I’ve officially been a reviewer and content creator for a solid five years now and have been thinking about making this post for…maybe two or three of those? But for some reason I can never quite find the right things I want to say or how to say them but I think I’ve stalled enough and I’m hoping that words come to me as I write. I can hear you maybe ask: but why now, Fadwa? Maybe just general dissatisfaction? Maybe one too many incidents? Maybe being pushed aside and overlooked one too many time? Definitely watching all the US vs UK reviewers arguments while the rest of us watch back and forth like it’s a tennis match. Probably a mix of all the above. And this was also requested by my patrons for the month of July so…you know, gotta do it.
I am going to be complaining in this post, because being an international reviewer isn’t always fun and games, but my hope is to be informative. A lot of the time when international reviewers start bringing up the issues we encounter we’re met with objections and buts and well actuallys from people who have no idea what it’s like for us to be in this community, especially for those of us living in non-European countries/Australia. So hopefully this clears some things up and makes you think a bit so that next time hopefully when the discussion is brought up again, your knee-jerk reaction isn’t to invalidate our concerns.
Let’s start from the beginning
I live in a “third world country” where English isn’t widely spoken, not even as a third or fourth language. The majority of the country just does not speak the language, and to put it quite bluntly, having access to the tools necessary to even learn the language comes from a certain privilege which I acknowledge having. Thus the access to English book is VERY limited because there’s little to no market for them. In my generation and those that follow, English has started being more widely spoken, you can see more and more folks being fluent. And with that there have been a few English bookshops popping up. I can count three, maybe four, in the whole country. But with that come a few challenges:
1- The book selection.
Living in a country where only a minority is socially aware comes with its own challenges, and that bleeds out into the kinds of books we get. When only a few readers are aware of diversity issues, how much representation matters and how game and life changing books by marginalized authors are, the bookstores do not get a high enough demand, if any demand at all to import them. And thus the only books we get here are either very popular (often, white) books or those few diverse books that manage to slip through the cracks and make it into the ~mainstream~ book market. And if those are the books you like to read, it’s all good and well for you, but if you know me you know I usually am not interested and do not vibe with those books. Maybe 5% of the books I want to read are sold here, so…do you see my predicament?
2- Prices and exchange rates
I can only buy new-er releases from Amazon and Book Depository. And you can forget about Amazon right off the bat, their shipping fees here are absolutely wild where you sometimes have to pay double the price of the book, and I do not have that kind of money. Now for Book Depository, unless I preorder (which ends up being sometimes up to 10$ cheaper) or land on a sweet deal, the price for YA hardback on there is $20 at the cheapest, paperback go for around $12 to $17 and adult hardbacks? I need to count for $30+. That is EXTREMELY expensive, not only as it is, in dollars, but once you add the exchange rates for our weak currency, you end up with a single book for between 300 and 400 MAD, and I can’t shell out that kind of money on a regular, especially not on multiple books a month. I’m a still a student with no stable income too.
Now, older releases are easier, Better World Books and Thrift Books are both sites that sell secondhand books in pretty good condition and for fairly good prices, with the former having free worldwide shipping and the latter having okay shipping rates. But I can’t solely rely on older books, I don’t want to, it’s unfair and a lot of people don’t realize the amount of privilege in the fact that they can get the books they want whenever they want. Now, is that privilege a bad thing? No. I’m glad people have an easier time accessing books than I do, but I think people should reflect on it and take it into account when interacting with international readers complaining about lack of accessibility.
And even I am one of the lucky ones since Book Depository started shipping here last year, there are still some countries with virtually NO access to English books whatsoever. But let me add that at the moment, all of that is obsolete because with Covid, and even though our borders are open, none of the above ship to me anymore.
3- Libraries? What libraries?
One of the first comments we get when bringing up the accessibility issue is “Have you ever heard of libraries?”, often in a very passive aggressive snarky manner. And I’ve never realized how out of touch people in English speaking countries are with the rest of the world until I got that comment for the first time, because what libraries are you talking about? The one library in the capital (where I live) that only has scholarly texts and academic books? My school library full of medical textbooks? Because those are about the only two options I have. No fiction in sight, let alone the kind of fiction I’m drawn too. They don’t even have the type of *non-fiction* books that actually interest me for pleasure reading. So what do I do? Just stop reading? This is hands down the most bone deep exhausting comment we get, and we get it way too often.
This is where the rant will probably get real, because this is the most infuriating part of it all. Now, I can hear you say, “but you don’t have to work with publishers to be a good reviewer!!!!!!!” and yeah, you’re right. But I want to, and I think that, after spending a few years pouring my heart and soul, tireless hours of work and sleepless nights into a platform that keeps growing and that I am genuinely proud of, I deserve the option to. And before anyone comes for my neck, I am not a spoiled entitled brat, this wouldn’t even be an issue I would fuss about if not for a few things that have happened and/or continue to happen:
1- The complete disregard of international content creators
After being told one too many times “Sorry, we don’t ship to your location” I have stopped reaching out to publishers with ARC requests and the like, because I do get it, there are territory rights, shipping is expensive, etc…I know the drill, things are complicated and bigger than just “we don’t want to send you books”. I am an adult, I am not about to throw a tantrum about things that are above me and the people I am talking to. So tell me why it is that, when I mind my own business on my corner of the internet, do I get emails from publishers just to get ghosted the minute I tell them I am not a US resident?
I have been writing this post over the course of a week, more or less. And in that short span of time, this has happened to me thrice. T h r e e t i m e s. Which explains why it’s still raw and I’m heated about it all over again. Like I said, I understand the limitations but if you’re planning on working with a blogger, the least you can do is research them, you know? I’ve never been secretive or quiet about my location. One look into any of my bios gives you the information you need. I am also vocal about the international struggle pretty much…everywhere, so this on its own is annoying, because you can visually see the opportunities trickling by, just out of reach. But you know what makes it worse? Never getting a reply once I email them back saying that I’m international.
THAT is downright disrespectful. I would understand not getting a reply if I were the one reaching out because of the sheer amount of emails they have to sift through but if YOU are the one emailing me, the least you can do is get back to me with an explanation? an apology for not checking my location before wasting both of our times? Anything? To me, this shows the complete disregard for bloggers and MORE especially those of us living internationally, they simply do not take us seriously and it’s quite frankly unprofessional. At the end of the day, working with us is STILL a professional interaction, even if this is a hobby for a lot of us, we take it seriously, respect that side of the industry and expect nothing less than respect in return.
TLDR: Dear publishers, check bloggers’ locations before reaching out to them and have the courtesy of not ghosting them when you do reach out without checking.
Of course, this is a generalization. There are some, very far and between, who do work with international folks (shout out to Tor and Penguin) or at the least, get back to us when they can’t.
2- Remember Netgalley?
Now let me take you down memory lane. Back in 2016/2017 and even before, Netgalley was a great place to be as an international reviewer. Nothing was restricted, we had almost exactly the same access as US based bloggers so that made not getting physical ARCs okay. I love physical copies but if I can read an early copy digitally? I’m content with that. I could request everything on the site and got approved for most things I requested. Read them on time, posted my reviews, rinse and repeat. And then one day, international reviewers went on there and EVERYTHING was up for wishing, most books stopped being available for request (if you don’t know what a wish is, you basically just express interest in the book and maybe once in a blue moon when the stars align, the publisher will pick you to get an e-ARC). No prior warning, no explanation, no anything.
To reiterate, I am not entitled to ARCs. No one is. But when you cut off access to something that had pretty much unlimited prior access, you owe people an explanation. What sucked the most about this situation, besides obviously the now restricted access, is the lack of transparency. What happened there? Why was I able to request one day and not the next? A statement would have been the right thing to do, but no matter how many times we asked, we were met with silence. And this just makes me circle back to the complete disregard of international creators. We do not exist to them.
Since then getting ARCs has been an uphill battle. Nothing is clear so figuring out rights and territories is pretty much impossible. Especially for those of us living in countries the industry doesn’t acknowledge, countries that are nor here (the US) nor there (the UK) when it comes to distribution so like…do we just not exist? Africa? We don’t know her! Unless it’s an African inspired fantasy… 🌚 And like I said before, access to books is REALLY tricky for some of us, so a lot of us rely on ARCs for a good chunk of our reading. The funny part is that the international blogging community isn’t small and it only grows from here, but the industry is so incredibly US-centric and not ready for change from the look of things. Which made sense a few years back, the community didn’t have a ton of international creators, so maybe not worth shelling out the money for the change, but now? More international authors are being published, more diverse book that represent us, and yet no opportunities for us.
TLDR: The international book community is only growing from here and should be included and accommodated to, and if not that, the least we deserve is transparency in these dealings.
Although transparency is an issue that need to be addressed and fixed in the industry as a whole. *sips tea*
Merch? Book boxes? Preorder compaigns? Signings? Conventions? Forget about those. They’re either expensive or outright inaccessible for international folks. But I feel like the saying “you can’t miss what you never had” rings a little bit true here. I might get FOMO from time to time because of all the things I can’t have but generally speaking, if I can read my books and chat with my friends, I’m happy. So I’m not going to talk in length about this because although the access issue is well and alive here, it’s not something indispensable for me. The only thing that I want is to one day make it to a convention, and not for the convention itself, I just want to meet my best friends and hang out with everyone.
This has been more ranty that I set it off to be so I want to finish it off on a positive note. In many ways, I am luckier than many international folks: I have been blessed with many amazing friends who’d surprise me with books just because they know I want them, I have people in my corner who’d pass on their ARCs to me because they saw me expressing excitement about them and for that I’ll always be grateful because it has genuinely changed my life. They have made my access to books so much easier and my collection wouldn’t be nearly what it is today without them. But this shouldn’t be up to individuals to fix it. It’s a systemic issue. There’s also the fact that having a booktube channel that now has a pretty decent following has opened more doors for me in the last few months than blogging has for 5 years and I have had a few amazing opportunities because of that. But the disparities between blogging and booktube is a topic to address in another blog post. Soon.
All of this to say that, even though I am at a disadvantage as an international blogger, I fully acknowledge that I have it better than a lot of people. But this post isn’t about garnering pity for myself, it’s about raising issues and bringing attention to the struggles of international bloggers, especially those of us outside the US/Europe/Australia, and I hope that my goal was achieved. I know some of my words here are harsh and will ruffle some feathers but i’m just tired. And frustrated. And I don’t think anything will change if we keep chewing on our words.
This post has been long enough, so if you’d like a part two discussing concrete ways in which you can support international bloggers, let me know and i’ll be happy to work on it.
That’s it until next time.
If you are an international blogger, what are some obstacles you face in the community?
What are some things you think can help alleviate them?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.