Last year, I wasn't the most responsible of reviewers. When I agreed to review a book, I would do so, though it would usually take me a month or two longer than I hoped to do it. Granted, none of these reviews were on a deadline, but it did make one thing apparent to me: I wasn't, by any stretch of the imagination, a professional reviewer.
This year, I'm trying to be a professional reviewer. If I need to have a review done for a tour or release by a certain date, I prioritize that book. I'm more likely to be leisurely on a book where I don't have a specific date it must be reviewed by, though I don't want to sit on a title for more than three months. I am now trying to partner book reviews of four stars or higher with author interviews as well. Why? If I believe in a book enough to give it four stars, I believe in the author enough to want them to succeed in their careers.
Another reason, even more simple than the one I've already given, is that I care about books.
I think reviewers forget one very important thing.
You are not receiving a cash payment, but you're being paid. You're being paid in the royalties that would have gone to the author and would have gone to the publishing house (if there is one.) By US Tax law, you must pay taxes on the value of the books you receive for reviewing purposes.
Reviewing is a job. You are paid.
Book reviewers forget that. You're being paid to give an opinion on a piece of literature, not for the author of the literature, but for the potential customers who may want to buy this book.
You aren't being paid to give false praise of the book, but you are being paid.
That also means if you are approached by an author or a company to review a book, the burden of commitment is on you to fulfill the terms of your contract. If you are asked to review a book by a certain date, and are given a copy of the book, you are being paid to review that book by a certain date.
Reviewers, get off your high horse. You are not above the author who wrote that book. You are not above the company who provided that copy of that book for you. You aren't above anyone at all.
Your job is to help customers decide if a book will be a good read for them.
You are not there to help the author.
You are not there to act like a creative writing class student giving a book report.
You are not there to make the author or publisher feel warm and fuzzy inside.
You are a marketing tool. You're there to help guide customers — readers — into knowing whether or not a book will be enjoyable for them or not. You need to understand the different types of readers. You need to know the difference between your personal tastes and the merit of the book.
You need to be able to say who would enjoy this book even while you are saying why you didn't enjoy the novel. The same thing applies in reverse.
That author or publishing company is relying on you to do as you said you would. They paid you to review those books. If you buy the book of your own finances and accord, you are more than free to do whatever the hell you want — reviewing it two or three years late, if that's what you want.
But, when an author or company pays you to review a book — the payment being a review copy of the book — you are the one at fault if you do not meet up to your word.
Authors and publishing companies are more than in their right to ask that you review their book by a certain date. They are paying you for that right.
Books aren't free, reviewers. If you're reviewing books just to mooch free titles, maybe you're part of the reason that many reviewers are looked down on. Maybe you're part of the reason that the quality of reviews has decreased.
Maybe you're part of the reason that people don't trust reviewers to help guide them in book purchases.
You can be critical. You don't have to lavish a story with praise if you do not believe that story deserves praise.
However, if you were paid to review a book, you are the one who has to live up to the payment. When an author gives you a book, they're paying you out of their own pocket.
You are not above that. Remember that the next time an author or publishing company gives you a book. You were paid.
Treat them with the professional courtesy they deserve. Don't add to the reputation that reviewers are book mooches who only want to read books at their leisure. If you want to read books at your leisure, buy the book and read it at your leisure.
Review copies are taxable because they're considered by law to be income.
Consider that the next time you want to get upset that an author or publishing company wants your review within a certain time frame. It's a part of the job. If you don't like it, I really recommend you stick to reviewing books you bought with your own money.
Your customers are authors and publishers, but your audience is readers around the world. This shift in perspective, for me, made me realize that if anything, I'm a middleman at best.
I want to help people buy good books. I want to help people avoid bad books. I want people to enjoy reading. I want to make sure I understand that just because I did not enjoy a book doesn't mean there isn't a great market for that book.
My job is to know the difference and to write reviews accordingly.
Ultimately, I want people to buy books. I currently review both books I've bought on my own and that I was paid to review. And yes, by paid I do mean I was given a copy of the book, for free, for the purpose of reviewing.
I'll leave you to think about that question on your own. Me? I review books because I love books. Books are an integral part of my life, whether I'm writing or reading them.