Should I charge money to review your book?

I’ve been reviewing books in a kind-of-professional context for a decade now. I say kind-of-professional because while book reviewing doesn’t pay a lot, it does usually pay a fair amount. But that payment always comes from the publication, not the publisher or writer.

I’ve developed a fairly high profile as a reviewer, with a regular opinion column for The Guardian that tends to use book reviews as a starting point for discussion of wider issues in geek culture. I was one of the first mainstream reviewers to put time into seriously looking at indie published novels. And when I fall in love with a book, I’ve been known to be pretty insistent that everyone who reads my blog or follows me twitter needs to love that book as well!

All this book reviewing activity means I receive dozens of review requests every week, from both mainstream publishers and indie authors. I like getting sent books (via email only, I’m a nomadic traveller so print books are a big no-no for me) and out of the hundreds I get each year, maybe half a dozen end up featured in my column in one form or another.

I’d like to do more.

Which leads me to the question I’d like your help with. I love to review one or two books a month on this blog, and share them with readers here and on social media. But, I can’t justify the time without at least some financial return. And that financial cost could only be paid (I presume) by the publisher / writer themselves.

So, if I open review slots here which publishers / writers pay for, am I crossing an ethical line? Money moves towards the writer is a diktat I believe in. But with books numerous, and platforms to publicise them limited, have reviews become a commodity that producers should expect to pay for? Maybe more importantly, would readers trust my opinion on a book I’m being paid by the author to review?

I’m open to any and all feedback on this, so please let me know your thoughts.

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26 thoughts on “Should I charge money to review your book?”

  1. In the case of a review, seems to me you are the writer.

    I would expect you, if we worked out a review deal, to take (a little) of my money and to say what you thought (and post buyer information) in a timely way. If I didn’t like what you thought I’d probably sulk for a couple days, tops, unless I thought you were right, in which case I’d harbor a grudge forever, of course.

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  2. I would say no.

    Like you, I have been a paid reviewer. I reviewed for the small press, such as Cemetery Dance and other small press websites. I was paid a stipend by my publisher to read and review books that were submitted for review.

    The author paid for nothing – except the cost of a review copy.

    A reviewer is supposed to remain impartial. He is supposed to judge the book without any sort of a bias.

    Once you take money from a writer to review their work you become biased.

    Even if you say you aren’t biased, you are. Whether you are one or ten or twenty-five British pounds worth of bias – you are biased.

    That’s my two cents worth of strictly-unbiased opinion.

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      1. Actually, that is one of the reasons that I stopped reviewing professionally. A couple of the magazines that I was writing reviews for began to subtly hint that I ought to be kinder to certain authors who were paying for advertising space.

        Actually, the conversation went something like this – remembering that this was pre-e-book era.

        Editor: “Well Steve, I just read your review of THIS-IS-A-GREAT-FREAKING-BOOK and it left me wanting to slice my wrists with a Ginsu knife and pour a little lemon juice on the freshly-opened wound.”

        Steve: “My work is done then.”

        Editor: “Well, you do realize that so-and-so, the author of THIS-IS-A-GREAT-FREAKING-BOOK has bought a half page advertisement. We really need that money. Can’t you think of anything nice to say about the book?”

        Steve: “Well, it had a cover. And a back, too. Even pages in the middle. I do have to admit that I always approve of books with a cover and a back and pages in the middle – only on second thought it might have been a definite improvement if so-and-so had left out the pages in the middle of this book and stuck with the cover.”

        It was at that point that I began to reconsider my path as a review writer.

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  3. I have been in your position before and thought about this. I reviewed books, movies, and art for The University of Hawaii. I got paid $20 for every article/photo that was published. I wrote whatever I wanted. My being distanced by serving the readers and being paid by the newspaper assured the readers that I was serving them (probably just myself) and not the products I reviewed. Was I qualified? I don’t know, but I wrote what I felt was true about the experience I had. A stranger I met said that I reviewed “Naked Lunch” as if what I wrote was an article in the Rolling Stone. Those articles were some of the best I have ever written. I’ve written other reviews that went over every word of books as if I were on journeys. I even hired a reviewer once and he canned my book that was an attempt to document reality. I wrote another one like it and a woman who is the foremost authority on Ezra Pound’s Radio Operas said it should be performed like a monologue by an actor. Was she just saying that as a friend, I don’t know.

    Some vanity presses offer a Kirkus Review service, which charged the author some where near $3000 for a review for the purpose of a blurb for the author’s book. That is something like what you do for publishers. As a writer, I am suspicious of someone who reviews my book for money from me or the publisher I write for. I like reviews in reputable magazines, like The New York Times Review of Books, where they do a number of books by the same author or even on subject by many authors. They are serving a readership. For that person, who reviewed one of my first books and canned it, I was taken aback. I couldn’t believe it was that bad. Would I hire him again, probably not. I paid him about $300/$350, I can’t remember. That was years ago.

    In the meantime, I’ve asked three of the greatest living poets to review my latest book by a fluke, based on the suggestion of someone here, who is an editor for Writer’s Digest. He said he simply tried it and those he asked came through glowingly. I wonder if it was because of his title? Anyway, I am hoping to hear from them. I saw one of the poets the other day and introduced myself. I didn’t say that I had written him and needed a blurb and I don’t think he caught my name, but there you are. But, I didn’t offer them money. I certainly would pay them, but I am hoping that when they read my book, they want to. If I had picked up T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” for example, I would have reviewed it for free. You want your work to stand on its own. It is like going to see a movie, you pay because you think it is going to be good. Sometimes it is, or at least, it is good enough.

    I once got a poetry book from a man that I thought was terrible. I never wrote him what I thought, which was the contingency of taking the book, but I really didn’t want the book to begin with. I didn’t want to be cruel. If you don’t have anything nice to say, sometimes you elect not to say anything.

    A friend of mine died recently. He was a psychiatric social worker. He only praised me. He was never negative towards my work. He inspired me. I was free of self-criticism when I wrote thanks to him.

    I hope these ideas help. They have been my experience with reviews and reviewing. Perhaps something here helps you with your question.

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    1. Thank you for that excellent contribution Mario. I’m considering the issue because I tend to do my best writing right here on this blog. Once I get past the ethical issues, I think reviews might contribute strongly to that.

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  4. In my opinion, and I should say I’m a novice to this book review world (I come from consumer tech background), if you’re getting paid by the publisher or the author, readers will have a hard time believing in you except those who are already loyal too you. This will become an even bigger issue when you write positively about a book and then the reader finds out that it isn’t exactly as good as they thought it was by reading your review.

    It would be one thing if this blog was a third-party publishing platform who paid you to do the review. It is another to write the review and get paid from the people/person/party who want to sell that book. No matter how hard you try to stay true to your review, I believe some degree of bias will kick in. And even if it doesn’t, your readers’ trust on you is likely to suffer.

    I was reached out by a local phone company to review their phones in exchange of monetary compensation. We have already reviewed bunch of their phones and our publication has gotten quite a bit of traction in the local audience. But we don’t do it regularly because we don’t make much money. They want us to review their phone regularly. So they want to pay us. I turned them down because I know no matter how hard I try, when I’m being paid, I’ll naturally think to tone down the negative sides of the devices I review. Plus the publication’s credibility will also suffer if this was to go public, which someday might.

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  5. I think the above commenters have made very good points about payment and the appearance of integrity, especially as your professional reputation relies on you being viewed as being honest.
    I come from the author side. What I’d look for from a paid review service is professional reputation and audience size. The professional reputation is important because it can lead to a higher chance of increased advertising opportunities (think BookBub), and audience reach speaks for itself.
    Kirkus offer a paid review service for indie authors. This works because they have a strong reputation, a large audience, plus the author can read the review first and decide whether it should be published or not. This overcomes the issue of paying $$$ and then getting a professional slating, yet a good author could still use the negative review as a professional critique.
    This last part works for Kirkus because these would be books they would otherwise never review, so they aren’t duping the reader by removing negative reviews. For you, however, looking to maintain and build on your reputation, this could be seen as a negative.

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  6. I think authors paying for reviews muddies the waters somewhat – it makes it hard for readers to work out how fair the review actually is.

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  7. I don’t think it’s unethical at all, but your competition would be established companies like Kirkus, where I paid for a review. IMHO, you’d need to charge half or less of what they charge and build up your reputation, which could be enhanced by the number of times you’re quoted on outlets like Amazon. Best of luck!

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  8. Charge the author/publisher for the review (beyond getting the free copy).
    Send the review for the author/publisher, and ask them if they want it published “as is”.
    If they say no, do not publish it. If they say yes, publish it “as is”, with a note saying that your review has been paid for, but also explaining this 3-step process.

    This process should reduce the risk of being influenced in writing the review by the fact that you are paid. Even if the review is negative, the author/publisher still gets some value out of your review, so you should not feel “sorry for them having wasted their money”. If the review is positive and it is published, by explaining to the reader the process, you are “guaranteeing” its impartiality.

    Of course, the key point is that the review should not be edited (beyond typos, of course), if the author/publisher wants it published.

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  9. I’ve been both a paid and an unpaid reviewer. Paid is much more hassle, and unpaid is exhausting. Take your pick, and good luck to you!

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  10. A few suggestions.
    Solicit paid reviews with a caveat in place between yourself and the client.
    If the work is not up to your standard that you won’t feel comfortable writing a good review, give him or her feedback on how they can improve it.
    If the work is decent, write a review.
    You can open up your review section with a notification that this is your policy. If a book is listed there, it merits your recommendation. Any book that doesn’t pass muster stays between you and the author.

    Perhaps with an arrangement like this, everyone will benefit. Those writers whose work is not yet ready can benefit anyways.

    Just an idea

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      1. I thought about that. You could request a synopsis of the book, or an excerpt. You would know pretty quickly the quality of the writing just from those, I’m sure. If it isn’t the quality you’re looking for, you could probably suggest that they would be better served by using you as a writing coach.

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      2. Well, you would know! Haven’t been in that position yet. I guess at the end of the day, it’s the old fine-line, razor’s edge, quandary as usual.

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