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Should Book Reviewers Be Paid to Review?

Books, stacks of books waiting to be read, are piled high in my office. Most of these books were sent to me by publicists or the attributed authors, all with the expectation that I'd review their works. Unfortunately, many of these books are dusty with age and any review I'd now write would seem like an afterthought.

There's a feeling of guilt on my part that I've let someone down because I didn't follow through, so I've gotten to the point where I usually demur when I'm queried if I'd be willing to "take a look" at such and such a title by such and such an author, even though some of these pitches are tempting and I think I could manage to fit in some time to read and review the work. Yet, it seems that when I do agree, by the time I get the thick, padded envelope in the mail, I realize that I'll quite likely be unable to get to it in any reasonable time, and it's certainly not because I don't enjoy reading or reviewing. The thing is, since I carry a mortgage, I must first put my energy into the paying gigs.

See, I'm in front of my computer all day critiquing manuscripts, publicizing and marketing other authors, and doing my own writing. By the time early evening rolls around, an hour when many others make time to read, my eyes and brain need a break. The shame of it is that there are fewer places to have one's book reviewed, thanks to so many publications eliminating the position or having folded altogether. So when I first began writing about books that I'd read from my own library, I was surprised, not to mention honored and willing, when the queries for reviews began to come across my desk. Well, I'm still honored and willing, but simply find that I need to put my energy into working for my clients, since that is what pays the bills, which leads me to wonder, is paying someone to review a book still considered unethical, as it had been in the past? Meaning, it would be easier to make the time during the day if I knew I'd be yielding something in return beyond a free book, not to mention the possibility of discovering a delightful story.

There are places that do require payment for reviews, but, overall, there is still a stigma about the practice. To make it clear, however, I'm not suggesting paying someone to give a book a good review, but rather paying someone for their time to read and review a book. The question is, who pays? The publisher? The author? Or should the system remain as is, and have it be a matter of crossing one's fingers and hoping that the reviewer finds the time to follow through.

That said, the next blog you'll see from me will quite likely be a review for a novel I'm very much looking forward to reading. I just hope I can get to it in a timely manner. You know the saying, so many books, so little time.

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Book Reviewers Need Pay

Hi Carol, you've brought up an interesting quandary. My first thought is no, reviewers should not be paid. Surely this is the only way to ensure the reviewer isn't swayed to give a good review. Consider the movie industry where the famous reviewers are paid by the movie studios and give glowing reviews for one stinker after another until finally they lose their credibility. I pay no attention whatsoever to movie reviews. On the other hand, how can one become a professional reviewer if they can't afford to take time away from their paid work? Just like keypunch operators, 411 information operators, and many other jobs have become obsolete--I'm wondering if the job of professional reviewer has become obsolete. Who would that leave to review books? Friends and family might give glowing reviews because they like the author. Or maybe people who read the book and were so affected by the work, whether good or bad, they felt compelled to write a bit of a review would fill the void. However, I think these choices omits an important voice. The voice of the trained reviewer who opens our eyes to a deeper facet of the book, perhaps giving us a richer experience than we may have had.

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Not obsolete

Victoria, I think you mistake the fact that professional reviewers have always been paid for their views. Case in point, and only one of many, is Ms. Kakutani of the NY Times who reviews books -- and is paid a very nice salary. Kirkus also requires payment of indie published books, and the amount is quite considerable.

I am a review for Authorlink.com and have been for eight years and I am paid for my reviews. I am not paid to say a certain thing or to praise a book undeserving of praise, but for my professional expertise and knowledge.

I think it is payment to a specific reviewer that is viewed as slightly underhanded, although that should not be the case since everyone has to make a living and readers are willing to put up their two cents' worth on Amazon or other bookstore sites detailing what they did and did not like about a specific book. This is seen as clean and often that is not the case.

As a point of fact, keypunch operators, in many companies, were upgraded to data entry operators and still exist, as do 411 operators, etc. The jobs have been changed with the advent of newer technology, but have not been outmoded nor did they end. Times change, new technology is created and jobs change accordingly.

Carol, to do a book review for free when your bills and mortgage are paid in cash and not books, is not a good use of your time. However, if you set up a company, preferably an LLC, and offer your book review services as part of the package, that would circumvent the onus of being paid to review or for reviews. You would then be able to work it into your schedule accordingly. It's all about perception. Yes, book reviewers are paid for their services. No, they are not outdated and that is amply proven every time Kirkus Reviews, PW reviews, NY Review of books, and any number of professional review services, like Authorlink, come out with their books. I have reviewed hundreds of books over the past eight years for Authorlink and have done a few free reviews when time permits. Reviewing has not gone out of fashion and the need still exists as long as there are books being written. It is and has always been one person's opinion, but experience, expertise and track record do count in this business.

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I have spent many years, reviewing books, editing books

for no pay. But like you, Carol, I can no longer do that. I can't afford it. I find nothing, really, more difficult to write than a good book review. The reading can be delightful, but the writing can give me an enormous headache if I tend to give the reader--what Victoria calls--"the deeper facets of the book." I see reviewing a book like any other writing assignment or job. You are paid for your time, your skill, your insight. I don't think of payment for reviews as bribes, and especially not if you have the great integrity you apparently have. A friend once told me that when we are born we are given a shoe box--and it's certainly not infinite--there's only so much we can fit into that space. We can't do everything. Something has to go. I write my own poetry, try to publish it, edit work for other people, mentor younger poets, and on and on. When do I get to brush my teeth or play with my dogs? My house looks like a dusty scene from The Grapes of Wrath. When do I get to just BE? I believe your time is the most valuable thing you have, and you get to choose what you want to do with it, according to how it helps you to live a better life, and help other people at the same time. I used to give myself away. Until I had nothing left for me. I hope you won't do that. You do need a roof over your head, and some time just for yourself.