Let’s talk about my experience as an international reviewer

Blog Talk

Hello friends!

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

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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.

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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*

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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.

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40 thoughts on “Let’s talk about my experience as an international reviewer

  1. What a great post!! I can understand why you’re so angry and frustrated. Especially with publishers asking you to collaborate with them and then just never replying because you’re not US-based? That’s so rude, wtf. I’m from Germany, and getting books here is fairly easy. It’s still expensive, verily so, but at least most bookshops here have a wide variety of English books, either there or in their online shops. And during the last few months, UK-publishers seem to realize that the rest of Europe exists and they started sending us actual physical copies of books. Never thought I’d see the day. I’m hoping they realize that the rest of the world exists as well, I would love that for every international blogger.
    As you said, we are not entitled to receive any books, really, but it just shows that publishers actually appreciate the (often free) work we do for them and that they value us. All of us, not just the ones born in the right countries.
    I’m so annoyed that everything in publishing is so US. and often UK-centric. I’m tired of it and I could rant about it for days and days.
    So yes. Great post!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’m from Finland and access to books is usually relatively easy for me but I’ve definitely kinda given up on requesting arcs (even before I kinda quit blogging indefinitely) because the frequent disappointments were not worth it

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a younger blogger in the U.S., this really put a lot into perspective for me. I will admit that I have complained about not getting physical ARCs, but I’m learning that the book community is about way more than that. Although I may have the challenges of being a very small and new blogger, I don’t have the challenges that you face. Thank you for writing this, and you’re setting a great example for teen reviewers like myself who may have more privilege and who need to recognize that we do have a lot of opportunities already.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. YES FADWA. I would love to hear your thoughts more about how those of us that live in European/U.S. can be more ethical and help you out more. I loved this post. Thank you for taking the time to show us how you feel.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Something those publishers do not consider is people like me (from Canada) listen to the recommendations from international book bloggers, not just Americans. I have bought books Fadwa recommend, so ignoring international book bloggers is mistaken logic on their part. And I will admit I am blessed with good access to books where I live but I feel there should be more access to books world wide. Great post.

    Like

  6. All of this 100%. All of it. Especially the fact that they acquire authors from all over to burnish their cosmopolitan image but don’t know or care to know a thing about the readers from those same countries! It’s ridiculous.

    Like

  7. It’s so freaking disappointing to see publishers not provide arcs or books to international reviewers; as a marketer, it makes sense to try and get more sales and more attention from places overseas that have real demand.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This was an excellent post. You’ve detailed your struggles and given a voice to my own. I’ve been trying to break into the reviewer industry in earnest for years and only have a small following on bookstagram. I’m so glad that at least through your Booktube channel you’re covering more ground. I have always felt that larger publishers can push for international reviewers if they want to. They can afford it. But they don’t bother. Thanks for writing this 🖤

    Liked by 2 people

  9. You said everything that’s on my mind so if there was only a way to physically point to this point and scream in the faces of NetGalley and certain publishers, I really would.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I relate to this post SO MUCH. I could resonate with pretty much every thing you listed here. I reside in India and I’ve had similar struggles throughout the years that I have had my book blog. The things I could especially relate with are how there are no libraries here – not like the ones you find on UK and US – libraries around me are mostly school libraries and the books there are VERY different from the ones which the online book community tall about. How publishers are reluctant to work with international bloggers – I understand they have restrictions but it still sort of sucks?? Don’t even get me started on NetGalley – I gave it up ages ago when most of the things there were for US and UK authors – for thr life of me I could not understand why there were such restrictions on even EBOOKS. And yes, what are merches? Book boxes? Book events? Its tough being an international blogger!

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Fadwa, this post is SO ON POINT and I agree with everything you said! People fail to understand how the alternatives they give to ARCs aren’t available in most parts, especially libraries and bookstores that stock new or diverse releases. If there’s no ARC, chances are we’ll read it after months or years and for me, it’s usually on Kindle because there’s no way I can afford the physical copies. Thanks for writing this post! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  12. This is a fantastic post, Fadwa and it hits all the points! From the lack of access to bookstore and libraries, expensive exchange and shipping rates, to other misc many US-based communities take for granted, it can be very disheartening at times. Especially on your point about Netgalley- I agree that no one is entitled to ARCs however I was expecting more explanation instead of being suddenly cut off. Especially since there are more and more diverse books released, it’s just weird to see them released books based on our stories and yet did not give us the same opportunities to read them.

    Thank you for writing this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Wonderful post! This is so rubbish–especially publishers just not replying to you? Ugh that’s so rude. I’m UK-based so I’m very lucky when it comes to being able to access books, but even I can struggle to get books from the library so I hate the ‘dOn’T yOu KnOw LiBrArIeS eXiSt?’ argument. I read a lot of SFF and my library has a very poor SFF collection and an inter-library loan price that I can’t afford to pay for every single book I’d like to borrow from the library. I get the feeling libraries in the US are much better stocked!
    NetGalley confuses me to no end, because if publishers can’t ship their books internationally then surely NetGalley is the perfect way to get their books to international reviewers? It makes no sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This is such a good post! I’m from Bosnia and Herzegovina but it’s a small country in Eastern Europe and my experience is a bit similar to yours when it comes to English books, libraries, shipping rates (and most of the time no shipping at all), arcs. Since we are not in EU it doesn’t matter that we are a European country.
    The only way I get to newish releases are ebooks.
    You really did a good job putting your thoughts about this topic into words. I hope someone will stumble upon this and give it a thought about how international reviewers are important (especially about own voices books).

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I LOVED this post. It was definitely necessary and I think many US/UK based readers will be more aware of how hard it is for us international readers to get access to books before they make harsh comments at us.

    I totally get what you mean. I rely solely on ebooks, since in my case Book Depository doesn’t ship to my country (which also leaves me out of almost every book giveaway always) and shipping costs too much on other sites, let alone some of the books are also very expensive in the physical format. That hasn’t only affected the way I read (ebooks are more damaging for your eyesight), but also has discouraged me of considering becoming a booktuber because I’d barely have anything to show on physical, and unboxings? Forget about them bc for obvious reasons it’s not possible.

    The struggle with ARCs is definitely real and I didn’t know things were different in the past with NetGalley. It’s only more discouraging to know things were more fair in the past and instead of making progress, we’re only going back. What I’ve been doing in this case is only requesting eARCs and if the book is on “wish for it” on NG, I contact the publisher through email.

    I honestly hope things can change por the better in the near future for us. This is a hobby, yes, but we still invest our time and effort in building our platforms and the least we can ask for is respect and being treated equally.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. This article was EVERYTHING. I started reviewing in 2010/ 2011 and I eventually had to go on an extended hiatus for a myriad of these reasons and no computer etc because prices for technology can be sky high in the rest of the world. Kudos for pushing through and keeping at it and thank you for giving other international book bloggers a voice.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’d like to both applaud and thank you for writing this. I’m an international reader as well, though I am from Germany and have the means to get my hands on books fairly easy. I almost exclusively read in English and I know that I am lucky enough to have several bookstores that offer a wide variety of English books – mostly through their online shops, but that’s still better than having close to no access and for that I am thankful. But it’s so frustrating to see how easy it is for US/UK readers to get their hands on review copies while international readers from all over the world struggle with the same thing. I won’t even try to write more about that, because you already did that in such a strong way. I am deeply agreeing with you about the whole topic and I am so thankful that you wrote this post and maybe raise some awareness in US/UK folks. THANK YOU ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  18. 👏👏👏👏 This was AMAZING to read! Absolutely.
    Other thing that is not specifically related to this and that has been around my mind for a while now, I have thought of discussing it on my blog but I don’t think that will happen now, is the language I use to blog. I’m very aware that this is a personal choice I made when I was younger and didn’t question some things that now I perceive differently but yes, that is another point that I see as an international reviewer.
    But, I don’t want to get off topic so, thank you so much for writing this!!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I’m new to book blogging, so I was unaware of this issue. Thanks for writing this because I learned quite a bit. I was aware access to books in other countries was limited, but this really put it into perspective. It’s ridiculous that publishers don’t include international reviewers because I have purchased books before BECAUSE of international reviewers. It’s the internet…there is the potential to reach such a large audience that extends beyond one’s own country.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. This post is AMAZING Fadwa WOW!!!! Literally couldn’t agree more and you nailed it.

    Especially in SA, where we have okay access. Our publishers are small but they do have access to like a good 80% of UK titles, it’s still incredibly hard. Especially with the diversity issue, you were talking about. I try and work with publishers to boost them but those books never do well and it’s so sad and disappointing when we’re trying to get those voices heard.

    AND THE LIBRARIES YES. I hate it whenever someone says “yeah use your library”. We have NOTHING where I live, literally zilch. Some physical libraries but they’re all random titles and the sections I read are so small. We can’t use Libby or anything, they don’t have it. And that issue about being ghosted?? I CAN’T STAND IT.

    Truly such an amazing post-Fadwa. All so well said xx

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I completely agree with everything that you’ve mentioned. Being located in Lebanon ( with the whole eco crisis ) it’s been near impossible to purchase a single book. And if it weren’t for e-arcs, it would have been hard finding content for my blog 😦

    Like

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  23. Every single point you list here is me as well. From recognizing the priviledge of being fluent in english in a country where it’s not common, to the little things we miss out on.

    I didn’t use to have access to books that I liked in either my native language or english. Now a lot of YA translated books are being sold here, and it truly makes me happy. The issue is, I no longer read translated books, so I still need to find the way to buy my english books and ebooks. I invest in those things and I’m part of an international readership of books in english, as you, and lot of us are. So, I agree it’s well past the time publishers get their things sorted out to acknowledge that truth and give us the opportunity their multi nationality reader base expects.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. This post needed to be said. I am a UK blogger and I know I’m more privileged than most so when you see people telling others to just go to the library or when people start berating others for not supporting local bookstores buying from Bookdepository or Amazon you can see it’s from a place of privilege. We can’t all have access that you get in the UK or the US and it’s horrible how international bloggers are forgotten. It’s worse that publishers take the time to contact you and never reply when you state you’re international, though! I get everyone’s busy but a simple, sorry you’re outside of our territory would be enough. I do hate Netgalley is basically closed for those outside certain locations, though. I know there are sometimes legal reasons but the fact it was done without warning was the worst part.

    I hope by posting this it helps you get heard more and helps some folks realise to check their privilege. International bloggers have it tough and it’s unfair that publishers don’t work harder to work with bloggers all over, especially at a time when there’s an outcry for more diversity in books. What better way than to get people involved throughout the world with different backgrounds to help get different perspectives on books?

    Like

  25. Fadwa… I cannot say just how much I relate to ALL OF THIS. Every single line. I actually stopped requesting for books and even requesting on Netgalley years back because I was done with the rejection. First of all I’m a mood reader and I’m a person who is HUGE on only asking if I’m ready to commit to it in time. So when I request a book, I know that I will absolutely make time for it. But then not getting it? That hurts. And YES ABOUT THE MERCH, THE EVENTS, THE ANYTHING ELSE at this point. Libraries too! I was honestly privileged to have a private library nearby for a few years. If not for that, I wouldn’t have started reading at all. It’s very tough to be constantly overlooked and yet I see international bloggers (like you!) working your asses off to promote good & diverse books. That motivates me to continue blogging about books. You’re part of that motivation ❤

    Liked by 2 people

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  27. This is an EXTREMELY well written post. I’m so new to the book blogging community where sometimes it gets overwhelming and a bit frustrating (especially with the issues you’ve mentioned). As a proper blogger for several years now do you have any tips for upcoming international bloggers such as myself? I don’t want to be of a bother or anything but you just seem so knowledgeable to be honest.

    Thank you again for being an outspoken voice of diverse and international book bloggers ❤️

    Like

  28. You took the words right out of my mouth! I am grateful for you for writing this! I live in a Middle Eastern country and pretty much relate to everything you have said. It is extremely frustrating for me as a reader. For me, book censorship is also something that I find incredibly infuriating is it tremendously limits my options. I truly hope that things will change for the better for international/non-western readers in the future.

    Like

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  34. YES! These are so on point and as someone who lives out in the Middle East where books are more expensive than ever, I stand with you on everything you mentioned. Especially the Netgalley one – I need to know what are they losing out on sending ecopy to deserving non UK/US bloggers.

    I hurts that we don’t matter to them, despite whatever our contributions are. And this is one of the reasons I have started reading more backlist books and stopped applying for ARCs and new copies at all. Thank you for voicing all our concerns.

    Like

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