The Ethics of Reviewing Books
14 Dec 2007, 3:34:32 pm
I've just sent out a whole bunch of galleys to reviewers for a book that we're publishing this spring, and it's unpredictable who's going to review it. I always include the big-name reviewers, but I don't have high hopes, given they have limited space to fill with the numerous books they receive. I hope a few will have the courtesy to read the book and write a few words about it, kind or not, so long as the name gets out there.
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If I ever wanted an insight into how book reviewers operate, I have it today: The National Book Critics Circle has released the results from their ethics poll, with some interesting statistics. An interesting one to me is the status of negative reviews -- should a reviewer withdraw a review if it is unkind to the book? The results are split down the middle: equal parts thought it was ethical and unethical. Back in 1987, however, 74% thought it was unethical to hold back a negative review. So, on the surface we're being nicer, but my guess it has less to do with ethics and more to do with service to the reader -- offering recommendations as opposed to reviews. Movie reviewers still give 1 star, but there's a limited number of movies out at a given time. Readers are stuck with a deluge of potential books at any time, so they (as I know I do) prefer to be given an idea of what's good, as opposed to a list of what to ignore.
Most of the other ethics questions have to do with a reviewers personal bias: do they know the author, would they benefit from giving the book a good review, and so on. However, one particular statistic will answer that big question most authors have: did the reviewer really read the whole book? I've seen one review of one of our books that really made me wonder, but according to this survey, reviewers, by and large, say it's unethical to review a book without completing it.
View the entire survey results here.