Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Reviews, Reviewers and Ethics

I thought those of you who subscribe to this blog or drop by as visitors would enjoy this article on reviews by guest blogger Leora Krygier.

Review or Skew?

By Leora Krygier author of When She Sleeps

Recently, an encounter with a book review blogger got me thinking about the subject of honest reviewing. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Along with the democratization of book publishing in the last two decades and the proliferation of self-published books, has come the democratization of reviews and reviewers. No longer are reviewers sitting exclusively in the ivory towers of the New York Times, the New Yorker and other major publications. Reviewers abound everywhere you look -- on Amazon and Barnes and Noble sites, on Library Thing, and a host of other book blog sites. And this is good, yes? Well, yes and no.
So, back to my encounter. I’d asked a book blogger of a certain genre to give me some comments on an unsold, unpublished manuscript. Besides the fact that she reviewed the manuscript without my permission and put the review on her blog (she later removed it) the more disheartening aspect of this story were the prejudicial comments she made, based, I learned later, on her narrow world view. I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say she advised me not to include certain characters, in order to have a “larger audience” of readers. This and some other strangely backwater comments alerted me to her skewed views. Besides feeling completely stupid for not picking up on some of this earlier on, and besides my wanting to expose this as a cautionary tale for authors, it also got me thinking about reviews in general.
Should reviewers disclose their leanings and prejudices, and their world view? And on the other side of the coin, what about all those reviews we authors ask our friends to write on Amazon? Should “friend” connections be disclosed in honest reviewing? What about blurbs that come from authors who have the same publisher? Is that a conflict of interest? And reviews for money? Do we just stack it all up to…”it’s okay because it’s just promotion?” or is this an ethical issue that needs addressing?
I went straight to my good friend (full disclosure here) Bob Stone, also known as “EthicsBob” who writes and blogs about all things ethical and asked him to weigh in on this.

EthicsBob says, "Reviewers should have a clear conscience—they shouldn’t hope that their background remains hidden. If I write a review on Amazon for my pal Leora’s book I must disclose that she’s a friend, because there’s a clear conflict here: I hope her book succeeds and I want to write an honest review. If my publisher asks me to review a colleague’s book I have a slightly different conflict: I want to stay in my publisher’s good graces ­and I want to be honest. If I’m being paid for a review I want to please my patron and I want to be honest.
"I’m not saying that I can’t be honest in my reviews; in fact I did love and admire Leora’s novels—only that my conflict exists. Readers are entitled to know she’s my friend. [Full disclosure: I hadn’t thought this through when I posted reviews on Amazon. I’ve just now corrected my ethical lapse.] If I’m paid by the author to write a review readers are entitled to know. Then they can decide whether to heed my review or to discount it as hopelessly biased.
"As far as reviewers disclosing their world view and leanings, I don’t think so, as long as they write honestly. Their reviews can speak for themselves, and their readers can decide. I think comments can be stupid, narrow minded and offensive without being unethical. If, on the other hand, a book is panned as dull, thin, or badly written without disclosing that the reviewer is offended, for example ,by homosexuality, blasphemy or sex, then the reviewer is being deceptive and unethical.
“EthicsBob” is Bob Stone. You can read about him at http://bobstone.us/  and read his blog at http://ethicsbob.com/

Leora Krygier is the author of When She Sleeps and New York Public Library pick, Best Books for the Teen Age. It is Juvenile Court: A Judge's Guide for Young Adults and Their Parents. Follow her breezy Starbucks blog at http://www.starbuckled.blogspot.com/  and read more about Leora at http://www.leorakrygier.com/ .

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog:

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