The results of a National Book Critics Circle survey in which I participated are in. And evidently I am largely in step with contemporaries when it comes to issues in the “ethics” of book reviewing.
You can look at the full survey results but here’s a few highlights:
- More than three-quarters of those surveyed (76.5%) said it was never ethical to review a book without reading the entire book. What surprises me is that some eight percent see nothing wrong with it.
- A nearly identical percentage (76.3%) agree that “commissioned” book reviews should be identified as such. Less than five percent said they need not be identified.
- A slightly smaller number (64.9%) believe someone who’s written an unpaid blurb for a book should not be allowed to write a fuller review of the book. I had already decided this concept will apply to a forthcoming book for which I recently provided a blurb.
- Surprisingly, while more than 80 percent think “literary journals” and magazines should follow the same ethical rules as newspaper book sections, little more than half (54.6%) believe “literary blogs” (whatever they may be) should.
- Forty percent thought a reviewer should not read other reviews of a book before reviewing it while only 18% approved of doing so. Perhaps reflecting there are a variety of factors that might impact this in any particular situation, 33.5% gave “other” as a response.
- More than half (54%) say it is never acceptable for a reviewer not to say what they really think about a book. Saying it’s acceptable or “other” roughly split another 38 % of the vote. I agree with the majority but note that one need not use razors in expressing what you really think.
- The yes and no votes were equally split on a related issue. Thirty-four percent fell on either side of whether it is ethical for a reviewer to decline to review a book they already accepted for review because they didn’t like it and didn’t want to say negative things in print.
- Barely half (51.6%) see no problem with the practice (followed here) of a review containing a link to Amazon or other site where the book can be purchased. I, of course, fall in that half but the practice is disclosed in my Reader Pledge.
- Finally, fully 60 percent say it is acceptable for a newspaper book section or magazine to “ignore” self-published books submitted to it.
Even if there were established rules of ethics for book reviewers, compliance would be voluntary. Still, I think it’s interesting to see the views in this area, particularly in terms of honesty and disclosure. I should also notethat GalleyCat has some pertinent observations on the survey in light of the blogger v. mainstream reviewer debate that’s been going on for some time now.
I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so.
Sydney Smith, quoted in Bon-mots of Sydney Smith and R. Brinsley Sheridan (1893)