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Mar 21, 2013

To Review or Not To Review; That is the Question
Ethics of Blogging

Of late, I have seen so much discussion as to whether or not to review a book. I'm referring to the book bloggers who receive Advance Review Copies, and not the leisurely lucky readers who get to read from their own libraries and could pick and choose at whim which book to read. I believe those readers review some of those titles, but not all of them. Depends on their mood and if they want to talk about the book.

I am thinking of the specific situation where the Author/Publisher/Publicist contacts you to see if you would be interested in reviewing the book and you say yes. Halfway through the book, you are beginning to worry about the author's feelings because you know you could not rate this book higher than three stars (of a standard five).

What to do?

Do you bother finishing the book? Do you tell yourself at the halfway mark you've given it enough of your time and it's time to move on? Do you contact the author/publicist?

What if you do finish the book, and decide maybe it is a 3 star book, technically meaning 'average' or 'it was ok'? For some reason, the golden (hidden) rule has been this magic 3 star mark. I have been a part of a tour group that specifically said if it does not get a 3 star review, please don't post that review. Keep that news to yourself, they ask. So what if something really was a 2.5 star for you, and you end making it 3 stars so you could actually 'be allowed' to post the review?

What happens to that week that I spent my time reading that book? All that time that I devoted to reading this book because I was gathering content for my blog. And if it was truly a 2.5 star book, that means I am not allowed to share my thoughts on the book. I am not talking about a rip-apart stomp down on the author, simply a critical review which explains the good things and the bad things of the dynamic of the book which I spent every minute of my spare time reading for that past week so that I could compose a thorough and honest review. Throwing all those half star points/stars out the window, what it boils down to is the question of what we should be allowed to post on our personal sites. If I want to talk about a book, in a professional manner regardless if I LIKE the book, shouldn't we be allowed to do so, even if we are reviewing for a publicist/publisher/virtual tour company?

Isn't this where we get to the point of why Amazon has a reputation that you cannot trust, because all the reviews for such-and-such a book all were rated with high marks? You believe ALL those reviews and therefore spend your own cash on a book and turns out you picked a book that was not at all like you expected. Wouldn't you have appreciated it if you had seen the reviews from everyone, which included the ones that didn't gush about it? (Now the FTC Guidelines are starting to trickle down to ethically minded bloggers and are notating in their reviews if they have received a review copy, but I guarantee you that family members will not be so up front).

I will say there are a few marketing/publishing companies that I have come across that specifically tell us if you don't like a book, that's ok! Their first priority is to garner the buzz for the book and everything will go towards building the author's brand. Those are the type of marketers I don't mind endorsing.

One of the publishers I currently review for specifically states this while pitching a book to me: "And let me assure you that I have no expectation for your reviews--if you don't like the book you received, feel free to review it negatively." I have no qualms about reviewing for this publisher because they are not going to censor my thoughts on the titles they offer for review, and yes, I still get offered future titles from them.

I understand the mantra if you have nothing nice to say don't say it at all. But we are talking about reviewing books that you were asked to review. Your compensation for your time, since most book bloggers do not get any form of compensation other than an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC), is the content for your blog. Many bloggers feel they review books as a service to their readers/followers/fellow bloggers. If there is something critical that needs to be pointed out about a book, why should I hold that back?

What's the point of reviewing if we are all going to crank out positive reviews for the rest of our lives? If you come to the blog of Burton Book Review absolutely KNOWING beforehand that EVERY SINGLE book you'll find here will get a good review, will you bother coming back? Or would you prefer a balanced review system, here and elsewhere? The point of reviewing a book is to give an honest review, not simply a positive review. Otherwise, aren't we all robots cranking out 'good' reviews?

In case you are wondering, yes, there was one time where I sent a book back to the publicist since I absolutely knew without a doubt that I could not stand the book. I made it to almost a halfway mark - taking me days to get there - and quite frankly I did not want to spend another minute of my life with it. The next reviewer loved it. Case in point, we are all different. If I am asked specifically to post a review on Amazon I will do so upon request, but I do not post all of my blogged reviews there. As book bloggers, we follow other bloggers knowing what to expect from that blogger: an honest review. When I might hate a book, others will love and gush about it. I am okay with it. What I'm not okay with is being told to only post reviews of titles that would receive at least three stars from me.

Fellow book bloggers, I am curious to know your thoughts on this. Do you only post positive reviews? Do you worry about offending an author while writing a critical review? Does that somehow unconsciously effect  how that review is worded?

How do you feel about being told what you can or cannot post?