Now, Amazon VINE and similar programs are being discussed on other blogs. I'll leave that to them. Myself, I wanted to take note of a certain tone that seemed to run through the comments.
One of Betsy's initial concerns was about--well, let her say it.
You see, on the children's literature side of things, the people submitting reviews are often getting products for kids that require a subtle hand. And when they find that the book they're reading isn't Goodnight Moon Redux, they can get negative. Not critically constructive. Not helpful in their feedback about what does and does not work. Just mad.This I agree with, and I took note of the response, which boiled down to: "We're (or they're) not professionals. You shouldn't hold us (them) to professional standards."
So what are professional standards? I'll guess that they mean reviews like you find in the New York Times, or Kirkus, or any other number of publications that compensate their reviewers. (Even at print journals, not all reviewers are paid in cold hard direct deposits, which was one of the things swirling around the FTC stuff last month.) You generally expect--nay, demand--that these reviews are fair and balanced. Sometimes they're analytical on a story level, sometimes they make considered recommendations of appropriate audience.
But in all cases, they step back from the book. Whether or not they're getting paid in money, books, or even the thrill of having their name in print, they're writing their review from a different position than somebody just reacting to the book.
This argument about professional standards gets at something that the kidlitosphere chews on every so often. We do this for the love of it, and we do this as ourselves. I'm not writing for Kirkus in exchange for $$, I'm writing for Confessions of a Bibliovore . . . just 'cuz. Do independence and volunteer basis give us carte blanche to write one-line reviews? Of course not. Because we do this for the love of it, and we know people read our blogs, we try to step back just as the professionals do, and produce thoughtful, balanced reviews that aren't knee-jerk first reactions. We all have our own style--I'll be the first to admit that my weird jokes wouldn't make it in Kirkus, for instance. But there's a wide spectrum of quality between review journals and "This book sucked, don't buy it. Love, me."
So much for bloggers. What about Viners, or LibraryThing Early Reviewers, or any of the other programs out there? As the name posits, they are early reviewers. They're the first ones to dole out the rating, and the ones who are most likely to influence what other people think. No, they're not getting paid, except in the chance to read a book for free before everybody else. But their position of being the first reviewers, and ones who are highlighted when others decide whether to read the book or not, should affect the review. Not positively or negatively, but the style. Why did you hate it? Why did you love it? Why did you want to whack that girl upside the head with the Clue Bat?
In the interest of transparency, I should note that I'm part of the LibraryThing Early Reviews program, through which I get about one book a month. I'm not the best at reviewing those and usually only post them at LT. Having written this post, I'm feeling kind of guilty about that and resolving to do better.
I want to add that I'm not trying to bash on Viners or LT Early Reviewers, or anything like that. It's difficult to write a review, even for a book you loved (or hated!) It's work. While I hear that Viners are experienced Amazon reviewers, it still takes a lot of time and thought to do a well-rounded review, and it's probably tempting to jot down the first thoughts in order to fulfill the requirements of the program. But I also think that people should be aware not only of their own opinions, but of the audience that will be reading their reviews and the context in which they will be read.
Finally I'd like to say that, no, nobody gets paid for blogging or early reviewing. At best we get free books, which are more of an experience than an object. But--cereal boxes and sporting gear endorsements aside--the only thing that Olympians get is a trip to a different country, and maybe a lump of metal on a ribbon.