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Reviewer Ethics

ethics of book reviews

We are back with the next post in "The Ethics of Book Reviews."

We are now halfway through:

In this post, we're going to talk all about the ethics of reviewing books. We've already discussed what past literature says, so I'm not going to rehash that. (If you want a reminder, go ahead and click the link to post 2 above.) Instead, we'll look at some different issues, and we'll also take a dive into some firsthand experience, as well as some second experience.

Without further ado, let us begin!

Conflicts of Interest

It is pretty much common knowledge that a conflict of interest can influence a person's opinions. In the case of a reviewer, the two main conflicts of interest are as follow: compensation and association.

Let's explore those two a bit in depth.

Reviews for Compensation

Most reviewers are compensation in some way for their reviews. In almost every case, the reviewer is offered a free copy "in exchange for an honest review." You've likely seen that phrase or something similar, especially if you've read any of my ARC reviews. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission essentially requires that if an individual is offered "in–kind" payment for a review, they are required to disclose such. There is debate on how that pertains to most book reviewers, and I encourage you to check out Book Riot if you're curious.

In some cases, reviewers are sometime paid directly for a review. When this occurs, reviews would then be required to disclose such information. . . . I think. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know this for certain, so take that with a grain of salt.

My personal opinion is that as long as your review is still honest, I see no reason why you can't accept any form of compensation for a review. I do firmly fall into the camp of disclosing if the review was requested, so I do think that you should disclose no matter how you are compensated. However, that's obviously not a consensus.

Based on my interactions with fellow reviewers on Goodreads and Bookstagram, it seems that most, if not all, would agree that accepting a free copy is perfectly fine. As to accepting monetary compensation, I don't have a good enough read on public sentiment.

Reviews for Those You Know

In some cases, people will review books by people they know, e.g. family, friends, etc. I must admit that I myself have reviewed a book for someone I knew (my 10 Little Dandelions review, if you're curious). As such, my stance is obviously clear; I think it's perfectly fine to accept a review request from someone you know, as long as your review is still honest. As a disclosure champion, I'd strongly recommend including a disclaimer if you do.

From what I've seen, there seems to be much debate on this, although I don't know what the majority view is. Based on a small scale poll on my IG story (@asia.booknerd117), it seems opinions are pretty much evenly split.

Are Reviews Ever Honest?

Now for the big question: with these conflicts of interests, are reviews ever honest? And how can you be sure?

Let's be honest. There's no way to know if a review is honest, even if people disclose.

However, reviews are a two–way street of trust. Authors must trust that the reviews are honest (although in the next post, we will get into if authors are incentized to have dishonest reviews), just as readers must trust that the reviews they read are honest.

Based on the hundreds of real reviews (i.e. an in–depth review that is at least a few paragraphs) I've read, it seems like most, if not all, of them are genuine.

Personal Experience

I've already outlined a bit of my personal experience as a reviewer, but allow me to talk some more about review trends I've noticed over the past 4 years that I've been reviewing.

In my experience, some of the best reviews I've seen were several paragraphs in length. My reviews tend to be on long side, but I've seen reviews shorter than mine that were exceptional. However, in general, the best reviews tend to be at least 3 paragraphs in length. Responses on my story seem to agree, saying that 2 to 3 paragraphs is a good length.

The main reason mine are so long is I divide my reviews into subsections that I then give a subrating for, which I base my overall rating on. I've seen other reviewers do something similar, but I've also seen reviewers do nothing of the sort. However, almost every reviewer discusses at least 2 different aspects in their reviews. To that end, most reviews mention at least the characters and usually the plot. Responses from my story place a minimum of 3 ascpects.

Reviewer Ethics

Let's now summarize some of the ways reviewers can write a good, ethical review. Note that this list is not an exhaustive list, nor is it in any way a list of requirements. Think of them more as suggestions. ;)

  1. Only accept a review request if you can write an honest review.

  2. Disclose when there is a conflict of interest.

  3. Write multiple paragraphs.

  4. Mention at least 2 aspects of the book from the following list — the more, the better!

    1. World Building (setting, culture, religious systems, magic systems, etc.)

    2. Characters

    3. Plot

    4. Relationships

    5. Writing Style

    6. Pacing

Next Up

Well, I hope you liked this post! Definitely a lot different from the last one (Post 2), huh? XD

Next up, we'll look at the ethics of soliciting reviews. Like this post, Post 4 will contain a lot of analysis on trends in the bookish communities, personal and secondary experience, and plenty of commentary!

As always, drop your questions below or message me via my contact page or directly at!

See ya in the next post!

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