Review Policy

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.

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.

Negative Reviews:

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.

17 thoughts on “Review Policy”

  1. Trevor says:

    Feel free to comment on this page to let me know your thoughts on this subject.

  2. John Self says:

    Never has a publisher from whom I get review copies attempted to leverage my reviewing independence by offering gifts.

    You aren’t smooching with the right publishers.

  3. Trevor says:

    Send them my way, John! I can always revise my review policy :)

  4. Lisa Hill says:

    Nobody’s ever sent me a free book so I haven’t had the problem, Trevor!
    Australian publishers must be stingier than UK ones LOL.

  5. Randy says:

    Much as I love the idea of free books, I would not be able to force myself to read and review books outside of my range of interest of world literary fiction either.Reviewing is a lot of work anyway (at least I find it that so)… Kudos and props. As usual your blog sets the standard.

    Randy

  6. Trevor says:

    Lisa, the publishers sending me stuff are the very generous ones in the U.S. Good luck if you want the advanced copies to start transforming your blog! It’s fun!

    Randy, thanks for the generous words! I must disclose, however, that the standard has been set by at least two bloggers familiar to me: KevinfromCanada, with whom I’ve been discussing this matter, and Kimbofo of Reading Matters, who has had a review policy since 2006 (I think). But I do feel much better now that I’ve articulated my own and can let readers know how I conduct myself on this end.

  7. Your statement is one that I heartily endorse (and hence will not write my own). I also would like to think that your recent thoughts about legal ethics have influenced this decision.

    I do think the transparency issue is more important to those of us in North America than in Europe — there are many more sinister forces at play here. And I can’t help but note that kimbofo, another ex-pat, was the first to articulate a policy.

  8. Anthony says:

    Very admirable. I lasted less than a fortnight in Amazon’s Vine programme for similar reasons. I realised there was few books, if any, I would buy myself.

  9. Isabel says:

    I don’t accept books that I don’t want.

    If I don’t like a book, I won’t finish it nor review it. I figure that the author put some sweat and tears into his/her work and I wouldn’t want to discourage the authors. Also, it might also be my mood.I sometimes go back to books that I hated and find that I like them now.

    Right now, I am not accepting anything from anyone due to hurricane season. I need to be ready to evacuate and don’t want to think about the ARCs that I haven’t touched.

  10. kimbofo says:

    So pleased to see this on your blog, Trevor. When I first raised the ethics of book bloggers receiving free books the scale of venom sent my way was not pleasant. I got called everything from a dweeb to a slattern. That was in November 2006. I’m delighted that the tide seems, at long last, to have shifted in the other direction.

    By the way, you have a wonderful blog. I visit often but don’t always comment.

  11. I want to second kimbofo’s comment. Certainly there are bloggers who want free products and use their blog to promote that. I have no issue with them.

    But then there are others (and kimbofo’s latest post of the Great Hall in Trinity College, Dublin, is my best possible example) who want to share our experience with the world — sometimes that fits a publisher’s agenda and sometimes it does not. Telling our visitors what our source was is not a bid deal.

    Whereas, Australia beating England in the final Test match is. Barrack on, Australia!!!!!

  12. Sarah says:

    Wholeheardtedly agree with your policy Trevor.

    It’s good to see that when it comes to cricket, Kevin has become an honourary Australian!

  13. Sarah: I have actually bet 20 pounds on Australia to win the Test — it is all kimbofo’s fault for doing a post that featured a picture of the Ashes. The worst thing is that my name is Kevin Peterson which is dangerously close to……not Ricky Ponting. I’m thinking of changing my name to Hilfenhaus. And Trevor has to put up with this because he thought Netherland was a great book, so he must be interested in cricket.

  14. Trevor says:

    Cricket to me is like the American Dream. I see a lot of people enjoying it, and I want to be a part of it — but it’s still a bit vague and intangible. I do want to understand it better.

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. The content of the blog won’t change much (just that little caption under the book cover), but it’s nice to have this out there. I feel clean!

  15. Trevor says:

    By the way, this post has already been viewed more than many of my other posts are on their first days. And today was a busier day than usual on the blog. Looks like I should give up reviewing books and focus my energy on writing review policies :).

  16. Colette Jones says:

    Trevor, I’m confused about this. Are you saying that you will write that you like a book that you don’t actually like? Or are you saying that you might write that you like a book that you don’t actually like?

    I don’t understand what legal ramifications are being intimated but if you review a book I would want to know what you really think. Should I avoid reading the reviews of books which were given to you by the publishers?

  17. Trevor says:

    Hi Colette. I’m glad you raised these concerns and that I have an opportunity to clarify. (Now that I’ve written all that’s below, I’m not sure it does clarify anything. Let me know!)

    To answer your first question: no, I will not say that I like a book that I don’t like. I do my very best to be honest and to say exactly how I feel about a book.

    When I wrote about the potential conflicts of interest and other influences (personal relationship with publishers, desire to continue receiving free advanced copies of books), I wasn’t saying that I consciously am affected by them but that I just might be (even subconsciously), and it’s up to the reader to guage and to keep me honest.

    By expressing these concerns, I’m merely expressing the need for such a policy, not that I’m a particularly dishonest person. By disclosing which books I get for free, in my mind I’m giving the reader valuable information about my review. Readers have no reason to trust me. I’m not a syndicated writer. I’m not a professional reviewer. I work for myself on a platform I created myself. I could be very self-serving.

    There are no legal ramifications — at least none that I’m aware of — if I misrepresent my opinion of a book (it would be mere puffery and not fraud) — another reason a clear policy is necessary. If I misrepresent facts about the author or about the book, my liability would be a different story.

    I know a lot of bloggers say that if honesty is the policy, nothing else matters, disclose whether a book is a review copy or don’t. I respect these bloggers’ decisions. I agree that honesty should be the policy, but in the blog world there are a lot of other very real influences at play that can eschew that result. Some say that a blog review is no different from newspaper review, but I don’t agree. The honest review might be the same, but the forum is totally different. Newspapers have an editorial policy that has been disciplined and refined through the years. Blogs don’t. Also, a reputable newspaper with a paid book reviewer isn’t afraid that a publisher might stop sending them books because that would be the publisher’s loss, not theirs (most of the time). It could be the reverse with blogs. Also, most newspapers have a selection and assignment process that doesn’t involve the reviewer. The reviewer gets the book and the assignment (often based on their interests and abilities, newspapers do want to give a book the proper response). There might be other conflicts in this process, but to me they don’t seem as extreme as those in the blog world.

    So, I don’t think you should avoid reading the reviews of books which were given to me by publishers (they’re very good books, for the most part), but I think you should know that I’m getting a stream of books from these publishers. That readers know I might be affected doesn’t get me off the hook. This policy doesn’t give me a license to lie just because it is apparently transparent. But it is a degree of honesty that I think is necessary for blogs, particular those written by non-professional book lovers who mainly started their blogs just to expres their love for books.

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