Saturday, July 9, 2016

Quick Thoughts - Selling Out

So I've started a Patreon. The good news is that I've already achieved my first goal, which was to keep doing what I've been doing here at Quick Sip Reviews (*pause for cheers*). The…other news is that it's a weird, strange thing to go from doing something for free to asking people to give you money for it. Suddenly there are all these…ethical questions and doubts. Not that those weren't there before. There is a strong urge in reviewing to be impartial. Objective. And…that's a whole big complex thing that I want to try and think about today.

So when I started reviewing I was something of a non-entity. A published writer maybe, but not pro and with very few connections to SFF as a field. And for reviewing I feel that's sort of the easiest place to be in. I didn't know anyone so my opinions about their works weren't biased by my knowledge of them as people. My opinions of publications were based solely on what I saw and could afford and not what I was sent for free or what published me personally. Now, over a year and a half later, things are a bit different. I have been published more. I do know more people in SFF. And now I'm taking a step further and asking the world for money so that I can continue to run my little review site. But then, the amount of time I spend on QSR has increased as well, as has my ability to make some money doing other writerly things, like producing fiction. I love reviewing, though, and don't want to stop—but, essentially, my need to have a place to live outweighs my desire to review.

So what to do? My decision was to start a Patreon. If you like what I do here and want more of it, I encourage and am incredibly grateful to anyone who contributes. But I also understand that the largest portion of patrons will be writers who I have probably reviewed (and probably, if they're giving me money, that I've reviewed positively). Of course (and as I've seen some people complain about my reviewing style), about 95% of my reviews could probably be considered positive, so maybe that's not so big an issue as I thought. But I do see the appearance of corruption, and the slippery slope that corruption can be. Yes, I get free copies of certain publications. Yes, I get published by certain publications. Yes, I am a fan of certain writers as people and interact with them online (and sometimes in real life). Yes, I am now accepting money from certain writers (and non-writers) for my work as a reviewer. What does this mean for you as readers of my reviews? What does that mean for my own integrity and ethics?

Please believe me when I say that I struggle with these questions every day I write or review. In the back of my mind, every sale I make is suspect because I am a reviewer and because I'm not sure how much unconscious bias I get for being more "out there." Do I get preferential treatment because maybe editors or first readers or anyone else might be familiar with my work? Do publications fear that if they reject me I might give them a negative review? Would other writers be unwilling to call out my shit in general because I have a venue, because I might retaliate with negative reviews? I have actually come across a conversation on Facebook where a writer had a complaint about my reviews and was cautioned away from confronting me about it because I might react…poorly. And that's on me. All of this is on me. It is paralyzing at times, and might be part of why I escape into writing smut (because smut really doesn't care about me or my SFF reviews). But I feel that if I'm going to be a reviewer then I have to try to earn people's trust. That I have to try and be proactive in how I handle criticism and seek to improve. And how can I when I'm now taking money?

Here is part of my philosophy when it comes to writing and reviewing. I want to believe in people. I want to believe in stories and approach them openly and without reservation. That's not to say without bias. I am not and have never claimed to be objective. I don't think people can be. But I do try to be honest. And I do try, even when a story is deeply and personally upsetting or offensive, to believe that the author was acting in good faith. That won't stop me from reacting genuinely to the story, or from trying to write down my thoughts about the story. For all that people say I'm enthusiastic about everything, there are stories I cannot be very positive about. But positive or negative, I try to examine my reactions and provide as detailed an analysis of a piece as I can in the time and space I have. In essence, I try my best to always act in good faith and try to expect that people do the same in return.

This is, perhaps, naïve or lazy on my part. And if it were all I did to avoid corruption I would agree with that sentiment. But I also try to be as aware as I can be of what people are saying about my site and my reviews and my writing, and I try to approach all of that criticism as openly as I can. I am not perfect or above anything. I want to encourage anyone who finds anything that I do questionable or troubling or problematic to talk about it. To me, if possible, or to someone else. I should have a place where people can leave anonymous feedback about the site and I apologize for not having done that before. I will continue to try and improve. I am truly grateful to anyone who decides to support me and QSR monetarily. It will not mean I will only give you positive reviews. It will not mean I will review more of your work. Just as a publication accepting one of my stories can't expect I will suddenly review all of their issues. Or like what I do review.

But this isn't something that will ever "go away." I think I will always struggle with these questions and doubts. And really, I think I should. Because corruption and influence are things that people should always be mindful of. I will strive to be as transparent as possible and I'm hoping to change as little as possible about what I'm doing here. But there will be some changes. I will be putting up a Thank You! page to show my appreciation for my patrons. I will probably be running some ads along the side of the site. I am selling out. But I will also still be here, providing as good of reviews as I can manage. So thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

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