Should Authors be Reviewers?

Serious question. I know I’m unlikely to get any answers, but this is my blog so I’m asking it anyway. Even if I’m asking it into thin air.

Anyway, over the past six months or so I’ve been in a few situations where this question has come up. Once, it was an author friend of mine who was considering posting a negative review on their blog. Another time, there was someone I don’t know who has a lot of reviews on their blog, so many that I follow them and have them listed under “reviewers” in my feedly, and I was confused when I realized they are also a writer in the genre. And of course I’ve got reviews from author friends, and given a few as well (always disclosing the pre-existing relationship, of course.) Lately I’ve had a few negative reviews of my work by authors in my genre. So, you know, now it’s personal. LOL.

But really, it makes me think about the ethical side of this.

On one hand, we are all readers. And most of us read primarily in the genre we write. We love our genre! Why shouldn’t we post reviews? Aren’t our voices important?

On the other hand, publicly talking shit about your competition is usually considered a trashy move. And the workaround – posting reviews under a pseudonym – is not much better. Actually it might be worse, because it disguises the reviewer’s vested interest in discouraging people from reading their competitor’s book.

I also wonder about all the other little connections we have, and how those can influence not only author-reviews, but all reviews that originate from members of our “community.” We have arguments, friendships, critique partnerships. All those things complicate the relationship between a reader and a work. I definitely read something with a different expectation when it is from someone I know and like, or someone I have read before and disliked, or someone who just called me a nasty name on facebook. Maybe it would be better if I could say “No, no, I’m a totally impartial reader. I only judge the story, not the writer!” [haughty sniff] But I can’t say that is true, at least not with any honesty.

And I know reviewers will say they would never, ever, post a revenge-review. Ok. But I also know I’ve seen a lot of coincidentally low-star reviews come out right after online arguments, so I think revenge-reviews DO happen.

Personally, I only post positive reviews of books in my genre. I always do so under my author name (usually on this blog), and I always disclose my relationship with the author (“I beta read this story,” or “I’m in a critique group with this author” or whatever)

But is that necessary? Is reviewing in the genre in which we write always a bad move? Is there a way to do it ethically?

I’d love comments/opinions, if anyone reads this post.

14 thoughts on “Should Authors be Reviewers?

  1. I would never want to make a statement about what choice I think other writers should make on the review situation, but for myself I don’t leave reviews for books if I can’t say something rather glowing. That means that there are a number of books that I read and don’t rate/review. Sometimes I liked those books just fine, but can’t glow and rave.

    My reason for this is that I think readers are turned off by seeing an author leave a less than stellar review on a book they loved, or even on a book they feel interested in. I think they feel like it is a conflict of interest and judge the author for making the review. I also don’t leave negative reviews because as a writer, I’ve received less than stellar reviews from other writers at times and while I don’t consider myself especially thin-skinned I haven’t forgotten those authors or their words and how that felt. I admit when I see their books for sale I hesitate before buying at times because of how their reviews stung. I don’t want to give someone a reason to hesitate before buying my books. I’ve also met some of these authors in person at cons and it was amazing how I could stand there, liking them, and enjoying their company while still in the back of my mind thinking, “Two stars, huh? Two stars, was it?” LOL! I just don’t want to be that author to anyone else. It’s not worth it, imo.

    Being an author is my job, not being a reviewer. At least, that’s how I see it. And, personally, I prefer building other authors up rather than tearing them down, so I’d rather just not mention the books that didn’t work for me and focus on the ones that did. 🙂 That’s my .02!

    • I agree. It is a much harsher thing to get a negative review from a fellow author. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is. I guess I sort of consider other writers in my genre to be like my co-workers, and so their rejection is a bit more hurtful, on a professional level.

      I do know some authors who pull it off, and have a great following for their reviews, though. So I don’t know. But I’m with you: if I can’t say something really positive, I don’t say anything at all. I don’t ever want to tear other writers down, either. 🙂

  2. it seems to me u have got it about right. just review books that u like and disclose the relationship with the author. dont do any other way and you can sidestep all the questions about ethics etc. have any authors invited u to review their book? and if u dont like it, how do u get out of it? haha. tell them privately that u dont like it and so wont be writing a review as u only write reviews for books you like? that might be the best way to get out of it. the problem comes when u like bits of it and not others. so u have to decide whether u will just write about the bits u like, and dont mention the other bits u dont. or depands on whether the bad bits are too many, and so u can lump it under books u dont like. haha.

    • thanks! yes I have been lucky so far that no one has come out and asked me for a review, so I’ve been able to do it only when I choose and not been faced with telling anyone I didn’t like their book! let’s hope my luck holds, lol.

  3. I’m a reviewer, and an author. I don’t write negative reviews–what’s the point? Goodreads is already caustic enough, and reviewing isn’t critiquing. The book is already written; you can’t change it.
    I won’t rate anything less than 3 stars (literally meaning “I liked it”), and I won’t review anything I can’t–as Leta said–gush over.
    Does that keep me safe all the time? No. I’ve had some problems–nothing huge, but still… I can’t stop. I love talking about books, and for the most part my strategy works. Here’s hoping it continues to do so.

    • I understand. I also love talking about books! But you make a good point: reviewing isn’t critiquing.
      So many 1 and 2 star reviews are essentially the reviewer lamenting that the book in question was not the one they hoped it would be, or not their favorite kind of book, or not what they expected. And while that can be useful (keeping readers with similar expectations away) it’s not really a “review” of what the book IS, it’s more a punishment for what the book isn’t, and that’s not really fair. (unless the blurb and cover promised something the book didn’t deliver on, of course.)
      I guess, for myself, I’d prefer talking about books in a free, uncensored way. And I can only do that when I am speaking positively. 🙂

  4. Hey there. Some of you will know me as LJ McDowall, you can find me about social media @ljmcdowall. I’m author AND an editor of a poetry mag which does formal book reviews. Before I turned to writing and editing, I reviewed every book I bought on Amazon, and that catapulted me into the Amazon Top Reviewer halls. So before I was an author, before I was an editor, I was a reviewer, and — as far as the internet goes — a respected one.

    All authors, but especially poets, and small press/indie authors often suffer from a dearth of reviews. And so one of the best things you can do to support someone writing is leave a fair, balanced (god, I sound lie Fox News .. NOT the Fox News idea of Fair and Balanced!) honest review. A good spread of 3-5 stars will really help an indie author on their way, support their art, and is perfectly ethical provided you are fair and balanced (shut up, Rupert). So an ideal review contains a wee summary of the story (all about that tale, ’bout the tale, no spoilers) what you liked about it, what you didn’t, and then a wee conclusion. About 300-500 words unless you have something really profound to say about it all.

    But for AUTHORS reviewing AUTHORS, you might want to think about professional courtesy. That means maybe allowing the author to see your review before you post it if it’s three stars, and offering feedback ONLY (i.e. not posting your review) if you can’t give it more than 2 stars. That way 1) writer gets feedback, 2) no one feels abused or is tempted to react with reciprocal one starring 3) if that writer has been wrong on the internet recently, a little professional policy for yourself removes the temptation to do something completely justified (:P) in the heat of the moment . I do review authors I’m connected with and have given everything from 3-5 stars depending on how I liked their work. So far, no one has come after me with pitch forks…mostly because I extend professional courtesy.

    • Hey LJ, nice to see you here 🙂
      Professional courtesy is the crux of it, I think. Good point.
      I suppose that is why I (and a lot of other authors, apparently) only post positive reviews – we know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a shitty review, and we don’t want to do that to our fellow authors.
      Though I believe low star reviews are helpful, in their own way, they do tend to make the reviewer look bad if they aren’t carefully composed. And I don’t need any help looking bad! lol
      Point is, it’s difficult enough to make a living as an author without us tearing each other down.

    • Ah, that’s a good point!
      Also it makes me think, as reviewers get more influential (which prolific reviewers often are), is it a conflict of interest for them to steer a market which they are a member of? It is it just smart, if cutthroat? I guess it could be either or both.
      Always great comments, Kyle! 😊

    • Except of course that we wear many hats. As readers and as writers. I’m a poet. But I run a lit mag that reviews poetry books — as many lit mags do. Provided you extend professional courtesy, there isn’t a problem. Recently I pulled some self-pubbed erotic poetry off Amazon to review for the mag. I read through it and saw the poet had phenomenal potential, but as many self-pubbed poets do, they’d released their work too early before they’d honed their craft. Rather than tear that poet down, I sent them feedback, and elected not to publish the review. However, I probably would just have reviewed a Penguin or Picador, or Bloodaxe published poet. They have the support of publishers and editors and a whole marketing machine…an indie poet not so much. It won’t change how I review, but the fact a poet is an indie poet might sway me not to publish a 1-2 star review.

      • That is nice of you 🙂
        I know a lot of reviewers who don’t share your courtesy. They think that once something is put “out there” into the world, it is open for all criticism. And I can see that point, too.
        But as you say, we wear many hats. And we might switch them around but we can’t ever really get rid of those hats, can we? So, as others have said and as you practice, it’s best for authors to be professionally courteous and remember that we are all part of a community of writers.

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