Although I have written previously of Daylight Atheism’s rapid growth (and let me add that the total hit count for August shattered the previous record from July), this weblog appears to be attracting attention in a way that I did not at all expect. Several days ago, I was contacted by Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, who thanked me for my previous positive review of his book and asked if I would mention that it was now out in paperback with new and revised chapters. I agreed to this. Several days later, to my even greater surprise, a publicist from Houghton Mifflin contacted me through e-mail, promoting Richard Dawkins’ forthcoming book The God Delusion and offering to send me a free copy if I would review it on my site.
I did not think Daylight Atheism had acquired the prominence for me to be solicited in this way. I am thrilled to be wrong, but it raises a moral dilemma for me. On one hand, it has not escaped me that the primary purpose of a publicist in contacting me is not to spread the message of freethought or support the atheist community; it is to sell more books. I am strongly averse to commercialism, and I object to being used as advertising. I believe it would greatly undermine my credibility if I were to give the impression that I maintain this site or my other primarily to secure material benefit. On the other hand, I feel it is entirely consistent with this site’s mission to call my readers’ attention to books which they may be interested in, and I do desire to promote and support authors whose opinions I agree with. After all, the success of these books undeniably does assist the freethought movement, and that is a goal I want to help bring about. Publicists, after all, are agents acting on behalf of authors who do have this aim, and their success translates to greater success for these voices of freethought.
With this in mind, I have created a new policy for book reviews that clearly lays out under what circumstances I will or will not agree to write them. In the event that I am ever contacted again in this way, I offer it here, so that my readers will know what the appearance of a new book review signifies.
- I will not review books that are not in some way relevant to the purpose of this site. You will never see reviews of cookbooks (unless it is the FFRF’s World Famous Atheist Cookbook), gardening books, detective thrillers, or economic texts. On the other hand, you will see reviews of religious scripture, of books on science and history, of books on skepticism and critical thought, and of books that review, discuss, and critique religion in all its many guises and incarnations.
- I will consider, but will not necessarily accept, requests to review books that are relevant. I could do nothing but review books, but that is not what this weblog was created for; my readers deserve to hear about other topics and I will give them that. I pledge that I will limit my reviews to books about which I feel I have something relevant to say, one way or the other.
- I will never accept money or any other kind of compensation in exchange for writing a review that reaches a predetermined conclusion. I pledge that in writing a review I will always render my honest verdict; in any book review I post, the words will all be my own and so will the opinions. I will not accept any compensation from a book’s author or representative to review that book, other than a copy of the book itself. I leave open the possibility of agreeing to review a book, at some future date, in exchange for a charitable donation to some appropriate non-profit group.
- I will clearly distinguish reviews which I was asked to write from reviews of books I sought out on my own. Until now, every book which I have reviewed was a book which I took the initiative to seek out and read, and readers can assume that to be the default. If this is not the case for a given book, I will clearly label the review of that book as originating from a solicitation.
- I will not repost a review or otherwise give additional publicity to a new edition or rerelease of a book which I have previously reviewed, unless that new edition contains substantial new content or is otherwise independently noteworthy.
- I will not open a store on this site to sell books I review, nor will I set up an affiliate account or link directly to a merchant site for a mass-market book. I will assume that readers who are sufficiently intrigued by any of my reviews to purchase and read the book can find it on their own initiative. I may make exceptions, however, for obscure, out-of-print or otherwise hard-to-find books.
I hope this policy addresses any concerns my readers may have. I did accept the offer to review The God Delusion, and the book is in my hands now. I expect to post a review within a week or two.