But it took a lot of thought to arrive at that answer.
A little while ago I opened a discussion about the ethicality of book reviewers accepting payment directly from writers. I got a LOT of responses, all of them well considered and constructive. They ranged from “yes, the more reviews the better” to “no, that would violate the relationship between reviewer / reader / writer”. And the truth is BOTH of these perspectives have validity, as do many of the positions expressed between those two poles. A better question than “should I do this” turns out to be “if I do this, what are the consequences and can I live with them?”
The outcome of the debate is that I’ve decided I will do a limited number of reviews paid for by writers on this site, accepting in advance that I will likely face some criticism for doing so. My first paid review is God Bless The Dead by Evan Geller, an indie SF novel with an interesting core concept that I’m looking forward to getting into. But before I do, I think it would be useful to get into why I’m making the decision.
There is an oft quoted and generally correct principle that guides many ethical issues in writing and publishing. Money moves towards the writer. A writer should never pay money to a publisher for anything, any more than you should be paying your boss money. This needs to be reiterated because vanity publishers and other borderline publishing outfits pretend to publish authors while taking money from them for various services.
The indie publishing revolution has created a new market of writers who are also their own publisher, and who are therefore buying services as a publisher. Money still moves towards the writer, but in their role as a publisher, money also moves away from the writer to other service providers. There’s now a substantial market for editorial, design and marketing services. I already offer a number of these services to my editorial clients.
But reviewing has remained a grey area. Not because writers won’t pay for them, I get offers of payment quite frequently. But because readers wonder how far they can trust a review paid for directly by the author. Would I as a reviewer give a stinking review to a book by a writer who has paid me for the review? Yes. I very definitely would. But readers walking in blind from the internet aren’t to know that. And that really arrives at the heart of the matter.
Because I have a long track record of book journalism with many high profile publications, I have a relatively strong audience of people who pay some attention to my opinions on new books. But. If I fill my blog and twitter feed with glowing reviews of terrible books, my opinion won’t be worth much for long. If on the other hand I do occasional, select reviews of interesting books that my readers will otherwise miss, that is providing a positive service. It’s not about whether I get paid, or who I get paid by, its about ensuring that payment doesn’t distort my review.
To that end, I’ll be doing a very limited number of reviews paid for by writes. Before doing any reviews I’ll be curating from a pool of possible books to ensure there is always something interesting about the few I choose, even if it has major flaws. Authors won’t have any editorial input to these reviews, but I will give authors the choice of whether to have the final review published or not. That seems the fairest balance to strike. I’ll also share some thoughts about these books as I’m reading on social media, so others can read along and see if they agree with my take.
Reviewing has always been something I both enjoy and find tremendously useful. I began reviewing a decade ago, primarily SF & Fantasy books, because I was researching the field for my own understanding. Getting paid for the reviews has never been so much about the money itself, as offsetting the time I was investing in doing that research. I’m hoping adding a few paid reviews to my schedule will help me stay in touch with the work of writers I might otherwise miss, as my writing schedule becomes ever busier.
I don’t have full review submission guidelines prepared yet, but if you’re interested in sending me a book just pop me an email on: firstname.lastname@example.org