Should book reviewers expect cash or gifts?

Our featured guest blogger this week is Kathryn (Bob) Etier, a professional book reviewer who has almost a thousand reviews in print. She tackles the issue of ethics and asks: Should reviewers expect gifts, or perks or cash in exchange for a good book review?

Want to fast-track your book to a glowing review?  Take a copy, paperclip a $100 bill bookmark to the first page, and send it to me.  In all honesty, it would just break my little heart if an author sent me a book with a $100 insurance policy. Why? Because it would absolutely kill me to return the cash, but to keep it would mean it would haunt me for the rest of my life.  Am I being overly dramatic? Of course I am, but—jokes aside—$100 isn’t adequate compensation for the loss of ideals and values, so back it goes.

Do reviewers observe ethical considerations?  Yes. Not all do, but most have principles (or an old-fashioned and out-of-fashion conscience) that prevent them from engaging in unethical behavior.  Does that affect writers? Is it worth risking your reputation or alienating reviewers? For example, if a writer did send me a book with a $100 bill attached, I would not only feel conscience-bound to return the money, I would be unable to review the book (which is why I’ve never given the advice that opens this column to an author or publicist. Not everyone recognizes a joke when hearing one).

How can a writer court internet reviewers without overstepping unclear borders?  One way is to avoid the embarrassment of insulting a reviewer or damaging one’s own reputation.  Regardless of their spiritual beliefs, ethical reviewers do unto others as they would have done unto them.  They don’t review books because of big bucks to be made; they review books because they love them and they enjoy writing. Since they maintain certain values and don’t write just for the money, they aren’t necessarily looking for perks.

Other principles that reviewers observe include publishing honest reviews, reviewing titles they request, writing original reviews (attributing quotes from other sources such as press releases and press kits, or setting them apart with quotation marks), taking responsibility for their work by writing under their own names, acknowledging the source of review materials, and refusing payments from authors and publicists. Not every reviewer shares the same values, but there is an ethos that binds the ethical and separates them from the rest.

Are all “gifts” to reviewers verboten?  Branded, promotional items (caps, T-shirts, pens, candy, pencils printed with a book’s title) and novelty items –press kit filler—are all acceptable. Sending a thank-you note after receiving a thoughtful review can’t influence the review, and authors sometimes send copies of the finished product (usually signed) when they especially appreciate a reviewer’s input. The United States Postal Service allows mail carriers to accept gifts of negligible value, a guideline that might well be applied to writer/publicist-to-reviewer giftables.

Although influencing reviews with thinly-veiled “bribes” (higher-ticketed items) may seem an easy way to get the type of reviews one wants, the best way to get a reviewer to deliver a glowing review is to present him or her with a well written, beautifully copy-edited book.

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