So the other day, I was perusing the job boards. I subscribe to a variety of Freelance Writing sites and receive messages with links to all kinds of writing work. Usually they are things that I am not qualified to do. Or they are so bizarre or specific that I have no interest in tackling them. But every now and then I see something that looks like it might be enjoyable to do and so I apply – along with a gazillion other writers receiving the same job lists, mind you, but that’s a topic for another day. What does any of this have to do with being a Quirky Girl who reads, you ask? Well, I inquired about an opening for a writer of book reviews.
What Are They Paying For?
This particular ad stated that they were in need of someone to provide reviews for Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other such sites. It offered payment to bloggers but not to book clubs. Because I was intrigued, I followed the inquiry instructions and sent an e-mail with my contact information. But I must say, I felt this particular role would be less for the types of reviews we provide here at QGR and more along the lines of pumping up titles in exchange for cash.
This position was being offered by a new publishing outlet. My guess is that they need bookies to read their catalog and write up “customer” reviews online lauding the works as terrific. I have no idea how much payment would be or what their guidelines are, but it got me thinking about the ethics of paid reviews.
In my message to them, I explained who I am and the experience I have in writing reviews, both personally and as a part of this more formal group effort. I also asked what genre the books would fall under, since I have no plans to devote limited reading time to a style I dislike. But my most important question was to find out if they expected positive reviews in exchange for payment, or if they expected honest reviews in exchange for payment.
Are Book Bloggers Killing Off Book Critics?
I fully understand how someone promoting a book, in need of reviews, would not be interested in paying for ones that were not overly flattering. But I don’t have it in me to write up glowing words about something that I think is a piece of crap. Even if I get paid to do it. That just feels icky.
I suppose I am looking to be a paid critic, not a paid reviewer. Are there such opportunities anymore? With the demise of the newspaper, book critics seem to be in less demand. Are book bloggers such as ourselves helping to put paid critics further out of business? Is our forever willingness to provide free press keeping us from being able to use our review talents in a paid capacity?
If someone gave me the choice to write honest, critical reviews in exchange for cash versus a free copy of the book, I would take the cash. But no one ever offers me cash. I think it’s because they know they don’t have to. There are tons of other book bloggers out there ready to provide a review for free.
It seems to me, that as the book blogging community continues to grow, and as bloggers in general are gaining more respect across all industries, our options and structure should improve. If we are providing reviews for publishers or PR firms on a regular basis, drumming up business and attention to their titles, shouldn’t we be more highly valued in that process?
Does Cash Influence Honesty?
It seems sketchy to get paid to write a review though. It implies the thoughts are influenced by the dollar signs. I don’t think this when I read a review in a magazine or newspaper. Because the paycheck isn’t coming directly from the book industry. But if I read a book blogger’s review and then discovered through their footnote statement that it was a paid (although still honest) review, I would still wonder if it was REALLY honest.
I have a hard enough time writing something honestly about a book I have read when I have any sort of relationship with the author. It is very hard for me to be critical of things I dislike when the person who created them is someone I like very much. It’s probably why I usually review books written by people long dead and buried! Now, if someone was paying me to read a particular book and then write a review, would I be able to stick to my guns and express the negative points? Or would I just gloss over them, trying not to hurt feelings or reputations in order to continue to have the opportunity to provide paid reviews?
It is an ethical issue I’m sure all book bloggers have an opinion about. Would you take a job reviewing books for cash payment? Would you pretend to be a reviewing customer on Amazon if your true opinion on the book was positive and someone was paying you to post it? Do you think book bloggers should try to be a legitimate professional part of the publishing community? Or would that create a conflict of interest if money were involved?