Should Authors Review Books?

From Writer Unboxed:

As I was preparing to write this month’s post, I took a quick spin through the posts on the site that talk about reviews. No surprise, most of them focus on what you as an author should do about reviews of your book. (Consensus: ignore them, mostly, and go about your business.) But I thought it might be interesting to look at things from a different angle.

Should you, as an author, review other authors’ books?

After all, major publications do it – many of the reviews in the New York Times are one author’s opinion on another author’s work. At its best, this yields insightful analysis from someone who knows a lot about how hard it is to succeed at the thing the author is trying to do; at its worst, when the author doesn’t know much about the genre or has a particular axe to grind, the results can be insulting, biased, or otherwise off-base. And of course if the review is negative, feelings can be hurt, though I would urge all authors to process those hurt feelings more professionally and appropriately than Richard Ford famously did.

But for most of us, the NYT isn’t knocking on our door or dropping into our inbox asking our opinion of the books we read. It’s far more likely that we need to think about whether to review other authors’ work publicly on review sites like Goodreads, BookBub or Amazon. And no one can make up your mind for you—different authors have different philosophies about whether to use these sites and in what way. 

So here are three things to think about as you’re making that decision for yourself.

Think about your goals. Of course you have a right to write reviews—we’re all readers! Readers get to have opinions!—but you should give some thought to what you want those reviews to accomplish. Do you want to boost other authors and recommend the books you loved? You can do that by writing positive reviews of the books you loved and just not writing about books that don’t fit into that category. If, on the other hand, you want the internet to reflect the complete record of everything you read and what you thought about it—positive or negative—go for it. But remember that some authors can’t help reading their reviews, and your name is going to be associated with that negative review. Which leads me to…

The internet is forever. Maybe you’re a reader today, but you have plans to publish at some point in the future, and if the name you publish under is the name you review under, those things are forever connected. And though I’d love to say that all authors understand that criticism is part of being published and that you’re fully entitled to write whatever you want about someone else’s book, I can’t promise that every author is going to take that criticism in stride. I know people who complain (in private, at least) about reviews on Goodreads from fellow authors who wrote positive things about the book but rated it four instead of five stars. (“If you liked it so much, why are you bringing down my average??”) You can’t control other people’s reactions. You can only control what you’re giving them to react to. And so, if you choose to review… 

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

For authors, PG’s general suggestion is that it may be the best business decision not to speak ill of other authors online.

The internet is a wonderful place for extended feuds and nasty disputes and PG doubts that being known as the author who got into an epic online battle with another author about one of that author’s books, particularly when such a dispute attracted additional participants and exploded into a huge brawl.

As argument for not fighting online, PG would ask,

  • “Is it your job to make sure that everything on the internet is true?”
  • “Does your muse ever become distracted when you’re in a nasty fight?”
  • “Has anyone contacted you and begged you to share your completely candid view about this book/author online?”

7 thoughts on “Should Authors Review Books?”

  1. Given the nature of today’s internet, the answer is clearly “no”, at least not under their own names. Fortunately, Amazon is quite happy to allow us to hide our identity when we review and my reviews certainly do not appear under my own name.

    In fact there is a good case for never using your own name on line, though I admit that I don’t follow this rule for the a few blogs -such as this one – where civilised behaviour still rules.

    As for the more traditional reviews in newspapers and magazines, in so far as they still survive, it has always been the case that reviews by authors had to be taken with a large grain of salt. It is rarely possible to tell whether you are seeing back scratching, back stabbing, or actually getting something honest.

    • Well, I do need to get more reviews done, myself. But I always use the name my parents gave me.

      I don’t worry all that much, because I can only be bothered to write a review of something that I enjoyed. If I don’t enjoy a book, I rarely finish it – and reviewing a half-read book is dishonest (in my opinion).

  2. I do write some reviews, not critiques, just things I thought were fun enough to spread the word. I once wrote a review of a book that was negative, in that I said I couldn’t finish it, but added that the cover was super awesome, which was why I bought it.

    I leave it up as a reminder never to do that again. The reason, De gustibus non est disputandum – there can be no argument about taste.

    Though it should be noted that I only found said quote in recent times, but it speaks to me, and also seems like a good tool for ending most internet outrages over films, books, and game. Feel free to steal.

    • No accounting for taste is why I don’t review fiction. It also is why I don’t read reviews of fiction. They are useless to me. Nonfiction is another matter. A well written reader review of a nonfiction book will make clear whether the reviewer knows the subject and is not crazy. If both are true, their opinion on the book is very much on point. Only a fraction of reader reviews rise to the level of being useful, but I happily rely on them for buying decisions.

  3. Sometimes a really stinking book gets my juices flowing, and I start analyzing just what I think is wrong with it to guarantee that I will never do precisely that myself.

    While I restrain myself from reviewing those on their online sale pages, I can’t help but wax eloquent about them on one of my own blogs, where I’ve created an entire category called “Irritated reviews” where I fulminate about them, without specifying any identifying traits such as author name, character name, or title. (Doubtless the authors, if they ever encounter them, will recognize their own.) https://hollowlands.com/category/irritated-reviews/

  4. I review a lot of books by a lot of authors, some of whom I know slightly. Nobody has ever had an issue with it, because I stick to a strong “review the book, not the author” policy.

    If a book didn’t work for me, I say very specifically why (which has also taught me valuable lessons I can apply in my own writing). I don’t make any claim that other people will or should feel the same way about it.

    I generally try to find something to praise, too, if possible. It’s not always possible.

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