Aug 31, 2012

On being paid for reviews

I read this article with disdain.  It appears Alan Baxter was reading about it at around the same time and wrote a thought provoking post. A few reviewers including me have chipped in:

Paid reviews hurt everyone, except those being paid

There’s a caveat to the title of this post, explained later, but I don’t mind a bit of sensationalism. So, this has come around again. It’s a subject that has cropped up a few times and usually makes the news cycle once in a while. It basically boils down to predatory fuckwits offering to write glowing reviews of any book (which they won’t bother to read) in exchange for cashmoney. Idiot authors jump on the bandwagon and buy those reviews in a desperate attempt to get their work noticed. [Read on]

I don’t get paid to review.  I did recently receive a gift package from a publicity agent (chocolates and a bottle of wine) but that’s the extent of the largesse and there was no obligation attached to said gift (it still makes me uneasy though).

You see I think it’s important to be as objective as possible when being a reviewer.  Now, anyone with the slightest understanding of human psychology will know that it’s impossible to be entirely objective. Aside from quite stark, obvious and conscious biases we are beset by all manner of subconscious influences that impact on our opinions and choices.

I aim to be as honest and objective as I can, to be as aware of my biases as I can and to develop a reputation around that, so that readers can come to me and know that I am not just a freelance cog in a PR marketing machine.

Introducing money into the relationship alters things, above all it alters perceptions-presuming you were honest about what you receive in the first place.

Now Alan presents a scenario where a reviewer could get paid for a “no obligation to write nice stuff” review.  Some reviewers put a great deal of time and effort into reading and writing reviews, promoting their niche/community and surely they should either get some reward, some recompense for their hard and often times professional quality work.  This is a seductive suggestion.

And in an ideal world might work.

I think what would happen is what occurred in the article above.  The reviewer lured on by desire or need for cash, would compromise themselves and begin fabricating reviews.  And even if you didn’t, others would, thereby casting doubt over reviewers as a whole.

As I stated in the comments on Alan’s blog, I don’t think the issue is a new one.  I am sure that since books have been reviewed there’s been all manner of slightly dodgy ethical situations.  From taking reviewers to lunch, or taking advantage of contacts, familial or otherwise.

Where to draw the line though?  The gift pack I refer to above, swag some might receive as part of a publicity campaign, is given without obligation but it has the potential to affect your emotions and the relationship.

But then so does being part of a community, having a good relationship with authors you interview.  Is the only safe approach to be as transparent as possible? Is that enough? Is it possible?

I have been bought drinks by authors( and bought drinks in turn), not in exchange for anything but as part of being in a community of readers, reviewers and convention goers. 

I have friendships with some authors, people whose work I have reviewed and those who I have not. Do we need to state the relationship when reviewing?  How much of authors and reviewers lives should remain private?

But returning to payment.  Should I be paid for my reviews?

Having a good honest think about it…no.

Opinions are cheap, even well informed one’s.  So my thinking is that if I were to be paid it’s not going to be worth the impact on my credibility or the obligation that it entails. 

But focussing on money as the only currency negates the other benefits that you might get as a reviewer.  When I look back at what I have gained as reviewer I am happy and continue to be. 

I get books - I have a TBR pile that breaks OHS regulations and there are books that are a chore to read, but in the end I do end up with some quality work, some of which I would have never chanced to read otherwise.

There’s the contact with people who write the stuff that my imagination transforms into stories. That never gets old.  From picking an authors brain during my Galactic Chat interviews to going to dinner as part of awards celebrations. To beginning and a maintaining friendships and acquaintances that enrich my life.

Would I love to be able to write what I do and make money somehow.  Sure, but it would be a bonus on top of the things I have spoken of.  Direct payment for an opinion, however, is not an option for me.  It may be for others, and I won’t judge them( okay maybe a little, privately) for doing so.

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