I Need Your Help with an Ethical Dilemma!

When I started this blog I never even imagined I’d have the opportunity to make money from it.  Get some free books, yes.  But actual money?  Not in a million years.  Even now, three years later, I never really thought I’d have that opportunity.  Except now I do.

Yesterday I received an email from Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts, Inc.  She gave me a pretty good offer that was essentially this:

  1. If you become a reviewer for us, you can receive free swag OR
  2. You can directly get $20 per review, positive or negative.

I thought this sounded a little fishy so I did about two hours of research on Sansevieri and the history of the company.  As far as I can tell, it all seems legitimate and I think the offer is a valid one.  It seems more than fair to me to either get swag or money for doing a review, positive or negative.  But will the company stick to the ‘money for a review positive or negative’ or will there be pressure to only write positive reviews?  If I were to accept the offer and take the money for reviews I would be my usual brutally honest self.  If I received undue pressure to only write positive reviews, I would walk away rather than compromising my principles as a book reviewer.

My main concern lies with you guys, my readers.  Without going too much into my financial situation, essentially in the next half of this year my expenses are going up and my income is going down for a bit after my move to the city.  I need a little more incentive to keep going with my blog and having a little bit of positive cash flow would be nice so I don’t keep spending my own money on giveaways.  If I were to take the offer I would likely just sink the money back into The Mad Reviewer so that maybe I could finally afford to get my own domain name and move off the free WordPress site where the threat of arbitrary suspension constantly hangs over my head.  And if I had any extra cash it would also go to more giveaways.  So essentially it would make my blog a net neutral in terms of cash flow.

However, the trust of my readers will always be my number one priority.  Even if I disclose when I am being paid for a review, you guys may not be comfortable knowing the fact I was paid.  After writing 650+ reviews over three years I believe that the money will not influence me but if you guys are uncomfortable with that I will not take the offer.  Honesty is always my priority and I do want to hear from you guys.

So:

1.  Would I be compromising my integrity by accepting money in exchange for my usual honest reviews?  (As a side note, my own personal submissions will always remain free of charge.)

2.  Are you comfortable with the fact that I might be paid for reviews?  (Note: I will always disclose whether or not I was paid, as has been my policy from the beginning regarding where I get my books from.)

Please let me know in the comments section.  Or, if you’re not comfortable with that, feel free to drop me an email directly or go to my Contact page.  I really do want your input and feedback, positive or negative.  It will certainly help me decide whether or not to accept the offer.

34 comments

  1. Java Davis, author

    As long as your site remains in your control, GO FOR IT! You absolutely should be doing what is best for you, because if you don’t, who will? Obviously, your personal review time would suffer, but that’s life. Choices.

    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you! I don’t get much personal review time anyway but then again I also discover lots of great new authors through my submissions. So I really can’t complain.

  2. Alex Johnston

    Carrie – I don’t know anything about Author Marketing Experts so don’t have an opinion about it one way or another. But as to monetizing your blog, I agree with a previous comment – GO FOR IT! You offer a legitimate service, and I see no ethical problems with your being paid for it. Many authors work for free or near it, but that is not by design! 🙂

    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you! I appreciate the feedback. I never thought I’d make any money from book blogging and everyone told me I never could so I think this is a great opportunity.

  3. Author Unpublished

    As long as you stay honest and always disclose which reviews are paid for and which aren’t.. i don’t see a problem with it. Who doesn’t want to make money off of their passion? I say go for it if that’s what you want to do 🙂

    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you. As with all of my other reviews, I’ll disclose any potential conflicts of interest: swag I received, whether I got a free book out of it or not or if I was paid. Even if some readers leave here because of it, I will at least be honest about when I’m paid.

  4. kiltsandswords

    I think it’s great and that you are so lucky! A lot of the bigger review sites pay their reviewers and it doesn’t affect how I feel about their opinions and thoughts.

    • Carrie Slager

      Thanks! I think part of what makes me lean toward AME is that I’m not directly getting money from the authors, which legitimately raises questions about honesty. If it’s from a third party that I’m not getting pressure from and am getting paid regardless…well that’s not all that different from being employed by a ‘real’ review site. It’s just that I’m a freelancer of sorts.

  5. carla914

    I’m certain you will continue to write honest reviews when you are paid for them. As an outsider looking at your blog you are one of the few who doesn’t have affiliate links everywhere and paid ads. I work with a lot of great, honest bloggers/reviewers like you and have no problem with their ads and links. I suggest you also make money there because you have a valuable review product.

    My concern with becoming a paid reviewer would only be regarding your burn-out. If you do commit to AME, you will need to review what you have agreed to review.

    As an author, I have considered using the AME Review inquiry service to get more reviews on the ARCs I have given out. I did the ARC blast with Smith Publicity’s targeted list, my own targeted list, Readers’ Favorite, Foreward Reviews (for Starlet’s Man), and Goodreads. It was so time-consuming! Sending books was expensive (and you didn’t even get the paperback SP sent you). The cost of a Foreward Review is $500. I’m certain product offerings like AME’s is going to serve a valuable niche this year and next.

    The author pays a fee for AME to blast a query to all reviewers interested in a genre. Then the reviewer requests either the paperback or the ebook. It is a nice service and great time saver. There are several offerings like that and their prices keep escalating – should prove to be a great business with the oversupply of books.

    As far as ethics, I don’t see anything wrong with getting paid for your blog: you are providing an honest review and AME is providing an author a time-saving ability to get you to review. It’s a win-win-win for the three participants. AME is a helpful middleman.

    • Carrie Slager

      Thanks as always for your detailed feedback, Carla. I’m hyper-aware of burn out now after my massive burn out last summer so now I only request books that I really, really, really want to read and will read right away. I’m definitely not going to kill myself over reviewing more books than I can realistically handle.

      Thank you for an explanation of the process as well. Getting paid by a middleman is definitely less of a conflict of interest than it would be if I were paid directly by the authors. As long as I don’t get pressure to write good reviews from the company, it’s really no different than any other ‘real’ reviewing sites.

  6. Jocelyn Green

    I don’t see that receiving money for your reviews will change the quality of the reviews you give. You write what you think! So go ahead and get paid for the work you do. Good luck and have fun.

    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you! I think my previous 650 honest reviews have established that I really don’t care what others think of my honest opinion, so you’re right in that regard. 🙂

  7. patricksponaugle

    You big sell-out!!!!!! RAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGE!!!!

    Actually, you should go for it. You’ve always came across as a reliably honest and forthright person, and the idea that you could get some positive cashflow from doing something that

    1) you love
    2) you’re awesome at

    is really a dream come true.

    So for what it’s worth, I think it’d be great.

    You sell out! (Look, you don’t want all the comments to be 100% positive, so I’m giving you a 98% positive one. Cheers!)

    • Carrie Slager

      Haha, thanks Patrick.

      Like I said, I doubt there will actually be ‘positive’ cash flow but more of a net neutral once I invest everything back into my blog. Maybe if I do enough reviews I’ll finally be able to move off of WordPress.com and move onto my own site. Then I can sink the cash into more giveaways for my readers to show my appreciation a little more.

  8. Rebecca Vance

    As long as you are honest, of which I have no doubt, and forthright about which books are free and which ones aren’t, I don’t foresee a problem. It shows a lot of integrity that you would ask, so I say go for it. I am thinking of restructuring my blog as well and just write ARC reviews for NetGalley. I need to take care of my queue first, so that might take quite a while. 🙂

    • Carrie Slager

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comment, Rebecca. I will ALWAYS state which reviews I’m paid for and which I’m not. That’s the bare minimum I can do for my readers who trust me to give my honest opinion.

      Once you clear your queue, that actually sounds like a good idea. I’ve moved more toward just NetGalley books because NetGalley holds me way more accountable than I hold myself accountable. I still do take in submissions but they’re very limited at this point so I don’t burn out.

  9. Penny Sansevieri

    So I love, love this discussion and THANK YOU for posting this to your readers. Here is the dilemma that I see with bloggers and reviews and why we started doing this in the first place. Some years back when Kirkus first started charging authors for reviews everyone was horrified – but the fact of the matter is there are 4,500 books published each day in the US alone and with so many books, bloggers are getting inundated. And while I know that most bloggers are just in this is for the love of the book – and believe me I totally get that — it’s also about showing that you’re serious about what you are offering. Twenty dollars isn’t much these days – I mean it’s 4 lattes at Starbucks, right? But I think it shows that we respect your time and we value you. So again, thanks for posting this. What a fantastic idea – and thanks for considering working with us! 🙂

    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you for your input as well, Penny. $20 isn’t a lot on its own but it’s more than I get paid per hour at work and it would certainly go a long way here on my blog to improve things a little bit (i.e. become self-hosted, do more giveaways with the free swag you guys offer, etc.). I’ve been thinking quite a bit on your offer and will be replying to your email shortly. I’m glad that this discussion generated some second opinions as well as feedback from authors who have worked with you in the past. I really do appreciate the offer.

  10. Sally Ember, Ed.D.

    Hi, and thanks for gathering opinions. Mine are these: 1) Penny is fine. I’ve been around her for this last year or so on Google+ and she’s legit as well as quite popular; 2) disclosing what entity pays you seems to be key when being paid for a review, and disclosing what you’re obligated to provide (and not obligated to provide) would also be important.
    I wonder how you got her attention? Kind of cool, actually.
    So, go for it!

    Best to you!
    Sally

    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you Sally! That’s really good to know and I will always disclose what I’m being paid, who I’ve been paid by and what I’m obligated and not obligated to reply. I’ll have to fit that all into a few sentences but my honesty and integrity here on my blog are my #1 priority.

      As for how I got her attention, I have no idea! I’m largely ignored by publishers, which is odd considering that small blogs than this one seem to get a lot more publisher attention. Although I’m kind of popular with one Australian publisher because my insomniac hours are in line with their work hours. 😉

  11. LMcCJ

    Give it a go! Set yourself a date, 6 mos., 1 year, then reevaluate for yourself.

    Earning money for your work really isn’t something you should question, ever..

    • Carrie Slager

      That’s a great idea, so thank you for that! I’ll probably do a six month period.

      Well, sometimes earning money isn’t the priority. I’d rather keep my integrity than sell out but I don’t think I will have to sell out to be paid in this case.

  12. Phil Canalin

    You’d be doing something you clearly love to do, you’re obviously good at it, doesn’t sound like your compromising your personal integrity, control of your own website or personal review choices – take a chance and see how it plays out! LOL: Freudian slip – I originally typed out “see how it pays out”!!!

    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you! I really appreciate the feedback. I will always maintain control of my site and if getting money means giving up control then I guess I won’t get any money.

  13. Jemima Pett

    The others have covered most of the points… just make sure they allow you to do free reviews on your site, and that you can post a review that you’ve done for them on your own site if you wish. Good luck.

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