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Image by Prawny from Pixabay "books as payment for review"

Why, as a book reviewer, I hate the phrase “book as payment for a review” and other sundry thoughts

I was part of a tweet exchange last night and this morning that got me thinking. Now, I hope this doesn’t feel like a subtweet (can you call it that if it’s a blog post), because I actually agree with everyone involved. But the whole thing got me thinking about why I took (and take) the position I did and why I used (and use) the language I did. It’s not always flattering (to myself or anyone else), but I’m going to be honest here; and I will go ahead and acknowledge several generalities in advance.

Here is the exchange, for the record:


As you can see, it’s not heated or controversial. I was quibbling about language and honestly, in retrospect, @SoManyBooks6 was probably right to call it semanticsBut, for better or worse, I do have a position I was coming from in asserting that the difference between what they and I said in our initial exchanges differ. Perhaps only enough to make it feel like it surpasses semantics, but definitely enough that I built myself a hill to die on. And this post is going to be heavily based on feelings.

Again, to be absolutely clear, I agree with the other bloggers on the larger point and @SoManyBooks6 (from So Many Books), @Undertheradarb2 (from Under The Radar SFF Books), and @BlogSpells (from Spells and Spaceships) seem like my kind of people. So, I hope no one takes this as any sort of attack on them. It 100% isn’t meant to be. It’s just that our exchange got me examining some of my own internal biases and beliefs.

Undoubtedly, @BlogSpell’s language in the second exchange, where they took issue with my word choice in the same way I previously had @SoManyBooks6’s, is better—more polite, more accurate, and even more common. What I want to address in this post is why I didn’t use it to begin with.

The short answer is that I didn’t think of it. But that’s a surface-level answer. I mean, if it’s the most common, almost industry-standard verbiage, why wasn’t it what came to mind? I’m fairly sure I could have fit it in the 280 characters, even if it would have been close.

crowd by Gerd Altmann from PixabayThe deeper answer is that after almost 8 years running this book review blog and being inundated with book review requests, the the whole scenario too often doesn’t actually feel like an equal exchange anymore.

Of course, this too requires a deeper critical look. And I don’t always come out smelling like roses. Part of the issue—the simplest—is that an exchange of this sort is between two people. An author* contacts me and requests that I read their book, I say yes, they send me the book, and I read it and post a review. This is the exchange and mutual agreement, a book for a review.

I know that at it’s heart, no matter what, each author and their request is an individual. But the truth is that this gets lost a lot of the time for me. What more often has happened** is that I open my email to 25 request, most of them not following my policies and procedures. Which means:

a) they’re asking me to review their book but weren’t willing to take the time to read my preferences,  or
b) they read them and didn’t respect them enough to abide by them.

human by Gerd Altmann from PixabayThis is annoying by itself. But it also means that by the time I’ve come to the one author who has asked me to read a book within my stated perimeters and I respond in the affirmative to their request, I’ve had to send out several ‘this doesn’t fit my stated policies and procedures’ emails first. Which opens the whole affair to feeling like it’s between me and an advancing horde, instead of me and an individual author.

Notice the feel in there again. This is about how it feels, not how it literally is. And when you feel that the majority of people requesting you read and review their book have either done so without taking even a few moments to get to know you and what you read, or have read your policies and procedures and decided to ignore them, the respectful exchange aspect gets occulded.

It starts to feel like you’re considered an openly available resource, not a person. And, in my case, that shifted me away from feeling respected and that there was anything mutual in the exchange. I suppose I could have gone any number of ways at that point. If it wasn’t a mutual exchange, what was it? Apparently, I settled on doing authors a favor. And I think I did this as a way of subconsciously protecting myself. I’d rather be doing a favor for an author than being taken advantage of by them.

Is it an accurate description of what is happening? Maybe if you squint at it in the right light. And I’ve apparently felt this way for a while.

The ‘ How to Piss off a Book Blogger: Treat Them Like an Employee‘ post, referred to in one of the tweets, is from 2013 and in it I say:

I blog about books. I do this for the sheer joy of it and part of that joy comes from doing other authors a good turn. Because make no mistake, if I review your book on request I am doing you a favour. I am passing up the opportunity to read any number other books. Books I’ve chosen because they appeal to me. Books I may, perhaps even will probably, like more than yours for just that reason. Books that sit unread because I am kind enough to take requests, your requests.

Without even thinking about it, a favor is how I characterized the author-blogger exchange in the tweet last night. And I think that says a lot about how book bloggers start to feel devalued over time. (Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I do believe that the number of bloggers who have closed their blogs or simply stopped taking requests speaks to me not being the only one to feel at least some of this.)

I also think it’s important to take a moment here to acknowledge that I’m absolutely not talking about every author and every exchange I’ve had on this blog. I have met some marvelous people and have read some wonderful books. I wouldn’t keep blogging if the good didn’t outweigh the bad. Plus, I’ll obviously never know how many authors DID read the P&P, realized that I didn’t read their book’s genre (or whatever aspect disqualified them), and rightly chose not to request a review from me. I appreciate every one of them. I love reading, books, and authors. So, it seems counterintuitive to appreciate an author NOT contacting me. But I don’t enjoy every genre and I appreciate those who respect that and my time.

Unfortunately, those that annoy you, or the sheer volume of those that do, is what tends to stick in one’s mind over the long run, especially if it’s a repeated issue. I know if I go back and read some of the posts similar to this one, that I’ve written in the past; the ones where I complain about this or that aspect of accepting book review requests (and there are an embarrassingly large number of them), I’d probably realize the issues are comparatively minor. But even small things start to chafe after repeated exposure. We’re left with a book review blogger who forgets not to center herself, who forgets that the exchange between herself and an author is supposed to be singular, and a mutually beneficial one.

boss by Gerd Altmann from PixabayTo bring this all back around to the original tweet, this is also why I have such a hard time with the rather innocuous phrasing “ebook as payment.” I am neither an employee nor a contractor, both of whom receive a “payment” and are therefore subordinate to whomever is paying them, for the period of the exchange. It comes down to the power differential. If you’ve been paid for a service by someone, you are subject to their whims. While this might be a mutual exchange—a good for a service—it is not an equal one. “The client is always right.” “I hired you, so…” It gives the payer the right to make demands of the payee, and the payee is expected to acquiese. Nothing in the book-in-exchange-for-a-review should leave room for demands. And as a blogger who already feels undervalued, that takes on a whole new and problematic aspect.

It starts to feel like all those authors, who already didn’t respect me enough to acknowledge that I’m not open to receiving requests from every author who feels entitled to email me, only need send a book—a payment—to excuse their own boorish behavior. And more importantly, as per good customer service, the reviewer should smile and accept it. We’ve been paid, after all.

As I said above, I feel like this is more than semantics, though I acknowledge that it likely isn’t. Was it a debate worth having on twitter with a virtual stranger? Of course not. But I always find it worth a deep dive into my own thought processes. It’s too easy to let things settle into unacknowledged biases and then have them creep up at inopportune times.

If you want a TL;DR version, the main points I’d like people to take away from this (beyond my ramblings about myself) are:

  • A book in exchange for a review is not a payment. It is simply what enable the blogger to read and review your book. @SoManyBooks6’s initial point about not expecting bloggers to buy your book is spot on. I consider a review request that expects me to purchase the book an advertisement, not a valid review request.
  • Bloggers do not appreciate when their stated preferences are ignored. The response will never (at least in my case) be, “Oh, I said I didn’t like this kind of book, but I’m so glad they messaged me. I’ll make an exception.” Never. It will be annoyance.
  • Authors’ attitudes toward bloggers’ (and this includes if you do or don’t respect our stated reading preferences) absolutely effect our willingness to continue accepting book review requests. I’ve found that over time I judge authors en masse, which means your bad behavior negatively effects everyone.
  • We KNOW when you have made no effort and over time that drives us way from blogging. Again, you’re ruining it for everyone.
  • Because of the above 4 points, I’ve apparently become overly sensitive to some otherwise innocent phraseology and due to a simple tweet thread I had reason to stop, examine and acknowledge this.

I realize that I’ve written on this sort of thing before and it makes me sound bitter and hateful. Especially since, as I noted in the footnote below, I’m not currently getting the flood of review requests I once did. But I do honestly process thing better when I write them out. So, some of it absolutely is for my own benefit. The tweet thread really did make me stop and go, “Why did I phrase it that way, exactly?” It’s not that I was unaware, I wrote a ranty blog post about it in 2013, after all. But it’s amazing how long you can go without thinking about something and that’s how sneaking biases can slip in.

But I also think every blog post out in the wild that a review-requesting author might stumble across that reminds them not to treat their bloggers as disposable, blank -late commodities is important. We have reading preferences, feelings, and preferred processes that should be taken into account. We don’t work for you. Hopefully, we work with you.

*I’m going to use author, but acknowledge it could be an author, a publisher, a PR manager, a personal assistant, etc.

**I use the past tense here because I currently have what I’ll accept for review locked pretty tightly and I’m not currently getting a lot of requests. But this hasn’t always been the case. (I actually have some really unflattering and probably controversial thoughts on why this reduction in requests has been successful this time, where it hasn’t in the past. But I’m not going to address them here.)

Here’s a thing I’m doing…and a review of When They Call You a Terrorist, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele

It’s been roughly two weeks since the death of George Floyd and the onset of protests concerning his death and the ongoing systemic scourge of police brutality. I live just outside of Saint Louis proper, but in Saint Louis County. The city is not unfamiliar with either death at the hands of those who are supposed to protest us or protest when this promise is broken, as it so often is.

As I have in the past (as a middle-aged, middle class, overweight, anxiety-ridden, cis-gendered, mostly straight, married, white woman), I have struggled how to best to be involved. I fully recognize that my place isn’t in any decision-making position. I take no issue with that. Where I struggle is that, as much as I want to be the one joining every march, I can’t be. I have been to several and will continue to go. But I aim for the smaller ones because the honest truth is that crowds and I do get along well.

This isn’t just about social actions. All my real-world friends know there is a fairly decent chance I will skip out on whichever social event they’ve invited me to, even if I said I’d be there. I once got entirely dressed for a Halloween party, costume and all, and then stayed home. Introversion, gotta love it.

This has recently played out predictably. I choose an action, spend all day telling myself I’m going, wimp out at the last moment, and then hate myself for it. I usually turn around and drop $50 into one of the Bail Funds, or ACLU, or Southern Poverty Law Center, or any number of smaller, local calls for funds. I’ve signed every petition and emailed mayors, governors, a newspaper over a racist cartoon, my senator, and other people in positions of decision-making power. Which I acknowledge isn’t without value, arguably is more valuable than one more white women marching.

But I want to be counted. I don’t mean me personally, like “Look at me, the good white woman, doing cookie-worthy things.” I mean as a body filling out the mass. Because every crowd of thousands of people is made up of individuals who got on the Metro, or in their cars, or on their bicycles and got there. Every crowd is made up of X number of people, plus one.

Despite my best intentions, I have accepted that I’m not going to be the front line warrior I am in my imagination. I’m going to be the quiet support in the back and that’s ok with me. But that still leaves the question of how.

I have misstepped in the past*. During the Ferguson Uprising I took part in a blog hop called #WeAreSTL that I believed was uplifting Saint Louis but was in fact really problematic. I am terrified to go back and read my own published work because I know I was uninformed and it’s probably problematic. I learned from those experiences and am trying to avoid another. But I do think I have a….perhaps unique opportunity isn’t the phrase I’m looking for, but an opportunity all the same.

I live in Webster Groves, MO. It’s considered an older, affluent neighborhood and happens to be 89.9% white. And even that’s not representative of the demographics, because the majority of the non-white people live in North Webster Groves (obviously not all), which predates the rest of the town that grew around it. So, I basically live in Whitesville**. (There’s a story of how we ended up here when moving back from England that has a lot to do with not thinking to check demographics, which is a privilege in its own right.)

Here’s the thing with a lot of older generation Whitesville‘s people (be it this Whitesville or another). A lot of them aren’t moved by seeing masses of protesters on TV. They see one looter and call it a riot. They see police abuse and want to know what the protesters did to deserve it. A moving mass of strangers means nothing to them and isn’t going to get them to think about their beliefs and learn anything new. In fact, it could have just the opposite effect. It gives them cause to dismiss them and what they represent.

raceist propaganda stapled to a local's BLM sign

I’m generalizing, obviously. There are plenty of liberal, open-minded people here too***. As the older generation moves out or on, and younger families move in, the mindset is changing more quickly. For sure. And there are more people who shrug at the whole affair than are openly and hostilely racist. I hardly see Trump flags anymore. But those who, say, put a Black Lives Matter in their yard find this sort of nonsense staples to it.

I can’t do anything for the latter and the former doesn’t need any inspiration to look further into systemic oppression or Black Lives Matter. They’re already there.

At some point, while kicking myself for not going to the downtown rally with 25,000 other people, I realized that I don’t have to join a crowd to do something. Being an introvert means doing things on my own is kind of my superpower. (Of course, being a white woman in a white neighborhood also provides me quite a lot of leeway many others are denied.) And I live alongside some people who are going to ignore that crowd anyway.

But…and here’s where I’ve been going with all of this…might they take notice of one. One neighbor, one member of their own community, one person who is presumably just like them? Might seeing that single, familiar local make a difference? Maybe not, but I’m hoping it might. If they don’t feel their hackles rise at the crowds (and all the subdermal racism involved in that) might they have the breathing space to consider giving themselves the chance to look into Black Lives Matter or systemic oppression or defunding the police? Maybe it will take passing me 50 times, but on that 51st, might they feel unintimidated enough to come over and speak to me, ask questions? Might I have access to this space that some others don’t?

So, for the last four days, I’ve taken my BLM matter sign, my camp chair, a metric ton of sunblock, and sat out on Route 66 (a fairly busy, main thoroughfare quite near my home). I’ve committed myself to do so a few hours every day. (I did four hours the first day, two the second, three the third, and four today.) And I intend to continue doing it (minus the week I’m scheduled to visit my mom.) I think this is something that has to be sustained if its to have any effect, and that’s my plan. I intend to be a repeated sight.

I don’t actually know if this will make a difference. I know it can’t hurt to be seen, to remind people again that the movement exists (and exists here). I’m really hoping I don’t look back at it and realize it was performative and/or problematic like the WeAreSTL posts. Or that I’m moving out of the allyship role by making a move on my own, when I said above that I know my role isn’t to direct actions.

So far, the response has been positive (in the sense that I don’t feel like I’m hurting anyone or wasting time). I get the occasional honk and “woo-hoo,” or “Yeah, Black Lives Matter!” Two of my neighbors have come out to speak to me. One, a young man, in passing to cross the street, stopped to tell me about being at a protest the previous weekend and I felt like it mattered to him to be able to share that. Another got a text (and a picture, eek) from a friend telling her there was someone sitting at the end of her street with a sign. So, she came out to investigate. I think partially to ensure it wasn’t an ‘outsider’ because she visibly relaxed when I identified myself as X and Y’s mom. (We actually know one another in passing. But with masks and hats and glasses, who can recognize anyone?) I was able to connect her to the local action group, so she’ll know when things are happening locally. And one young woman stopped and gave me a sixpack of water, a snack and a hug. The people flipping me off exist, but in fewer numbers than I’d expected. I’ve not seen any overt anger or been harassed by police. (In fact, I jaywalked in front of a white SUV with my chair and sign this morning, and didn’t realize until it passed and I could see the side that it was a police vehicle. It didn’t even slow down.) This I attribute to my privilege, the same privilege I’m trying to leverage in doing this.

I realize I have centered myself in this. I share it not because I want recognition. But because this is my blog and I often work things out on it, in a sort of public diary format. But also because I frequently use it to hold myself to account. I said I was going to do this, so I’m doing it. Even as it gets hot, even as I had to give in to the ridiculous straw hat because the sunburn is real, this post exists to remind me to stick to my commitment. And maybe, if it’s not too arrogant to say, to encourage others to do something similar. If you can’t get to a protest for whatever reason, you could find something that works for you. I mean, this certainly counts as social distancing for those that are immunocompromised (except for that hug, but when she asked for it there was no way I was saying no to that most basic of human comforts).

Another aspect of all of this is that I didn’t want to spend hours sitting staring at passing cars. I understand that protest isn’t meant to be comfortable. But I am aiming for more time and I didn’t think I’d last long like that. But I also didn’t think sitting there reading science fiction was the way to go. So, I’ve further committed to reading topically informative books during my time, educating myself. I’m starting with the books I already have though. So, some of them aren’t all well known. But when I finish them I’ll move on the the bigger, more well known ones.

The first two days I read When They Call You a Terrorist, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele. I’ll add a review below since this is usually a review blog. And when I finished that I moved on to We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I’m reading now.

Since I’ve been really lazy over the last couple of years about reading nonfiction, they’ve been multiplying. So, I have the following lined up.

I’m a little iffy about a couple of them. At least one is self-published and reviews say its very poorly edited, I don’t trust anything by the republicans (but there is value in ‘knowing your enemy’s,’ so to speak), one may turn out to be a white savior story and one may be written from the perspective of a ex-cop. But I am going to start with these that I have on hand. And if I get through them I’ll get more (aiming for more well known and recommended texts).

That’s about all the rambling I have for today. Here is the promised review of When They Call You a Terrorist.

Book Description:

A poetic and powerful memoir about what it means to be a Black woman in America—and the co-founding of a movement that demands justice for all in the land of the free.

Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system serving a white privilege agenda, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.

Condemned as terrorists and as a threat to America, these loving women founded a hashtag that birthed the movement to demand accountability from the authorities who continually turn a blind eye to the injustices inflicted upon people of Black and Brown skin.

Championing human rights in the face of violent racism, Patrisse is a survivor. She transformed her personal pain into political power, giving voice to a people suffering in equality and a movement fueled by her strength and love to tell the country—and the world—that Black Lives Matter.


Part of me feels like I should say that the very fact that this book exists means it deserves a 5-star rating. It does a wonderful job humanizing people that are too often made faceless. It is a marvelous and loving tribute to family. It highlights and describes many of the atrocities our government and police forces partake in still today. And it does it in a way that is engageable.

It’s worth noting that this is a biography of Patrisse Khan-Cullors, not necessarily of the Black Lives Matter movement, though that is covered in the last few chapters. And I felt the structural writing could have been cleaned up a little bit. There are several repetitions and the lack of a consistent timeline is occasionally confusing. Also, there seems to be an inconsistency in capitalizing names. But I sense that is intentional (just look at the cover), even if I don’t know what convention is being used.

*This is an added note to say I’ve misstepped even since I wrote this post last week. When the necessity for masks developed because of Covid-19, I bought masks with the city of Saint Louis’ flag on them. I’ve since learned that the fleur de lis was used to brand runagates. This obviously isn’t a symbol I want to be walking around with on my face and certainly isn’t an appropriate one to be wearing to BLM marches, which I have been. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” This is me holding myself accountable and trying.

**Yeah, I made that word up.

***June 14, 2020: I feel like I should give Webster Groves a little credit, considering I painted them as quite conservative above. I went to the #WGSDMarchforChange march today. I’m always a little wary when things are labeled “family-friendly,” and “support and solidarity.” I kind of feel like that suggests standing on the sidelines cheering people on, instead of getting in there and fighting with them. But I also accept that I’m quibbling with semantics, and as such a predominantly white neighborhood, maybe that’s the best we can do. Regardless, I expected it to be a small affair. But I was wrong and impressed with Webster Groves. They (we) turned out. There were significantly more people there than I expected. I’d guess ~1500 people. I don’t want to discount what I’m doing on my own, by saying, “Hey there are a lot more people looking for a change here than I expected.” But hey, there are a lot more people looking for change here than I expected and I’m so glad to see it.

Thoughts on deleting 3,000+ more e-books

I haven’t posted much lately and that’s because I haven’t actually read much. That is a sentence I wouldn’t expect to write, especially since I’m home social distancing. But here’s the thing, I fell into a huge project. HUGE.

On March 20th I mentioned that I started collating my Goodreads shelves. At the time I was just tidying up a bit, making sure all my books had page numbers, etc. But then I decided to get rid of all the anthologies I’m probably never going to read. Then I thinned out the short stories. Well, after that post I decided to just keep on going.

I had 6199 books on my To-Be-Read shelf (that’s after that first round of deleting, let me remind you). And many of those had been on the shelf since 2012. If I haven’t read the 60-page novella I’ve had since 2012, I’m probably never going to, right? But in order to decide what to keep or not, I needed to read the description, check if it was part of a series, and in many cases read several reviews.

On a side point, if anyone was paying attention to my likes on Goodreads, I must have looked like a monster. I liked hundreds on one, two, and three-star reviews. I already owned these books. I didn’t need to read good reviews and be convinced to buy them. I wanted to read bad reviews and see if the criticisms were deal-breakers for me. I did often read good reviews for balance if I didn’t see anything glaring in the bad reviews. But I mostly read the critiques. So, I must have looked like someone out to bitterly upvote only bad reviews.

Anyhow, this was not a quick process and I had 6,199 books to make decisions on and then to delete on Amazon and/or Calibre if I was not keeping it. It took months. I wasn’t putting in full 8-hour days or anything, but I did work on it every day. Let me tell you that I did not think that I was falling into a 2-month project when I started, but that’s how long it took.

I wanted to be thorough, which was surprisingly difficult. Keeping myself engaged and not allowing myself to lazily make decisions wasn’t easy. More than once I found myself almost deleting or keeping something before I’d really understood what I was reading. For example, I almost reflexively deleted a book because the character’s last name was Trump. I caught myself and made myself finish reading the description before I made a decision. I’d have to pull myself back on task, maybe take a break and come back to it.

This idea of thoroughness also meant that once I had been through all the books I had listed on Goodreads, I cleaned up my Calibre library (made sure all the author names were in the same format and there were series names, etc) and did a pass from the Amazon side of things, to be sure there wasn’t anything there not listed on Goodreads. (Though, other than some kids’ book there were very few.) But these last two steps took a fraction of the time the first step took.

This project has so occupied my time and thoughts that I can hardly believe I’m done. I keep thinking I’ve left something out. But it’s time to call it done and this post is going to be my emotional conclusion to it.

I’ve written similar posts before (recently even) and there is a lot of overlap between that last post, for example, and this one. But I’m doing it again for my own sense of closure and in case anything new came up. At some point (probably a thousand books in) I started dropping notes here in anticipation of this post. A lot of them were snarky in their first iteration, but I’ve tried to filter that out in this second pass.

All in all, it’s been an interesting process, this deep dive into my own reading habits. I can completely see where I went through certain reading phases. When I first got my Kindle in 2012 (I can see that by when I started shelving ebooks) and discovered free books, I was obviously in a YA stage. And being new to the idea of freebies I indulged widely. OMG, I owned so many YA books!

Once I burned out on them, I obviously over-corrected and dove headlong into erotica (the harder and darker the better). When I burned out on that, I had a bit of a bizzaro phase and then dropped into mystery/thrillers. Each step was astoundingly obvious, once I was looking. As was the fact that all the while I always picked up PNR/Sci-Fi Romance, Urban Fantasy, and High Fantasy. As well as books I thought I might read because it would be “Ironic.” They are scattered all through the years. I truly didn’t expect to see patterns so clearly.

This pattern was the first thing I addressed. It was the broadest screen I passed books through. I don’t really read contemporary erotica or YA anymore (and I often find NA indistinguishable from YA). I deleted most of those simply because I won’t read them. I kept a few that looked tolerable. But OMG, I cannot stress enough that I had so much YA. Getting rid of just them would have been a chore on its own.

This isn’t just because I obviously had the YA stage I referred to. But I also noticed that I had a ton of young adult urban fantasy/paranormal romance novels that were not obviously YA until one did a little digging to discover the heroine is 16. So, a lot of them were downloaded thinking they were UF or PNF, and then I later realized it was YA.

So, if I could make one request of YA authors it would be please make it clear in the synopsis when a story is about a young person. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the blurbs that started with some variation of “17-year-old Whoever does whatever.” Yes, it’s a little formulaic, but that information is critical in my decision to read a book or not; because the story I’d expect from 17-year-old Whoever fighting the beast of the night and 37-year-old Whoever is very different. At 43 I have a lot more patience with and interest in one than the other. Heaven save me from high school drama and should-I -shouldn’t-I sex angst. I just can’t anymore.

Beyond the obvious genres-I don’t-read-anymore decision there were a whole variety of things that made me decide to delete a book and below I’m going to go through them in no particular order.

If there are editing mistakes in the book blurb, I likely deleted it. As I discuss below, Goodreads has some import errors. I learned to identify and ignore these as not the author or publisher’s fault. But a surprising number of the book descriptions that I read over the last two months have errors in them. Inconsistent tense seemed to be the most common. And that’s on the writer.

Similarly, if several reviews refer to poor editing in the book, I deleted it. And I think this was probably the second most frequent reason I deleted a book (after genre), which says a lot about the state of modern publishing.

Sadly, I also saw too many authors commenting on reviews that mentioned their editing. Some apologized and gave an excuse (often that they couldn’t afford it) and others got angry. Likely, if I saw either I deleted the book. I don’t want to worry about an author popping up on my reviews if I read and review the book in the future.

Let’s stick with the topic of poor professionalism a little more. If I saw evidence that an author had harassed reviewers in any fashion I deleted them. As a (probably controversial) side note, I’ve become extra wary of male authors who write a certain sort of recognizable pretension. I’ve found them to be highly likely culprits in this regard. And an awful lot of them seem to be named Kevin. I’m joking…kind of. There is definitely something going on here in my anecdotal experience. Maybe it has more to do with the fact that Kevin is a more common name among white males of a certain age than any other and white males of a certain age seem to be the ones who feel most entitled to give strangers on the internet their opinion. Either way, if an author came at a reviewer, I deleted their book, and an awful lot of the authors I saw coming after reviewers for dissing their precious text seem to be white men of a certain age who write in a manner I recognize. It is what it is. But I wonder how many are married to women named Karen.

What sort of pretension, you ask? Things like this: if it seemed the author wrote their own book synopsis but included some version of “in the hands of a lesser author” (yes, that’s a quote) I deleted it. It’s simple. If the author chose to hype themselves over the plot, I wanted to run far away and often did.

Let’s stick with synopsis for a little while. I have a lot of points to make here. If the blurb made me read too much other stuff before I got to the description of the plot I deleted it. I read one where the author gave a lengthy rant about all the research they did for the historical aspect of the book and several with praise prior to the description.

This latter happened a lot. Authors and publishers seem to think readers will be swayed by all the good things people say about the book. But as I’ve said before (I even wrote a post about it), if I don’t yet know what the book is actually about, I don’t care about people’s opinions on it.

If the blurb is just ridiculously long, I assumed the author was incapable of brevity and it spoke poorly of what to expect in the book. No joke, I cut and pasted one book’s description in a word counter and it was 1130 words long.

Considering the average words per page of a standard book is 250-300 words, this is several pages worth of description in a place that should be a couple of brief paragraphs, at most. Contradictory, if the blurb was so short it gave me no idea what the book is actually about I deleted it.

If the author posted an excerpt instead of a description, I deleted it. Bad enough that some synopsis start with excerpts, several authors/publishers seem to feel they can substitute for them entirely. No.

Next (and this is a personal one), if the description or reviews told me the book was focused on victimizing a woman or women I deleted it. I read one review that referred to “rape fatigue” and I have wholly adopted that term. I am SO SICK of reading about it. I cannot even start to estimate how many reviews I’ve written over the years that ask if a woman’s victimization really is the only plot point available to authors. It’s used as plot, in place of character development, as motivation for male protagonists to act, to add titillation, etc. I am entirely done reading about women being victimized, especially in the form of rape. I actively avoid it nowadays and if I became aware that this was in a book (or worse, what the book is actually about) I decided not to read it.

Similar to the pretentious male writers of a certain age above, I’ve become real wary of male writers in general in regard to the treatment of female characters (where they exist at all in their books). But I can’t say they’re the only culprits. I’ve read too many books by female writers that either lack women or victimize them. Here’s a particularly grievous example that even years later irritates me: The Fallen. This wariness came into play more than once, if I was wavering on whether to keep a book or not it could weigh the scales towards delete.

Moving on, let’s talk about book covers. If the book has been out several years and STILL has a horribly amateurish cover, I likely deleted it. And yes, I did check to see if there were newer ones. Surprisingly, I found a lot of books that had horrible covers, but when I checked they did in fact have new ones…that were just as bad as the old ones. Some had several horrendous covers. And I don’t just mean covers I personally don’t like. For example, I don’t like covers with CGI people on them. I think they never look natural and are creepy. But that doesn’t make them bad. But poorly slapped together covers are obvious and if an author/publisher has had years to correct their photoshop fail and hasn’t bothered, I took this to mean they weren’t interested in providing a quality product. So yes, I judged books by their cover, or at least factored bad covers into my equation.

Here’s a side note about covers. If the book used any of the covers from this list or just the models from this list (or a female one) I took a closer look at the book. I didn’t delete anything outright because I’ve read some good books with these people on the cover and I do understand that rights to photos cost. But I am so tired of seeing them (and I have to imagine everyone else is too) that it makes me wonder how much effort authors/publishers are putting into the book if they can’t even bother to avoid the MOST OVERUSED models and pre-made covers. Mostly I am just sick to death of seeing the same faces so often and seeing them again brought the books to my attention at exactly the moment I was already looking to find reasons to delete some.

Leaving covers and moving on to series. Oh, so many points to make about series. First, I ask with all my heart please make it readily apparent when a book is part of a series and where it falls. I hate downloading a book and later discovering its book eight in a series. Certainly, if I discovered it was a latter book in a series that I don’t have, I did delete it. Similarly, if there were a million prequels (.1, .2, .5, etc) before book one. I probably deleted it.

I also deleted books in series if the title or numbering made it too difficult to figure out where a book fell in a series. I came across several Part I, Volume II kind of things and I just can’t be bothered to work that hard to figure out what it all means. If it’s book three, say so.

If the book turned out to be a spin-off of another series, I likely deleted it unless the blurb was explicit that the previous series didn’t need to be read, and even then I was wary. What’s worse, when I discovered a book was part of a spinoff I likely deleted it angrily, or at least irritably. While I realize it’s not always the case, I’ve found that too many spinoffs shouldn’t be their own series, they should just be book 13 (or whatever) in an established series.

Even if a book is the first in a series, if reviews mention a cliffhanger (or it’s questionable and neither the description nor the reviews make it clear it’s not a cliffy) I probably deleted it, unless I have the next book too. Serials were all the rage a couple of years back and it created a lasting intolerance in me for cliffhangers.

If I’ve read one book in a series and one-starred it, I deleted the rest of the series. Similarly, if I’ve read other books by the author that were objectively bad, I deleted the rest of their books.

These last ones are fairly self-explanatory and not particularly cluster-able by topic. So, I’m just going to list them out with little comment.

If I found on further exploration that a novel was religious. I deleted it.

If I couldn’t figure out how the multiple genres listed go together, I generally found myself mistrustful and deleted it.

If the book has been out several years and not garnered a single review, I deleted it. I’m not going to be the first at this point.

If a book just had a whole slew of bad reviews in general, I deleted it.

Before I close this out I want to talk about just a few odd things I encounter. Remember this is what I spent a large portion of the last two months immersed in. They don’t all go well together, but they are just things I noticed or thought about.

First, I very quickly noticed that Goodreads seems to have a lot of import errors in their book blurbs. Spaces and apostrophes seem especially likely to be lost. At first, I thought I was seeing a lot of sloppy authors, but it quickly became obvious this wasn’t the case. I’ve been on Goodreads for many years and never noticed this. So, I’m assuming something went wrong somewhere. I really hope they can fix it.

Second, thousands of books in a whole variety of genres are getting shelved by people as business>Amazon. It’s not that I don’t understand how this happens. Writing books is a business, after all. But it was just so common I had to eventually take notice and wonder about it. It was just weird.

So was the fact that if I went to Amazon cloud and found an update was available. I updated my copy, even if I was also about to delete it. I don’t know why I did this but I 100% did.

Next, I’d like to drop a special hello to GrumpyOldBird. They and I apparently follow one another on Goodreads (though we don’t really know each other). I scrolled down to the review section of literally thousands of books and saw their face. They have even more books than I had when I started this process and there must have been a lot of overlap. Seeing their avatar simply became part of the process after a while.

I also made a few observations about genres that I touched on above, but want to expand on here. Genres are sloppy. YA, NA, Adult, I read descriptions with 12-year-old protagonists that were obviously adult books (one even with a warning to this effect) and books with 29-year-old heroines that were very obviously YA plots (not even NA, but YA). I get so frustrated with this. Not so much on the younger end. I can imagine a lot of adult themes involving children. But too often what I was seeing was an author who didn’t appropriately age the character to the genre they wished to write for. I mean, you’re not going to have a world-renown expert with two PhDs and an established career at 18. That’s not even possible if you allow for geniuses in fantasy worlds. And it just doesn’t feel right to read about a 40-year-old angsting over whether or not to have sex with their teenage-like crush.

This fudging of genre guidelines is complicated by the sad tendency of people to label everything written by a woman as YA, whether it actually is or not. I saw this with my own book when it first came out, though I don’t talk about it often. The character is married with a child. I never once considered it YA while writing it. But people so consistently labeled it YA that I started calling it “fantasy with surprising YA cross-over appeal.” I was confused by the YA labels at the time. Now that I better understand how and why this happens I wish I hadn’t even conceded that much.

As a sub-point to this, authors and publishers seem to have a really hard time matching age-appropriate cover models to their books. I saw so many YA books with youngish heroines that had covers depicting sexy models. I even tweeted about it at one point. This book cites Harry Potter as a comparative read, for example:

I mean, if you’re going to use an illustrated cover, why not actually draw a tween? Who is the market for this book?

Another had a 15-year-old heroine and the cover was the outline of a busty, clearly naked woman, with erect and obvious nipples. And I can’t even count how many young teen girls save the world, but according to the cover do it in crop tops and tight leather, while standing provocatively (and looking 25). It’s little wonder I downloaded so many YA books without realizing they were YA.

So much of this seems obvious and avoidable on author/publishers parts, but since I’ve had many of these books since 2012 and the problems persist, they are apparently worth mentioning again…and again…and again.

I’ve talked a lot about reasons I deleted books and the discussion on what made me keep them instead could be wrapped up as the opposite of what I said above. But I’ll dig a little deeper.

I tended to keep books by or about people I feel need more representation, including LGBT+ titles or ones with older, fatter characters, or characters of color. I am well aware that I kept some MM romance books that are of questionable quality and/or have problematic content because they are LGBT+, for example.

I also kept any book I won, even if I would have deleted it otherwise. I really do try and review books I win. And I almost certainly kept all books with authors whose last names start with Q, X, or Z. Theses are ones I always struggle to find for my author challenge.

I kept those that I knew to be Saint Louis’ authors and/or books set in Saint Louis. I know I missed some and deleted them. But if I knew (or saw my helpful past note to myself ) that they were local-to-me I tended to keep their books because I like to support local authors. That’s why I picked the book up in the first place a lot of times.

Lastly, even within genres I was otherwise clearing out wholesale, if there were an unprecedented number of good reviews or it was by an author I respect, I likely kept the book. Plus, there were plenty of books that simply still looked interesting to me and didn’t contain any of the elements above that made me choose to delete it.

I don’t know if I can stress enough how difficult this whole process was for me. Getting rid of unread books is not a natural state of affairs in my world, even if you don’t consider money. I admit that I got a lot of them during free days. But there was significant time and dedication put into collecting some of the series that I simply threw away. But if you do want to talk money, I had to make a considered effort never to think about how many dollars worth of ebooks I simply tossed. They normally cost between $0.99 and $3.99 (some are more, but my favored genre usually falls in the $4 range) and I deleted over 3,000 of them! That’s between $2,970 and $11,970 (at least). It’s mind-boggling.

By the time I finished I was left with 3,704 books, though a couple hundred of those are physical books. That’s still more than is ideal. I was aiming for 2,000 ebooks and I didn’t make it. But I still cut the number of books I own in roughly half. I’m calling that a win anyhow.

I often say (though the phrase doesn’t originate with me) that buying and reading books are separate hobbies. It’s true. And I have enjoyed collecting books. I have no intention of stopping. In fact, I probably added 30 books (mostly audio) even as I deleted others. But I finally had to admit that my book collection was actively impeding my ability to read books. Not knowing what I own made picking a book difficult. This purge has been a long time coming.

Having said that, I think the timing is worth a mention. As I’m sure has escaped no one’s notice, we are in the middle of a pandemic, and my family and I have been social isolating. I have literally left my house (other than dog walking) half a dozen times in a matter of months.

As an introvert, I am probably handling this better than my extroverted brethren. But I am still feeling the effect. It creeps up in odd ways. I find myself constantly wanting to share mundane things on social media and I know I’m not the only one to say I’m having trouble sinking into a book lately. I recognize the choice to take on the ultimate organization of my digital bookshelves as having a dual purpose. It allows me to engage with reading even when I’m largely unable to and it’s a stress-relieving technique.

I often joke (and it is a joke) that I color coordinate my panty drawer when stressed. But the idea of finding something you can control when everything else feels out of control is no joke. When I had a difficult case as a social worker I cleaned my desk. When I’m angry at home, I often find myself folding laundry or reordering the pantry. It’s that sense of creating order out of chaos that I find soothing and I 100% recognize this project falls in the same vein.

It’s part of why I felt like this post was necessary for me. It’s a repeat and I know it. I wrote almost the same one when I deleted a ton of books I’d received as book review requests. But I needed this moment of writing it to remind myself that the project is done. Otherwise, I’ll keep coming back to it and trying to find that same soothing mindlessness that comes with ordering disorder.

I realize that this is largely a wall of text that in all likelihood few will find useful. But if someone has gotten this, far, I think what’s most important to remember is that none of these examples or issues I made up. They are all things I encountered in reading the synopses and reviews of 6,000+ books. And while some of my likes and disliked my be different from others, many of these are objectively bad. Take from that what you will and maybe try and avoid making the mistakes others before you already have.

Stay safe out there.