1. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Accepting free books in exchange for reviews

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Tenderiser, Jul 8, 2016.

    Has anyone done this?

    If not, would you do it if asked?

    I've been asked before and dodged the request because the idea made me really uncomfortable. Mostly this is because I don't think I can be objective in this situation in the way I am when I buy a book for pleasure. When I write a review it's for other readers, and the author doesn't cross my mind at all. That's not going to be the case when the author has approached me directly and I already 'know' them to some extent on social media.

    But today I was asked again and I thought... if I get published, then I'll be asking bloggers and people with large social media followings if they want to read and review my book. Shouldn't I be willing to do the same? Is it hypocritical of me to avoid this?

    I do know I wouldn't post an unfavourable review on my blog. I would have to explain to the author that I didn't like their book enough to give it a good review, and how horrible would that be?

    I'm just after opinions really, to see if my reservations are justified or not.

    Edit: I've just realised Mckk might think this post is about her, because I bought her book and said I'd leave a review (which I haven't done yet because I have 4 million books in my to-be-read pile, not because I'm uncomfortable). It isn't about Mckk. :D
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2016
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  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's OK so long as you point out in the review that you received a free copy in exchange for the review.

    As for unfavorable reviews - well, maybe this is just me, but when I come across reviewers that only post positive reviews and seem to like everything they're reviewing, I tend to discount the reviewers. Who likes everything they read? It may not be apparent to readers that you're only posting reviews of things you like. Apart from that, I think it adds credibility, and gives readers comfort in your objectivity, if you post reviews whether they're good or bad, rather than withhold bad reviews from your readers (which is really what you're doing - hey, this was bad and I'm not going to let you readers know about it).
     
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  3. BruceA
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    BruceA Senior Member Supporter

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    All professional book reviewers (or music reviewers or film reviewers) get free copies, there is no obligation to do a favourable review. If you are not doing it professionally I guess you have to be upfront when you agree to review the book. ie what you will do if you don't like the book (which might be not to review it but give feedback - if you know the author, or review it anyway. You aren't going to do a hatchet job - unless it REALLY is bad - in which case it is probably better the author hears it from someone sympathetic first!).
     
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  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I definitely won't be posting any bad reviews. Partly because I don't want to be a book review blogger anyway and partly because I don't want to be uncomplimentary about authors on my author website.

    But this still leaves the problem of having to tell an author their book isn't good enough for me to be nice about. :/ These are published books so it's not like they can incorporate any feedback. All it'll do is make them feel bad.
     
  5. BruceA
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    BruceA Senior Member Supporter

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    You could agree to do it with the understanding you are very busy (which MUST be true: I have so little time for pleasure reading as it is) and have lots of requests for reviews and only publish positive reviews. Hopefully they then won't chase you up for a review and if they do you can either lie and tell them you haven't had time, or say it just wasn't your thing...
     
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  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Don't trap yourself into an agreement where someone expects lavish praise on a mediocre work. I've been there. I don't gush much in general so it's hard to sound polite without being terse or to give an honest opinion without pointing out flaws which could upset the writer. I made sure that I knew the writer well enough to understand how much 'honesty' they could take and went from there. I didn't dump on anyone's story as everything I read I liked - if I didn't I wouldn't agree to review it. And made a point in one of the reviews that though there were SPaG issues it didn't really effect my enjoyment of the story.

    I'm not sure I'd accept a free book unless the writer knew that they might not be getting a four star review from me.
     
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  7. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Authors and publishers pass out free copies for reviews all the time, often sending advance copies even. But there's nothing that says you have to write a glowing review or even publish a review after getting the book. I don't suggest mentioning you got a copy of the book for free in your review. Seriously, that's how it works.
     
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  8. Carly Berg
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    Carly Berg Contributing Member

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    Since this is someone you kinda know socially (even if only online) and wouldn't feel right stating whatever your honest opinion was then I wouldn't do it. You could just say sorry but you don't do reviews for authors you know and leave it at that.

    Or, if you want to help them out, you might try checking the "look inside this book" feature on Amazon before replying and at least get an idea of if it's decently written or not.
     
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm moderately sure that FTC regulations require that bloggers mention things like free products.
     
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  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My first thought is about the custom on most of the perfume blogs that I read: They'll accept a free bottle for review, and offer a proper keep-the-FTC-happy disclosure of that fact, but then they give away the still-nearly-full bottle when the review is complete.

    However, that doesn't entirely work, because once you've read the book, much of its value is used up. However however, it still seem to me that giving it away sort of eliminates any vibe of having been enriched.

    And for whatever reason, I don't really see any ethical issue with a book reviewer receiving the books for free. But if I were the reviewer, I think I would give the book away afterward anyway.

    However however however, on the rare occasions when some perfume house went "offer bottles to ALL THE BLOGS!!!!" and offered me free perfume to review, I almost always turned it down. Because I'm not comfortable interacting with someone that I'm reviewing. I'd rather buy or beg a sample as a consumer, unrelated to my identity as a blogger.

    (Not that I perfume blog these days. I babble randomly or talk about the garden.)

    Moving on to the question of telling the author that their book isn't good enough...you could make it clear that you have more books to read than you have time for, and that you don't even have time to write reviews of all of the ones you've read, so they should understand that there's no assurance of a review. So they should just hope to be pleasantly surprised, instead of counting on a review.
     
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  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    FTC is American, right? So their rules doesn't really apply for most people.

    That said... I don' think there's anything wrong with taking a free copy, whether you mention it or not. But I do worry about blurring the lines between being an author and a book blogger. I'll sometimes make public posts about the books I LOVE, whether in my genre or another, but 95% of the books I read I don't mention (I keep track on Goodreads, just for myself, and even there I don't give reviews or star ratings for books in my genres unless I can give four or five stars. The book world is just too small, and there are way too many authors with thin skin who don't react well to anything but adoration, and I just don't need the headache.

    Tread carefully.
     
  12. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure what it means, to be honest. They offer you a copy of their book on the condition that you review it? Or do they give you, like, a copy of the latest Ken Follett in exchange for a review of their own book?

    I think it would have to be within my genre (and maybe even sub-genre). I tried reading a romance not long ago, fully intending to give it a good beta read complete with feedback, etc. etc. but just couldn't get through it. I feel terrible about having failed so miserably, especially since my intentions were so honorable going in, and haven't yet talked to the author about it. ;)

    Perhaps only if you, at the time, have a large social media following?

    When I was a working actor (not a making-a-living actor, just a working actor) I was repeatedly sent out on auditions for commercials. Eventually, I told my agent I didn't want to do those auditions any more and when he asked me why, I told him it was for two reasons: 1) I was morally opposed to brainwashing people into buying stuff they simply don't need and, 2) it was a waste of everyone's time because I never got the parts anyway.

    Okay, this is a very interesting question.

    To give a good review is a good thing, as long as you actually liked the novel. But to withhold a bad review, isn't that doing a disservice to others who would, like you, think it stank?

    If the author is simply trying to get those sales numbers up however she can, a good review of a bad book might be exactly what they want. For the reader, though, maybe they'd rather you posted the bad review so they can waste their money on something else.

    So it comes down to which side you want to support, the shitty author (who might be a darling person otherwise and you don't wanna hurt their feelings) or the picky reader (who might be a complete twat, picky in everything and whom you'd cheerfully run over if he crossed on a "Don't Walk" signal).

    I wish I could come to some kind of conclusion for you, but this is such a loaded question.
     
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  13. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Back in the early days of personal computers, I read software reviews so I could decide which software to buy and which to leave alone. Up until the mid-1990s, almost every software (or even hardware) review was honest. You could tell because sometimes they came right out and said, "This thing stinks. Save your money."

    But then, someone got the idea of sending out free copies for review (up until then, one has to assume the review either bought it himself or pirated it) and suddenly, I couldn't trust anyone's opinion on anything. At worst, the reviewers would cloak their scathing remarks in so much verbiage, as a review reader, I had to dig out the dictionary, use a graph to plot out triple and quadruple negatives and sometimes stay up all night pouring over the results in an effort to figure out whether the software was crap or not. And if it was a simple utility meant to convert the dots in a filename to spaces, a lot of the time it really wasn't worth the effort.

    On the other hand, someone who's bought a novel—and left a review on Amazon or some other site—might not have the discerning tastes or the knowledge I possess and so I have no idea if their review is worth reading, let alone the novel itself. And it's also possible the review was written by the author's mother.

    What conclusion am I drawing? None, really. As a reader, I can only scan the dust jacket blurb, check out the first few paragraphs, cross my fingers and hit, 'buy.'

    And as for being asked to do reviews, I guess I'll have to cross that bridge when the path leads me onto it... which may never happen if I keep writing posts like this.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2016
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  14. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    In a way there is, though. If a reviewer gives a particular publisher, say: HarperCollins, several bad reviews in a row, said publisher may decide not to send that reviewer any more books because they can do without the bad publicity. And that might prompt the reviewer's boss to fire him. So, to keep his job, he might just see that as an obligation to give good reviews.

    It happened in the software industry that way.
     
  15. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    Anyone with KindleUnlimited can read my book for free (and review it!)

    Remember though, I have the thinnest of skins.
     
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  16. BruceA
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    BruceA Senior Member Supporter

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    Whilst I imagine this does happen, if reviews are untrustworthy then the reviewer loses credibility. The reviewer loses his job due to people thinking he has his head up the butt of the industry and people don't read the reviews
     
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  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The US government doesn't have world jurisdiction?! Nooooooooo!

    Though, now that this has made me curious, I discover from Googling that the UK apparently has "similar" rules. I don't know just how similar.

    Then I got bored with Googling, so I don't know if other countries have similar rules.
     
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  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I rarely give bad reviews of a book. (Unlike an appliance or practical product that doesn't work properly.) Not because I'm Pollyanna, but because if I don't love a book I just don't bother to review it!

    I will give a negative review if the book is REALLY bad, and folks will buy it because of who the author is, or because of the way it's been hyped, or something like that. If I just didn't like it, though, I won't bother to review it.

    I write reviews for two reasons only. One, to promote something I think is excellent. Two, to warn people off something I think is a rip-off. Everything in the middle I just leave alone. Books are subjective things, really.
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2016
  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think you can get around this quite simply. Write your review, then post the draft back to the author. Tell them that this is your honest review, and if they agree to it, then you will post it online (wherever the review will be seen.) If they object to it in any way, you won't post it (and won't be offended either.)

    Take the tack that you're trying to help them sell their book, but you need to be honest for the sake of your own reputation as a reviewer. A syrupy review won't be convincing. An honest one might—one that points out both flaws and strengths—but it's up to the author. That puts the ball back in their court, and also rewards them for the free book. You've done your job, but also been honest.

    The trick is to set up the perimeters before you ever receive the book. Agree to terms beforehand. Will you be open to making changes to the review if the author asks you to? Things like that.
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2016
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  20. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    You may be right.

    But I've seen it go the other way, too. For instance, I've never liked any movie recommended by Roger Ebert. Gene Siskel, on the other hand, I trusted explicitly. Too bad he died so young.
     
  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends how negative your review is. I got into a big brawl with a fellow author (well, not a brawl, I guess, because I didn't fight back - she just made a lot of posts complaining about what I'd done and being outraged, then blocked me from all media) because I sent her a copy of an article I was submitting to a major blog in which I mentioned her book in a mostly-complimentary light and then pointed out one issue I'd had with it, which fit into the overall thesis of my article. I said I wanted to give her a chance to add anything or respond to the point or whatever before it was published.

    She flipped the fuck out. I was a bitch for sending negativity straight to her inbox where she couldn't escape it, I clearly didn't understand the artistic soul, if people can't just love her work they should shut up about it, etc. (Strangely, the book was co-written and her co-writer and I have enjoyed a congenial online relationship before and after the article).

    Now, she didn't ask for a review, so I guess I dragged her into something without her consent (although I think once you publish you pretty much give consent for people to discuss your book), but, still. Some people are NOT okay with having things e-mailed to them. That's the lesson I learned from that incident!
     
  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks all for sharing your thoughts!

    My terms would be simple--if I like the book (four or five star) I'll post it. If I don't, I won't. But that doesn't deal with my problem, which is that I never want to email an author and say, "Sorry, your book was below four stars so I won't be reviewing it."

    This thread title was misleading. My issue isn't with the ethics of it, or my reputation as a reviewer (I don't want to be a reviewer) or any of that. It's purely that I don't know how objective I can be when I have a relationship with the author outside of a faceless purchaser from a faceless author.

    I don't think I can do it. There's nothing in it for me, since I don't particularly want the free book, but there is potential for me to end up in a situation like @BayView. All risk and no reward!
     
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  23. ToBeInspired
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    ToBeInspired Contributing Member

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    100%.

    I would also be blatantly honest in my review. I would spend more time forming it and would go through a few edits as a professional courtesy. If it was not going to be a good review I would privately contact the author instead of posting in any social aspect. Simply a matter of respect.
     
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  24. Edhla
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    Edhla New Member

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    Yes, I used to run a book blog and got quite a few free books from the author, in exchange for a fair review.

    It's... interesting. You have (I feel) a moral obligation to be fair, but if the book isn't as good as it could be, it's really difficult to say so with the author practically looking over your shoulder as you write. I picked up one guy's first novel on my own, read it, liked it, reviewed it fairly. He contacted me months later and asked if I'd read and review the second. I agreed - and the second one was so bad I'm still at a loss to explain how the same writer could have written both. Another book was given to me by the author, one of the loveliest women I've ever encountered - and I felt like the worst human being alive for pointing out that even though it had been printed by a small publisher, the punctuation actually made it hard to read in places. Ouch.
     
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  25. JLT
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    JLT Active Member

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    As a publisher, I've sent out lots of free books for review. It's just part of doing business. It is expected that the receiver will be able to do whatever he or she wants with it... give a good review, give a bad review, or just do nothing.

    Unless the reviewer has specifically told you that the book is in review, it is not good form to follow your delivery up with things like "Did you get the book? Did you like the book? When will I see the review?"
     

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