Ethical Reviewing: Transparency, Consistency, and Community
We’ve blogged about ethics and reviewing in previous articles. We’ve discussed bias. We’ve talked about the intricate relationship between the author and the reader. All of these things work together to form the fundamental basis of my philosophy of reviewing here at Dear Author. I believe that no one person is without bias. It’s virtually impossible, I think, to reach a certain age and not be predisposed toward one thing or another. How you are raised. What you believe. Where you are in life. These all converge and influence one’s outlook or the filter through which everything is viewed.
Because I operate under the premise that no person is without bias, I believe that no review is unbiased. No book is read in a vacuum. If you have certain political or personal beliefs that are in direct conflict with the thesis of the story then it is unlikely that you will respond positively. Indeed, the more talented the author, the more negative your response might be.
The antidote to bias then is threefold: transparency, consistency, and community. When the reviewer articulates any recognizable bias, it allows the reader to judge the review and weigh it appropriately. For example, a book with lawyers in it might have innumerable mistakes that make the reading experience jarring for me. Another reader will not have that same bias. A book that is replete with babies might be a joy to some, but admittedly starts off probably one step back for me. A book with an Asian main character, I’ve semi-seriously joked will always start at a B grade and move up or down from there, because there are so few books with Asian characters.
It is true that since the inception of the blog, we reviewers have developed relationships with authors. I think each one of us believes that we can be honest about our reactions to the books regardless of whether we’ve broken bread with an author, drank with an author or exchanged one or a dozen emails with authors.
There are authors whom I don’t review and others here have chosen not to review for various reasons. Janine is critique partners with Sherry Thomas and Meredith Duran. She’s chosen not to review them but their books have been reviewed here at DearAuthor by others. Duran got a full phalanx of reviews ranging from A (ã‚¸ã‚§ãƒ¼ãƒ³(JÄn)) to B- (Janet) to C (Jane). There are authors I don’t like personally and have chosen to stop reviewing and reading their books altogether. Thus, not reviewing a book can be for both reasons of personal close relationship and dislike. Or it can be neither of those reasons.
The more important question may be whether friendship or animus can influence interpretation. Unfortunately, there is no one answer and I don’t know whether the biased person can actually tell whether they are being influenced one way or another. A reader, though, should feel comfortable disregarding one person’s opinion based either on the perceived or articulated bias of the reviewer, or even of the reader herself. Which brings us to the second prong in judging the efficacy of reviews–consistency.
One way that I think readers should look at a review site is based on the whole of the reviews provided. We have hosted negative reviews of authors I have loved here at Dear Author and we have hosted positive reviews of authors I really, really dislike here at Dear Author. We have posted positive and negative reviews of the same books and the same authors. No one reader reviewer is exactly like another. We do not share the same hive mind about books, partly because of our innate biases that differ from person to person, which come from our different experiences and perspectives. The sheer variety of opinions is, ironically, perhaps, one way we remain consistent in our approach to reviewing.
Jessica of RacyRomanceReviews pointed something out on her blog the other day. Laurie Gold wrote the PW review of Jennifer Armintrout’s Blood Ties. The review stated “but if you’ve got the stomach for it, this fast, furious novel is a squirm-inducing treat.”
Sounds like a recommendation, no? At AAR, Laurie Gold cited Armintrout’s book as the worst of the year.
Though the author created a couple of interesting characters and a difficult and intriguing tentative relationship for them, any interest I had was destroyed by one intimate scene that is the stuff of a true sadist’s dream. I’ve no problem with gore in general; indeed, an oddly favorite moment in one of Anne Rice’s vampire books features a couple of vampires literally breaking people’s bones and devouring their bodies, yet a similar moment in this book nearly brought up my lunch. This was, for me, the worst book of the year.
In the comment section, Laurie Gold offered up the explanation (probably disturbing to her most of all): “The editor made some changes. Beyond that I cannot comment.”