I had never thought about this question until recently when asked by an aspiring author whose work I had agreed to review whether I would do a book endorsement (or blurb) instead. I had to think about that one. In the end, I decided not to do this. Here’s my thought process (along with some further reflections).
For one thing, an endorsement serves to give credibility to a book. People look at the back cover or the inside of the book to see if people they know and respect think this book worth buying. Honestly, part of my reason for saying “no” is that I am not a household name, despite having a decent following, Most people would just say “Bob who?”
Beyond this, book endorsements are always positive, and they imply that one approves the ideas of the author, and particularly the book in question. I can fully understand why that is important in promoting a book. An endorsement by a person known to the prospective reader is an encouragement to at least take a look, and think about buying this book.
And that brought me to my other reason for saying “no.” I have developed this blog around reviewing, and reviewing is different. It is not one to three sentences about what is so good about a book. It is a longer form, in which I try to summarize a book in a way that helps my readers decide whether or not to buy the book. If I’ve done my job well, someone who buys a book I review won’t think I misled them, even if they have a different “take” on the book. While I generally try to be gracious in my reviews because I have some sense of what goes into writing a book, I will not always agree with the book’s point of view or think that it was particularly well-written. Sometimes I will note issues it fails to address. Reviewing gives me the freedom to make negative as well as positive comments about a book.
Sometimes, an author or book publisher or publicist will excerpt a quote from a review I’ve written (often on Twitter) that looks like an endorsement. I have no problem with this as long as there is proper attribution and a link to my full review (note the copyright paragraph on this blog). For anyone who cares, they are able to consult the full review…and it provides traffic to my blog as well!
This points to the place of both reviewers and endorsers in the book industry. Both are important in “getting the word out” about a book and helping people decide whether to buy it. We both have in common an appreciation for the work that goes into a book, we both think reading good books is a valuable endeavor, and we both recognize that publishers, authors, and booksellers depend, at least in part, on our efforts in securing sales of a book. Also, in most cases for both of us, this is purely a labor of love, unless we work for a review publication like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Reviews. Otherwise, paid reviews or endorsements raise all kinds of ethical questions (especially online reviews at bookseller sites).
But the two roles are different. While some do both, in truth I’m uneasy about endorsements if I am to maintain my independence as a reviewer. At very least, I could not review the same or another work of an author for whom I had written an endorsement. [Similarly, I’ve done anonymous reader reviews of a couple of manuscripts that were later published. I did not write reviews on these books.] Maybe deep down, I worry that if I endorse books, people will think any positive reviews I write to simply be endorsements of the book.
So, for now, I won’t be appearing in any book blurbs…not that people are beating a path to my door! I’d be curious how others have thought of this.
Postscript: I do think the endorsement thing can be overdone. I wrote a while back about a book I reviewed with six pages of endorsements. The more endorsements, the more suspicious I get about the book, but that just may be me.