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Book Reviewing – An honourable activity or a commercial sham?

Reviewing anything creative whether its a book, movie, restaurant, art etc. is not as easy a task as it sounds. One can always hear people speak about the pain, energy and time they have spend on making a movie or writing a book or even readying a work of art. And once they finish, they look for people to review the same. Obviously you would want famous bloggers, columnists, writers to review your work so that more and more people get to know what you have achieved. But then there is a catch to it. You would always want people to talk good things about you, wouldn’t you? So how far can you go to ensure that?

Since I love writing more of book reviews in particular, this particular post deals with book reviews. Over the last two years, I have written quite a few book reviews. My book choices traverse different genres from thrillers to documentarys to the usual college rom – coms. But none of my reviews have become as famous as the recent one on Chetan Bhagat’s “Revolution 2020”

http://aseemrastogi2.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/book-review-revolution-2020/

I wouldn’t dwelve on the reasons for its popularity but instead move onto the more interesting topic of what happened after the dust settled on the increasing number of htis and comments. I got a mail from someone for reviewing a few books since he liked my review. Seeing it I was happy as any blogger would be, thinking that people had liked my post so much so that they were asking me to write reviews for their book agency. I agreed but had just one condition before starting out. And after I mailed the condition, there hasn’t been a reply for more than 2 odd weeks now. 🙂

The condition –

“As you can see, all my reviews are unbiased. If I think something isn’t that good, I wouldn’t think before saying it.”

Not getting any response after this didn’t anger me or something. It just brought a few facts in my head and also gave rise to a few questions. 

Could he have thought of paying me (although he didn’t) to get positive reviews? Has writing been reduced to such a meaningless exercise that people can’t accept negative reviews? Can’t you call a spade a spade?

Reviewers are mostly not paid at all or are paid peanuts unless you are a Taran Adarsh or a Mayank Shekhar. I personally don’t recall any names of book reviewers. And obviously as you would have guessed by now, book reviewing is a thankless job. If you review negatively say for a famous newspaper / magazine, your review may not be accepted, the author may fume or you may never get a chance to write for that newspaper / magazine ever again.

But then on the other hand if you write a negative review for a blog which not many read, no one would bother at all. Similarly a positive review would generate great publicity everywhere particularly from the author but still earn brickbats from literary critics who may say that the author has bought you. As you may have guessed by now, book reviewing is a thankless job.

Reviewing books has been an honourable activity over the years according to me. But with the exponential growth in the number of authors, some people are making it appear a commercial sham.

PS – On another note I had responded to a mailer by Bookchums asking for book reviews and they are ready to accept my unbiased reviews. 🙂

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8 Comments

  1. Sam

    Good post. Review websites are in much need of disclaimers about whether the reviews they feature are paid or unpaid. We’ll certainly add-on to this post by elaborating on how we review books.

    • aseemrastogi2

      Such posts are seriously in need today Sam considering the fact that writing is becoming more and more commercialised today.

  2. First of all, congratulations, great to know you’re a BookChums reviewer now 😀 I completely agree, recently it appears to be more of a sham! This is a very brave post indeed, takes gumption to voice out the truth. Knowing that there are still people who take a stand and don’t just go with the flow, keeps the faith alive 🙂

    • aseemrastogi2

      Thanks Chinmayi. Seriously I guess its people like us who need to voice out the truth because the way the Indian literary world is going, it seems soon it will be not possible to call this literature but something else.

  3. In the last few years, I’ve reviewed countless books – some when the author wanted me to, some on my accord and thankfully I can say I have been lucky enough that all authors have accepted my views and have never asked me to change my reviews.

    And yeah, I may be living under a rock considering I can hardly remember a biased review, but then I trust reviews from only 2-3 websites, so it must be that I’ve weeded out the bad ones and I’m following only follow-worthy blogs.

    • aseemrastogi2

      That’s a nice thing Kunal. I personally don’t think everyone pays to get reviews or that there are a lot of biased reviews out there in the market. But yeah I do think that with the burgeoning number of authors in India particularly the kind of reviews are getting biased so that people can get good PR and publicity. Anyways I am still somewhat of a novice in the book reviewing world. 🙂

  4. Nice one Aseem…gutsy take on the reviewing culture.

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