Book Reviewing for (Less) Fun and (More) Profit

I was very excited to sign on as a contracted reviewer for Shelf AwarenessReaders’ Edition e-newsletter when it launched earlier this year, but I must admit that I didn’t really foresee how a paid reviewing gig would affect my overall reading and blogging habits. This “do what you love, the money will follow” exercise has turned out to be a “be careful what you wish for” thing sometimes. Perhaps if I’d understood about the “Overjustification Effect” before I started this, I’d have been more reticent about jumping into it:

The Misconception: There is nothing better in the world than getting paid to do what you love.
The Truth: Getting paid for doing what you already enjoy will sometimes cause your love for the task to wane because you attribute your motivation as coming from the reward, not your internal feelings.”

My commitment to Shelf Awareness is for two reviews a month, which isn’t onerous. I’ve given them a list of my preferred categories, and they usually send me four or five galleys a month to consider, so I do have some choice about what I’ll be reading for them. They’ve given me books I might not have encountered otherwise, and while I’m not sure any of them will make my Books of the Year list, they’ve generally been good reading.

Having said that, ”I might not have encountered these books otherwise” also means that, in some cases, these aren’t the books I’d have read if I’d had entirely free choice about it. But getting paid to do something sometimes means that you don’t necessarily have free choice about how you do what you do. And if I want to get paid to do this, I have commitments and deadlines to meet, and in all honesty, those things certainly affect my motivation to choose certain books at certain times.

It’s further complicated by the fact that my reading time is limited as it is, and that this work is a discretionary sideline to an unrelated full-time career that claims most of my weekday hours. I have a family, and I have other ways I like to spend my non-working time besides reading–the blogging I’ve been doing for nearly five years being pretty high on that list. Having said that, when I’ve had to make decisions about how to allocate the time budget, you may have noticed that blogging is one of the places I’ve made cuts (although they’re partly offset by the fact that I can re-post my SA reviews here once they’ve run in the newsletter, with proper disclosure), and those cuts may turn out to be long-term.

I realize I could always choose not to do the paid reviewing, as it’s certainly not what pays the bills (although it does provide some “mad money”), but it is something that moves me in the direction I’d like to take work-wise, and that’s one reason I don’t want to stop doing it. Even before I took it on, I’d been cutting way back on accepting books for non-paid reviewing; I’m still limiting those, and at this point I think that will also be a long-term cut (aside from those I collect at BEA, which I’ll most likely do again in 2012 despite having far too much of the 2011 haul still in TBR Purgatory). Eventually, I’d really like more time for discretionary reading to come from that change, as I do not enjoy experiencing bookstore paralysis…and I see paying for books I want to read (and then write about, which is why I came here in the first place) as quite different from accepting “free” book offers as effective payment for reviews.

I realize this post may sound like one big list of complaints, but I really don’t mean it to be; I’m thinking out loud about my choices. I realize I’m very fortunate to have the chance to read books, write about them, and get paid for doing it, and I really don’t want to give up that opportunity. But I also don’t want that opportunity to be something that takes the fun out of reading, or takes as much time away from “reading for fun” as it has for the first six months I’ve been doing it.

Going into a new year of reading, I think I need to understand that this new line of work is still a work in progress for me, give myself more time (and patience) to work out how to make it all work, accept that some things just may not be able to work the same way they did before I got into this…and maybe use some of my vacation time from work as periodic “reading days” for my other work!

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