A recent question on the blog came from a writer who has found a degree of success in reviewing books online, only to find himself in a bit of a pickle when a book submitted for review turned out to have some pretty serious problems.
The ensuing comments had interesting insights but also some questions about the etiquette of book reviewing, now that it's more of a Pro-Am sport than it was 20 years ago.
Since I tout the advantages of talking about books on your blog as a way of finding readers, I thought I'd weigh in on some guidelines for doing so:
1. You are under no obligation to mention or review any book. This includes books sent to you with the "received from the author with the promise of an honest review." In fact, if an author asks you to agree to that: don't. If an author wants to send you a book for a possible review that's all there is to it.
I know some authors at small presses, and self-published authors too, have very few review copies available. They use this kind of promissory note to try to weed out people looking for free books. That's not your problem. It's theirs.
2. You are never required to send a book back to an author, publisher, or publicist. Not even if they include postage.
3. You get to decide whether to review the book, and you get to determine what standards you use.
4. An author who follows up on a review with anything but "thank you for your time and consideration" or "these are a list of factual errors in the review" is stepping outside the bounds of the social agreement on reviewing and should be blocked on social media, and not engaged in any kind of private email conversation.
5. You should send a link, or copy, of the published review to the person who asked for the review.
6. You are under no obligation to respond to anyone's criticism about your review, unless you make a factual error. Errors of fact should be corrected and noted.
7. A fair review does NOT include a critique of the author's demeanor, behaviour, lifestyle, social media presence, etc. A fair review is about the book, and can include mention of other books by the author.
8. One star "reviews" for ebook pricing, cover art, setting, or anything else that's not about the book is a cheap shot, and to be avoided. Even if the cover art is supremely terrible. Melt your eyeballs, miss the point of the book terrible.
9. If you like to review and want to hear from authors, publicists and publishers, it's VERY helpful if you have a tab on your blog with your review policies (what you review, how often, where you post etc) and your contact information (NOT your physical address, your email.)