Book Reviews: Honesty Is the Best Policy

Apparently there is a lot of discourse going on about book reviews. Because I am a book review blogger and work for a magazine that markets books, all this talk is making me quite antsy, and I feel the need to express my opinion about it.

First and foremost, I believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a review. The most important thing to remember, however, is that you are not necessarily purchasing a positive review; you are purchasing the reviewer’s educated opinion. Just because there was an exchange of currency does not mean you have the right to positive review. What you are paying for is honesty.

Deciding whether or not to pay for a review should not be a matter of ethics. Reviewers who are not honest scar the name of honest reviewers; dishonesty, misleading readers, and taking bribes are completely unacceptable in every situation.

That being said, there is more to this question of ethics than meets the eye, if you flip it around at look at it from a reviewer’s perspective. The ethics of a reviewer’s choices comes into how deep into a negative opinion of a book they feel comfortable going. If a reviewer reads and does not enjoy a book, they have the right to say so by simply stating that it was not for them, but they also have the responsibility to readers to point out the evidence that led them to believe the quality of the book did not meet their standards; however, a reviewer may feel a sense of stretching the moral line when they have little to no positive opinions of the book and feel as though they may offend the author, which may hurt the reviewer’s reputation.

The guilt and fear a reviewer may feel when faced with the prospect of writing that inevitable bad review (especially when they have spoken to/emailed the author directly) will cause some anxiety, leading the reviewer to either approach their phrasing delicately or deciding not to post a review at all. I highly recommend the former route as not posting a review is almost as dishonest as writing a positive one: it’s lying by omission. When a reader sees that a book has only positive reviews they will assume (obviously) that the book is good, as they should. And further, a negative or even a scathing review may not turn them off to the book either. If a reader sees honesty, be it negative or positive, they will be more likely to take interest in the book.

It’s also important to remember that reviewers have the right to decline reading a book they are offered if the premise or genre does not interest them. From the start this means the chances of them enjoying the book are higher than if they were to review every single book they were offered.

And even so, if a reviewer dislikes a book, that doesn’t mean everyone else will dislike it; if a reviewer adores a book, that also doesn’t everyone else will love it too. Reviewers are only human after all.

Now, I personally am passionate about books in general. I review books because I love books (whether I enjoy them or not; it’s the idea of the book, the concept of “book” that I am passionate about) and want to share my opinions of them. I want readers to find books they might not have found otherwise so that they can learn from them. I would be devastated if all of the sudden the general public said, “Oops, looks like we no longer trust what reviewers say. Screw them; we can think for ourselves.” Obviously readers can think for themselves; that’s the point! By sharing my opinion of a book, I am not telling you what is good and what isn’t, I am simply offering suggestions to readers. When writing a negative review, I would never say, “Don’t read this book.” That is just silly and, actually, a bit evil. I will certainly, though, explain the aspects of a book I found disheartening or dull.

What a book reviewer does NOT do is tell a reader what to think or what to buy. What a book reviewer DOES is open a reader’s mind, not only to new books, but also to new opinions, aiding them in their cultivation of critical-thinking so they can read and form their own distinctive opinion.

The bottom line is this: dishonesty, misleading readers, and taking bribes are completely unacceptable. Let that be a call to action for book reviewers. Seriously, honesty is the best policy. You are only harming yourself (and the reputation of other reviewers) by misleading people.

But hey, it turns out most people don’t even read reviews anyway.

What do you think?

Peace, Aimee