Armchair BEA, Day 4 – Ethics and NonFiction

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From the Armchair BEA Website:  The Ethics Committee Meets Today   Disclosure. Copyright and credit. Plagiarism. Succeeding without selling out. The path of ethical blogging is strewn with pebbles and potholes and thorny patches.  We’re getting back into discussion mode in a big way today with the topic of “Ethics in Blogging.” What guidelines must we follow as bloggers–attribution, disclosure, honesty? Have you had an experience with plagiarism (victim or perpetrator?), and how did you deal with it? Do you have recommendations to new bloggers about how to ensure that credit is given to whom/where it’s due?

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Ethics.  That can be a sticky topic.  The first for this blogger is copyright.  I think it is important to note who has the copyright of the book: publisher / author / illustrator;  and to put those where they can be readily seen.  I put all of that under the review along with the websites, blogs, and social media.  This way it is easy for anyone to check on copyrights and learn more about the publisher, author, and illustrator.

Often this means Googling everyone and checking at least 5 pages deep.  Even then, sometimes nothing appears.  Before you say this, I do ask for all of that when I agree to write a review, but one of two things happens.  One, I get nothing back.  Not one link, not one url.  The other thing that happens is my fault.  I do forget to ask.  It is in the guidelines, but not everyone comes to me passes through the site first.  So it can be a time-killer, but I think it is important.

For illustrations I have always made a pop-up appear when you place your mouse on the illustration.  It gives the copyright information and the words “used with permission.”  This was not enough. I had my site checked for overall potential and to let me know what could be better.  The reviewer did not mention copyright–maybe she saw the pop-ups–but a commenter did.  Since then, the “used with permission” is also in print at the bottom of the review.

This year I added the FTC Disclaimer.  I had not done anything more than say “I received book courtesy of the  publisher/author.”  I read that, as of this year, this was no longer enough for the US government.  The disclaimer I use is word for word what the FTC claims they want to see.  Copy it if you need it.

Plagiarism I do not think I have ever had to worry about.  If found it would immediately come off this site.  To make sure I do not commit plagiarism, I make a point of not reading any reviews on a book until after my review is posted.  It would be so easy to snag a paragraph here, a sentence there, and then paste a review together.  If you are going to all the trouble of buying a domain name, building a site, accepting books, reading them, and whatever else it may take, why would you suddenly drop the ball and plagiarize?  It is one thing to re-blog a great post, but certainly another to use someone else’s words and claim them as your own.  I have yet to come across a blog that steals words, which is what plagiarism is:  stealing.

The other important aspect of blogger/reviewer ethics is the review itself.  I have noticed many blogs will not (or do not) post negative reviews.  Why is this?  Certainly a bad book or a book with bad points comes across their desk.  Are they afraid of posting something negative?  Why?  A loss of readers, authors, book review offers?  I knew when I started that on occasion, a review would have negative aspects to it.  Sometimes there is a problem.  Maybe the punctuation is poorly done or missing.  Other times the illustrations do not match the concept of the book.  Or the writing is simply poor.  Is it wrong to make mention of those things — in a non-threatening or attacking way?  I agree no one should ever make a personal attack on a writer, for any reason.  I think doing so shines a bad light on the reviewer, not the author.  And that is as it should be.

One question:  Do you trust review sites that are only positive?

Okay, two questions:  Are review sites (sans Kirkus, and newspaper and magazine book critics), that charge for a review legit?  Are they ethical?  Is charging the right thing to do?  (three questions)

I would love to charge for a review.  I put in a good amount of time reading, writing, and posting.  I bet most reviewers do the same.  Yet there is a part of me that is wary of sites that charge.  Once you accept a fee for a review that author/publisher/PR firm becomes a customer and you now owe them something in return.  What the author  etc. want is a positive review.  Can you write a negative review if someone has paid for the review?  At least subconsciously the reviewer must know and want to please.  Is it possible to accept a fee and then write as if one had not

I have been to a few sites this past month researching paid reviews.  A couple are so positive there is a sugar-coating over the home page. I’ve seen rates from $5 to $70 for a picture book review.  The prices went up after that. One site states a negative review will not be written, but you do not get a full refund.  Another, or two, simply post glowing reviews that often are similar.  Is there a positive review template floating around the blogosphere?

This is one subject that I tend to be cynical about.  I know I could still write a negative review but do not know if I would feel right doing so.  I feel awful anytime I say something negative and I am not getting paid.  My heart would not be in it, if I had been paid.  Once someone pays me a relationship is established.  An expectation, implied or not will form.  I pet sit and people expect certain things for their money.  Why would writing a paid review be any different?

What do you think?

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20 thoughts on “Armchair BEA, Day 4 – Ethics and NonFiction

  1. Pingback: Statler and Waldorf – Book Critics Code of Ethics | Penny Dreadful Books and Reviews

  2. This is all very interesting to me! As I am fairly new to all this public reviewing business, and I am also a dog who is unfamiliar with human legalities, I’m not sure if I have been doing illegal things or not! Is it ok to show a book cover and inside pages without permission from someone? This is all very befuddling.

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    • It is okay to show a book cover, but entire inside pages must have permission of author or publisher (illustrator if the page is an illustration). You can quote a few lines without permission. You should have the FTC notice regarding the receipt of the book.

      If you mean showing the cover and inside pages to a group of kids, that is terrific and absolutely fine!! Just keep doing what you are doing. If you make a mess, call for a librarian or a nurse (depending where you are). 😀

      Being a dog, and a handsome one at that, I do not really know how they would enforce the rules. My guess is your human companion would be held responsible. That stinks as bad as a litter box, but your human knows she took this responsibility the day she adopted you, so do not worry about that.

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  3. Pingback: Armchair BEA 2013: Final Day | Kid Lit Reviews

  4. I added the FTC Disclaimer to my blog recently as well. I don’t think purely positive review sites influence me as much as sites that say what they don’t like. And with the review sites that get paid … well, I know Kirkus sometimes does give bad reviews, but they don’t really hold any power over my opinion of a book. Plenty of times I don’t agree with them. Sometimes they think a book I love is dumb, but most of the time they think a book I didn’t enjoy was fabulous.

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    • I totally agree with you. Kirkus charges way too much, if you ask me. The publishers have always worked with them, which makes me think maybe, uh, maybe I shouldn’t say what I am thinking. I do not understand why they allow the publisher/author to decide if a negative review goes public or not.

      If someone asks for a review, and you review it, it should go live, even if it is a negative or a slamming review. If you do not want a negative review of your book do not ask for a review until you have made it the best it can be. If you think that it is the best and it is not, well, get ready for the reviews and learn from them.

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it very much. I hope you return and voice more thoughts. 🙂

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  5. I wouldn’t really trust a site that charges for reviews, that might create a bias of sorts.

    Like you, I also don’t read reviews or anything about the book before I read it because sometimes those ideas/words stay in my head, and I don’t want to be accused of “plagiarizing” anyone.

    Leanne @ Escaping With Books

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    • Hi Leanne. I agree! I do not think anyone would accuse you of plagiarism for a couple of identical words or the same thought on a book worded differently, but if that kept on with more reviews, someone is going to see it and call you out. I would rather not mess up my reputation on something like that when I know I can think for myself.

      I do read them after I post, just to see if I agreed with them (Kirkus and Publishers Weekly). I like it when I am different. But that is just me. Thanks for stopping by Leanne. Please stop by again.

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    • Erik, my friend, you do not have time to read anything but the book before you write a review. If only I had the energy of a kid. You use your’s fairly wisely. I never did. Do you want to agree with Kirkus or do you just want to express your opinion, even if it might be off the mark (though you have yet to miss the mark). And I am not saying Kirkus is always correct, just considered the standard.

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        • I hear you! I sometimes wonder if I’m not engaging the right part of my brain for critiques, or if I’m just really susceptible to imaginary events and emotions 🙂

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  6. I’ve commented on I don’t know how many blogs today that I think the FTC is a bit overboard…but I must comply. I haven’t started updating my posts yet, but I need to start getting on that. I don’t have a problem with negative reviews. I do not find it easy to criticize someone’s hard work, but I find that my reviews must be honest. I don’t actually read many books that I just flat don’t like, but I’m not hesitant to tell in my reviews what frustrated me. I also don’t comprehend people paying to have their books reviewed when there are so many of us out here willing to do it for free. It’s almost like the blogging world has diminished the need for this service. Great post.

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    • It is never easy to criticize a book, as we all understand the kind of work it takes to finish one. But I think it is a disservice to give rave reviews to a book that is lacking in anything to rave about. Unfortunately, some review sites do just that. My idea of a negative review is one in which I do not agree with a fundamental aspect that was not done correctly (eg. punctuation, dialogue, plot, characterization, endings). But I also try to end on a positive note. I think there is always something positive in every book.

      You would think that the paid reviews would go out with all the people reviewing books, but actually, they are gaining in number. I was surprised at the number of people who have review sites for pay, some for a large sum. It is almost as if the Internet has given permission for blog monetization of the review. I want to monetize, but I am thinking ads. I thought about charging for reviews, and have support for this, but keep thinking it is not the correct thing for me.

      Each of three paid review sites, from individuals, that I looked closely at had nothing but overwhelmingly positive reviews posted. Only one claimed to write “bad reviews” and that one offered a refund–not 100%–to not publish a negative review. This stuff is what makes paid reviews so suspect.

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  7. As a reader I lose some trust in a site that charges for reviews. Less clear is the common practice of “trading reviews.” I’m struggling with this one as I want to support friends and writers who have reviewed my work, but there is an implication of tit-for-tat, not to mention that it’s very hard to say anything negative about a book by someone you actually know. Those are the times when I just don’t review and say nothing. Much better to review work by true strangers, no contact.

    Thanks for the legal info. I have started adding book covers in my reviews; is that something that should be done only with permission? I have assumed that it is advertising for the book and acceptable practice.

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    • Adding book covers is perfectly legit. Publishers will send you the cover file if you ask for it. They want that book recognizable.

      I have yet published, so a review trade has not been asked of me. I can see why that would be difficult. Who posts first? I would feel an obligation, just as I would if paid for a review. I do not think I would do them. I do know that Amazon has started to watch out for reviews between authors and taking them down. The same if the review is a known relative, but that is harder to catch. Since Amazon is not a place you can ignore if you want to sell books, I would stay away from trade reviews.

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      • I am more and more coming to this conclusion. I have done some, and have been able to give an honest opinion, but it is very hard to criticize the work, not so much because the author is also critiquing my work, as because the author is too real and human, often someone who has become at least a virtual friend. (Deepest apologies for that sentence!)

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