Ethics and Literary Blogging

6:00 AM Pam Howell 20 Comments

When I thought about having this post written, I had to think hard about who should write it. Then it occurred to me that ethics and literary stuff would best be talked about by a literary agent who is also a lawyer. I really love what Eric Rueben has to say. I hope you do too!

Ethics and Literary Blogging

      As a literary agent, attorney and entertainment professional, I know that bloggers have a tremendous impact on consumers of entertainment, especially in publishing. With fewer bookstores available to authors for signings and in-person interactions with readers, blog tours have become an integral part of a writer’s marketing plan for their books. Facebook and Twitter are ways for authors to reach people who already follow them. By contrast, blog tours are a way for authors to reach readers who have yet to hear of them, or who at least don’t follow them yet. 

Blog tours basically consist of authors being interviewed by bloggers and the interviews are then posted on the blogger’s site. But that’s only one way bloggers impact publishing. They also write about what they like (and what they don’t). They recommend books and talk about a variety of issues in publishing and entertainment. They speak directly to the consumer.

As for readers, and yes I’m one, we used to have sales people we knew who recommended books based on our previous purchases. They were not the result of sophisticated computer algorithms. They were our friends and neighbors who worked in stores like Walden Books. (By the way, if you think that Amazon won’t skew results to get readers to buy certain books over others, you are incredibly na├»ve). 

How do we as a community of creators and consumers of entertainment content feel about bloggers who, unknown to us, are biased? Should we be advised if the blogger has a personal relationship with the author? Or their competitor? If they received gifts other compensation from the publisher?

All professions have codes of ethics. As an attorney, I had to take and pass a separate bar exam concerning ethical rules regarding the practice of law. (Try to suppress the urge to make lawyer jokes for a few minutes.)

But what about bloggers? Are they a profession? I’ve heard the argument that blogging refers to the fact that someone is using the Internet and does NOT have anything to do with the content they create. The real issue then, is the content. 

A simple Google search yielded a code of ethics for food bloggers. Their rules include the following: accountability, civility, revealing bias, and the disclosing of gifts, comps and samples. Most importantly, they state that they will follow the rules of good journalism.

We need to know whether a blogger is an independent voice giving their honest opinion about a literary work, or a paid mouthpiece , or a close friend of the author. Without that information, readers cannot make a real choice. They think they have a friend making an honest suggestion when, in fact, they merely have a slick salesman pulling a fast one, manipulating them. Not only will we be forced to read the material THEY want us to read, we won’t ever get to see the entertainment that we would really like. It’s a new kind of censorship, one based on misinformation and greed.

Ultimately, the answer is to create written ethical assurances from the individual bloggers that are similar to those of the food bloggers mentioned above. And some way of enforcing those rules. Smart bloggers who want to see their work gain credibility might start thinking about forming an organization that would govern its members and lead to assurances of legitimacy. Those who refuse to be accountable or play by ethical rules would be exposed as biased or fraudulent. In the end, the readers and true bloggers would benefit greatly. 

20 comments:

  1. Well said. Do you think the disclosure that books were received for an honest review, is a safety measure readers can take into consideration?

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    1. A lot of people disclose relationships (we talk on Twitter a lot) and where they got the book.

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  2. While I think disclosure is important and should be done (also it is FTC policy) I don't think all, or even many, who forget to mention they received a free book are trying to be deceiving or manipulative.

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  3. Disclosure to an extent is important. Listing where a review copy came from is simple and let's the reader know you that you either received the book free or purchased it yourself. Certainly paid reviews should be listed as well. However, I do not believe someone should have to spell out they are on friendly terms with an Author. You don't see journalists on air saying Oh, I'm friends with this person now let's start the news. As bloggers were naturally friendly with Authors it sort of comes with the territory you know.

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    1. I have found myself in this position where bloggers are too friendly with authors. It is a sticky situation because I do find myself questioning others who are indeed in tight with certain authors, so I have to take their gushiness with a grain of salt. This has only occurred within the last few years as more and more authors use social media and I can see how reviewers interact with authors.

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    2. I've never had a problem being objective about a book even though I'm friendly with an Author but that's just me.

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    3. I've written negative reviews of an author's book that I'm friendly with.

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  4. Thought provoking. I've never thought of how I might be swayed by being "friends" with an author from interaction on Twitter and such. Telling my readers that I have a (somewhat) personal relationship with the author is something to disclose. My reviews are getting more critical in nature and not just this book was about x and that disclosure could be woven in with no issue. Great post!

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  5. I heartily agree. The FTC has kindly pointed us in the right direction, yet there are some who think since the guidelines are USA Govt. mandated that Canada/UK is excluded from having to state their source. The whole point I was trying to make in my recent FTC Guidelines editorial post was the fact that Bloggers as a Community should all adhere to the code of ethics of disclosure within their reviews.
    Once upon a time the blogosphere had a 'blog with integrity' button up for grabs for bloggers to display on their blogs, so it can be done where book bloggers worldwide agree to adhere a certain set of ethical standards when reviewing a free product/ARC/galley/eBook/eGalley.
    There was a huge debate that bloggers who review ARCs are not endorsers, but that has since been proven UNTRUE, both at the #BEA13 conf and within the formal response I myself received from the FTC.

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  6. Thank you all for commenting. Feel free to connect with me on Twitter at @RubenAgency.

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  7. Though I don't have Authors as personal friends there are a lot that I consistently support. For those authors I will say at the beginning of the post that this will be a more personal fangirl utterance then a critical review :)

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  8. What a wonderful, informative post. Thanks, Eric!

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  9. You have me thinking that I should create a disclosure for each of my posts for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday in particular. And also point out that for the post part what I post is not so much a review as a book talk or what it would be like to walk up and down the aisles of a book store pulling books to tell you about...

    Thanks for sharing this, Eric!

    What a fantastic discussion this will be. Back later tonight to see the posts! Enjoy the day all.

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  10. Very informative post! I never thought to mention if I'm friends with an author, but I have mentioned in several reviews if I'm a big fan. I guess that might count as disclosure. I also mention if I receive the book in exchange for an honest review or if it's from my personal library.

    I'm hesitant about any governing body for book bloggers, as we already have problems with certain people trying to dictate what we can and cannot do on our blogs. One of the things I love about the blogosphere is that there are no hard & fast rules, just people sharing their love of books.

    Alexia's Books and Such...

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    1. I've never seen anyone dictate to another blog :). The National Book Critics Circle is an organization that has an ethical guideline. Those who wanted to join could and those who don't want to don't. I think it is less of what you think it is, a governing body, and more of an ethical standards committee that one can join.

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  11. Awesome and informative post! Thank you, Eric.
    As a newly published author I find myself at the start of the "blog hop or tour" road. Knowing reviewers and bloggers personally certainly helps, but in the end what I truly desire is an honest unbiased review of my book. Hopefully a good one, but that's not up to me.
    Thanks again!

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  12. Eric, I am inspired by your post! My inner organizational nerd is screaming to create an organization that could establish guidelines for book bloggers...

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  13. love this! I'm all for participating in guidelines for book bloggers ~ i believe it could only help bring credibility to our field ~ thank you for bringing this topic to the table!

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