How to Give an Honest Review
Over the last few days I’ve been talking about some of the tawdry practices that go on in our industry, and I’ve been wanting to talk about rules of conduct when giving reviews. Too often online I’ve seen instances where people are buying reviews or selling them or trading favors.
Here are a few rules that I think you should consider adopting:
1) Don’t review every book that you are asked to do. In the course of your career, you will most likely get thousands of requests for reviews. On an average week, I get two requests for cover quotes. Unfortunately, reading a long novel (say 800 pages of manuscript) can take as a much as 20 hours. If I were to read two novels a week, I wouldn’t have time to write anything at all. So, here are some basic reasons why you must turn things down.
a) If you don’t have time to give a quote, just be honest. There have been times in my life when I really wanted to give a quote and just couldn’t. For example, one of my students, Brandon Mull, asked for a quote a few years back for his novel Fablehaven. I felt terrible, but his timing was just bad for me. (I’ve read the novel since, and I loved it.) He’s gone on to have a great career (#1 New York Times Bestseller), but every time that I see him, I just feel crummy. Now that he’s in my shoes, I know that he understands just how hectic life can be.
b) If you give too many reviews, then it devalues your reviews. Many authors set a limit of say, 2 per year. That’s a wise thing to do. Years ago, when Terry Brooks gave me a nice cover quote for The Runelords, I felt grateful. When I later learned that Terry almost never gives cover quotes, I felt even more honored. (I think that he has only given a couple of quotes in his life, as I recall.) So lend some credence to your quotes by restricting the number that you give. More importantly, if you really want to give a quote to a novel, make it a priority.
c) If the novel is not in the genre that you write in, then most likely the publisher won’t want your cover quote anyway. I write fantasy. If someone who writes horror or romance or mainstream or young adult asks for a cover quote, then I don’t feel that it does them much good to give them a cover quote. In fact, I’ve given a couple quotes that the publisher has never used, so aside from heartwarming the author, it really didn’t help.
2) Never give a quote for money. I know a couple of authors who, in an effort to cut down on the number of people who ask for quotes, have said that they charge a high dollar amount for a cover quote. The argument goes like this: it costs me a lot of time (and therefore money) to read a book. If I’m going to read a novel with an eye toward a quote, which may have a huge impact on sales, why shouldn’t I get paid to do it?
The problem is that it causes a moral conundrum. If I get paid for a cover quote, will it be an honest one? Won’t the fact that I’m getting paid skew my perceptions? I think that it would. So I would never pay for a quote. On the occasions where people have asked me to give quotes for a reading fee, I’ve always refused to even read the book. Sorry, it just feels weird. Of course it goes without saying that you should never offer to pay for a cover quote, nor should you offer to give another author a quote in return for a favorable quote.