Monday, August 29, 2022

Denise Low: The Ethics of Endorsements and Book Reviews

Years ago I began book reviewing for the Kansas City Star and for literary journals. When I signed a contract as a freelancer for the KC Star, I learned the importance of ethics for this respected newspaper, which has won Pulitzers. Informally, as editor of the Cottonwood Review and then on the board of Bob Woodley Memorial Press (until I published a book with them). The ethics were obvious and not complicated: do not review or endorse any publication where there is a conflict of interest. Conflict of interest especially involves exchange of money.

These days, after print-on-demand has made self-publishing an industry, these ethics are not always apparent. Some important review venues sell reviews, like Kirkus Review Indie, where reviews cost about $500. Kirkus has been a long-time, respected publication, and its main company still is. This side-gig company is a moneymaker that exploits vanity authors. I avoid Kirkus completely now. This is old school; the basic rules of book reviewing are these:
  • Do not review books by family members, employers, employees, and others with whom you have a close personal relationship. 
  • Do not review books for which you have received money for any part of the publication process--proofing, copyediting, design, promotional work. 
  • Do not review books you have not read. 
  • Do not write promotional reviews under a pseudonym.
  • Do not do anything sketchy, as your name as an ethical person is important in this business.
  • Selling review copies is considered unethical.
Ethical practices for endorsements (blurbs) are a bit more relaxed, as often people blurb for friends and for students. However, once money exchanges hand for any part of the writing-editing-publishing-promotion process, you may not endorse nor review the publication.  Do not use any text for a blurb or other promotion without permission. A famous poet once wrote me a great compliment about a book in a letter, and she was insulted when I asked to use it as a blurb. Her reaction has stayed with me!

This is a first post about this issue, but a situation arose where the conflict-of-issue was clear, and the other party had never learned of the ethics of writing reviews and endorsements.