can hit the charts in the highest position possible. It's a method of controlling discussion, promotion, but most importantly sales. The aim is to get the maximum amount of sales in one week so it charts highly.

  40. I find the justification for the embargo from the Tor publicity person hilarious:

    Because of the “spoiler-y” nature of these books, I do have to add that I’m only allowed to send out early review copies upon soliciting a promise that no reviews/content will be published prior to the November 2nd publication date.

    The publisher of the book is saying that literally the only reason to read the book is to find out what happens next and that Sanderson's work has all the literary worth of Wikipedia. The “spoiler-y” nature of these books - good grief!

  41. I've heard before what Mark C. Newton says about the purpose of embargoes (so the book will hit the charts high). I believe that it's true, but it doesn't really matter. A promise is a promise.

  42. I was a subscriber to the ill mannered blogger. This episode made it clear he is not someone whose opinion I want to hear.

    On the plus side, I have found this blog in the scuffle!

  43. Nearly every book I have received for review over the past 26 years now has had a polite request to observe the publication date and not to publish before that date.
    In the past print magazines lead times meant that wasn't usually an issue, but the rise of the blogger has changed that a little.
    Nevertheless it remains a 'polite request' not an embargo. An embargo, your definition notwithstanding, is surely an official restriction not a request. Use of the term embargo is just part of the hype machine.
    -- kev mcveigh

  44. Congratulations, bloggers and publishers: over the last few days you've managed to shock even a hardened cynic such as myself with your mercenary attitude to the reviewing and sale of fiction. I've now come away with the feeling that the whole thing is rather grubby.

  45. the blogger in question does mention over at Genre Reader that he did not receive the email that most of use did, and if that is true, then I owe him an apology. I still think he pushed the boundaries slightly too far, but the email he did receive was rather vague, unlike my own.

  46. I don't understand why publishers give out these ARCs so early if they don't want it reviewed at that time. If they just distributed them a week before publication there wouldn't be any of these problems. They probably don't care about these blog posts as they're usually only read by hardcore fans who will be buying the book anyway.