Apparently there are some people making a cottage industry of reviewing famous authors on Amazon and giving them one star, terrible reviews. A New Statesman article chronicles how Anne Rice and others are petitioning Amazon to ban anonymous reviews and requiring verifiable identities. Frankly, it seems this may just give these reviewers more attention. But it raises the question of reviewer ethics. Here is my proposed code of ethics:
1. If you can’t put your name to a review, don’t write it–or at least don’t publish it.
2. Don’t use mean reviews as a way to attract lots of views or followers. It seems to me this is a poor substitute for good writing. It also suggests you are a very poor chooser of books to read and review. Do you really want to spend your life reading and slamming bad books?
3. Read the books you review. If I can’t finish a book I won’t review it.
4. If you have a problem with a book, be specific. Cite the instances where the writing is poor, facts are in error, or the specifics of why you take issue with a writer’s argument.
5. Don’t engage in ad hominem attacks. Your assessment that a book is bad or a plot is faulty or an argument has problems doesn’t mean the writer is a bad person. Separate the book from the person.
6. Disclose any facts that might bias a review, even if they don’t, such as receiving a free review copy of a book or a personal relationship with an author.
7. Practice the golden rule. Treat writers as you would like to be treated. That doesn’t mean using kid gloves but it does mean being as fair and even-handed as you can be in reviewing a book. Remember that someone can review your stuff as well!
8. I’ve decided in providing links to a book to link to the publisher’s website rather than a certain online vendor if at all possible. This allows people to purchase from the vendor of their choice–perhaps that local bookshop down the road–rather than providing expedited access to that certain online vendor. I post reviews on that vendor’s site only if asked by the author or by a publisher providing a review copy of the book.
Reviews serve a valuable function in helping people know whether or not they should buy a particular book. That carries with it a certain responsibility, not only to book buyers but authors and publishers as well. It doesn’t mean serving as a publicist for a book. It means commending good works that might not otherwise come to a person’s attention. It means helping someone understand whether a book will serve their interest in buying it. It can give useful critiques to writers and publishers. All of these are real people who have an economic interest in what we write–whether it is the few dollars they spend to buy the book or a livelihood for writers and employees in publishing houses.
For me, this comes down to wanting to sleep at night–to believe I’ve acted with integrity. And it seems to be one more way of promoting civility in a society that too often seems to prefer the cheap shot.