- Thou shall have no other gods before the reader. The review is not about the author, nor the publisher, and especially, not about you, the reviewer. Reviews are all about the reader. Don’t try to impress with pompous words in an attempt to glorify yourself or appear scholarly. Give readers simplicity and clarity. They’ll appreciate it. If they want verbose and fancy, they can read Shakespeare.
- Thou shall not lie. Honesty is what defines your trade. Without it, you’re doing nothing but selling copy. When you give facile praise or sugar-coat a book, sooner or later readers will take you for what you are: a phony.
- Thou shall try not to offend the author. Just as honesty is important, so is tact. There’s no need to be harsh or mean. A tactfully written, well-meant negative review should offer the author insight into what is wrong with the book. Instead of saying, “This is a terrible novel!” say, “This book didn’t work for me for the following reasons…”
- Thou shall not eat the evaluation. Some fledgling reviewers write a long blurb of the book and leave out the evaluation. The evaluation is the most important part of a review. A summary of the plot is not an evaluation. Saying, “I really liked this book” is not an evaluation. The evaluation tells the reader what is good and bad about the book, and whether or not it is worth buying.
- Thou shall not reveal spoilers. Nobody likes to be told the ending of a movie before having watched it. The same thing is valid for a book. If you give spoilers in your review, not only do you lessen the reader’s reading experience but you also risk being sued by the publisher or author.
- Thou shall honor grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Don’t be one of those reviewers who are more in love with the idea of seeing their name online than making sure their reviews are well-written and thorough. Your reviews may hang around on the internet for years to come and will reflect on your level as a writer. Run a spell check, edit, revise, and polish your review, as if you were posting a short story. Get a good book on grammar, and punctuation, take an online course or listen regularly to podcasts such as The Grammar Girl.
- Thou shall honor deadlines. If you join a review site where the turnaround for reviews is 3 weeks, then you should respect that agreement. If you promise the author to have the review ready in two months, you should honor this too. Be honest and straight forward from the beginning. If you’re so busy your turnaround is six months, make sure to let the person know. If for any reasons you cannot meet the deadline, contact the person and let him know. It’s your responsibility to maintain a do-able schedule.
- Thou shall not be prejudiced against thy neighbor. Don’t assume that a self-published or small press book is poorly written. Give it a fair chance and let it speak for itself. Likewise, never assume a book published by a major NY house has to be good. You’d be surprised by the high quality of some small press books by unknown authors, as opposed to those written by big name authors whose titles are often in the bestseller lists. In general, most subsidy books are mediocre, but there are always exceptions. If you’ve had bad experiences with subsidy books, then don’t request them nor accept them for review. If you decide to review one, though, don’t be biased and give it a fair chance.
- Thou shall not become an RC addict. RC stands for Review Copy. Requesting RCs can get out of control. In fact, it can become addictive. You should be realistic about how many books you can review. If you don’t, pretty soon you’ll be drowning in more RCs than you can handle. When this happens, reading and reviewing can change from a fun, pleasurable experience into a stressful one. If you’re feeling frazzled because you have a tower of books waiting to be reviewed, learn to say NO when someone approaches you for a review and stop requesting RCs for a while. Unless you’re being paid as a staff reviewer for a newspaper or magazine, reviewing shouldn’t get in the way of your daily life.
- Thou shall honor thy commitment. Remember that any books you’ve agreed to review beforehand are being sent to you in exchange for a review. If your policy is not to review every book you receive, state it clearly on your blog or site so the author or publisher will know what to expect. If you have agreed to review a book, but have a valid reason for not reviewing it, let the review site editor, author, publisher, or publicist know.
If you’re a book reviewer, chances are you’ve heard about the new FTC (Federal Trade Commission) regulations concerning bloggers who review products online.
What’s going on and what do their new guidelines mean for you, the book blogger/reviewer who writes reviews? Is the FTC keeping records of who’s doing what online? Can the reviewers be fined for accepting books for review if they don’t have a disclosure posted on their blogs stating how they got their books, and whether or not they bought them themselves or were provided by authors or publishers?
The truth is, the FTC has been struggling with how to deal with bloggers for a long time. The FTC doesn’t see book bloggers as journalists, so the guidelines that apply to, say, The New York Times, wouldn’t apply to an independent book blogger. The people at the FTC see blogs as a new type of communication so blogs must be treated in a different way.
What’s the difference between a reviewer who works for a newspaper or magazine and a book blogger?
Basically, their reasoning is that in the case of a newspaper reviewer, it’s the newspaper that gets the compensation, not the book reviewer, whereas in the case of the blogger, she gets to keep the book. So there’s a direct connection between the compensation and the review. Many people think this is silly. After all, there’s nothing stopping a newspaper reviewer from keeping a book. There’s no one at the newspaper making sure all review copies are stored in a secured shelf once reviewers have read the books.
How do you deal with this new regulation if you don’t want to get into trouble and want to come across as an ethical reviewer?
The FTC has made it pretty clear: A disclosure is required.
In order to meet the standard, all you have to do is put a disclosure on your blog, a brief, clear message prominently displayed on your sidebar or on the ‘About the Blogger’ or ‘Review Policy’ pages. Your disclosure could be something like this: “Review copies are provided by authors and publishers. I don’t receive monetary compensation for my reviews.” (If you receive monetary compensation or, let’s say, a gift such an Amazon gift certificate, you must state this clearly). The clearer and more straight forward the disclosure, the more you’ll come across as an honest, ethical reviewer. It’s all about integrity and good practice behavior.
If you go to my blog, www.mayrassecretbookcase.blogspot.com, and scroll down a bit, you’ll see my disclosure on the right sidebar. As you can see, it’s pretty short.
Here is an example of a longer disclosure from a mom blogger: http://www.theclothdiaperreport.com/2009/07/disclosure.html.
Though the degree of prominence isn’t spelled out (as far as I know), some bloggers are including this disclosure at the bottom of every review they post, but this isn’t really necessary, not as long as the disclosure is easy to find somewhere on your blog.
The FTC regulation is a good thing for the consumer. If you’re a reviewer with Amazon Affiliate purchase buttons all over your blog, I want to know if you’ve accepted monetary compensation in exchange for your reviews. Granted, most bloggers earn only pennies from their affiliate buttons, but I still want to know.
The FTC guidelines also put responsibility on the authors, publishers and other marketing people (such as publicists) who are trying to promote a book. For example, if you’re an author looking for bloggers to review your book (as in the case of virtual book tours), you should make sure those bloggers you send your book to have that disclosure. Or at least, this is what the guidelines suggest.
But to go back to one of my initial questions: Can reviewers be fined for accepting books for review if they don’t have a disclosure posted on their blogs? The answer is, it will depend on each individual case. The FTC has stated that they will look at this on a case by case basis.
There are millions of blogs out there, and most of them do some form of reviewing in some sense or another. It would take the FTC a lot of money and resources to check what every single blogger is doing, but at least by following their guidelines you can be sure you’ll be on the safe side. I should also point out that these new regulations are especially targeted at bloggers who often receive expensive items for review, such as furniture, electrical appliances, beauty supplies, etc.
Here are two great audio interviews that book publicist Penny Sansevieri conducted on the subject. Be sure to listen to them at your convenience if you want to be better informed.