Books

Bookstagram: is it ethical to ask for payment to review an indie (or any) book? Spoiler: absolutely f**king not

Over the past few days there’s been a lot of posts in the bookstagram community on either side of the “should we ask authors to pay for reviews” fence. Hands up, I genuinely didn’t even know this was a thing until these posts began to show up after an initial post by (I think, please correct me if I’m wrong) @chula.is.reading.romance.

In that initial post, which is headed up by a graphic emphatically stating “This Bookstagrammer Doesn’t Charge For Reviews”, the bookstagrammer calls out those who charge indie authors for reviews telling them not to be disrespectful or unethical. The point is made that indie authors will have already invested a lot of money into the production of their book and that the book itself is fee enough.

So, for a moment let’s think about about everything an indie author has to invest in before seeing their book in print. Once the first, second, third, maybe even fourth drafts of the book are done an author may bring in professional beta readers for feedback, then a professional editor, then a professional cover designer, maybe a professional who will deal with the layout of the book if it’s going to be available in print and as an e-book (that shit can go wackadoodle, rapid). I’ve mentioned professional so often for a reason: these people, rightfully, cost a lot of money to hire for this work if a book is going to be a viable commercial product.

If an indie author is offering print copies of the book to reviewers, who do you think is paying for them? There’s no publishing house with a publicity and marketing team behind them – all of these costs will be fronted by them. They’ll have specifically chosen to approach bloggers and bookstagrammers that actively read in their genre, that have an engaged following and are receptive to ARCs – that’s more than a couple of hours of work in and of itself. They’ll be working on their own marketing campaigns and doing the graft on social media just to get their name and book out there. For all these hours of labour that’s a hell of a lot of outgoings and not a lot of incomings. And y’all want to ask for money on top of getting this book of blood, sweat and tears for free? You kidding me?

I’m paraphrasing here to protect the guilty, but in their stories one bookstagrammer I used to follow spoke about how they deserved to be paid to review because they take a long time to read a book. They felt they deserved the compensation due to time spent both through reading a book and then writing a review. This argument falls down for a couple of reasons.

The time a reader takes to read a book isn’t an author’s problem. Some people read quickly, some people read slowly that’s…I mean, that’s just what it is. If a reader reads a book quickly would they deserve less money than the fast reader? Surely, if we’re going to follow this nonsensical logic train, the fast reader would deserve more than the slow reader as it’s quicker turnaround for our out-of-pocket author?

As for being paid to write a review…I think what I’m about to say is where some egos might get a little bashed. If you have an account with (let’s say) less than 10k followers, you’re not a big name. You’re in with the rest of us rabble. Now, I’m not saying that people with less than 10k followers don’t have influence or a voice and they absolutely deserve to receive ARCs if they want them, but payment on top of a FREE book? You’re pushing your luck big time there.

Furthermore, (that’s definitely a Sarah’s on her high horse word init?), it’s very difficult for anyone to trust a review that’s been paid for and legally you’re into some grey and murky waters regardless of whether it’s a positive review or not. ESPECIALLY if you’re not disclosing you’ve been paid. I’m not going into the legalities in this blog post because I don’t know what I’m talking about but it’s another thing to consider if you’ve been taking payment for reviews and not disclosing it.

I try to do all I can to support authors whose work I love. Outwith buying the book, I’ll talk it up on bookstagram, bore my mates about it, write a review if I’m feeling particularly taken with it (god I hate writing reviews – hence why I no longer accept ARCs at all), share their publicity, comment on their posts etc etc etc…but never, ever, ever will you see me ask for money to write a book review. It’s not ethical, it’s utter shithousery.

That’s my piece, I’ve said it.

3 thoughts on “Bookstagram: is it ethical to ask for payment to review an indie (or any) book? Spoiler: absolutely f**king not”

  1. I did not see this commentary happening on bookstagram but ….WHAT? No, you absolutely should not be paid to review an indie book – especially if you are receiving the book for free. (I have had an indie author reach out asking me to BUY their book and then review it and I declined that). That is not how you support indie authors who are already struggling as it is. Also, it would be a murky area of trust and legalities! You HAVE to disclose if you are being paid to promote something, which I feel like some reviewers would feel weird doing because it would reduce the trust we would have in that review. I mean, I wouldn’t trust it as much if I knew the person was paid for it. Anyways, all this to say, yes, I agree with you lol

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