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Ethical Reviewing: Transparency, Consistency, and Community

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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 (ジェーン(Jān)) 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.”

We aren’t professional reviewers or a professional publication like PW.   I think it must be pretty awful to be placed in Laurie Gold’s position, wherein an editor takes our “it’s awful” review and turns it into a “it’s a treat” review.   (as an aside, I actually liked Armintrout’s first book, Blood Ties). We are never going to be embraced by the NBCC. But we can offer you one thing. If we write it, we mean it.    We are offering our honest reactions to the books (sometimes too honest and too unvarnished).
This brings me to my last prong of a good review site, and that is the community.   I love reading the responses of readers, and I particularly love it if they have differing opinions.   I think the variety of content and opinion is what makes Dear Author so robust and I often find the comments of the readers more interesting than anything I’ve written.    Commenters can affirm a reviewer’s opinion or rebut it.   The commenter can challenge a way that the reviewer thinks of things and responds to them.   If the reviewers/bloggers are the heart and the books are the nutrients, then the community is the lifeblood that keeps us all going.   We’re all in it together,   being the check and the balance to maintain the best, most balanced and diverse community possible.
I guess the question that is put to you, the reader/consumer of reviews, is what do you need to know in order to appropriately weigh the review?   What’s important in terms of ethics/transparency/bias/consistency, etc.?   If you were to prescribe a set of reviewing ethics, what would they be?   How would you change things here at Dear Author, if you could?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

99 Comments

  1. Anion
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 06:30:35

    Wow, loaded questions much, Jane? :-)

  2. katiebabs
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 07:45:38

    There are some review sites who will only post positive reviews and will not post negative ones. I bet you PW wanted a positive review and Laurie had to deliver it. Of course she should have perhaps thought of this when positing a totally different review on AAR…

  3. Kimber An
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 07:47:57

    Readers are smart. They figure out which reviewers share their tastes and read their reviews regularly. And some reviewers offer so much more they read them anyway. I almost never like anything you ladies here at Dear Author like, but you offer so much else I come here daily anyway. The Sunday articles on ePublishing are my favorite.

    I’m a reviewer who only posts positive reviews. I do this by only reviewing books I like or love.
    ;)
    I think everyone knows I’m unpaid and unprofessional. I simply give a brief overview and say what I like about the book.

  4. Tae
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 07:55:24

    wow that’s a tough one… Personally I just look at what the reviewer says and what appeals to them.. if the same things will appeal to me than I’m interested in the book, if not than I’m not. Mostly, I just want honesty. I want you to tell me what worked for you, what didn’t and how the books made you feel. I don’t care if you’re a fangirl squeeing about your favorite author, unless I think that you can’t be objective.

    This reminds me of when people ask me for book recommendations. As a librarian and a bibliophile, I’m always getting people asking me what books would I recommend. My answer is always, “what do you enjoy? Who do you read?” because my recommendations will change depending on the answer. There are only three books I recommend hands down to every single reader (Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card, Lamb – Christopher Moore, The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime – Mark Haddon)

    I’m a sf/fantasy reader which means that I’ll always look at Jia’s recommendations more favorably since I know she’s also a sf/f reader. I’m also Asian, so I also tend to look more favorably at books with an Asian heroine. I do also tend to be more dismissive of reviews by those who favor writers I dislike since I figure that our tastes are different. I don’t believe that we can be objective about our tastes, and that’s okay.

  5. rebyj
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:19:19

    I guess the question that is put to you, the reader/consumer of reviews, is what do you need to know in order to appropriately weigh the review?

    Balance, no book is ALL great or ALL bad. I think here at DA you ladies do a good job with that.

    What's important in terms of ethics/transparency/bias/consistency, etc.?

    I find it interesting to know if you know an author and have a friendship/relationship with them if you’re reviewing their book. It adds to the thread of community and keeps the wolves off your back if they’re hunting for something to bitch about. “You KNOW HER? How can YOU have enough intelligence to review HER book? YOU KNOW HER!” Consistency? hmmm Taste in fiction is so fluid I know any inconsistencies by a reviewer here in reviewing the same genre will get called out in the comments and can be discussed. Yeah, I would be suspicious if a specific book got a A here and the reviewer was over at another blog/site trashing the book or vice versa. I’d wonder what your agenda was cuz omgz there has to be a conspiracy somewhere LOL.

    If you were to prescribe a set of reviewing ethics, what would they be?

    Ethics,
    If you’re reviewing a book, READ it.
    If one reviewer here is more fluent in say, sci fi speak or history, let that one review those kind of books so that the review is richer with details.
    I guess note if you bought the book or if it was a freebie sent by author or publisher. Was it read because it was picked or was it read because it was free?

    How would you change things here at Dear Author, if you could?

    You guys do a good job! I encourage you to continue the open thread for authors and readers each month. Good recommendations have come from those posts.

  6. Jill D.
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:20:06

    First off, I would just like to say, that I think your site and what you do for the romance community is awesome. I like that you provide a wide variety of news coverage and reviews. I must say that I usually don’t read your reviews though. Mainly, because if it is a book I know I am going to read, I am worried about spoilers. I don’t want too much of the plot to be given away. That would be my main request. To keep the plot description only from the first couple of chapters. If you feel like discussing a certain aspect of the plot that may contain spoilers, then announce a spoiler notice.

    I also think that as a reviewer, you should be honest about your pet peeves and likes and dislikes. For example, if you read a court room drama romance and are annoyed by the inaccuracy of the court room, let the reader know it’s you, not the book. But on the otherhand, if you found the plot boring the characters asswipes, others might too. I say just be honest and consistant and everything will work out great.

  7. Danielle
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:21:44

    I have to admit that lately I haven’t taken to much stock in reivews — just because a book didn’t work for you it might work for me. If there is a book out there has been reviewed and the reviews are not great I won’t even read it because I do not want to be thinking of the negative review while I’m reading the book.

  8. Chicklet
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:25:08

    I’ve always appreciated that the DA reviewers give context in their reviews: what kinds of stories they like, their reading history with the author in question, tropes they hate. Because I agree with you, Jane: Everyone has biases. By listing them in reviews, the reviewers are more honest.

    I also appreciate review sites that post negative reviews. It’s why I love Ravelry, the social networking site for knitters/crocheters: It’s the only place I can get honest (read: occasionally negative) yarn reviews, because the knitting magazines will publish only positive yarn reviews.

  9. Lori Borrill
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:32:05

    Only one thing annoys me when it comes to reviews, and that’s a reviewer who starts out saying some variation of, “I normally hate books like this but asked to review it because I wanted to see if I still really hate these kinds of books.” Then they go on to talk about how much they hated the book.

    To me, that’s not a book review, that’s a waste of everyone’s time.

  10. Maya M.
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:32:27

    You had me at ‘phalanx’.

    What a fab and underused word.

  11. Jennifer Estep
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:32:49

    I always like to know if the reviewer has any pet peeves/plot devices that may make a story less/more enjoyable for them (secret babies, marriage of convenience, etc). I certainly have mine (wimpy, TSTL heroines) and always try to mention that they are pet peeves when I’m reviewing a book that features one of them.

    I also like to know a little bit about someone’s reading tastes — authors and genres they like. General info, like the box you guys post at the bottom of your reviews. That usually gives me a sense of how my reading tastes and theirs might match up.

    And I think if you have a relationship/friendship/whatever with an author, then you need to mention that.

    I enjoy the industry news and links that you guys post. (BTW, what’s happened to the weekly deal post? No deals to report because of the economy?) The e-book/e-reader stuff not so much because that’s not something that interests me right now.

  12. Michelle
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:37:05

    I am so sick of the places that moan about negative reviews. The whole idea of -nice girls- and people should only post positive reviews. Also how many times do some authors need to be reminded about not whining about negative reviews on public boards -it just makes them look unprofessional. On the romantic times board there is a thread about negative reviews of a prominent author. Some have actually posted that those that left negative reviews probably never read the book and it is just a big conspiracy to hurt the author. Oh really-tin foil hats anyone?

  13. Lori
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:40:13

    I enjoy reading the reviews here because even the positive ones aren’t squee-ing fangirls filled with unabashed praise but thoughtful reviews that still point out flaws and inconsistancies.

    That said, it’s rare that a positive or negative review influences much. It’s the description of the story and the writing that gets me every time. I’ve tried more new authors thanks to this site because a sample of the writing appealed or even, because the actions of the author in response have been so positive that I wanted to see if the writing was as pleasurable as the person.

    The writing community is vast and obviously not everybody will be happy. But damn, the community here is freaking awesome.

  14. Sherry Thomas
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:42:09

    My favorite movie critic has a bias meter posted prominently at the top of her site.

    I think in DA’s About Us section, you guys could do the same for each reviewer. What do you like, what do you dislike, what do other people like that just doesn’t float your boat.

  15. vanessa jaye
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:44:29

    I want info from a review. If I can be entertained also, even better. But I’m pretty good at reading between the lines re bias, because something that isn’t blantantly stated, but evident through subtle word choice or even one betraying phrase that makes you go: whoa, where did that come from?

    A negative reveiw will positively influence a purchase as much as a A+++ review will do the opposite. It definitely pays to get a bead on which reviewer has the same tastes as you do.

    In all the years I’ve been reading online reviews only one reviewer has had the same tastes I have in reading, and that was only about 95% of the time. Sadly she doesn’t review anymore.

  16. rebyj
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:55:10

    One more comment.
    Dear Author has grown a lot in the past few years.You ladies are readers speaking to a community of readers . More and more people read here daily and you’ve gotten a good reputation for frank reviews and industry insight and comments. I’d hate to see that change just because of the growth or because of critical scrutiny because you’re voice is being heard by more people. You’ve grown because your method of reviewing works so don’t go changing too much!

  17. vanessa jaye
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 09:26:00

    The last part of my comment got cut off for some reason. ::scratching head::

    I said that I think you’ve covered all the bases in your post/explanation specifically, and in general re the way DA is run. No changes required in how you review. I like the transparency and when there’s differring opinions from reviewers on the same book.

  18. joanne
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 10:05:27

    If anything is most important to know (for me) when reading a review it would be a pre-existing relationship between the reviewer and the author/book. As part of that I want to know (that if it’s a book in a series) the reviewer is familiar with the series. They don’t have to be, I just want to know whether or not, as a reader myself, it is necessary to have read the entire series or if this is a stand alone story that is being reviewed.

    If the reviewer is a fangirl (and at my age that term is not as insulting as it should be) of the author or the sub-genre I want to know so that, again, I know on what I’m basing my purchases. I don’t mind a prejudice for an author as much as I do a bias (before reviewing the book) against an author. I think the first can be fun and/or funny and the second can be juvenile and demeaning to the reviewer and the reader of the review.

    And if I could change anything here at DA it would be the ‘one lonely comment’ banner that makes me feel sad. sort of. often. I’m done rambling and thanks for asking!

  19. Susanna Kearsley
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 10:39:52

    I totally agree with rebyj that:

    …you've gotten a good reputation for frank reviews and industry insight and comments. I'd hate to see that change just because of the growth or because of critical scrutiny because you're voice is being heard by more people. You've grown because your method of reviewing works so don't go changing too much!

    When I first started lurking here it was because I really liked the way you did reviews. I liked the tone of them, the structure (all addressed directly to the authors) and the observations and intelligent analysis of why you liked or didn’t like the book.

    I’m really glad this hasn’t changed. I wouldn’t want it to. As an author, I know that if you ever review one of my books your opinions will be interesting and fairly stated. As a reader, I think that you do a great job of revealing your biases when you’re reviewing. (And those of us who read the blog a lot eventually get a good feel for your likes and dislikes and what really annoys you — it’s to the point now where I only have to read a news clip in the trades and I immediately think, “Oh, Jane will be all over that one!”, and sure enough…)

    The fact that you’re even concerned that you may not be doing things right is just proof that you already are.

  20. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 10:51:52

    I enjoyed reading everyone’s top ten of the year lists. It’s a great way to find a reviewer with similar tastes. I think. I’ve never found a reviewer I felt totally in sync with. I love Mrs. G’s reviews, for example, but we are seldom in agreement.

    The haikus are awesome.

    I come here for thoughtful, honest reviews and you all deliver. Thanks.

  21. Darlynne
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 11:02:32

    DA is the first “for me” place I check each morning in my usual internet routine. I value the reviews without always agreeing with the grade or the reviewer’s take on the book. What I find so useful is that in-depth reasons are always given, they are well thought out and presented in an interesting and frequently entertaining way.

    If a reviewer has a relationship with an author, which should of course be disclosed, that is not an automatic certainty that the review will be a positive one. Truly, I have seen the opposite in allegedly professional reviews, where the reviewer loathes the author and picks the book and author apart in snide and ugly ways.

    I adhere to the journalism axiom: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. Bottom line, it’s up to me, the reader, to weigh the information in front of me and choose whether to read a particular book. No one site or reviewer is the final word, nor should they be. Fangirl squee or heated rant, just tell me why with clarity and intelligence and I’ll take it from there.

  22. Jayne
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 11:09:06

    Here’s an interesting post from late 2006 in which Jane and I compare our thoughts on the then current AAR top 100 list. Readers can compare their opinions to ours and get a better “feel” for which of us might be a closer “fit” review-wise.

  23. Jane
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 11:15:43

    @Jayne That was fun, revisiting the comments. We should do that again. Of course, we’d have to make up a list of 100 books!

  24. rebyj
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 11:23:30

    Start doing an annual list like that of books discussed here including all of your reviewers. That’d be fun to compare who reads what and who likes/dislikes what.

  25. Darlynne
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 11:24:43

    I want to add that I like the entire premise of “Dear Author.” Addressing your comments directly and publicly to an author requires you to be up front about your intentions and opinions, and to do so with respect, which has always been the case here. That is invaluable, in my opinion, and one of the many things that sets DA apart from the rest of the internet kudzu.

  26. Kimberly Van Meter
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 11:37:32

    As a relatively new romance author, I appreciate sincere and honest reviews. It’s wonderfully flattering to read someone’s positive opinion of your work but a truly good review (IMO) can help the writer grow by constructively pointing out where the book faltered (if it did). My first and second books were reviewed at AAR and they received middling grades but what was pointed out as a flaw was spot-on and I learned from it. I also took from the reviews some high points, which to me, was great because it felt genuine. Ego strokes are lovely and appreciated but a steady diet doesn’t seem conducive to writer growth.

  27. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 11:59:23

    Jane and Jayne,

    I hadn’t seen that post. OMG you two have read everything! Mad props. Very interesting to see where your tastes converged and differed. Do you know each other so well that you can recommend a book with absolute confidence that the other will love it? Or is it as I’ve always thought, impossible to predict a gut-level reaction?

    Jill

  28. Mary-Frances
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 12:09:28

    Excellent post! I agree with Joanne and the post itself. Everyone has a bias. I don’t mind as long as it’s disclosed so that it can be taken into consideration.

    Actually this post made me realize how I utilize this site and it’s not really about the reviews for me. There are so many books out there and sites like dear author help put a spotlight on them. You do the work of staying on top of what’s coming out, what’s new, and create a reference point, i.e. if it’s a new author, a series, etc.

    I have to admit if you give a book a D or F grade I’m probably not going to put it on my list of must reads. Anything with a C or above I will if the premise sounds interesting or I already know and like the author.

  29. GrowlyCub
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 13:09:47

    That comparison list was very interesting. I had the impression from reviews I’ve read that I had a similar taste to Jayne’s but this list shows clearly that I’m much more in line with Jane. Go figure!

    Jayne, why did you think ‘One Summer to Remember’ was awful? Do you remember?

  30. Jayne
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 13:39:05

    I had to go look up my notes to remember it but here goes: Lauren is dull, dull, dull. Kit is too angsty and never the madcap person Balogh keeps insisting he is. Every single little plot point is too neatly tied up by the end. It shows the beginning of the Ravenscrofts/Bedwyns must be in EVERY DAMN BOOK Balogh writes from here on out. I never cared for the leads as they were mannequins to me. And didn’t Lauren give it up to Kit on the usual flimsy pretexts that Balogh loves to employ?

    But I think the real reason is that this was the beginning of the end for single title Balogh books for me. I liked 3 of the Slightly books, 1 of the Simpley books and have no intentions of reading any more of the books she writes from here on out. I do plan on going back to read the remaining trad books.

  31. Bev Stephans
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 14:25:03

    I love your site and I don’t think you need to change anything. I may not agree with your reviews, but I always respect them and learn from them.

  32. Janine
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 14:56:18

    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.

    In the interest of full disclosure, readers should know that I have recently started exchanging critiques with Bettie Sharpe as well. I don’t personally plan to review Bettie’s stuff either, but I think readers should know about this so they can take it into account when evaluating any comments that I make about my crit partners’ books, my inclusion of my critique partners’ books on my best books of the year list (I think all three of them are fabulous writers), and the other Ja(y)nes’ reviews of their books.

  33. Janine
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 15:07:24

    Ethics,
    If you're reviewing a book, READ it.

    How do you feel about DNF reviews? I do them periodically for books I have read at least a third of. I say upfront that I did not finish the books and then proceed to give the reasons why.

    I understand why some folks are opposed to DNF reviews but if I didn’t write them, pretty much all my reviews here would be C and up in grade, since I have a very hard time making myself finish a book that is not working for me on almost any level. In fact, my DNF reviews are pretty rare as it is, because usually I can’t even get far enough with the books I dislike to write a DNF review.

    If I had to finish and review every book I start, I would quit Dear Author. As much as I love the blog, life is too short to spend it reading books I dislike that much.

    I did an opinion piece here once, a couple years back, about DNF reviews and at the time the majority of commentors seemed to favor my writing them over my writing only reviews of books I like enough to finish. I guess I’m wondering if that has changed.

  34. Sunita
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 15:16:42

    I see three types of issues here that can affect a review:

    (1) Specialized knowledge that affects your reading experience (e.g., Jane’s and Janet’s legal training, Janet’s literary training).
    (2) Personal hot buttons, either positive or negative, WRT characterization, plot, context.
    (3) Personal or professional relationship with an author.

    I appreciate knowing about all three, because it helps me situate the review in context. The only one that I think should affect the decision whether to review at all, however, is (3). If someone has a relationship with an author, or has very strong negative or positive feelings, then I think that rather than writing a standard review, another J should review the book and the first J can write a different type of post. There is a lot I can learn from a post written by someone who is close to an author, although probably more from the positive than the negative side.

    What I love most about the site: your different voices, the wide, wide range of books you review, and the industry news. What I like least: nothing consistent and usually totally idiosyncratic to me, so who cares?

    And thank you *so much* for reviewing Harlequins and not treating them as the embarrassing relative of the romance novel genre.

  35. Sunita
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 15:21:06

    @Janine:
    I like thoughtful DNF reviews. I’m not a big fan of snarky DNF reviews, but you don’t do those. And I’d rather have a thoughtful DNF than an F review that is taken over by the reviewer’s anger at having to read and then write up the book.

  36. JulieLeto
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 15:46:31

    I’d rather see a DNF review that was honest (and not snarky, like Sunita…that just turns me off) rather than a review that has information that is clearly incorrect and shows that the reviewer has not finished the book.

  37. rebyj
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 16:05:23

    Janine:

    In general, yes I think books should be read thru before being reviewed. It’s not fair to the author or to the consumer who may base purchases on reviews. (which I only do approximately 20% of the time , I like reading reviews after I’ve read something moreso than before).

    It’s not a huge issue here so don’t get mad at me and stop reviewing!! You’re GOOD! I like that DNF’s are noted as such here. And I agree with Sunita , thoughtful reviews with well stated reasons are ok, I also take into consideration that in a community atmosphere like this, someone is going to comment that finished the book. Here at DA I think I counted only 28 DNF reviews here. So it’s not like a huge percentage of reviews at DA are DNF’s.

    What irks me is some professional reviews I’ve read at other places , there is no way the reviewer read the book, at least not the same one I read! A for instance: White Oleander years ago. I remember reading in a paper that it was “lighthearted” . I bought the book and WTF! No way that reviewer read that book. I don’t recall who did the review , I remember it was in a newspaper back when we got paper newspapers.

  38. Leigh
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 16:18:44

    I reply on friends opinions for reviews. I have rarely found a review site or reviewer that has the same taste, bias, or issues that I do. And I completely agree that we all bring expectations and certain predisposition to our reading experience. Since I do know this, I make allowances for it

    However, since all my work experience has been in the business world for major corporations and companies, I am aware that the best defense is to not allow a situation to exist that would be interpreted as a conflict of interest, whether it is or not.

    I am not sure what the question is here. And I am not being facetious. I think if you want people to take the reviews seriously, then like any business you do everything to make sure that nothing can be misconstrued as being a conflict of interest or having a hint of impropriety. That can be not reviewing authors that you like or don’t like. If you want to just have fun, and post about books that you enjoy, and site is present that way, then the review are what they are.

    I know from my personal experience that it it is difficult for me to write something negative about people that I know. I posted on AOL message board, and an author e-mailed me and asked if she could send me an ARC and after reading it would I post my thoughts about it on the board. Since it was a book, that I was looking forward to reading I was excited, pleased and flattered. I read the book, and posted about it. But in some way, I became more vested in that book’s success than others. To this day, I still don’t post negative comments of her books online. The only author that I ever snail mailed had an AOL e-mail. I told her about the AOL book boards and she started posting there. She had a new release out soon after that, and while I liked it, the book was quite different from my expectations. But I never felt comfortable saying that.

    I assume that experience reviewers, are not bothered with the same conflictual thoughts that I had. But when I know about a relationship bad or good between reviewer and author, I wonder, and I remember how I felt.

  39. Jules Jones
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 17:04:04

    Janine @33, my take on DNF is that I don’t mind a thoughtful DNF review that sets out why it was a DNF for that reviewer. That’s still a useful review. What I find objectionable is a review that criticises or praises the book as a whole without mentioning that the reviewer didn’t actually read the whole book — or in extreme cases ever opened the book. And sometimes it’s obvious in such cases if you’ve read the book yourself that the reviewer *hasn’t* read the book. I’ve seen both positive and negative reviews along those lines (not at Dear Author, I’m glad to say) and I’m not sure which is more annoying.

  40. MaryK
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 17:11:36

    @Janine:

    How do you feel about DNF reviews? I do them periodically for books I have read at least a third of. I say upfront that I did not finish the books and then proceed to give the reasons why.

    Just knowing that a DNF review exists can be very useful. After all, we’re talking about getting to know a reviewer’s style and taste, and a DNF reaction is a pretty strong manifestation of taste. If I generally like books that J likes, it means something to me to know she couldn’t finish X book. Not knowing about her strong reaction is going to create a gap I’m not aware of in my comparison of our tastes.

    It would be an interesting contrast to pair a DNF review with a full review by another reviewer – not as a way to legitimize the DNF or as any kind of concession, but just to see how bad the train wreck really was. I don’t think any reviewer or reader is ever obligated to finish a book.

  41. GrowlyCub
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 17:42:43

    Thanks, Janine. I was curious, since I’m just re-reading this and I liked both it and ‘One Night for Love’ quite a bit.

    I disliked all the Bedwyn books, but absolutely hated the one with the ‘funny’ whores at the Battle of Waterloo. I just didn’t buy that a whole ducal family would sign up for mesalliances and I hated the slapstick/cartoonishness of some of the characters. I didn’t much care for the Simply books either for very much the same reasons. I liked bits and pieces of Jocelyn’s story, but disliked the other brother’s.

    I really loved some of her old books (not all) and they have been much more reliable reads for me overall, but I was really taken aback when I read on that was clearly ‘inspired’ by 5 of Georgette Heyer’s titles.

    Still, I’m tempted to try the new quintet, but I’m as afraid that they will be in the vein of the Simplys and Slightlys and as I’m hopeful that they will be like the good old stuff. :)

  42. SonomaLass
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 17:44:49

    DNF is an honest response, and that’s what all of us are looking for. Telling us why let’s us judge for ourselves if we want to read it.

    In my experience, all the DA reviewers do an excellent job of explaining their responses — giving examples, admitting to biases, expressing personal taste, &c. I almost always feel that I know WHY you liked or didn’t like the book, and that allows me to make a more informed decision about whether I’ll find it worthwhile.

    I especially like it when more than one of you reviews the same book. Obviously that isn’t always possible or practical (we’d get fewer reviews that way), but for some books it has been very helpful. And while I appreciate that each reviewer has her “specialties,” it is also nice to see how each of you reacts outside your own comfort zone occasionally. It encourages me to do the same, usually with good results.

  43. Janine
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 18:15:55

    Thanks, Janine. I was curious, since I'm just re-reading this and I liked both it and ‘One Night for Love' quite a bit.

    That was Jayne actually. Although my opinion of A Summer to Remember is similar to hers, FWIW (and we don’t always agree — for example I loved two of the Bedwyn books and liked another two pretty well — not the one with the whores though!).

  44. Jessica
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 18:20:35

    Great post Jane. I agree with you that the three pillars of ethical reviewing are good ones.

    The thing that I found interesting about the contrasting reviews mentioned in Jane’s post was that people often think a more professional review site like PW is better for being less biased in some way. But when you have an editor, even as a book reviewer, things gets gummed up in the works sometimes. At least when I am reading Mary Jane’s Small Potatoes’ Blog, I know what Mary Jane actually thinks about the book she’s reviewed.

    Another point I wanted to make was that while it’s fun to try to figure out who thinks like me about books (I think my taste and Janine’s are pretty close, Jane’s not so much, for example), I make an effort to read as many reviews as I can, because I want to try things out that I might not be tempted to otherwise. I don’t want to “narrow cast” (somebody here hates that word, and I apologize for using it!) to the point that I am reading one type of book, or, rather only the type of books that one reviewer enjoys.

    A final point: It’s interesting to me that the issue of DNF has come up. I also am opposed to the DNF review on the grounds that one has to at least commit to finishing something before reporting on it (think about it: would you stand for a DNF movie review? A DNF review of a meal served at a restaurant?). I owe it to the author and anyone who reads my review.

    On the other hand, having recently read a few books I had to grit my teeth to finish, I started seeing the other side of the issue. Life is short: why am I wasting my time with this book? But I want to say something about these books on my blog, which is, after all, first and foremost a record of what I read. If I’ve spent a few hours with a book, even if I couldn’t finish it, I want to remember it and my impressions of it. So then I thought, “well, I won’t call it a ‘review’. I’ll call it a … report? A series of impressions?.” Uh yeah, and I’ll call myself a hypocrite while I’m at it. This is an issue I am still struggling with, obviously.

  45. library addict
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 18:31:32

    I see three types of issues here that can affect a review:

    (1) Specialized knowledge that affects your reading experience (e.g., Jane's and Janet's legal training, Janet's literary training).
    (2) Personal hot buttons, either positive or negative, WRT characterization, plot, context.
    (3) Personal or professional relationship with an author.

    What Sunita said.

    I appreciate that the reviewers here make the effort to disclose their relationships (if any) with the authors they review.

    Even though I read reviews here and elsewhere, I don't personally put a lot of stock in the grades. It's just one person's opinion on a particular book and I may agree or disagree. I have yet to find a reviewer who likes and dislikes the same books I do for the same reasons.

    I can say that some of the reviews here at Dear Author have prompted me to try new-to-me-authors and books I might otherwise never have heard of or given a chance. Since I would think that is one of the goals of posting reviews, job well done. Some of the books which got raves here I personally did not enjoy. And there have been books that received low grades, but something in the review prompted me to try the book anyway and I loved it.

    So, I don't see the need for massive changes. I think articulate DNF and low grade reviews are necessary for balance.

    As an aside, I rarely comment on reviews here. Mostly because I don't usually take the time to analyze why a particular book worked or didn't work for me. And often because I read the book long after the review has been posted. Plus, I lurk much more than I post here in general. So please don't think that just because a review post doesn't generate a lot of comments that it isn't being read.

  46. GrowlyCub
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 19:10:37

    Ehm, oops, Janine. Can I plead senility? I have a b-day coming up and it’s scrambled my brains… something… grin

  47. Aoife
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 19:16:53

    Another ditto for what Sunita said. Those are exactly the bits of information I need to know when I consider how much weight to give what a reviewer has to say. As far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as an objective review, and I appreciate very much when a reviewer is transparent about his or her background and biases.

    So far as DNF reviews go, I think on DA they are usually quite illuminating, as much as the full reviews are.

  48. Janine
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 19:58:51

    No worrries, GrowlyCub.

    Jessica,

    I also am opposed to the DNF review on the grounds that one has to at least commit to finishing something before reporting on it (think about it: would you stand for a DNF movie review? A DNF review of a meal served at a restaurant?).

    I used to review movies back in the day, and I sat through some truly awful ones because I felt obligated to do so. But a movie only takes a couple of hours to get through, whereas I am a slow reader and it is easily twelve hours for me to finish your average book. And ultimately I dropped out of movie reviewing partly because I had had enough of sitting through the likes of “The Master of Disguise” or the 2003 remake of “Willard.”

    So I just know myself well enough to know that I would not last more than a couple of months at Dear Author if I were required to finish every book I start. You can call me finicky and spoiled. Those are fair adjectives to use and in fact I used them to describe myself in my very first review at DA. But it’s pretty much down to a choice between reviewing only books I finish, even if it means the grades don’t drop much below C, and doing DNF reviews as well.

    On the other hand, having recently read a few books I had to grit my teeth to finish, I started seeing the other side of the issue. Life is short: why am I wasting my time with this book? But I want to say something about these books on my blog, which is, after all, first and foremost a record of what I read. If I've spent a few hours with a book, even if I couldn't finish it, I want to remember it and my impressions of it. So then I thought, “well, I won't call it a ‘review'. I'll call it a … report? A series of impressions?.” Uh yeah, and I'll call myself a hypocrite while I'm at it.

    LOL. I’m glad you see the other side of it too. The term “DNF review” was already established here at DA when I joined the blog, just like the letter-to-the-author format and the grading system. Maybe it’s not exactly a review, but I think those three letters, DNF, make it very clear that the writer did not read the book in its entirety.

    If I’ve read less than every word of the first third of the book, I won’t do a DNF review. I don’t feel I can convey what the book is about with less than that.

  49. MaryK
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 01:10:45

    @Jessica:

    (think about it: would you stand for a DNF movie review? A DNF review of a meal served at a restaurant?)

    I would actually. “The violence in the first half hour turned my stomach.” “The camera work gave me a migraine.” “I saw a bug on the buffet.” “The kitchen staff was slovenly.”

    All legitimate reasons for a DNF review to my mind. I’d be happy for the advance warning so I could avoid those situations.

    Maybe somebody else could soldier on and write a full review, but just the fact that someone trying to review couldn’t take it tells me a lot.

  50. LindaR
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 01:45:42

    Yikes! I mean — YIKES. I will never read another PW review again.

    I guess the only thing I want to be sure of is that the reviewers’ words aren’t changed (beyond copyediting for typos and such) — especially from “hated it” to “it’s a treat.”

    As you said, everyone is biased. Stop the presses. What’s great about the reviews here is that all the reviewers obviously love books and want to find good reads. In other words, they’re reviewing in good faith.

    The comments turn the review into a conversation, and that gives the whole process a fundamental integrity. It’s great.

    I wouldn’t change anything about this site. However, when you decide to change something, I trust I will love it. It happened with the colors.

  51. Sunita
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 06:50:00

    I also am opposed to the DNF review on the grounds that one has to at least commit to finishing something before reporting on it (think about it: would you stand for a DNF movie review? A DNF review of a meal served at a restaurant?). I owe it to the author and anyone who reads my review.

    I wouldn’t stand for a DNF review (movie or book) in a newspaper or magazine because that’s the crtic’s job, for which s/he is being paid. And the review isn’t just the raw opinion of the critic, it’s mediated (for bad or good, as we see in the PW case) by editors, who are often adding another layer of “voice” to the review. But I don’t come to this blog for a traditional review, I come to see the Js take not just on the book, but where it fits into their reading process and their view of the larger context into which the book fits. Movie critics for major papers review everything that is pre-screened, which DA doesn’t, and their book review sections usually have an agenda (not nefarious, just shaping their choices). Blog review sites are much more personal, and I judge them on different criteria, even when there are multiple contributors resulting in what looks like a fairly comprehensive set of reviews.

    If DA were to become so big that they could make serious money from their site (stop laughing, Jane) and have a lot of influence, I’d still think they were different from traditional review venues, because I would believe their success came from their overall blog voice, not their reviews per se. I hope that makes sense. I just think that people interact with blogs differently and therefore have different expectations, whether they’re DA or RacyRomanceReviews TGTBTU or KarenKnowsBest (which are all really different from each other but still all recognizably in the blog style).

    I think that restaurant reviews are an interesting comparison. The critics with whose techniques I’m familiar *don’t* finish much of what they are served (they’d gain even more weight than they do now). And they take companions and eat from their plates as well. So many traditional restaurant reviews are based on tastes of the food, not on full courses of one dish each the way a regular restaurant-goer would experience the same meal. Granted, many reviewers make repeated trips to the restaurant, but that’s to get coverage. So we’re already getting a review based on a different experience , and I have no way of estimating the importance of the differences between their reviewing methods and a regular dinner out.

  52. Jane O
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 07:09:01

    Leigh mentioned something that can be a real problem for a reviewer writing about books written by a friend.

    Okay, suppose Reviewer A reviews a book by Friend B. Reviewer A loved it, was completely up front about his friendship with the author, and praised the book to the skies. Fine

    Then along comes Friend C with a book he has written, and asks for the same treatment. Unfortunately, Reviewer A thinks Friend C’s book is just plain awful.

    What does Reviewer A do now?

  53. Leigh
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 09:09:31

    In my opinion friendship puts a whole different set of problems on writing a review. But I don’t think it is a unique situation. What if you are well known writer, and you have nutured a new writer through the ranks, and she has gotten a book contract, and wants you to write the blurb on the front cover. And the same scenario, you think it is awful, and you don’t want your fans to think it is similar to the type of books that you write.

    I think if the book is awful, the majority of people step up to the plate, and say, they didn’t like it. The conflict is bigger between your personal intregrity and your friendship. Personally, I think the bigger problem is when a book is good, but not great that reviewers tend to give an author the benefit of doubt, if they are friends. At least that is what happen in my case.

    Again, I meet another author on the AOL boards, and she had a new release out. I think that I did buy the book, but I really disliked it. It just hit all my hot buttons of things that I disliked in a book. So, I didn’t say anything. Then the author e-mails me, and said that she feels bad because she suspects that I didn’t like the book and she feels like I wouldn’t have bought the book otherwise. I explain that I just have a few hot buttons, etc. And she ends up sending me cute item that was associated with her book release (it had to cost at least the same amount of her book). Ultimately, I think that we both felt bad.

    Conflict between personal integrity and friendship is everywhere. It can something as simple as a best friend asking if you like her new haircut (which is hideous) or giving a recommendation for an individual to an employer. The trick is being able to separate the two. And weighing the choices. Which is more important a white lie (haircut) vs. friendship. And when it is a white lie vs. personal integrity in a professional situation? And I am not indicating at ALL that this site isn’t able to do that. It is just if there is an alternative, why put yourself in that situation.

    P.S. If a friend’s haircut is hideous vs. just bad, you have to bit the bullet. . .

  54. Darlynne
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 10:13:59

    Then along comes Friend C with a book he has written, and asks for the same treatment. Unfortunately, Reviewer A thinks Friend C's book is just plain awful.

    What does Reviewer A do now?

    That’s very difficult. Right now, I have one friend who wants me to tell another that she wears way too much eye shadow. That friend wants me to tell the other that his bald head looks ridiculous with shoulder length white hair. Neither can understand why the other doesn’t see what’s staring back at them in the mirror. And I can’t figure out how to say anything to either; we aren’t that close.

    Reviewer A is in an impossible position, one that requires tact or a bulldozer, depending on whether the relationship was worth saving. If A decides to go ahead with a review, disclosing the relationship first, I still believe it is very difficult to write a glowing review about a book that is plain awful. The best outcome, without lying outright, would be something that damns with faint praise. Seriously, try writing anything positive about the last book you threw against the wall. I couldn’t do it.

  55. Emily
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 12:11:00

    How would you change things here at Dear Author, if you could?

    I admire your ethics and transparency. I really appreciate your reviews. But If could change one thing I’d have fewer articles about ebooks and ereaders (yawn). I know y’all just got Kindles and I’m very happy for you, really I am, but I suspect that less than 1% of your readers have one and that the rest of us don’t give a hang about them. Because, hello?? Most of us just can’t afford them!!!

    And if I got a free Kindle? I’d be so tickled I’d rave about it. I do think there is an inherent bias towards liking a very expensive, exclusive, cutting-edge gadget you get for FREE.

    Yes, yes, I know I can skip all the posts about them.

  56. MaryK
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 13:41:54

    @LindaR:

    What's great about the reviews here is that all the reviewers obviously love books and want to find good reads. In other words, they're reviewing in good faith.

    This is what it boils down to, good faith and love of books.

  57. Jessica
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 16:16:27

    @MaryK: The bug in the entree point is a good one: I couldn’t go on after that, either.

    @Sunita:

    I think that restaurant reviews are an interesting comparison. The critics with whose techniques I'm familiar *don't* finish much of what they are served (they'd gain even more weight than they do now).

    True, but you can tell what all of the dish tastes like after a few bites. One bite of the lasagna doesn’t taste different from another.

    Books are narrative journeys: you don’t end up where you started. The DNF review suggests that quality cannot change mid book. But why?

    I think there’s acceptance in Romanceland that a book can go downhill midread.

    Why can’t a book get better midstream? How about all those times someone says, “my friend begged me to hang in there and I am so glad I did, because after page 100 things got really interesting”).

    I guess this is an argument, it is even rises to that level, for finishing a book, more than against a DNR review. Anyway, still thinking on it.

  58. Jules Jones
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 16:48:07

    Jessica @57: a book might get better, but the odds are that it won’t. How much of your time are you willing to give up to find out? Time that might have been spent on a different book with a better chance of matching your tastes? That’s the assessment that any reader has to make, whether it be reading for a review or for private entertainment.

    I’ve pushed through the first fifty pages simply because the book was written by a friend, and been very glad I did so — but I still think that his publisher should have edited those first fifty pages to make them less of a slog, and implied as much in my review of the book.

    I think that where someone goes out and requests a review copy from the author/publisher, there’s an implied offer to at least try to read the whole book, but if you’re having to force yourself through every page, it may be better to give up. And if it was an unsolicited review copy, there really isn’t an obligation to read something simply because someone sent it to you in the hope that you would.

  59. Kaetrin
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 18:43:46

    I think Sherry Thomas made a good suggestion earlier on about a type of DA bias meter.

    I like the reviews on DA. I may not pay much attention to the grade as compared to the text. Somethings I like other’s don’t, so I like for the text of the review to reveal that to me. There are some books that have received a lower grade that I bought after reading the review and others that have received a higher grade which don’t interest me at all.

    So long as I can identify that, I’m happy to come back every day and check out what the DA girls are reading, thinking about and posting on.

  60. Jane
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 21:12:22

    @Emily I have been a huge fan of ebooks since the inception of our blog and have purchased several devices personally including the first Sony eink reader that came out in 2006. I actually consider our ebook coverage as something that sets us apart from other blogs. We have been posting the experiences that each reviewer has had with the Sony Reader and while it does sound mostly positive, I think that the reviewers have made points about what they don’t like. When I review the 700, I’ll definitely share some of my concerns about it.

    I have also ordered the Kindle 2 and plan on reviewing that when I receive it. Most of our ebook reader stuff, though, is posted on Sundays so that might a day that you might want to skip at Dear Author.

  61. Janet W
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 21:58:52

    I agree — your ebook coverage is awesome. And it’s your “thing” too and you’re all so au courant with everything out there. When I take the plunge, it will be Dear Author that will guide my steps.

    Actually my terrific local library lends out devices: might be a way to try things out!

  62. Robin
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 23:34:17

    I just want to make a comment about revealing the existence of relationships with authors.

    As someone who routinely manages much confidential stuff professionally, I also understand the value of keeping confidences personally, and of being able to rely on others whom I trust to keep my confidences. So there are just things I am not comfortable revealing because IMO they violate someone else’s right to privacy or are simply indiscreet. What I’m talking about goes beyond another concern I have — that it can seem like bragging when people talk about the people they know — but it’s related in a way, too, because I don’t *ever* want to be in the position of worrying that those whose confidences I keep feel that I am forwarding any agenda I may have at their expense.

    Consequently, if I feel strongly enough that my reviewing a book creates some kind of ethical dilemma for me, I will likely not review that book. And if I can reveal something that articulates a bias or a place where my objectivity would be questioned in order to write a review, I would only do so where I do not feel that I am breaking anyone else’s confidence, violating any personal or professional relationship, being indiscreet, or the like.

    More generally, I think that those who would demand any revelation that in their mind would compromise the review might consider the idea that keeping confidences is also an ethical principle, and one that IMO the reviewer has an absolute legitimate right (even responsibility?) to consider when deciding how much to reveal and whether or not to review a book in the first place.

  63. library addict
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 00:13:48

    @Robin

    I agree that a person should not make public information they've been told in confidence. However, I think a prospective reviewer having such information from an author would constitute a relationship of some sort with the author. So I don't see why the reviewer cannot read and enjoy the book, and make comments if they choose to do so, but simply pass on writing an actual review of the author's book(s).

    Most readers have no idea which authors reviewers at DA or other sites have met or correspond with. Which is why we rely on the reviewers to be upfront about it. Isn't it less problematic all the way around if a reviewer recuses herself from reviewing books if they do not feel they can be forthcoming about their relationship with an author? Shouldn't the reviewer avoid even the appearance of impropriety?

    I have no problem with any reviewers at a blog site such as Dear Author reviewing books by authors they know personally so long as they are honest about it. Just as it is helpful for the reviewer to disclose how they feel about other books the author has written or similar types of books they have read. It helps put the review in context.

  64. Janine
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 03:00:40

    another concern I have -‘ that it can seem like bragging when people talk about the people they know

    That’s a concern I share. It is very hard to mention my author friends/crit partners in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m bragging — especially since I am very proud of their accomplishments and feel beyond lucky to have their support and help. I’m sure some people must think I am showing off. It’s a catch 22 because who wants to come across that way? My friendships are solid enough that I trust my friends not to feel that I’m using them when I disclose these relationships. But I’m sure different people interpret my actions differently, because that’s just how people are. It’s not possible to please everyone. What can you do? Not everyone is going to love or even like you; that’s just the way life is.

  65. joanne
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 08:30:20

    @Janine
    Brag away, of course you’re proud. If Nora Roberts even let me carry her books I’d be telling anyone who would listen, lol!

    My concern is really with a bias against an author, again, before reading & reviewing his/her book. If a reviewer is “over” or “so done” with an author or sub-genre then the review is going to reflect that attitude and not be balanced.

    I see that most often on Amazon and other (what I think of as) fan-run review sites. If an author slept with your husband (har!) or wrote something on their blog or in a post that pushed a hate-them/that button, then it’s probably not a good thing to review their work unless you are willing to state that first.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with revealing confidences as Robin suggested but more to do with reviewing someones work that you already dislike before you start reading. Since none of those pre-existing problems with an author would be evident to those of us reading a review it just seems unfair to all concerned.

  66. Robin
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 11:55:13

    I agree that a person should not make public information they've been told in confidence. However, I think a prospective reviewer having such information from an author would constitute a relationship of some sort with the author. So I don't see why the reviewer cannot read and enjoy the book, and make comments if they choose to do so, but simply pass on writing an actual review of the author's book(s).

    But why should we?

    I’m serious about this question, btw. Let’s say an author has sent me her book for review, and in the email she tells me that she wrote the book because she was really upset about a particular social situation she wanted to address. She has not made this statement publicly. Or what if she tells me she had a particularly difficult time writing the book and considers it a great achievement that she finished it. What if she tells me she was battling cancer when she wrote it, even though she has not made that information public? What if she tells me that she imagined a famous person in the place of one of her protags? Seriously, what’s the formula for deciding what is too much?

    I see all this talk about what we reviewers owe other readers, but very honestly, I’m not convinced that I owe other readers everything they might demand. I certainly don’t see every author-reviewer in the NY Times BR articulating their relationships, yet colleagues are regularly reviewing each other’s work in that publication, in part because the community is so small. Why is it okay for them and not for us? Especially since the NY Times has held itself out there as exemplary of a journalistic standard, when reader blogs have not?

    Now I’m only speaking for myself here, but I’m not really sure there’s been a thorough amount of attention given to all the different aspects of this issue. I am a non-professional reader reviewer. I volunteer my time, gain no compensation for reviewing or blogging, and write reviews primarily to share my experiences with a book. Sometimes those experiences are so strong in a positive way that I want to tell as many people as I can how much I loved a book. Sometimes they are so strong negatively that I would like to do the opposite — but you know, I generally don’t suggest that someone *not* read a book because it’s just not something I’m comfortable with. Not that I won’t give a negative review, however.

    But still, I really challenge people — even those who are not reviewers — to think about what they owe others, especially those who are a) not paying them, b) not supervising them, c) not policing them formally for ethical conformity, d) not contracted in a relationship to which each contributes equally. That is, I give you, the reader, all this information that you deem to be “honesty” or “avoiding the appearance of impropriety” and you give me what, exactly? What are our mutual obligations, and if they’re not mutual, what is the standard to which I should be held? I’m not trying to be snarky here; I’m really trying to push at this issue, because I think there are many hidden dangers here that people aren’t confronting.

    Take the issue raised above of reviewers not personally liking someone whose books we review. There is absolutely *no way* I would disclose something like that in writing a review. Not only do I think it’s irrelevant, but I also think it’s damaging to the integrity of the reviewing process. Similarly, I’m not going to gush about how much I may like an author personally when I write a review, for the same reasons. In those two things, I’m going to leave it up to the reader to determine my level of fairness in the review by comparing my judgments in a review to those of others and to herself.

    Now, if I have a “professional relationship” with an author, if, for example, I’m ever asked to review a manuscript or to collaborate on something professional, I will either disclose that or pass on reviewing a book. But again, you, the reader, may not be privy to those decisions, and I think that’s as it should be. If I’ve given an author a couple of bad grades in a row, I probably won’t be reviewing those author’s books anymore, because no matter how honest I might be in my reactions, why would I keep subjecting readers to negative opinions of that author’s books? And yeah, I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve got an axe to grind with the author. Because that seems like a very relevant thing *to the integrity of the reviewing process*. But still, whose place is it to make that decision, and do I need to share it with everyone to make it ethically acceptable? To prove that I am above suspicion? There’s something that strikes me as unfairly intrusive and repressive about feeling that I somehow have to prove my ethical integrity to anyone (well, outside of Jane and the other DA reviewers, at least, on which my reviews reflect somewhat, although even there, we are all individuals and are not exactly always in line in our opinions on books or anything else, lol).

    Now someone else might go to great pains to assure you that they are without stain in the “appearance of impropriety” area, but I frankly find that a dangerous set up of expectations, because believe me, *someone* would find that person’s ethics questionable should they be privy to every conversation, email, RWA bar drink, whatever that person had. And when someone tells you that, you still have to rely on *their* discretion in making a bunch of decisions to which you are not privy. And if you trust, you do so on faith rather than on any documented information.

    Now some situations are more cut and dried — like when someone who works for a certain publisher is also in charge of procuring general reviews for a respected publication that hosts reviews. But not everyone agrees that such a situation makes the reviews of books from the person’s publisher unethical. And what about Kirkus, who has a *paid* review service? And what about the reviews in RT — you aren’t even privy to who writes those, let alone what connections they might have or relationships they might have, or whether or not they’re aspiring authors who belong to their local RWA chapter. What about any publication that accepts advertising dollars and also reviews — okay or not, and why?

    I haven’t yet hammered out a series of hard and fast rules for every possible reviewing situation, because I thin it’s largely a case by case decision. Still, though, I don’t think we’ve really talked about how complicated this issue is, about how much a volunteer reader-reviewer should reasonably owe other readers, and about how obligations play out in a reciprocal way v. a non-reciprocal way.

  67. GrowlyCub
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 12:46:05

    Robin, you make some interesting points, but your post also makes assumptions with regards to respect that readers have for ‘professional’ reviewers.

    I understand that as an academic the incestuous relationship between being colleagues and friends and reviewing each other’s work seems normal to you, which I assure you it’s not to this reader (even though I taught at a university for a little while and worked at one for a few years). Your below quote illustrates a belief that I absolutely do not share.

    certainly don't see every author-reviewer in the NY Times BR articulating their relationships, yet colleagues are regularly reviewing each other's work in that publication, in part because the community is so small. Why is it okay for them and not for us? Especially since the NY Times has held itself out there as exemplary of a journalistic standard, when reader blogs have not?

    It’s not okay for me at all and I do not read their reviews because I find them suspect for exactly that reason (but not solely for that reason), which also goes for Kirkus, PW, and especially RT.

    I think it is particularly because DA does not aspire to the NY Times ‘standards’ (in my mind rather lack thereof) that readers like it and I would like to see it stay this way: a reader to reader community.

    With the increase in attention DA gets, there will be more situations that could make a review as suspect as those of the entities you mentioned in your post are to me. So far I’ve seen only one review on DA that I felt should have better stayed unpublished in this venue.

    I’m only one reader and it’s entirely possible I’m not representative of the majority of DA readers, but I do feel rather strongly about this.

    I’m very glad that Jane continues to raise these questions, because while change is inevitable, I’d hate to feel about DA one day as I do about RT, PW, Kirkus and the NY Times snobs reviewers.

    That’s not to say that I don’t find your arguments compelling about being an unpaid reviewer who gives up her time for exactly what reward from the readers and that there is indeed a slippery slope in what DA readers can reasonably expect.

    I gave up reviewing for a site because I found I was too conflicted about writing honest reviews when I had gotten the books for ‘free’ or was friendly with the authors, which doesn’t mean others have to feel the same way. However, the argument that it’s better not to review resonates with me, if the question of whether or not a relationship with the author, or a bias against or a preference for a certain story line/author could compromise the review comes up in the reviewers’ mind or that of their associates.

  68. Jessica
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 13:53:56

    @Robin: You raise, very eloquently, the problem that arises when one ethical obligation conflicts with another. In the case at hand, you owe readers transparency, and you owe authors confidentiality. It seems clear that the latter duty trumps the former, for reasons you have stated.

    This situation is just what it is to be a human being involved in all sorts of different and overlapping relationships with other human beings. We try to muddle through, preserving relationships, preserving our integrity, and minimizing harm.

    Your question about how much disclosure is necessary to discharge one’s duty to a reader of your review is a good one, and I don’t think it can be fully answered in advance, although discussions like this thread can help us suss out the major potential conflicts.

    It reminds me of when doctors ask how much information is needed to procure informed consent. They get exasperated: “Do I have to tell them there is a 1 in one million chance of temporary acne?” My advice is usually to tell patients about any likely side effects, and also any information that was relevant to them in deciding to prescribe it. It’s a judgment call, and — provided they have good judgment – it’s theirs to make.

    Some of your other comments, the ones that suggest (if I read correctly) that because DA and other blogs are informal unpaid outfits, they have fewer or no ethical obligations to readers, surprised me, because they seem to go against the DA grain (expressed in this very post by Jane), which has been to chip away at artificial divisions between print and online reviews, between paid and unpaid reviews, etc.. Like this one:

    But still, I really challenge people -‘ even those who are not reviewers -‘ to think about what they owe others, especially those who are a) not paying them, b) not supervising them, c) not policing them formally for ethical conformity, d) not contracted in a relationship to which each contributes equally. That is, I give you, the reader, all this information that you deem to be “honesty” or “avoiding the appearance of impropriety” and you give me what, exactly?

    I am always up for thinking about what I owe others. I am pretty sure I don’t agree with your implicit (if I read it right) claim that my obligations to others depend on how they have treated me, or that we need parity in obligations (in relationships where one party has much more power and responsibility, like parenting, parity is not even desirable.). I DO think readers of my reviews have obligations to me (not to threaten me, for example), just not the same ones I have to them.

    But I believe we can go a fair way towards the standards Jane outlines in this post just by thinking of what we are doing when we write blog reviews as a kind of informal public testimony, or a kind of discourse. It’s not that different from everyday real life discourse. What are those rules? If someone wants to know why I always go to Mama Mia’s restaurant for lunch, and I tell them the food is great, but I fail to mention my Aunt Norma owns it, I think I have failed in one of my ethical obligations. Not a serious one, but still. now, I don’t have to tell them that my Aunt is an ex-con who ran drugs a few years ago. I’m using my judgment in balancing my obligations to my Aunt and my obligations to be honest to my interlocutor.

    It would be nice if we had an algorithm, but I don’t think we’re ever done when it comes to figuring out what we owe to others.

  69. Robin
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 14:51:46

    Some of your other comments, the ones that suggest (if I read correctly) that because DA and other blogs are informal unpaid outfits, they have fewer or no ethical obligations to readers

    But where did I say anything like that? What I said, exactly, is this: “I'm not convinced that I owe other readers everything they might demand.”

    I want to make this point super-clear before a sub-thread hammering me for abdicating all ethical standards pops up, when I do not believe that I implied anything of the sort. I don’t think I could imply that, since I do not believe that. What I do believe, though, is that there are many different facets to this issue, and perhaps more importantly, that trust in one’s ethical standards is something that forms over time — or doesn’t. And that my job as a reader reviewer is to weigh and measure all the ethical issues I may have when writing a review, and, like the doctor who must give a patient informed consent, make a judgment call.

    Also, and I think this is a really important point, the standard of ethical purity that some people are calling for is, IMO, illusory. As I said in my comment, someone may swear up and down that they are without ethical stain, that they do everything possible to avoid conflicts of interest, etc. And my point is: how do you know? Because they say so? There are some readers that no matter how much anyone discloses will not trust a reviewer. Others take reviewers at their word that they are ethically pure. But I can tell you that there are some who will make the claim of ethical purity who might not be seen that way by everyone if all the facts of their exchanges, relationships, etc. were revealed.

    I am always up for thinking about what I owe others. I am pretty sure I don't agree with your implicit (if I read it right) claim that my obligations to others depend on how they have treated me, or that we need parity in obligations (in relationships where one party has much more power and responsibility, like parenting, parity is not even desirable.). I DO think readers of my reviews have obligations to me (not to threaten me, for example), just not the same ones I have to them.

    All I’m trying to start to uncover in that paragraph you quoted, Jessica, is the question of what our mutual obligations are as reader and reviewer. And I think it matters to some extent what my status is as a reviewer because it affects the nature and character of the relationship I have, both to the blog and to its readers. It doesn’t — as some have suggested — mean that I am abdicating all importance of significance to the reviewing I do (although I also know I’m not writing confidential CIA briefs intended to affect government policy here, lol); it just means that IMO there are some differences between me writing reviews for pay for a paid subscription newspaper and me writing reviews as an amateur reviewer for a reader blog. It doesn’t mean I have no ethical obligations, but IMO it does impact the nature of the informal contract I have with readers and they have with me. And if the exchange is me emptying my guts completely in exchange for reader trust, well, I’m not sure that’s such a fair bargain given the parameters that some have suggested for my cooperation in that. In small part because I don’t think there is any satisfying everyone, and also in part because, frankly, I know that I am extremely ethically upright in my decision-making, and I also know that no amount of proving is going to make that an unquestionable fact for anyone, except, perhaps, those who already know me and know the level of trust they can place in me. Or who already know the kind of things I manage every day, professionally and personally. So at some point I have to be able to feel that I can rely on my own judgment, and readers have to make their own decisions about whether I am to be trusted or not. They may have their expectations, but should those necessarily translate into obligations I must meet? Especially since in most cases we are merely peers.

    So what I’m trying to do is dig at the question of *what, exactly, would satisfy the ‘do everything to avoid the appearance of impropriety’ standard.* What about people who don’t even put together that something might be an ethical issue and don’t have the self-awareness to bring it to consciousness, let alone admit it? What about the fact that every reader has a different yardstick by which to measure “enough transparency”? I believe these are essential components of the discussion that are not being addressed, and it disturbs me, because as much as I am grateful that critical reviewing is being taken more seriously now than it was even four or five years ago when I joined the online conversation, I think we’ve only begun to open up all the areas of discussion that impinge on this question of ethical obligations from reviewers to readers and vice versa.

    For example, I am stunned that the revelation than an editor likely changed Laurie Gold’s review at PW hasn’t been jumped on. I mean, think about it: a review bearing her name, her reputation as a reviewer, has been altered so that it literally contradicts her actual recommendation. What does that mean? What does it mean if the reviewer does not speak up (like does anyone believe this is the first time such a thing has happened)? Is she abdicating her ethical responsibilities as a reviewer? Does she owe her primary ethical loyalty to the publication that pay her? Does this make PW’s reviews less honest and reliable? Does the editor have an obligation to say that they changed the review’s meaning substantially?

    What are those rules? If someone wants to know why I always go to Mama Mia's restaurant for lunch, and I tell them the food is great, but I fail to mention my Aunt Norma owns it, I think I have failed in one of my ethical obligations. Not a serious one, but still. now, I don't have to tell them that my Aunt is an ex-con who ran drugs a few years ago. I'm using my judgment in balancing my obligations to my Aunt and my obligations to be honest to my interlocutor.

    And yet, I’ll bet there are tons of people who would say that if you don’t have any financial stake in the restaurant and you are not being paid to review it, you don’t have an ethical obligation to reveal that your aunt owns the restaurant. What would make them wrong? Again, I’m not trying to be snarky, and I’m not saying they *aren’t* wrong; I’m simply trying to tease out what the unspoken implications are here about what should and shouldn’t be revealed and why. And whose judgment is it to make?

  70. GrowlyCub
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 16:18:42

    Well, grump, my comment got eaten by the filter monster and it didn’t even have any ‘bad’ words in it…

  71. library addict
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 16:25:07

    But why should we?
    I'm serious about this question, btw. Let's say an author has sent me her book for review, and in the email she tells me that she wrote the book because she was really upset about a particular social situation she wanted to address. She has not made this statement publicly. Or what if she tells me she had a particularly difficult time writing the book and considers it a great achievement that she finished it. What if she tells me she was battling cancer when she wrote it, even though she has not made that information public? What if she tells me that she imagined a famous person in the place of one of her protags? Seriously, what's the formula for deciding what is too much?

    I think in these scenarios it is simple enough to say something along the lines of “the author and I have exchanged emails” and leave it at that. I don't think readers of the review want to know the minute details or, as you've said, are necessarily entitled to know them.

    Does your knowledge the author was addressing a social issue affect your view of the plot? Would the fact an author told you she has cancer make you “take it easier” on her book? Are you now picturing the famous person as her protag? Obviously, those are questions each reviewer has to ask themselves. As readers we cannot make the decision of how much information you share. And it is likely in many cases we will never know what an author has told you privately, nor I think necessarily care. I just want to believe you are asking the questions of yourselves.

    The problem arises when a reviewer is unable to separate the fact they are a friend/fangirl of an author from the book they are supposed to be “objectively” reviewing. And conversely if they cannot stand the author or their books, though why they would be reading them for review if that were the case is questionable.

    Is there a huge gray area? Yes, because book reviews are opinions. But I think there are times when it's easy to agree where the line is.

  72. Jessica
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 18:29:44

    Robin — sorry I misunderstood you. Thank you for the clarification. But I confess I am still trying to figure out how the reference to the fact that bloggers are not professionals functions in this discussion. Maybe if I wasn’t typing while trying to do ten other things, I wouldn’t be so thick.

    I share your surprise that the PW issue hasn’t been taken up. I thought it was just due to my blog being small, but now I don’t know what to think. Although, I want to add for clarification that Laurie Gold’s name was not on the PW review.

    I do think it might help to split up a few different issues: the issue of whether other people believe you have met your ethical obligations is not the same as the question of whether you have in fact met them. And those questions are separate from the question of what what those obligations are in any given case. Of course, we want people to think we are good when we are good (and when we are bad, usually), but we only have so much control over that. Also, in my view, the fact of moral disagreement doesn’t imply that everyone is right, nor does it imply we give up trying to achieve it. (Not that you are suggesting this, but I wanted to say it).

    As far as whose judgment it is to make, it’s the reviewer’s, initially, but I personally look at ethical obligations less as rules we carry in our back pockets, and more as understandings we achieve in community. These understandings provide starting points, and they allow us to go on, but they get shaped and molded in discussions like this.

    I don’t hear anyone asking for unreasonable amounts of disclosure (the “do everything to avoid impropriety” standard), personally. I think people are asking that reviewers use their judgment, and not pass themselves off as any old reader when in fact they have significant connections to the authors they review. Beyond the settled agreements we have already achieved as a community (i.e. if you are employed by the author, or her critique partner, you disclose), how those “significant connections” get defined in gray cases is not something that I think we can resolve in the abstract, in advance.

  73. Robin
    Feb 20, 2009 @ 14:19:04

    I don't hear anyone asking for unreasonable amounts of disclosure (the “do everything to avoid impropriety” standard), personally.

    There have been a number of comments here (in this thread and the original Brockmann thread that started this whole deal) and elsewhere that track along this line:

    I think if you want people to take the reviews seriously, then like any business you do everything to make sure that nothing can be misconstrued as being a conflict of interest or having a hint of impropriety. That can be not reviewing authors that you like or don't like. If you want to just have fun, and post about books that you enjoy, and site is present that way, then the review are what they are.

    Which may start to answer your question, also, about why I am differentiating the “professional” reviewer from the amateur reviewer. In part because I don’t see the choice so starkly as one between being taken seriously and just having fun, and in part because I think the “business” issue is important, but not necessarily in the way it’s been articulated.

    Let me approach this distinction from a different direction. Let’s say you’re teaching a class and there’s a text in the class that’s mandated by the institution, and it’s a text written by someone you happen to know very well. So much so that you have some information about the text that isn’t available to others who teach it at your institution. Do you have an ethical responsibility to share that with your students? With your peers in the institution? What are your responsibilities particular to that community, and aren’t they circumscribed to some degree by how you relate in terms of power, authority, and position, to the various sub-communities within your campus?

    Now take the paid professional reviewer v. the amateur reader reviewer. I would argue that there are universal ethical obligations anyone reviewing has, including and primarily that of refraining from plagiarism and the like. And I think there are certain types of reviews that most of us might agree are not kosher — like the husband of an author who posts a review but fails to disclose his relationship. That’s an intimate and clearly uninterested connection, regardless of whether one is a paid reviewer or an amateur.

    But what about finishing a book that one’s reviewing? What about getting all the details correct in the plot? What about refraining from reviewing an author’s book when you have hated every book that person has written? I do not think that amateur reviewers, and I include those folks writing reviews on Amazon, both as ranked reviewers and occasional ones, should necessarily be held to those standards. But I definitely believe that someone being paid to review should be required to actually read a book they’re reviewing. And I also expect a paid reviewer to be held to whatever standards the publication paying that person adheres to, whatever they may be, however that pub defines them.

    But for amateurs, I think there’s just less definition in what constitutes a respectable review, and that it depends on both the community of readers and the nature of the reviewing venue. For example, there are Romance reviewing blogs out there that just take a whole different approach to reviewing than I do, and that’s okay, even though I wouldn’t review that way. There are some reviewers who only focus on the emotional content of the book, not the craftsmanship, and there are some who will dismiss a book because they don’t like the hero or heroine or because they find something morally repugnant about a protagonist. And I have to say that I also think that’s an ethical issue, and one that is differently significant to different people. In the realm of amateur reviewers, I can accept the difference even while I don’t jibe personally with those approaches. Same with the reviewer that seems not to have read a book carefully, if at all, based on numerous factual errors in the review. I think someone being paid to produce commercial content has a higher responsibility to make sure their reviews are proofed, correct in detail, and consistent with the stated standards of the pub for which they review.

    And while I have not thought out all the different ways in which obligations are altered depending on the context (commercial content v. not, for example), I do think that in the realm of the reader blog or review site (whatever the differences there may be ;) ), there are also different sets of mutual obligations at issue. Which is one of the reasons I really like what you say here:

    I do think it might help to split up a few different issues: the issue of whether other people believe you have met your ethical obligations is not the same as the question of whether you have in fact met them.

    I couldn’t articulate it nearly as cleanly as you did, but this is really what I’m trying to get at by suggesting that there’s more complexity to the situation than can be accommodated in an “avoid all appearance of conflict” standard. Library addict, for example, suggests above that a reviewer should disclose an exchange of emails with an author, but I would probably object to that as a reasonable ethical standard. For one thing, any time an author sends me a book for review, that can prompt an exchange of emails I do not feel necessitates revelation as part of a review.

    Now, of course it would be much easier to smack a big old fake cybersmile on my face and go on and one about how I would *never* do anything to suggest a conflict of interest. After all, how would most readers know whether I did or didn’t violate that standard most of the time? But I don’t really think that’s forwarding the conversation, lol. Instead, I think it’s important for me — as an individual — to say, ‘hey, I don’t think that’s a fair expectation,’ or ‘yeah, I think that’s fair,’ or ‘what about considering this, too?’ because, at the end of the day, all we have is an ongoing negotiation about what is and isn’t reasonable, and some readers will think that some reviews are reasonable, and some won’t. Growlycub, for example, finds the NY Times BR reviews unreasonable, where I don’t — in fact, I love reading those reviews because they often show such unmitigated respect for the art of writing and of reviewing. It’s an aesthetic and intellectual pleasure I cannot deny myself, lol. I also see the “incestuous” nature of academic differently than she does, believing absolutely that fair intellectual reasoning can occur between colleagues and friends who differ in their views.

    Here’s the thing for me: I am willing to take on the burden of responsibility for writing an honest, fair review, and of doing so with thoughtful consideration of any ethical issues that might interfere with my ability to carry out that responsibility. Where I don’t feel comfortable is in having to prove my ethical standards by offering up every scrap of information someone might find objectionable. IMO my ethical standards are reflected in the accumulated whole of my reviews, and if I fall short of someone’s expectations, I understand that they have a right to complain and/or stop reading my reviews. So it’s not like I feel I have no implicit obligations to those who read DA, for example; it’s more that I don’t think readers unilaterally set the ethical standard for reviewers, if that makes sense. And in the negotiation to determine the applicable standard, I think we need to open up a discussion about what does constitute a review that is worthy of being “taken seriously” and whether what we want is objectivity or fairness, and what the difference between those is. And whether the same standards can or should be applied to all reviewing venues equally.

    Although, I want to add for clarification that Laurie Gold's name was not on the PW review.

    Did PW remove her name from the review, even while using her content? Because when they lowered their compensation rates, PW — according to my understanding– gave reviewers byline credit.

  74. Sunita
    Feb 20, 2009 @ 17:43:47

    WRT the PW review, Jessica linked to the version on Amazon, which doesn’t list the author. The original PW may well have, but they may strip the authors’ names when the reviews that are reproduced on other sites.

    I agree that trying to follow a standard that is defined as “don’t do anything that anyone could misconstrue as impropriety” is impossible, if only because no writer can entirely control what someone else construes, let alone misconstrues.

    I don’t think the incestuous nature of academic/NYTBR reviewing is really applicable here, though, or at least not entirely, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, the reviewers and the reviewed know each other in those circles. When I read a review of a book in my field in the NYTBR or other venues, I invariably know (personally or by reputation) both parties, and the background of the reviewer goes into my assessment of the review. And I’ve read enough disputes about reviewing practices for fiction and poetry to know that connecting the dots is a common parlor game, and people argue all the time about what they consider inappropriate choices. But basically, the reviews are for a small circle of people, however much the NYTBR wants them to be considered general (and the fact that book review sections are rapidly going extinct suggests that the circle grows ever smaller).

    Romance reviews on the net, by contrast, are NOT supposed to be for a closed circle of people (even if they’re criticized as being that way). So you have a 3-way interaction: the reviewer, the author, and the readers of the review. The reviewer and author may know each other, but all the readers of a popular website are extremely unlikely to know both outside of that contact, let alone IRL. Add to that the fact that most reviewers use pseudonyms and/or don’t provide much background information about themselves, and you have a situation where readers have less information than usual about the reviewer’s priors toward books (the bloggers at Teach Me Tonight are a big exception to this).

    I think it is a great feature of the internet that you are only as good as what you put online, and therefore you can’t have recourse to “but I’m an expert!” as the final word in a debate and expect it to work. But the lack of informational shortcuts also means that it takes longer (and more work) for readers to develop trust. And of course not all readers are regular visitors, and drive-by visitors are going to be less trusting because they have less information; if they come to read about a review because they care about the book, and they disagree with the reviewer, they’re not going to put that review in the context of all the other reviews, they’re just going to focus on what interests them. It may not be fair to the reviewer, but it’s not surprising.

  75. Hilcia
    Feb 21, 2009 @ 12:30:09

    Interesting discussion and great post — I totally agree that readers bring their own bias when reading a book. I’m one of those readers that doesn’t really like to read the reviews of a book until AFTER I’ve finished reading it. The reason? I really don’t want the reviewer’s bias to affect my own take of the book. I’ll come in and look up the reviews afterwards and compare the reviewer’s experience to mine.

    I’ve seen too many instances of books that have been touted as great, awesome reads throughout the Blogosphere, but that I’ve found really lacking and not worth my money. Interestingly enough, I read reviews of books that don’t interest me… that’s how I have found whose reviews I enjoy reading (weather I agree with them or not) and whose I would not go back to.

    I’m a regular visitor at Dear Author’s and I’ve always enjoyed your approach to a review. Of course, I enjoy more than just the reviews here. :)

  76. Robin
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 23:22:46

    I don't think the incestuous nature of academic/NYTBR reviewing is really applicable here, though, or at least not entirely, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, the reviewers and the reviewed know each other in those circles. When I read a review of a book in my field in the NYTBR or other venues, I invariably know (personally or by reputation) both parties, and the background of the reviewer goes into my assessment of the review. And I've read enough disputes about reviewing practices for fiction and poetry to know that connecting the dots is a common parlor game, and people argue all the time about what they consider inappropriate choices. But basically, the reviews are for a small circle of people, however much the NYTBR wants them to be considered general (and the fact that book review sections are rapidly going extinct suggests that the circle grows ever smaller).

    I guess I don’t mark the difference between what’s going on in professional journals and the NYT and what goes on in the blogs. I remember being an undergraduate, doing my first research projects in the MLA bibliography, being totally outside the politics of the journals but still getting initiated, so to speak, in the discipline by learning the ropes. While the students analogy isn’t appropriate here, I do think there’s a similar insider/outsider dynamic on the blogs. There are the regular readers, who “know” the bloggers, and whom the bloggers “know,” then there are he casual readers who may stop by once or a few times over the life of a blog. When I see others complaining on different boards about how exclusive the blogs are, I think it’s this familiarity issue that they’re responding to — that those who regularly and actively participate on the blogs constitute a community that can feel alienating to someone new.

    And I guess the question I keep coming back to is whether it’s possible to review in such a way as to satisfy both cohorts of readers. Or whether that should even be the consideration.

    There is something that happens to me every time the notion of DA or any blog living up to its reputation comes up, because very honestly, I don’t review expecting the respect or trust of readers. I review because I like it, I like talking about books and engaging in conversation. I can argue about lots of stuff even though I don’t care which way the issue ultimately goes, lol. And yet I know I don’t do this in a vacuum, and certainly when I read other blogs, I have a sense of what those blogs are and aren’t based on my experience reading them over time. And I also understand the compliment in the high expectations. But they can also feel a little bit claustrophobic, like being asked to perform to someone else’s standards rather than one’s own. And I know that’s my perception, but it’s quite visceral sometimes. And it creates a certain tension within me, because on the one hand, I want to be able to write what I want, regardless of whether or not someone respects and accepts it, but on the other hand, if I ever felt I was truly writing into the void, would I keep going? The community aspect is clearly crucial to the whole process.

    So how to find the balance. Ideally, I’d say, well, look to my reviews, not what I say positive or negative about a book, but *how* I build my argument in order to determine how trustworthy my views are. And yet I believe wholeheartedly that the disclosure that Joan/Dr. Sarah made in the Brockmann review, for example, was necessary and proper. And I know there is a book I will be passing on, because of something I am not comfortable disclosing but would feel compelled to if I wrote the review. So in that case, my desire to keep a confidence will trump my desire to review, even though I have no doubt that I can offer a fair critique of the book. It might be fair IMO, but I would feel that I was not giving the DA readers a fair chance to judge that for themselves.

    However, I don’t feel it’s necessary to reveal every author I exchange an email with or meet at a conference or the like. That feels unreasonable to me. And because I won’t be revealing the process by which I make those decisions in any review they might come up, I will essentially be offering my review based on only the text of the critique. Which I honestly believe should be enough, whether the person reading it is a new to the blog reader or a veteran.

    And a big part of the reason I believe that is my belief that the integrity of the review can be equally compromised by too little revelation *and* too much, *especially* to the new reader, who might show up at DA and read my comment about how I met this author at my local grocery store and proceeded to have a 30 minute conversation about the genre with her. Would that add to the credibility of my view or detract from it? I understand it’s a delicate balance, but I guess my view is that if it tips too much in either direction it will frustrate the whole project of book critique, and of separating the book from the author, which, it seems to me, is at the very heart of the reviewing process.

    Also, I have such a strong belief that the taboo authors currently feel against reviewing the work of their peers needs to be relaxed, and I can’t see ultra-stringent expectations in terms of authorial connections aiding that, lol.

  77. Leigh
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 18:43:08

    “I think if you want people to take the reviews seriously, then like any business you do everything to make sure that nothing can be misconstrued as being a conflict of interest or having a hint of impropriety. That can be not reviewing authors that you friends with or authors that don't like. If you want to just have fun, and post about books that you enjoy, and site is present that way, then the review are what they are.”

    I haven’t figured out how to correct typos or grammar mistakes here, so with this quote, I corrected the above to reflect what I meant to say. I sorry I don’t see this whole issue as a big deal. An author telling you that she fought breast cancer and this book is important to her, to me is a lot different from reviewing an author that is your critique buddy. One the individual tells you something to explain the importance of a book, which isn’t that what an interview is? And the other you have a long term ongoing relationship with the author. I might have missed the point, but I don’t think anyone has said anywhere that all conversations with an author be disclosed.

    Personally, I think that most people know, when they need to step aside. Usually if you have doubts that it could be viewed as a conflict of interest or you have to ask another person opinion, then it probably can be. Is it? Who knows?

    I not sure of this whole post question thing? If you want to continue doing what you have done before, and the majority of people are happy with that, and you feel that everything that you have done before is self explanatory, then what is the issue?

    If I am reading a review and know either the author and reviewer have an ongoing conflict, or they are BF, then I am going to discount the review because I will wonder how impartial or fair the reviewer has been. (since I usually personally don’t know the reviewer). And I not saying that people with a possible bias can’t give a review. However, If I am thinking about BUYING a book, spending money that is very hard earned in today’s economy then I am going to look for a review from an individual who I perceive as having the least investment in the author’s success or failure.

  78. Willow
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 05:08:52

    I don’t think anyone has suggested that having a conversation with an author at last year’s RWA conference should discount someone from reviewing a book. There is a huge difference between that and having a ‘relationship’ with an author.

    Whether the relationship is professional or business or a friendship it really doesn’t matter, the fact that the relationship exists should be enough for a reviewer to step aside.

    As I’ve stated before on this site I do feel that Sarah F’s review on DON was inappropriate and I feel that any reviewer who has a ‘relationship’ with an author should gracefully step aside so that the integrity of the website is not called into question.

    Especially in this economy before I shell out any money for a book I want an honest review – now that doesn’t mean that a ‘friend’ couldn’t give an honest review about a book, maybe they could. But the friendship alone would be enough for me to think ‘glaring conflict of interest’ and not be interested in the review and possibly not be interested in reading anymore reviews from said site.

    Because if ‘friends’ or ‘professional/business/ongoing personal relationship’ are allowed to review the books then what’s the point? How can I ever possibly tell if the review is honest or if it’s a case of ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’

    There are enough reviewers on this site to avoid any potential conflict of interests, so why not just avoid all possible scandalous situations and have those who are not connected with the author do the review?

    Aside from wanting reviewers to provide the appearance of objectivity by NOT having a ‘relationship’ with the author all I want is for the review to be honest, to tell me what worked for you and what didn’t. I would also prefer when reviewing the latest book in a series for the reviewer to be as up to date on the series as possible. For example I don’t think it makes sense for someone to review book 10 in a series without having read the other 9.

  79. Jane
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 06:20:27

    @Willow My guess is that Dear Author might not be the place for you. We just don’t have the resources or time to do what you suggest regarding timeliness of reading books or reviewing books in a series and so forth. We are, and will always be, a site run by volunteers who love books. We choose the books we want to read and review. They are not assigned. We don’t have an editor nor do we have an ombudsman.

    What we do have is our own ethics and our own set of principles and you have to either take our word for our bias and/or impartiality or believe that we are being intentionally obfuscating. No amount of disclaimers or openness about our personal relationships, which as Robin previously stated, really isn’t any business of anyone’s but our own, will be satisfactory unless someone takes our word for it.

    Dr. S was up front with her relationship with Suzanne Brockmann which includes being a fan of Brockmann’s books and authoring an academic piece on Brockmann.

    None of us have any financial gain in the success or failure of any author. Others may infer that we do because we are hopeful for the success of a series or a book or an author, but that does not mean that we have personal gain from it.

    I think that those who criticize us for not being more forthcoming either haven’t read our reviews for any significant time or will never be satisfied by any disclosure.

  80. Willow
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 09:09:42

    Jane,

    Your original post said this:

    “I guess the question that is put to you, the reader/consumer of reviews, is what do you need to know in order to appropriately weigh the review? What's important in terms of ethics/transparency/bias/consistency, etc.? If you were to prescribe a set of reviewing ethics, what would they be? How would you change things here at Dear Author, if you could?”

    You asked for opinions and I gave you mine. I explained what I was looking for reviews and what I wasn’t. I’m terribly, terribly sorry to have burdened you with an opinion you clearly didn’t want to hear.

    Now I have to ask, is this personal? Because I called out Sarah F for what I feel was an inappropriate review? I ask since I seem to be the only one being told that Dear Author is not the place for me even though many above have expressed similar view points.

    If you feel that your relationships with authors are no ones business but your own, and you are happy with how the site is run why bother having this discussion on ethics/transparency/consistency???

    I’m not alone in my thinking, this subject was also discussed recently on the Karen Knows Best blog and almost unanimously people said if a reviewer has a relationship with an author, they would prefer them not to review their work.

    And I’ve been coming to this site for many years, enjoying the reviews, DON was the first review that I’ve had problems with. So I’m actually not ignorant of your site and yes I can be easily satisfied with proper disclosure.

    PS: Why you seem offended by my PREFERENCE that reviewers are familiar with a series I can’t comprehend. Lots of readers prefer this and when you asked for opinions on the review process I must have missed the section where you explained what your site is and is not capable of, and specifically what opinions you were looking for. My bad.

  81. Janet W
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 09:26:02

    I think Willow makes some very valid points — and she certainly wasn’t the only one who objected to Dr. Sarah F’s review of DoN — particularly since everyone pretty much already knew (since Dr. Sarah F had already shared her feelings with the readers of Dear Author) how she felt about the book.

    Jane’s review was a lot more helpful — at least to me. More balanced, more informative. And I’m on the fence about whether or not people should have read all the books in a series — maybe in a perfect world, which this isn’t.

    Willow does ask a great question though — why post a blog about the subject and then sorta slap down Willow for her thoughts? She’s been polite, clear, thoughtful — and of course you can disagree with her — clearly you and Robin and Dr. Sarah F probably do — but to say “This isn’t the site for you” … that seemed a little harsh. Just my opinion.

  82. Jane
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 09:27:07

    @Willow I’m not offended by your stated preference, I’m merely giving you a heads up that your preference is not going to be met here at Dear Author and the reason why it won’t be met.

    I have asked for opinions because it serves as a good gut check. Is what I’m doing in line with the thinking of the community here at Dear Author since ethics is a community issue rather than a generalized standard. In reading the comments, I think that there are some things we already do and some things we can’t do and some things that maybe we can do better at in the future.

    As for my relationships with authors, yes, I do think that keeping confidences is in line with being transparent. In other words, if I have a relationship with an author or a business wherein I have a financial interest, I should say so. I’ve done that with Sony. If you look at the sidebar, I am clear about what we receive/achieve through Amazon affiliate program.

    The great thing about the burgeoning romance community is that there are several different websites that provide different points of view, different content, different sets of guidelines. If one site doesn’t meet the reader’s personal set of ethics, then there are others out there that are a better fit. What I have read from your past comments which started with the DON review, is that our site might not be able to meet your stated preference for reviewers regarding their familiarity with books; the amount of disclosure that we provide; and the overall ethical principles by which we govern ourselves. If that is the case, then I would urge you to seek out communities other than Dear Author. If that is not the case, and I have misinterpreted you, I apologize and hope that you will continue to be a member of our community.

  83. Leigh
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 09:32:54

    Not the right place for you. . .

    I am honestly not trying to be critical, contrary, derogatory, sarcastic. . (pick a word)

    I am humbling, trying to make sense of this whole thread. . .

    Why post something about transparency, consistency, community (and maybe I don’t understand what you mean by that). Ethics was mentioned in your posts too. . .

    On one hand you mention an individual stepping aside and not reviewing books because she knows the authors, but then another one says it is okay.

    Are you just wanting to say, that as the blog owners you have the best judgment regarding ethics? You know where the line is? If that is the case (and it is your blog, and you guys are volunteers) why the discussion? It almost seems that you don’t want to hear any critique of the way things have been done before but you opened it up for discussion?

    I get the Jane/Jayne mixed up so I can’t tell you who actually wrote another review on SB’s DoN. And personally, I thought that the end result was handled very well.

    I can read opinions all day long, telling me how horrible the book is, and how wonderful the book is. Bottom line for me. . . an opinion is different from a review.
    Amazon’s reviews by readers are different from me going to a official review site. .
    Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and I don’t have any problem with them being presented as such. Review to me is more official, more bound by ethics, and a sense of being unbias.

    I don’t have a problem with your site posting opinions all day long, by the author’s BFF as long as I know that it is an opinion.

    Personally, the reviews/opinions are not what bring me here. It is the thought provoking issues.

  84. Jane
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 09:52:55

    @Leigh Not the place for you means exactly what is says. It is not a put down. Not meant to be snarky or demeaning. Some sites I don’t go to because I find the blog to be uninteresting, offensive, not in line with my personal beliefs, etc. I recognize that some people view Dear Author as one of those types of sites – just not for them. I completely understand that. DA cannot be everything to everyone. It’s not going to suit everyone. (I know some people refuse to come here because we give to many negative reviews or some who don’t like the format of the review which is a letter to the author).

    I’m happy to hear critique. I haven’t deleted anyone’s comments unlike some blogs do. I haven’t tried to suppress debate. I’ve absorbed people’s comments but for some reason (probably because I had the time to do so), I did respond to you and Willow.

    DA started as a reader opinion blog and will always be a reader opinion blog. We strive hard to be ethical and above board (hence the disclaimers) and we are open to hearing other’s opinions and having a discussion about a broad variety of topics.

  85. GrowlyCub
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 10:00:59

    Jane, would you mind fishing my comments to Robin’s post out of the spam filter? It’s been stuck there for several days.

  86. Jane
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 10:02:33

    @GrowlyCub sadly it must have gotten totally eaten. The spam filter gets cleared out pretty regularly so you need to give us a heads up within a few hours if it doesn’t show up.

  87. Janet
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 10:03:52

    About reviewing series: As a reader and a reviewer, I am often picking up books that happen to fall in the middle of a series, even though I either a) do not know that, or b) have simply not read the earlier books and am checking the series out with a new book. And many times, I want to review these books, or perhaps the book has been sent to me in the hopes that I will review it.

    As a reader, I see this from two directions. In one sense, I think that a review written by someone who hasn’t read a series in total can be very helpful because a) IMO how stand alone the books are will determine whether anyone can jump into the series, b) a newbie may be more or less critical of things series readers are used to and may not notice anymore, c) the new reader will not be burdened or enhanced with the knowledge of other books, which can provide a new lens through which even seasoned readers to read.

    In another sense, the veteran series reader a) can communicate certain nuances to other veterans, b) will judge things in totality of the series, and c) may know better what is and isn’t a spoiler within the context of a series book.

    As a reviewer, I enjoy doing both kind of reviews, and honestly feel that if a series book cannot withstand a read and review from a new to the series reader, then that is something important to know. But I realize that the comfort and knowledge of a veteran series reader can be great, too. Although there is a challenge in that, too, from a reviewing perspective, which is that if the review is too skewed to series readers, it can, IMO, be off-putting to readers who may not have picked up the series yet. So, yeah, I don’t think it’s a clear-cut thing, but I appreciate a reviewer telling me if they’re a reader or the series or not, since that can be helpful to me as a reader (and IMO a good idea for me as a reviewer).

  88. Janet
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 10:05:49

    Oh, that was me — Robin — above. I’m logged in as Janet, lol.

  89. GrowlyCub
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 10:09:29

    Huh, I just found it. Wonder when it posted… oh well. And here I thought my pearls of wisdom had gotten eaten by the spam monster when they just went unremarked. That will teach me! ;)

    I think your first comment to Willow sounded a bit like ‘if you don’t like it, go play elsewhere’ so I am glad you clarified.

  90. veinglory
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 10:25:05

    I think what is owed to the readers is integrity. If reviews are not predominantly trustworthy they will be increasingly ignored and the whole point of the exercise lost. Bias is not something that can be avoided, and the answer is transparency. So, disclosure of potential conflict or interest, or not reviewing a book where they exist, seems sensible.

  91. Jane
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 10:33:41

    @veinglory I don’t disagree with you, Emily. One thing, though, is that a number of books are not reviewed for the very reasons that commenters discuss: i.e., conflicts of interest either bc of closeness or dislike of the author but because we don’t discuss the reasons why we DON’T review certain books and only discuss the reasons why we DO review certain books, it might seem like we are making no disclosures at all, when, of the books reviewed, we simply don’t have anything to disclose.

  92. Leigh
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 10:38:14

    I gave up reviewing for a site because I found I was too conflicted about writing honest reviews when I had gotten the books for ‘free' or was friendly with the authors, which doesn't mean others have to feel the same way. However, the argument that it's better not to review resonates with me, if the question of whether or not a relationship with the author, or a bias against or a preference for a certain story line/author could compromise the review comes up in the reviewers' mind or that of their associates

    Growlyclub, is this your lost post

    I completely agree with you sentiments. I tried to convey how I felt when posting about books that author’s sent me for free or when I knew that author.

    Once you have felt the conflicts, then you pretty much think that others will feel the same way (don’t know if that is true or not). . .but it makes you suspect. . and then you wonder are they being as honest as they would be if they didn’t know the author.

  93. Willow
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 11:15:02

    Jane,

    With regards to your last post to me:
    “What I have read from your past comments which started with the DON review, is that our site might not be able to meet your stated preference for reviewers regarding their familiarity with books; the amount of disclosure that we provide; and the overall ethical principles by which we govern ourselves. If that is the case, then I would urge you to seek out communities other than Dear Author. If that is not the case, and I have misinterpreted you, I apologize and hope that you will continue to be a member of our community”

    I have been coming here for years and only posted for the first time for DON. I believe all my comments on that thread and this one have been limited to the issue of reviewer ethics and author relationships. I can’t help but start to feel personally targeted because I specifically mentioned Sarah F and the DON review. And I want to give you the benefit of the doubt Jane because in the past, whether addressing me (in the only 2 threads I’ve ever posted in! LOL!) or others you’ve always been very fair.

    You started this post on ethics and I gave my opinion which not only other readers agree with but also other reviewers on this site who (including you I believe? sorry getting you all mixed up) have mentioned stepping aside when they feel the personal relationship could be an issue. So why am I the only one being told that my standards may not fit the DA community? My views seem to be part of the majority and can essentially be boiled down to this:
    If readers discount, either with a grain of salt, in part or in whole a review because of a disclosed ‘relationship’ b/w reviewer and author, then at the end of the day what’s the point in publishing the review?

    The only other point I made was for my preference for reviewers, who are familiar with a series, to do the reviews and I really don’t understand why you find that offensive or controversial or that would lead you to believe that I should not be a part of your community. I’m honestly asking here because the issue of reviewers and series has come up on other sites and many readers have an opinion on it. Since publishers no longer publish many stand alone titles this is an issue that will become more relevant for readers and reviewers (Perhaps I should have distinguished between a series like JR Ward’s and a trilogy by Allison Brennan – the former requires much greater knowledge of the characters and themes IMO)

    And I was hardly stating that if a reviewer hasn’t read previous books in a series I would never come back to this site again!! I was stating my preference and opinion like everyone else had.

    So which part of all of my comments are so out of sync with everyone else? Because if they are I’m just not getting it.

  94. Robin
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 23:12:58

    With the increase in attention DA gets, there will be more situations that could make a review as suspect as those of the entities you mentioned in your post are to me. So far I've seen only one review on DA that I felt should have better stayed unpublished in this venue.

    I actually read your comment a couple of days ago when it posted, GrowlyCub, and was going to avoid this, but I’ve decided to address it, after all.

    I think that so-called popular blogs sometimes end up in a position where some assume that they have a certain power that may not be felt by the bloggers. IMO the same is true of authors, who readers often see as more powerful, but authors often communicate a feeling of being less powerful than readers. It’s one of those *perceived* relative power offsets, and I’m not sure there’s a good way around it.

    I am always surprised when people ascribe certain influence or power to DA, for example, because I know I hardly feel powerful as a reader or reviewer. I don’t even think in those terms, actually, except when I want everyone in the world to read a book I love and I lament not being Queen (or its functional equivalent in whatever system you fancy).

    So I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that whatever enhanced popularity among readers DA might enjoy would compromise its reviewers’ fairness or commitment to readers first. I have to tell you that from my perspective, DA reviewers are incredibly unruffled and unfazed by authors and the like. Not that we’re not great fans of the genre, and don’t find many authors clearly likeable, but I think we’re pretty level-headed about other people. That may not reassure you, but I have to say that I think all of those associated with DA are committed to keeping this a reader-centered blog.

  95. GrowlyCub
    Feb 25, 2009 @ 06:33:55

    I am always surprised when people ascribe certain influence or power to DA

    I’m glad you answered, because that was in no way what I was referring to with my comment.

    My concern was specifically with the examples you raised as review entities in which you seem to assume that readers place their trust. I was addressing the fact that as DA’s readership increases more ‘commercial’ relationships (such as the one with Sony) may develop with publishers as they realize that they can reach their target audience through you like they do with RT, PW, Kirkus and NYTimes, relationships which could be construed to negatively impact DA’s status of independent reader reviewers who aren’t compensated for their efforts.

    I don’t think that DA has any plans to become a commercial outfit, dependent on advertiser or anything like that, and the point I was – obviously unsuccessfully – trying to make was that I disagreed with your underlying assumption that the review publications you cited are trusted by readers.

    You seemed to ascribe value to the reviews in these publications that I don’t think they have to many readers because they see these as dependent on the advertisers and the integrity of their reviews as being questionable because of that commercial relationship they have with the publishers whose books they review.

    I hope that clarifies my original point.

    As to the influence DA has or doesn’t have, I do think that with increased readership there is increased influence for DA as a blog, because just as I know that I have picked up a considerable number of books over the period of my readership here that I wouldn’t have either known about or was totally uninclined to read until DA posted one or several reviews, so I’ve seen other readers state that they have done the same. That translates into dollars for both publishers and authors and influence for DA because your reviews have shaped our buying behavior.

    Certainly, the campaign to save the contemporary is not undertaken to not have positive influence on the sales figures of contemporaries in general and the specific titles chosen!?

    DA and Jane in particular are doing a great job of putting out content that the readership connects to and is interested in, but there are issues and pitfalls when a blog gets to a certain level of popularity and needs to find revenue sources to pay for site maintenance, etc. while staying independent of commercial interests and I think Jane is very aware of those which is evidenced by posts as the one which initiated this long comment thread.

    My browser is permanently opened to DA and I spend a lot of time reading reviews, comments, news, etc. every day. I’ve seen the changes that have happened over the last 2 years and more changes are inevitable as DA grows and evolves. It’s been an interesting journey and I look forward to where you guys will take me next.

  96. Jane
    Feb 25, 2009 @ 09:11:41

    @GrowlyCub I don’t not want DA to be a commercial venture ever. There can be significant costs to running the site. In giveaways, for example, funding comes out of my pocket for shipping which often equals $60 or more. Actual prizes are funded by myself. A professional site redesign runs around $1500. There are a lot of things I would like to do for DA, to make it easier to use, more functional, promote the books we love, etc. that costs money and so if there were a time we would accept ad revenue, it would not be to make money but actually defray the real cost of providing a community for everyone. At this time, though, I am happy to swallow those costs because it’s not too high. But, from time to time, we might engage in sponsorship to accomplish a task like getting electronic readers for the crew here (I couldn’t run the site without them) or to do a site redesign. I.e., the big money items.

  97. Robin
    Feb 25, 2009 @ 15:56:00

    You seemed to ascribe value to the reviews in these publications that I don't think they have to many readers because they see these as dependent on the advertisers and the integrity of their reviews as being questionable because of that commercial relationship they have with the publishers whose books they review.

    Well, you may not, and I may not have a big investment in some of them, but many readers clearly do. In fact, I’d be pretty comfortable betting that there are more than a few readers who won’t read DA but who very much trust RT, PW, Kirkus, and other venues. And in some of those cases, IMO it’s the opacity of the reviewing structure — the lack of personal attribution, the lack o reviewer interface with readers, the short length of reviews — actually, and IMO ironically, adds to the sense of veracity or professionalism. While I may not put a lot of investment in some of these pubs (although I am a total sucker for the NYTBR), I don’t think it’s invalid to bring them up in a discussion about what constitutes ethical reviewing within a certain fiction-centered community. And I’m actually pretty interested in knowing why some readers prefer, for example, RT reviews to PW, or PW to DA, or whatever.

    I also think that it’s precisely the commercial contacts that give some of these pubs credibility among certain readers and/or in certain circles. Which may be the opposite of where you stand, but I’ve seen more than a few times popularity grow based on a *perception* of credibility, often conferred through some sense of commercial approval. In the case of DA, I think there’s more of a sense of “of the people, by the people” among its readers, which is one of the things I think we reviewers love about the site (and about Jane’s commitment to keeping it reader-centric). But it also can create a different set of expectations that emerge from that sense of accessibility and authenticity. It’s that conundrum whereby if people respect you, at some point you’re probably going to disappoint them, because as expectations grow among many, those divergent expectations can only be partially met at any point in time, simply because no site can be all things to all readers simultaneously (or ever). And I can tell you that it would be crazy-making to try to achieve every reader’s expectation, in part because it’s impossible, but also because at some point there has to be a balance comfortable to both the bloggers and the readers, and that balance isn’t going to be satisfactory to everyone.

    As Jane said above, part of the issue for me is that many of the ethical considerations we wrestle with aren’t seen by readers, nor will they likely ever be if we are doing what we’re doing well, IMO. Which means that when and if we do make some sort of disclosure, lots of of things have been discussed and decided that readers haven’t seen, which may create a sense of false expectations on the part of readers who want us to be more public in our decision-making to make sure we’re being ethically upright. And that’s why I made my first comment, because IMO that’s problematic for other ethical reasons.

  98. Anita C.
    Feb 27, 2009 @ 05:21:47

    Do any of you very active posters ever stop to reread these threads? Out loud, maybe? To someone who visited for the first time in August 2008, fell in love with the site, but does not post comments very often, I’m becoming completely disallusioned.

    I’d say 75% of the threads follow the same pattern; the posters are almost always the same 20 or so readers; first a few complimentary remarks on the review from old-time posters, then a few jokey comments making corrections to the reviewer’s text, then (like unattended, quarrelsome children), the same 10-15 posters start picking apart the reviewer (or for variety, they pick apart the first 10 posters…..) and away we go. Like a book club meeting without a facillitator, like a town meeting without the mayor, like a evening supper discussion at the Waltons without a parent present…..

    People get completely off-topic (and gentle reminders don’t rein them back in), people get petty and insulting and even foul-mouthed sometimes (and presumably so wound up that several deliberate postings on other topics sail right past them and they insist on resuming their tirades). If the lucid writers in the group do get back to making valid points, they feel the need to repeat them over and over. At which point, one of more excitable posters jumps in to pick apart one small item in the post of the lucid writers….and we’re off again.

    I’ve read so many lovely, intellectually stimulating posts following a really well-written review or Letter of Opinion, only to find the thread almost immediately highjacked by posters whose excitability makes their prose break down into petty, childish bickering. What is wrong with you people? You’re online, for God’s sake! Is this how you’d make your point in a blue book at a midterm exam? Must you beat your point to death with line after line of repetitious prose that makes you so charged up about that you can’t really take the time to formulate your submission into SHORT coherent sentences? This is not life or death, will not affect your colledge GPA, or change the amount of your year-end compensation. So cool down. And if you give yourself 5 minutes of calm thought, maybe walking way from the thread would occur to you as being a good idea. You think?

    With regard to the current issue, yes, I think your review was appropriate, yes, you gave sufficient information for us to judge the integrity of your review, and yes, my feeling is that the posters should have limited themselves to commenting on your praise or criticism of the book and/or the author, not on the personal or professional life of the DA reviewer. And, speaking personally, I definitely don’t allow DA to be the sole arbitrator of my book spending habits. If something doesn’t ring true or I’m unable to make up my mind, I have mags, library handouts, newspapers, other review venues to check out. If you’re feeling that excitable and still have more spleen to vent, do it to your family or call a book club member, or switch over to another blog, for heaven’s sake!

    Perhaps you (the royal you – Jia, Jayne, Jane, et al.) should rework your bios that follow every review, in the interest of fuller disclosure. THEN – like the really wise woman from a few days ago who said (on a completely unrelated thread – wait, it was for (and to) a Tymber ??? book): “Hon, repeat after me. ‘Thank you for taking the time to read my book and review. I’m sorry you didn’t care for it but I appreciate the time you took to review it.’ That’s it. The End. She advised Tymber to come to a FULL STOP after that. Great advice. I see Nora R. used the exact words lately in response to someone’s review of the new “InDeath” book. So here’s my rewording I suggest you use: “I appreciate your reading and commenting on my review. We obviously have different feelings about the merits of this novel. Thanks for sharing.” The end. Full Stop.

  99. LindaR
    Feb 27, 2009 @ 10:22:25

    I think it says something great about the site that this thread is so long.

    To the Ja(y)nes, et al: everybody luvs ya, baby!

    Dear Author is one of my go-to-every-day sites. The reviews have their own inherent authenticity, hence integrity.

    I don’t read everything, but I am glad everything is there. I suspect I’ll start reading manga one day; if I hadn’t come to DA, I know I never would.

    And I understand this is only tangentially related to the topic, but count me as one who would not at all mind a little advertising on the site. You might never get paid for all the time you put into it, but who could resent you recapturing your costs?????

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