Publishers send lots of cookbooks to food bloggers, hoping for publicity. If you choose to write about a book, they might supply images and recipes. If you’re not going to write about it, they might say: how about a shoutout on social media?
Do you owe them something in exchange for this free book? If so, what?
This is an area of confusion for many food bloggers. You want to be nice and do the right thing. But understand that, first of all, you owe them nothing.
Even if you requested a book, you are entitled to read it and decide not to share it with your readers. You are entitled to not like it. You are even entitled to have it sit on your nightstand for a month and not get to it (been there).
Here are some guidelines for how you might respond:
1. Shoutouts have rules.
If you decide that at the very least, you’ll give the book a shout-out on social media, understand that a shoutout is a form of promotion. In the US, that means you must say that you received the book for free. You must add this disclosure to your tweet or Instagram photo or any other online service (and to your post). I see lots of “look what arrived on my doorstep” photos, implying the blogger got the book for free. I’ve done them too.
2. If you write a post, be mostly enthusiastic. Mostly.
If you decide to write a post, study the reviews on Piglet for how to approach it. Also read the reviews of Susan T. Chang. Both are critiques, and they show you how to write a review that is not 100 percent positive. Those are the best reviews for readers.
Bloggers are more likely to promote. Yes, you hope that when your cookbook comes out, that other bloggers will promote yours too. But that has nothing to do with your readers. Promotion leads to gushing, which no one wants to read.
I assume you will not write about a book unless you like it. Make your post 70 to 90 percent positive, not 100. Include what you would have liked or what was left out, or what didn’t work when you tried a recipe. You’ll see that the Piglet reviews can be diplomatic and funny. They’re not about trashing a book. You want to tell your reader how you feel, which is: mostly enthusiastic.
3. Test the recipes.
Make at least three recipes so you can write about the book in an informed way. Otherwise, why would anyone trust what you have to say? If you would like to adapt a recipe to suit it to your taste, say what you changed in the headnote. Some publishers will give you a few photos from the book to use, and permission to republish certain recipes. If you don’t want to use the ones they selected, let them know. If they won’t let you use the recipes you like, consider whether it’s worth reviewing the cookbook.
4. Pick the right cookbook for your readers.
The publisher might send a second copy for a giveaway, which is a great way to drive readers to your site. Choose carefully. Does your vegan audience want to read about a cookbook with only a few appropriate recipes? Should your blog, which covers “food” in all its glory, include a post on an allergy-free cookbook?
So that’s my list. Do you write about cookbooks on your blog? If so, what else should we discuss? I’ve also written about giveaways, who buys cookbooks and why, and what makes a good cookbook review. Not to mention 5 Dumb Reasons to Write About Products, and Separating Hype, Opinion and Journalism. Clue me in to other issues I might have missed.