why there’s no such thing as an unbiased review

Every now and then, the book community has discourse about the ethics of book bloggers being paid for reviews and the ethics of paid reviews. The fact that this argument is used to argue against book bloggers receiving payment while other parts of the book community (bookstagram and booktube) regularly receive payment to promote books is a whole separate issue, and today, I’m going to be telling you why there is no such thing as an unbiased review and why that aspect of the argument is ridiculous.

The thing is, BOOK REVIEWS ARE OPINIONS. It is not a report on a book, and any of the things reviewers say about the writing or characters or plot are OPINIONS. Opinions are inherently SUBJECTIVE, not objective. There would be no point in reading a book review that was just facts about the book, and honestly I don’t even know what that would look like–probably a synopsis and overview of characters?

People read reviews because they want to know if the reviewer liked or disliked the book. You can say in a review why you think other readers might like a book that you didn’t, but even that is still an opinion because reviewers are not mind readers for every single person who has read or might read a particular book.

Reviews also aren’t objective because you ALWAYS go into a book with some level of expectation. The only way you can go into a book with no expectations is if you don’t see the cover or synopsis. But honestly, even the title of a book can influence how you view what the book is going to be like or what you are going to think of it. Things like a cover and synopsis are SUPPOSED to make you have a pre-reading opinion of a book, because how else would you know you wanted to buy it? However, going into a book with expectations of any kind is already a “bias.”

Reviews are also not meant to be editorial critiques, which should be more on the unbiased side of things than a review. When you’re editing and looking for how to improve the book, you’re looking at how to enhance the work that’s already there, not necessarily adding or taking away things willy nilly that you personally like or don’t like. In an editorial critique, there needs to be more of a level of objectivity and it’s less about your personal likes and dislikes. However, editorial critiques are meant for writers, and reviews are for readers (as much as some authors like to ignore that fact), which means a personal opinion is important.

I think what this debate also comes down to is that people don’t want to see that REVIEWS ARE FOR READERS. The point of a review is not, at its heart, promotion. That is a side benefit that can come from a review, but I guarantee people are not posting one-star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads because they’re trying to get you to read it. The true purpose of a review is to help readers decide if they want to read a book. They are not an editorial critique for authors or promotion for authors: they are for readers.

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  1. The point of a review is not, at its heart, promotion.

    AMEN. Conversely, I’d add, a one-star review isn’t necessarily a total condemnation — what turns one person off might make another reader say “Take my money/library card!!!”

    It’s kind of the “no such thing as bad press” principle.

    I’m curious about your views on paid reviews and conflict of interest. In my view, the ethics really depend on who’s paying. If the author or publisher are at all involved in paying, there’s an implied pressure (intentional or not) on the reviewer to say good things about the book.

    In other words, the reviewer is never unbiased, but source of the payment has to be.

  2. Aaah I love this so much! I always get confused whenever someone says that reviews should be objective since the point of the review itself is for the readers to share their OPINION on the book, so obviously it would be subjective.

  3. I agree with you so much! I will never understand why people have such an issue with book bloggers wanting to be compensated for their work when movie reviewers who work for newspapers or magazines get paid to watch movies and then write about them (and in some cases get told what to write in their reviews). Plus, the whole idea that reviews have to be “objective” shows to me that people need to brush up on their semantics and don’t really know what objective means because art of any kind is not objective and never will be. What one person sees as absolute garbage will be a treasure to another person.

    1. That is a really good point I hadn’t thought of! So many people think that being paid to write reviews makes you inherently biased, but as you pointed out it is done in other industries.

  4. Wonderful post! I absolutely agree, there’s no such thing as an objective book review. I mean in my opinion there’s no objectivity in the world but that’s a whole other discussion, lol. Love the points you made 🙂

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