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On Responding To Questions About Charging For Reviews

A photo of J K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy, with some money tucked inside the cover

As I currently live with my parents, I’ve found it useful to let them know when I’m due to receive book parcels. Our postman has a habit of ringing the door bell and rushing off with the mail if we don’t arrive at light speed, so in the case that I am not around and my parents are, they’ll know there’s a chance it’ll be him. It works both ways, with me on the look out for anything my parents are waiting for, and between us we’ve managed to catch the postman on most occasions for the last month or so.

Yesterday I told my mother about a couple of books I was expecting, and she responded by asking, for the first time I must add, whether I shouldn’t be charging for reviews. I said, “that’s just not what we do”. I didn’t think it would be a good enough answer, but for now, at least, she’s happy with it. Trish told me that in those situations, she answers similarly.

The reason I was surprised that such a response placated my mother was that the response brings into the fray the book blogging community – “that’s just not what we do”. And often when you bring in a community that your relative or friend does not belong to, your answer is either not good enough or it creates a need in the questioner to ask further whys and wherefores. Referring to blogger morals in such a way is ambiguous, because there is no reasoning applied to it, but because it would take a whole new conversation to explain the past, present, and future of book blogging, ambiguity will have to suffice.

Nevertheless, as much as it’s true to say that that is just not what we do, it’s a bit of an easy choice of answer.

Thinking personally, and of the task that will await me on the occasion that a repeat of our conversation doesn’t suppress my mother’s worry that I’m being exploited (saying the books are free doesn’t work at all), I wondered how I could construct an answer that would close the door on the issue. I skirted around a few ideas; could I bring in the fact that bloggers are valuable for their difference to newspaper critics, their approach to books and the way they write being useful to those who do not read or like the papers? I could, but if bloggers are valuable then for the concerned relative that means they ought to be paid. Could I say that blogging brings with it benefits such as invitations to events, added knowledge, and a place in the wider literary community?

I’d have to word answers carefully too, because there’s the potential to reinforce the idea that bloggers are amateurs – and that in itself would beg the question of why I continue blogging instead of looking for a job at the paper.

There’s no conclusion to this post, I haven’t an answer. Instead I will pose the obvious question to you all:

How do you respond to well-meaning suggestions that you charge for reviews?



December 10, 2012, 1:38 am

Thankfully no one has every asked me that question. But if they did I think I would have given your answer and if the persisted, I would explain sort of understood underlying community rules the ethics.

Rebecca @ Love at First Book

December 10, 2012, 1:51 am

I have never been asked about charging for reviews, but I have some ideas on why it would be tough, if not impossible.

You read books you love and blog about them. So are you going to charge some people and not others? For instance, if you want to read and blog about a book by Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, and they don’t want to pay you, then do you just not review the book? Is it okay then to review their books for free but review small-indie-author’s book for cost?

Also, I receive those publisher/author books as well, many times from smaller authors who just want their names out there. We have a right as bloggers to say yes we will read the book or no we will not. I always say “I will read your book in exchange for an honest review” specifying that if you give me your book and I agree to read it, I’m going to be honest about it.

If you want to review for money, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, and my main advice for that would be to try to get a journalism position reviewing books like a real journalist.

Alex in Leeds

December 10, 2012, 11:23 am

Unless you receive torrents of visitors daily the book blogging equation at best remains: £20 book for free from the publisher/review outlet equals fair and honest review from you. I think that’s pretty fair for the blogger especially if you’re getting the book early or receiving links back from the publisher via Twitter or Facebook. If blogging is your pitch for a different job or just your online portfolio those intangibles like contacts and getting your name known are surely just as useful…?

Tanya Patrice

December 10, 2012, 1:14 pm

I honestly have no problem if a blogger decides to charge for reviews – as long as its mentioned. But Rebecca makes excellent points about why it definitely would not be a valid option for most. It’s definitely not for me because I simply don’t want to dissect a book enough & write a lengthy enough critique, that would be worthy of what someone would pay me for. Not to mention the then endless hours it would take to market myself & my product to the public, the authors, PR people etc. A business cannot simply be made from reading books, writing about it and then commenting on a few blogs.


December 10, 2012, 1:25 pm

My grandmother asked me the same question recently. I told her that if someone paid me for a review I think I’d feel obligated to give a favorable review. I just think my objectivity would become questionable.


December 10, 2012, 2:42 pm

I’m with Jennifer on this one, and that is my answer when people ask: you can’t really be objective when you get paid for a review. I might feel obligated to make the book look better than it is for instance because I hope those publishers will ask (and pay) me for other books too.


December 10, 2012, 9:09 pm

I just try to respond that I’m an amateur reviewer, not a professional. It’s a difficult question to answer.


December 11, 2012, 3:20 am

I’m a bit different because I consider myself a hobbyist when it comes to blogging–sure I do a tiny tiny bit of advertising on my blog but so far the check I’ve received has been enough for one book–it definitely doesn’t pay for the HOURS that I spend writing posts, responding to comments either by email or twitter, and visiting other bloggers and keeping connections.

I do think that people can write objective reviews and still get paid but it doesn’t allow for blogging to be as personal, if that makes sense. It’s the same reason why I don’t read as many blogs who primarily read newer works–it’s tougher to see the blogger’s personality when it’s all business all the time. I don’t know, I’m a strange one. ;)


December 11, 2012, 5:31 pm

I’ve also never been asked about this, but I’d probably just ask the person who they’d rather read a review from–a person who has been sponsored by the people making the product, or a person who hasn’t? (If a third-party multi-millionaire with no stake in publishing wanted to sponsor my blog, I’d surely let them if I retained 100% creative control ;)

Literary Feline

December 12, 2012, 12:18 am

I’ve been asked this question a couple of times by different people, and I’m not sure I have ever given a satisfactory answer.

For me, it’s more a matter of book blogging being a hobby for me rather than a professional or business endeavor. There is a freedom in that, I think, that I wouldn’t feel if I was getting paid. Besides, I like taking a more personal approach to talking about books. My goal is less to critique a book and more to share my overall reading experience. If that makes sense. I am not sure I’d feel as free to do that if someone was paying me.


December 12, 2012, 4:14 pm

I’ve never been asked, but I’d say that I am an appreciator, not a critic. I like giving my impressions of a book in my own amateur style. I don’t possess the background or the knowledge to review books professionally – thank goodness!

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

December 13, 2012, 2:31 am

My boyfriend has asked me this before, since I spend so much time reading and blogging and he doesn’t really understand it. I have sort of three general responses. 1) My blog is a hobby, and so trying to make money on it would take away some of the enjoyment of it, for me. 2) I see the blog as tool or strategy for finding opportunities to be paid for wiring book reviews. It’s helped me connect with editors to do some freelance writing, and I’m comfortable getting paid for that because I get paid by an editor, not the person who wrote or is publicizing the book. And 3) I think it’s ethically questionable to get paid to write reviews by a publicist or an author, and that’s really the only way I can see getting paid for reviews on my blog. I have a background in journalism, so that’s part of where that idea comes from for me, but in general I always wonder about “sponsored” reviews I see on other blogs (mostly food blogs), and I don’t want that kind of question about me and my blog.

I’m not sure if that’s the best or most satisfying answer, but it’s honest and what blogging means to me. But it’s a good, ongoing conversation to have among bloggers (why isn’t this ‘what we do’?) and with ourselves :)


December 13, 2012, 6:16 pm

As someone who writes professionally for a newspaper (albeit not about books), I’ve had others ask me why I blog about reading — for free — while being paid for my words elsewhere. I always call into it the moral question: could I discuss something openly and honestly if I’m being compensated for that? I don’t know. I’d like to think so, but I’m not entirely sure that would be possible.

Plus, money changing hands just makes everything very complicated.

Also, like others have stated, I consider blogging fun! Discussing books is a creative outlet for me. If I were to cash a paycheck for such discussions, it would begin to feel like . . . work. Because it would be. And I don’t have any interest in doing that.


December 14, 2012, 8:37 pm

I’m definitely a hobbyist and while I’d love for my blog to make some money, I wouldn’t like to get paid for reviews. As others have said – an editor or publication paying you is a far cry from an author or publisher. I like reading and I like talking about books, and I wouldn’t like it if it became something that was like a job. It’s hard enough as it is!


December 19, 2012, 4:04 pm

I’ve read this post and I have to say something. I’m Spanish and here between the Spanish blogs there is a blogger who is trying to charge for reviewing in her blog. Of course, as Rebecca and more people have said, she only want to charge new authors because it’s obvious that J.K. Rowling is not going to pay her.
Well, I must say that most of her followers have gone and now she complains about why people think she is “the blogger who wants to get paid for reviews”. Well, she is known like this because it is what she does.
I would understand it if you are forced to read a particular book, but as you are a blogger, you are not forced to do anything you don’t want to do.

But it’s interesting this question.

(Sorry for my English, but I’m studying this language and I still can’t write correctly)


December 19, 2012, 5:16 pm

Monique: It’s a good plan. I think the thing that stopped me doing it was the worry that it would bore the person – though that said, maybe boring them into acceptance would be… acceptable.

Rebecca: That’s a good point. Where do we draw the line, because not all books are review copies. It would quite possibly cause issues and put restrictions on the blogger. Honesty is the biggest part – if you charge you’ll feel bound to write positively lest you risk alienating everyone. Indeed, and thinking of the journalism route opens up a whole can of worms that would start the cycle over again.

Alex: Yes, it is a fair trade-off. Interestingly I just pitched your thoughts to the person and they said about time used to read the book and review it. Technically they are correct, £20 is not even minimum wage, but when you apply everything you’ve said, and add honesty, loyalties and the like, it is a fair trade. I reckon blogging can help get jobs. I haven’t experienced that, but talking about it has improved my standing and conversations with people.

Tanya: Disclaimers are key. It may be part and parcel of newspapers, but where most bloggers don’t charge, those who do do need to state it. I like that you’ve brought personality and the individual into this, because, yes, to charge would be to place pressure on yourself, whoever you were, to write in a certain manner. Losing that choice would be bad for anyone. And you’re right, you’d feel the need (and quite possibly be requested) to concentrate on marketing the review – which is understandable if someone is paying you, but at odds with the way we need to be able to put blogging on the backburner when neccersary. Yes, those who have made money from book blogging don’t do it like that, there is always something else.

Jennifer: Objectivity and honesty is key. Did she accept your answer? It’s a very true and worthy answer but I wonder if it’s “enough”, in the way that “doing it for the love” isn’t always enough.

Judith: That’s the thing, you could be objective when paid… and swiftly lose your “position”. You’d get into a rut, a cycle of trying to please, rather than working on your own terms.

Liviania: That’s a good answer – the only “issue” with doing that is it could devalue what you do in that person’s eyes, when really the amount of time you spend, the knowledge you’ve gained, the sheer amount of output, is worth a great deal in that priceless fashion.

Trish: Yes, gaining money from other routes still doesn’t equate to what the person is suggesting, though it can work for the blogger. Oh I agree, you can write objectively, but I’d say you’d have to have an incredible authority in the wider community and industry to not only be objective but believed to be too. To be able to be one of those people that can demand more money without losing face and what have you. Yes, that makes sense, there would be a loss of personality. I understand you there, personal blogging, and by extension book blogging is built on personality (I suppose that bloggers who only review ARCS must have begun with older books). You’re not strange at all!

Insatiablebooksluts: That’s a good counter-question, and speaks of the honesty we can employ. A third-party with no affiliations would be a safer bet in that situation.

Literary Feline: A hobby is a perfectly good answer, but I suppose it wouldn’t be satisfactory if the person saw it as goodwill being exploited (I know many find that). But it does mean freedom. Yes, that makes sense. It would be hard to remain objective with expectations, backed with money, pressuring you.

Anbolyn: Appreciator is a good word. Personal style is important, indeed!

Kim: I like your second answer a lot. It reminds me of the post at Book Smugglers (I think it was them) where they spoke of all the skills you could list on your resume due to blogging. There are opportunities out there that quite possibly wouldn’t be available if reviews were charged. And being paid by an editor – it occurred to me a few days after my post that there’s that difference, bloggers would be paid by the author, newspapers likely pay reviewers. You’re right, who else would pay us? Sponsored reviews can be off-putting in a way “I received this book for review” isn’t.

It’s a very good answer! You’ve referred to everything. That’s true, it’s good to remind ourselves of it and the reasons.

Meg: That’s interesting! It makes sense that people would question your workings, I suppose, but your column and blog must feel like completely different things, no matter the differing topics. Complications, yes, that’s one step further than objectivity and honesty and would inevitably occur at some point. It would be work, agreed, and everything would change.

Meghan: Yes, money’s a great idea but there are more ways to gain it than reviewing itself. The pressure alone would be a job!

Isi: That’s an interesting and totally understandable situation (as in it’s understandable that people have left). There is a big gap between new authors and established ones, but separating them like that is never going to look good and if anything makes that gap even more obvious. Yes, if it were a job getting paid is fine, though the money would likely come from someone other than the author. Your English is good :)



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