Ethical Transparency

An author who I will not name sent me his book, along with a cash amount intended as a donation to this site. I’m happy to accept donations for anyone who considers this site to be of value to them. And I’m sure that this author meant well. But because this donation came with a book, I do not feel that it would be ethical for me to accept the cash. It implies that I must take a look at his book without a honest and scrupulous eye. Therefore, I will be returning the cash by mail to this author.

At an event, I was asked by a publicist to take a photo. “I’ll pay you for it,” said this publicist. Sure this would have been helpful to me, particularly since I am currently scraping by here in Brooklyn from one gig to another. But I demurred. Because to accept cash from a publicist would imply that my perspective can be irreversibly colored by the Almighty Dollar. At BookExpo, another publicist told me that he could send me audio clips of authors to me and that, together, “we might be able to construct an interview.” I am not in the business of “constructing” interviews or designing questions for preprogrammed answers. That is not journalism. That is corruption. And it is not fair to all parties.

I do not care if I am forced to live on a diet of Top Ramen or if I must pay my rent by sifting through the coins in my piggy bank. I would sooner pump gas or work retail somewhere than allow myself to be corrupted like this. Let it stand for the record that my opinion cannot be purchased. If a media outlet deems me fit enough to write an opinion piece, then this is fine. I am happy to be hired. I also see no problem with advertising, provided that the advertising is clearly separated from the content. I also do not see any problems with donations, likewise separated from any implied quid pro quo. But I would not be able to live with myself if I knew that what I was writing was tainted by money. Indeed, there would be absolutely no point to what I do.


  1. I am working on an essay that includes the words blood and fellatio and I had a fried spam sandwich for lunch.

    Although I will not give you money or perform fellatio on you in return for a book review, I might give you some blood. Or the Spam sandwich.

    If you care to view a photo of the Spam sandwich, go to my site. Underneath the photo, you will also find a post linking to the latest review of my book.

    Thank you and carry on,

    Erin E. O’Brien
    Owner of martini-shaped lamp.

  2. Every so often, I find myself at the very edge of telling an author or publisher, “You seem to be under the impression that I am a publicist, rather than a critic and essayist. And that means you can just fuck right off.”

    In fact I only ever actually say the first part, albeit in a way that leaves the rest clearly implied. They don’t actually offer me bribes. But the attitude involved is, if anything, often more offensive than if they had.

    One guy approached me about a book like so: “There was an article about it in The New York Times and another piece is scheduled for [some magazine or other]. Maybe you should do something, given all the hype.”

    I thought, “Well gosh, dude, that is one appealing prospect all right. Why I must be crazy to pass up such an offer!”

  3. You’re to be commended. Not everyone in your position would find it so easy to choose ethics over greenbacks, but thankfully you’re of the finest sort. Bravo to you, and in the end karma will reward you.

    I haven’t yet been offered anything nearly that suspicious in exchange for my good opinion, but one big publisher has sent me Belgian chocolates TWICE, along with books for review. I’m not sure getting hopped up on cacao influenced me in my reviewing, but it sure as hell did turn my head. Rock on, Simon & Schuster!

    Whoops, I said that out loud.

  4. Publishers have sent me props with their books in hopes of piquing my interest, I guess — ie, a book on climate change comes with high efficiency light bulbs, one on Hawaii comes with a lei, etc. — but sadly no chocolate. I was once approached by a very large publisher who asked me to “partner” with them. Apparently partnering involved an arcane process by which they send me “free books” known as “review copies” and I reviewed them positively and displayed their ads on my site giving it “a look of legitimacy”. How could I turn it down? I’ve always wanted to be legitimate.

  5. I hear you on the piggy bank situation. You are an ethical dude. Glad I found your blog; also good comments. Maybe you’ll weigh in on my google ad dilemma? My blog is meant to make you laugh (or cry, depending on your p.o.v.) http://www.literaryrejectionsondisplay. I think Bluestalking Reader will be happy to know I am naming names. Seriously.

  6. Goddamn it, how long do I have to blog before I get chocolates? It’s not like I started pootering about books for my own peace of mind.

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