Last week at my RWA Chapter meeting, we had the awesome Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books come and speak to us.  While she had plenty of informative and entertaining things to say, and had the power to send our waiter running back to the kitchen several times with a red face, she brought up the topic I’d like to discuss today, and that has to do with reviews.  Most of it was letting us know how all reviews – even the 1-star ones – are good (even if they don’t feel that way), but she briefly touched on the topic of how she believes authors should be able to review the books of other author’s honestly.  So what do you think? 
Should authors be able to review books honestly?

I’m one of the authors that will rate some books I enjoy on Goodreads, and may occasionally leave a review if I really loved a book, but for the most part, I’ve moved on to doing nothing.  While a very small part has to do with lack of time, a lot of it has to do with knowing it isn’t in my best interest, professionally, to voice a negative opinion of other author’s books. The potential backlash isn’t worth risking my career, so I keep my trap shut. 

And I’m hardly alone.  Many authors have taken to not reviewing books they would only be able to give a negative review to for fear of retaliation and the impact it could have on their career.    

But should we have to?

Yes, we’re authors, and I guess because of that, we’re competitors in a way (just ask Amazon, who has a habit of removing reviews by authors for that reason) but we were readers first.  Many of us wouldn’t even be writing if we weren’t inspired by the worlds created by another author at some point in our lives.  We all have opinions on what’s good, what’s bad, and what has the potential to be better, if x, y, and z are executed in a different manner.  In that sense, we’re no different than our non-author peers.

We do, however, feel a lack the freedom to share our opinions as they do because we face possible repercussions, which can be an simple as name calling (you’re just jealous, petty, etc.) to outright career killers, such as a couple hundred readers ganging up to down rate a book.  I’ve seen it happen, and it’s awful. 

So, to avoid that kind of fate, we go on Goodreads and Amazon and rate books we like or love, but when it comes to books that we don’t love, book that have serious flaws, plot holes, or an obvious lack of editing we back away slowly.

I wonder, however, what good that does?  If all we give is positive reviews, it seems we devalue the credibility of our four and five star reviews, because, by all accounts, we’ve loved every single book we’ve ever read.  Positive reviews don’t hold much weight when you have no negative ones to compare it to. 

So you tell me, should authors be able to post honest reviews?

Is it okay to review books outside of our category/genre, but a conflict of interest to review books in the same category/genre as we write?

As readers and writers, do you only rate books you loved?  Or do you see any merit in rating books you don’t?

Readers, do you put much stock in an author’s review anyway?  Are you at all influenced by their opinions?

Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts!


Post a Comment

  1. I'm not really an author yet, but I already feel awkward about leaving not-so-positive reviews. But I still do it (so far), even if I'm tempted often to just shut my trap. I don't know if I'll keep doing it, but I really do think if you're not going to post any negative reviews, why post any at all (even the positive ones)? Maybe just leaving a rating is enough, but even then if you give a book a 1-star rating with no explanation why, people are gonna know you didn't think much of it.

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  2. I'm with you. I've started reviewing less and less. And that means I feel awkward about asking anyone I know to read and review my book. And when they do, does that mean I have to give them a good review? What if I didn't like it. It puts you in an awkward social situation, to say the least! I now only post reviews of books I liked, loved, or adored. And those books I didn't like? Well, you know what happens to those. Is it right or fair, no, but it is reality that bad reviews can come back and bite you. And yes, I think it does weaken your review credibility. But then again, I'm not making a career on my reviews. It's a quandry!

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  3. I think everyone should feel comfortable writing honest reviews. To me, if an author is writing reviews and I see negative ones, I know they are not letting their status as an author sway their rating and their opinion really matters. In fact, since authors know the craft well, these honest reviews mean more to me because I can trust that I will really enjoy the book if authors say it is well written and the story is interesting. If I only see positive reviews it makes me think the author is giving all their author friends and colleagues a good rating just because, and I don't trust the review. However, I do understand that bigger publishers probably discourage authors to post their opinions on other books, so then I would expect to not see any reviews from them.
    As a reader and blogger, I rate and review all the books I read. I might not write a lengthy review of everything on the blog, but I'll write a few sentences on Goodreads if I rate it low.

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  4. I have this dilemma right now. I write reviews for a blog and so far, all of them have been fairly positive, but I recently read a book that I didn't like and I wouldn't recommend and not sure how I should write it. It had some good parts, but not enough to make me endorse it. I will probably stick with the positive, negative, positive review but state honestly in the negative section why I wouldn't recommend the book. I kind of fear the revenge review once I actually have something out their to review, but hopefully I'm being paranoid.

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  5. I tend to only rate books. I suck at writing reviews so I don't bother. But I only rate books that I give 4 or 5 stars (which is most of them apparently).

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  6. I used to the same as Stina, but now I try to write something, even if it's only a sentence or two, and I make sure to post it on amazon too. Why? Because as an author, I know how I love reviews and ratings and I want to help fellow authors.

    However, if I know the author and didn't really like the book, I only added it as read on my goodreads and then I don't rate or review it - maybe it's not fair, but I feel bad rating 1 to 3 stars - the author worked hard on the book, and most of the time, I just didn't connect with the book, and others might.

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  7. I try to stay away from reviewing books on my blog, etc. now that I'm a published author. It's hard to offer a critical analysis of another author's work without coming off as unprofessional or jealous. And I've always felt that if you're only saying positive things about books you love, then you're not reviewing so much as recommending. That being said, I definitely recommend books. :)

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  8. I tend to like reviewing books for other authors, especially indies. We need all of the extra promotion we can get so I have no problem posting a review on Amazon and Goodreads then adding a link to it at my blog and tweeting about it.

    Do I write negative reviews? No. Are they honest? Yes.

    I think in every book I read there's some aspect of it that I enjoy. Some writers' styles are stronger than others. Some writers plot more creatively than others. But in the end, I'm not about rendering a final judgment, I'd rather just point out what I like.

    It may be the coward's way out, but I'd always tend to lean toward building someone up instead of tearing them down. I know there are a lot of other reviewers that an author will hear from will have no qualms doing just that. I'd rather keep the positive karma flowing, if I can.

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  9. Authors have a right to leave honest, negative reviews. But should they? Not from a PR standpoint... :/

    I absolutely rate & review books I love, though!

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  10. Great post, and great conversation - thanks to Juliana for pointing me over here!!

    Unfortunately, I agree. We have the right to leave honest reviews, but we also risk a lot by doing it - and it doesn't seem worth it. Our silence is the only tool we have; by staying silent, we communicate something, anyway.

    I wish this wasn't the case!! But the backlash is real and terrible (and highly unprofessional, in my opinion) and we have to protect ourselves.

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  11. I always honestly review books, whether I loved them, hated them, or found them just meh. I tend to read the 1-3-star reviews first, so I have a more balanced view instead of only focusing on a bunch of mindless 5-star reviews that start to sound all the same after awhile. In particular, I stay far away from books with massive amounts of hype, and feel people have even more of an obligation to be honest about disliking such books to counter the popular media. Even if you're reviewing something by your favoritest writer, you still have an obligation to be honest and objective. I doubt there's a writer in this world who consistently, only turns out solid gold, 6-star-worthy books.

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  12. Agree with Carrie Butler. What authors should be able to do and what we should do aren't necessarily the same thing.

    I struggle with this issue, too. At first, I didn't review as my author persona (pen name) at all. Now I will, but only if I can leave a 4-star or better. And even those are sometimes generous, and always gently worded.

    Of course, time is a factor, so - just because I don't review a fellow writer's book doesn't mean I hate it. I probably didn't have time to read it. Anyhow...My alter ego is a tough customer who's not afraid to give 1-stars if the book is lousy, but I do it under a different name.

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  13. I know it's hard to review other authors books, specially when you know how hard is to write a book, but we also must have in mind that we're readers sooner or later. And that's how I manage with this conflict. I always make clear in my reviews that a certain book was reviewed as a reader. Of course, I'm sweeter with Indies authors, because they -as myself- don't have an editorial behind that fix all errors in a manuscript.

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  14. Wow. Timely subject for me. I recently posted a review on Goodreads that wasn't so hot. I tried to do it in a positive way so that perhaps the author could gain something from it, but it's been plaguing me so I finally went in and deleted it. Before publishing my novel, I had no problem sharing my honest opinion. And now? Not so much. Weird how your frame of thinking changes.

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  15. Hi guys! I find I don't give out stars on Goodreads anymore. It's easier to say something genuine with words rather than stars. "This reminds me of some of Simone Elkeles' characters" or "the part of the book which worked best for me was the heroine's relationship with her brother." (Which might mean I thought the love story sucked. But I don't have to say so.) There's always something positive to say. To me, stars make everything dicier.

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  16. I usually stick to just giving stars on Goodreads, and I will be honest with those according to Goodreads' suggestions for each value--three stars "I liked it", two "it was okay," etc. And I'll usually leave it at that. If someone asked me whether I liked a book, my response would depend a lot on whether it was online or IRL, how well I know the person. I'll tear into books over coffee with my best friends, but for a stranger on Twitter I'm more likely to just say "It wasn't for me."

    The really disappointing thing about all this is that most writers would never leave a negative review that was rude and disrespectful toward either the book or the author, and THOSE are the kind of reviews that should have consequences. But mild observations about the craft of the book? It'd be nice to feel free to leave those.

    What about your old reviews? I have some reviews on Goodreads and on my blog from years ago, and I frequently waffle over whether to delete the negative ones. Have any of you done that?

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