I kind of touched on this yesterday with my post about authors and publishers I've "hit it off" with -- at least the cyber world. I start by recognizing a couple of things. The publishers/publicists who send us pitches or ARCs are doing their best to get a book in front of as many interested readers as possible. They are trying to match us (the reviewers) with the type of story and writing AND they are trying to match our readers with the books. It's a three-tier system. In view of that, I tell a publicist when there is a book I desperately want, and give them examples of similar things I've reviewed (genre, author, etc). By the same token, if they send me a pitch that has no interest, I politely decline. It's taken me awhile to not feel bad about this, but it doesn't do anyone any good if I am reading something begrudgingly. Very occasionally, I receive ARCs unsolicited. I no longer feel guilty if I don't get to those either. If I can, I will, but I made no promise to do so. I also make sure to send a direct link to my review to the publicist who sent me the book as soon as it is posted.
I truly think this is the best way to create strong relationships with publicists. But if any publicists or other reviewers disagree, please tell me.
In my reviews themselves, my number one aim is to talk about the book in a way that will help MY reader know if they would like it. I will point out strengths and weaknesses, make comparisons and try to evoke the style and tone of the work. I try to give my readers an idea of what they will encounter in this book, and hopefully they will be inspired to read it.
If there is a particular book that I am incredibly impressed with I will try to reach out to the author -- either through twitter, their site or the publicist. Although I do want them to see my review, I also want them to know that someone read their hard work and was really touched by it. A great example of this is my review of The Diviner's Tale by Bradford Morrow. He was tickled by the picture of me actually reading his book (along with my cat), which struck up a conversation in the comments about divining and our experiences with it. I think these are the meaningful touchstones for writers and reviewers.
Writers, as a rule, don't sweat out a story just to make piles of money (though they wouldn't mind surely). It starts with an irrepressible need to tell a story -- but that is only the first half. They also need that story to be heard or read. That's where we come in. We act as mediums for authors. We get the message from their ether to our listeners.
By noting this mutual respect, we can keep an active dialogue between writers, reviewers, critics, and readers -- one that swaps tales, ideas, fears and hopes.