The ethics of accepting free things for review is being debated amongst comic reviewers. Can you give an unbiased opinion about a book or comic or DVD or whatever if it’s a freebie? Etc etc blah blah blah.

Please! Of course, you can.

I have to admit I find this debate a bit yawn-worthy. Reviewers and critics have been getting stuff for free and then completely slamming the stuff they don’t like since the dawn of the printed word. If someone out there is giving only good reviews to the free stuff then they’re not worthy of the name “reviewer” or “critic”. They’re poorly paid advertising. Readers can tell the difference.

Colleen Mondor agrees the debate is pretty silly. She also makes a really excellent point over at Comics Worth Reading:

I am sure it is frustrating for creators to know their books (or comics) are being sent out there and then not hear anything from reviewers, but it is just one more step in the long frustrating game of publication. Honestly, I think writers should be glad that there are so many more venues for their books to be reviewed now then in the past —at least with the web you can get your work reviewed by literally hundreds of places, rather than relying on a very few the way it was twenty years ago. At least you have a decent shot to get some publicity.

This is so very true. In the last six months or so I’ve been finding accidentally stumbling across roughly a review a week of one of my books somewhere on the intramanets. Some are just a line or two, others are much longer. That’s a lot of talk about my books that would not have existed ten years ago. Or even five. Not all are positive, not all sites have a tonne of traffic. So they’re not generating oodles of sales. Doesn’t matter. It’s absolutely delicious to be able to read what my audience thinks. To have tangible proof that I have an audience. No matter how small.

I remember way back in 1993, at my very first science fiction convention, meeting a published writer who had already published five or six books. She told me one of the things she liked best about cons was getting to meet people who’d read her books. “Otherwise, I’d just be writing in a vacuum. Most of my books haven’t been reviewed anywhere.”

My eyes bugged out. It had never occurred to me that you could be a published author and not be reviewed. (It had never occurred to me that you could be a published writer and not be living on champagne, mangosteens, and caviar with rainbows of happiness cascading all around you.) Now, of course, I know better.

I’ve just finished a trilogy. The first book was widely reviewed in the offline press, the second book—not so much. I’ll be interested to see what happens with the third. I’ve heard that the longer a series goes on, the less you get reviewed. (You know, unless you’re J. K. Rowling.)

But I do know that even if I get no “official” reviews at all. There’ll still be online ones. There have already been a few. I came across the lastest one today. It’s from one of the regular commenters here, Rebecca, and it’s her very first book review. I think it’s excellent, but I’m incredibly biased. She says

Magic’s Child does everything I could have hoped for and more. If you aren’t already reading it, or on the waiting list to borrow my copy of Magic or Madness (hehe, I have a waiting list), then you should go out and get the books RIGHT NOW. Plus, Magic Lessons just came out in paperback. And so I must conclude that Magic’s Child is awesome and was an excellent, surprising, and exciting end to the trilogy (which, incidentally, I pulled an all-nighter to read. Yes–it’s that good 😀 ). Read it. Everyone. Now. 🙂

So, yeah, what Colleen said. This writer is very glad indeed that the intramawebbies has produced so many more venues for reviewing and talking about the things we love. Yay intramanets!


  1. veejane on #

    I know there was a flap several years ago about academy award screeners — free DVDs — going out to academy members nestled in gigantic boxes of chocolates, or possibly casks of gin, or who knows what. So the bribery impulse is alive and well, and appears to be effective at least occasionally, or else the executives would save all the gin for themselves.

    (I think it is like spam: only a small number need to be suckered for it to be an effective method. As long as you don’t care about being called a spammer by everyone else.)

    I am just getting over that point where I feel okay saying, in a venue where the author might hear about it, “I bought this book on remainder” or “I bought this book used.” (Generally, when I say that, I feel like I should ransack my pockets for change to give to the author, but now I know too many authors.)

  2. marrije on #

    i am boycotting this site until march (well, amazon willing), when i finally have my own shot at reading magic’s child. i am getting too green with envy of those people who’ve already have it in their hot little hands.

    i am kidding of course. a little.

  3. Justine on #

    Veejane: It really doesn’t matter to me where you get my book.* Buy it second hand, remaindered, borrow it from the library or a friend. Every time I hear about folks having a list of friends waiting to read one of my books I rejoice. It means they’re talking about my book! Woo hoo!

    The most important thing in a book’s life is that it be talked about. It’s the talking amongst friends, online, wherever that gets more and more people interested in reading that book and ultimately leads to sales and all the things that makes a writer’s career viable.

    *Well, except that I strongly disapprove of stealing from libraries. Or anyone really. Stealing is wrong.

    Marrije: I am sorry for your pain and suffering. Tis how I feel waiting for the next Elizabeth Knox book. At least March is not far away.

  4. oyceter on #

    i am all for review copies! and as an extremely erstwhile and late reviewer (for online pubs, not my blog, where i get to ramble at will), i can officially say that getting a copy for free may bias my opinion a little, but bad plot, poor characterization or anvilly symbolism will bias my opinion a whole lot more.

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