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Ethics in Blogging: Taking the Wild Out of the Wild West?

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In the past few weeks, we here at Dear Author have talked about author ethics and it occurred to me that we haven’t talked alot about blogging ethics.

While I do think that ethics is a community issue, I am not trying to force my ethics on anyone else in the blogging community. What I am trying to do in this post and subsequent posts on this issue is to explore the idea of blogging ethics and what that means.

The internet has been referred to as the Wild West. It’s ungovernable but vibrant. Alive with colorful personalities and outspoken individuals. The idea of placing limits on anyone on the internet is a bit of anethema.

But I have always been an advocate of criticism. I feel like one cannot grow without criticism or self examination. I can see, when I look over the posts of the past two years, that I have grown as a person and as a blogger. That my opinions and stances and voice has changed in response to my connection to those who have come to share in the community here and when I have gone out to other communities to participate.

There are posts, in my past, that I would not post today. The one that I can think of is the post regarding Rosina Lippi. What I said in the post is perfectly true but it was unnecessary and petty. For me to go back and delete the post would be to engage in revisionist history which I personally don’t like. I prefer my asshole-ishness to be out there for everyone to see.

The one post for which I think I took the most heat, both publicly and privately, was the one in which I took Adele Ashworth to task for her statements at AAR. It is not a post that I regret today, even in retrospect. I don’t know that I would change even the tenor. Will I look back in two years at that and wish I had gone a different route? I don’t know.

But what I am willing to do is engage in conversation with those in this community and the greater romance community about change that they think should occur for the betterment of the community.

I cannot promise that change will occur. But I can say that I look and read the comments and I do think about what is being said, particularly those opinions whose are contrary to my own. Because becoming a better person, a more competent blogger, a better contributor to the community occurs by listening, absorbing, and filtering the messages and attitudes of the community.

But the meat of this is to discuss the author response to bloggers. Some of the responses I received are directed toward review policies. Here are some of the requests I have received and my take on each one. I would love to hear from others on these topics:

1. Bloggers who request an ARC should review it.

My response: Yes, absolutely. I know that authors get very few ARCs. Some authors might only get two or three. Some might get 40. Some authors are willing to make e-arcs and some are not. But making an e-arc takes time and if an author is willing to send you a book for review AT YOUR REQUEST, I think you owe the author a review. I also think that if a reviewer asks for a book but doesn’t get one, she shouldn’t complain about it publicly. I think the author and publishers have the right to determine who gets what, even if it seems (and may very well be) short sighted.

2. Bloggers who request participation from an author should refrain from bashing/trashing the author around that same time.

I have a little problem with this because I’m not quite sure what “bashing” is. For example, we have the First Sale series here at Dear Author. I invite authors to submit the blog post near the on sale date of their books. This often coincides with a review of a book that we have done. The book review might be a less enthusiastic review. Is that considered bashing? Or is that considered unethical? Should we refrain from posting the first sale letter if we are not going to give a positive review? Should we refrain from posting a negative review of a contributing author for a period of time? I.e., a week or more?

3. Bloggers should not read/review an author’s book whose writing they dislike or alternatively, should not read/review an author’s book who they personally dislike.

This one is a tough one. First, I have taken heat for this so I might not have the most impartial view. I reviewed a book after being told in comments previously that it was not a romance. I was criticized for reading this book because I was told I would not like it but the fact is I bought (yes, I paid for this book) the book because I was curious to see how it was “romantic” but not a romance. The book didn’t work for me but not because it wasn’t a romance but because I felt that the telling of the story was flat. This book, however, worked on every level for my blogging partner, Janine, and despite the fact that I personally had issues with the way that the author and her friends treated me post the review, I felt it important to put up Janine’s review and every subsequent review Janine has done for this authorʼs work. Janine is a big fan of this authorʼs writing and does not hesitate to recommend her work to everyone. Should I not have read/reviewed the authorʼs book when I was told I would not like it?

Second, I have read/reviewed books for authors I personally dislike because I try hard to separate the personality from the work and sometimes I am successful with it. For example, I am not a big fan of a particular author of vampire romances but I have stated on more than one occasion that I love one of her books and I have given two books in the series differing grades: a B and a C. Robin reviewed and gave a B+ grade to a book by an author who called Robin a non-fan.

This is a tough call for me. I think one way you can resolve this is by being transparent. I.e., maybe in a prefatory paragraph a blogger can state their position on said author. I.e., I was told by the author/friend of the author/random commenter that I was not going to like this book and they were right. Or I have had my issues in the past with author A and perhaps that has colored my view of her writing. I will say that recently I decided that we would not review the author of the vampire series on this blog any more because I think I had lost any sense of impartiality.

4. Should there be differing standards for reviews depending on whether the blogger bought the book or received it for free?

I think that there should not be a different standard, but I do know that as a blogger, I feel more free to be negative on a book that I bought than one I got for free even if I didn’t ask for the book. Having said that, I think I have been plenty negative about books I have received for free.

5. Should a blogger refrain from being entertaining in penning a negative review.

I think point 4 relates in large part to this question. Does a blogger “deserve” a free book if it is going to serve as a “trash/bash” session for the blogger’s own entertainment. Said another way, isn’t the blogger having fun at the author’s expense. While I understand the concept of this, I have a hard time buying that a blogger is unethical because so long as the book itself is being mocked and not the author.

6. Should a blogger make fun of or mock an author’s response to a review?

This one goes to the idea of whether authors should suffer in silence or whether they have the right to speak out in response to a mocking post. My opinion is that an author has the right to do whatever she wants but she must be mindful that her online persona is one of her marketing tools. It is an unfair standard and the question is in an ethical blogging environment, should it be?

7. Do bloggers treat some authors preferentially, both in reviews or in parsing out their online statements?

I try not to treat authors differently in reviews but I do think I treat them differently when reading their online statements/posts. If I have a relationship with an author and I find something distasteful on their blog or website, I will email them. If I do not have a relationship, I won’t but I might bring it up openly on the blog. My own hot buttons have to deal with the treatment of readers and the reputation of the romance industry. If I feel that readers are being unfairly attacked or if I feel like the romance genre is, I will most likely make a public post. One reason I would do this is because if I don’t know the author from random why would I believe that author would be interested in my opinion? But, should the first response always be to make a private appeal?

8. Should bloggers police other bloggers?

This one I have a real problem with. For one, I don’t think that I should be responsible for anyone else’s actions. I can only monitor and control my own posts and comments. I don’t even know how I would begin to address this. If someone brought something to my attention, I might comment on it, but it’s not reasonable to believe that one blogger or even a community of bloggers would know what others are saying.

9. Should bloggers be more respectful of authors? And if so, how is this respect shown?

An author does not automatically gain respect from me merely by being published. What I do try to do is make sure that a review is about the book and that my comments about a blog post or public statement of an author is about the public stance and nothing else. I would be interested in hearing other positions on this.

I know that these are a lot of issues to discuss and there are actually more that I received in emails when I asked for feedback on the subject. I am of a mind to post weekly polls in the sidebar to gauge the temperature in this community.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


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