I wrote my first review policy in August of 2009. It is now August 2012, and I feel the need to update it, not necessarily because my own views have changed but because the online reviewing landscape has changed. I feel the need to state what I mean in clearer, stronger language.
To Authors and Publishers:
I welcome your emails asking if I’d be interested in reviewing a certain book. You can find me at mookseandgripes AT gmail DOT com. Because I get review requests every day, it helps if you know my interests because you’ve browsed my blog. I’d love to hear about the books you think I’d like.
However, I’m afraid I will not accept any requests to read self-published books. It’s not that I don’t think there is great work going on there, but I also believe there is a lot of poor work going on there, and I’m not able to take the time to sift through the good and the bad.
To Readers of The Mookse and the Gripes:
In the past few weeks, two ugly practices that taint online book reviewing have come to the fore.
First, we’ve found out (and were not surprised) that some authors purchase positive book reviews. The higher the fee, the more positive book reviews someone will write and post around the internet under a variety of fake names. Second, there’s been hub-bub about the apparently growing practice of sock-puppetry, where an author uses a pseudonym to post positive reviews of his or her own work and may even post negative reviews of competitors’ work. The Mookse and the Gripes finds each practice unethical and reprehensible and does not engage in either practice.
Some Site History:
The Mookse and the Gripes is a book review / book discussion website, independent from any author, publisher, or book prize. I began it in July 2008 because, like so many others, I have a love for reading and discussing books, and I wanted a place where I could write my own ideas down about whatever book I was reading, hoping readers would engage in a discussion about the work.
Shortly after I started this blog I got an email from an author/publisher asking if I’d like a free review copy of a book. I remember running in to tell my wife that I had been offered a free book, I was so excited! Then, settled down a bit, I took a second look at the proffered book. I had no interest in it. I didn’t even know if I’d read it even though it would arrive at my door for free, though I knew I’d feel guilty if I accepted it and didn’t read it. Nevertheless, I felt a twinge of desire to force myself into it. A free book! And recognition! Thankfully I overcame that twinge of desire and told the author/publisher that I was not interested in receiving the book, surely there was some other forum for it. That was the start of what has eventually become a formulaic response: “Thank you for introducing me to [your book]. While I’m sorry to say that I am not interested in [your book], I do wish you and the book all the best.” One of the perks for doing this is building a community where we get together to discuss common interests, even if we disagree on many points. Bringing stuff here that is of no interest to any of us would be doing us all a disservice, and this would become a chore rather than an extremely fulfilling hobby.
Free Review Copies and Publishers I Love:
As fortune would have it, I now receive free review copies from publishers in whom I have a genuine literary interest because they consistently publish the type of books I want to read and discuss.
Am I promoting these publishers? YES. They deserve it. I highly respect them and want to throw all support I can their way, just like I would with a good book. They have some amazing projects that aren’t based fully — and not at all, in some cases — on profits. They believe in publishing good literature from around the world despite the fact that these aren’t usually best sellers.
Did they ask me to promote them? No. Never. Never has a publisher from whom I get review copies attempted, in any way, to condition review copies on my posting positive reviews (or any reviews, for that matter). Never has there been a quid pro quo arrangement.
The decision to promote a publisher is my own, based on my tastes and interests. It goes back to the idea of building a community: I love the books many of these publishers release, and I hope to discuss their work with those who share my tastes and interests, often by introducing people to these great founts of reading material. My intent in promoting is to benefit us, in this space, and only incidentally to benefit anyone else (though I hope it does benefit them so that they can continue to do their great work). I have never had a financial interest in promoting anything on here. I have never been the beneficiary of any sales of any books reviewed here, and for the work I’ve done on this blog I’ve never made a dime. I’ve just received free books.
That said, many people are rightfully skeptical when it comes to free books: they see them as bribes for good reviews. It doesn’t help when some publishers make statements that treat bloggers like children who will get treats only if they follow certain rules. So I must discuss my transparency policy.
Receiving free books increases a reviewer’s propensity to write a positive reviews in an effort to show appreciation for and to maintain a good relationship with a favored publisher. I do not accuse anyone out there of giving in to this temptation, but, just as surely as there are reviewers out there who would rather write an honest review and never receive a free book again, there are also reviewers out there would write a dishonest review to keep up the steady inflow of free books. I believe it is something all reviewers who receive free books must come to terms with. Despite my own greater propensity to write a dishonest review, I do my best to be objective and honest and to overcome other influences.
I feel that readers of this blog should, when considering my opinion, judge for themselves whether I might have a conflict of interest when I’m laying praise on a book. In an effort to arm you with information that allows you to evaluate my independence and potential biases, in the review in a caption to the book’s cover image I indicate when I have received the book for free. If nothing is indicated, the book is from my personal library, purchased by me or for me as a gift.
I think writing is a difficult task, and those who do it in good faith deserve our respect. That doesn’t mean their book deserves our good opinion. To be honest, if I’m disliking a book, I usually don’t finish it and don’t review it. That’s another of the perks of running a blog like this; I’m under no obligation to force myself through something I’m not interested in. I am interested in trying to understand and then articulate why I don’t think a book is a good book, though, so I do sometimes finish a book I’m disliking and will write negative reviews.