Should writers write reviews?

I’m going to start with a disclaimer, because about a week ago I did something funky to my shoulder, so in addition to having worked last night – and missed my prep time for this post – I took pain meds before writing it. Lord only knows how this is going to come out…

This is a post about book reviews, the golden currency of publishing, though I’m not touching the current dust-up over authors behaving badly toward reviewers. My post is on a much smaller scale.

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I recently joined Netgalley, which is a service used by publishers where they’ll give free copies of selected books in return for reviews. That simplifies things quite a bit, but my logic for joining went something like this: I have a blog. I often struggle for blog content. I read lots of books and love to tell people about them. Sometimes I post reviews on Goodreads & Amazon.

Therefore, if I publish reviews on my blog, I’ll have a new source of content and build an audience.

And free is good.

For example, my last post for the Spellbound Scribes was a book review. Jump HERE if you want to see what I thought of “Prosperity”, a fantastic new Steampunk novel by Alexis Hall that I obtained through Netgalley. In addition to my blog post, I published the review on Amazon and Goodreads. I would have shouted this one from the mountaintops, because it’s a great read, but what happens when I don’t absolutely love a book?

My friend Amanda writes book reviews for her blog (jump HERE for today’s post), for Netgalley, and for the Vampire Book Club. They’re sharp, insightful, and often cost me money because she makes the books sound so good. Every now and then I’ll be reading a book and send her a snarky comment about it, and she always calls me on the carpet when I give said snarky-commented-book a 4-star rating on Goodreads. She has no problem calling a dog a dog, while I tend to abide by the kindergarten rule of, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

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I happened to be sitting next to Amanda at a master class given by Kristen Lamb. She’s a great (hysterically funny!) teacher, with some very wise things to say about establishing your author brand through blogging. And you know what KLamb said?

Authors shouldn’t put book reviews on their blog.

Kristen’s rationale goes something like this:

  • If an author says something nice in a book review, no one will believe them because they’re, well, TeamAuthor.
  • Conversely, if the author says something harsh in a review, that’s bad form because members of TeamAuthor shouldn’t tear each other down. We get enough of that from TeamEveryoneElse.

Those are good points, and I have to say there’s a solid chance my “Prosperity” review will be the last one I post to a blog – though I’ll still put reviews on Amazon & Goodreads.

Taking things from a slightly different perspective, I recently saw a Goodreads review written by KJ Charles, a fabulous author who I tend to get a little crazyfangirl over. Ms. Charles gave a book 3 stars, and just because of that, I won’t likely read it.  My reaction suggests that whether you’re influencing one person or 100,000, you need to pay attention to how you wield your clout.

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When it comes right down to it, I’d much rather beta-read someone’s work than write them a book review after it’s published. Beta reading is fun, because things are still malleable and you can balance your criticisms by calling out the good stuff.  What do you think? Are you an author, and if so, do you write reviews? Where do you publish them? Do you ever give one-star reviews? I don’t, because I worry I’ll end up on a conference panel with the recipient of my negative energy. Leave me a comment, because I’d love to know what you think.

Peace,
Liv

 

 

 

 

 

 

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23 thoughts on “Should writers write reviews?

  1. Hi, Amanda here. *waves* I thought Kristen made a fabulous point about authors doing reviews – and this is something that’s been batted back and forth for who knows how long. At the end of the day, I figure it’s about what each author/reviewer wants out of reviews. For me, I can’t NOT do it. I read a tremendous amount, and reviews give me a much needed outlet for talking about those books. Otherwise certain friends would be overloaded with my comments (some snarky, some not) about all the books I’ve read.

    And yes, I’ve posted negative reviews before. Yes, some of those authors (or editors) could put me in a corner and refuse to play with me. But I wrote those words, and I’ll stand by them.

    1. livrancourt

      Well, and I think you had a track record for honesty before your first book ever came out, Amanda, so people should know what they’re getting. For me, I think publication came before the review precedent, so frankness doesn’t feel as comfortable.

  2. Hi Liv. You’ve made some good points here. I don’t write reviews on my blog, and I only write a review on Amazon or Goodreads if I have something good to say. If I don’t like a book, I just don’t review it. I wish I had more time to read though. I read and critique lots of works for my writer’s group (and they do mine as well), and it seems like that’s all I ever have time to read these days. Honestly, I don’t read reviews on blogs much. I suppose avid readers might read them though.

    1. livrancourt

      Thanks for checking in. Lori. I’ve often wondered who reads most book review blogs. I mean, I know people do, especially the big ones (Smart Bitches, Coffee Time Romance), but if anyone in my circle of friends sits down at the computer to find a book review, they’re at Amazon (most likely) or maybe Goodreads.
      And YES, I could use more hours in the day for reading, too!!

  3. Kristen Lamb DOES make valid points. Maybe I’m just stubborn and march to the beat of my own drummer, but I’ll still put the random review up on my blog if the book speaks to me. On Amazon/Goodreads I’ll put reviews up, both good and not so good, but if I feel it’s a really bad one, I don’t. I figure some authors can take the criticism, while others can’t… I always try to make sure my feedback is constructive, though.

    1. livrancourt

      Judging by the strength of your enthusiastic blog community, Kitt, I’d say that what you’re doing is working, and I hear what you’re saying about keeping reviews constructive. I worry sometimes, though, that I get too technical, too “writerly”, picking at flaws only someone who’s seen them in their own manuscript would find.
      Thanks for checking in!

  4. I no longer do reviews. I did some initially, but after rampant author meltdowns, I really didn’t want anything to do with them. I even had an author ask me to review his book and then have a meltdown on Twitter because I politely declined. He made it sound like because I’m a writer I should pay it back to other writers. Seriously? Where is this “it’s owed” stuff coming from?

    And, truthfully, reviews are a time suck. I have limited time to write. What’s better for me — finishing a novel or a short story that might get published for $$$ or writing a review of someone else’s book? One of the problems is that it is writing, and it feels like it’s productive because of that, but it’s not getting a story done.

    1. livrancourt

      I too recently had an author ask me for a review of his book and I agreed to do it simply because of that dynamic –> I want people to review my books so I should pay it forward. Of course, the flaw in that logic is that I want READERS to review my books, because if readers are giving me reviews that means people are buying my book.
      It’s a tricky equation, and melting down in any forum rarely helps.
      And YES to the thought that I’d rather spend the time working on my own projects. A big YES on that one.

  5. It’s an interesting topic, and i think every author should decide this for their own. I don’t write reviews… I will accept books from author friends from time to time and write something about them on my blog, but I always (often in a tongue-in-cheek way) point out that I am biased and that this is publicity, not serious review business.

    I also don’t review on amazon because I am an author and they frown on that. (Also because my main account is Amazon Germany, and well, that doesn’t really help people all that much).

    I do however have a Goodreads account. I’ve had one long, long before I was a writer and it’s a treasured thing for me that I am not willing to give up. So what I do is the following: With traditionally published mass-market books I have carte blanche. I get to say whatever I want because a) I don’t compete with them, there’s no conflict of interest and b) even if my view falls on the negative side, one review in a thousand won’t harm them. And honestly, when I pay 10$ for a much hyped book and I find it sorely disappointing, I feel like I have a right to vent that frustration.
    When it comes to small publishers and self-published books, I am very careful. Because a) yes, I do compete with them and there is a clear conflict of interest (whether or not I abuse that conflict of interest is immaterial here), and b) it can do harm and I can be pretty certain the writer will read it and feel bad.
    But it’s still my Goodreads account, and I get to use it to track my reading goddammit! 😉 So when I disliked something or can’t honestly give it anything a 4 or 5 rating, I’ll just don’t rate it at all, I just mark it it as “read”. I will know what that means. There are books that I have given higher ratings than they deserve for “team author” reasons. I try not to, but sometimes it’s just not possible, we all end up in situations where honesty can cost us relationships sometimes. But in these cases I usually don’t write anything. I just leave the rating and get the hell out of the situation.
    The only time I write a few words about indie books is when I was actually impressed and want to convey my honest and spontaneous desire to share a great book. And that is one thing I think authors can do maybe even better than readers ;).

    [lol there are exceptions, as always. Sometimes a book is just so perplexing and like insanely good in one aspect and really bad in another and I just need to make sense of it all, I will write a review… but often I end up deleting it before I post it, hehe.]

  6. livrancourt

    Your approach makes a lot of sense, Laila. I too use a different standard for books with a Big 6 publisher (or thereabouts) behind them, and I try like heck to avoid giving a book a review it doesn’t deserve. It’s a tricky business, though.
    I didn’t know Amazon has a thing about authors reviewing other people’s work. (Sometimes I think I must live in a box.) That’s a problem, because I review for a lot of other writers and most of my reviews come from writers. Something to consider…
    Thanks!

  7. KJ Charles

    Argh.

    Here’s the problem with reviews: we are all calibrated differently. For me (and me alone, for all I know), they work as follows: I don’t review books I don’t like unless they make me angry (not hard). If I give a book 3 stars it was because it was good enough to finish, and my silent DNF pile is *enormous*. So a 3* from me is a reasonably positive response that says, this had something worth my time.

    BUT I am well aware this isn’t what 3* feels like to the author, and that many readers regard it as a ‘don’t bother’.

    Fundamentally, I post 3* reviews in part because there’s something interesting to tease out about why it didn’t work, and in part because it gives credibility to my 5* reviews. (I don’t gush or log roll, although i may stay silent if someone i like writes something I didn’t. That’s another kettle of worms, but I am not a reviewer and I don’t get free books, so I call that my choice.). Overall, I hope my GR reviews are of net benefit to good books. But I am kind of sorry to put anyone off a 3-for-me book b/c it *will* have had something that made it worth exploring.

    1. livrancourt

      I think you do a nice job of illustrating one of my frustrations with the system, KJ. There’s no consistency. Your 3 stars mean something different than mine mean something different than my friend Susie down the street (who only exists for the purposes of this example). My background is in nursing, where results don’t reach statistical significance unless they can be repeated consistently, so to have an entire system that runs on biased data makes me crazy.
      But I will go find your 3-star review and at least give the blurb a read, now that I know where you’re coming from.
      Thanks!

  8. I do reviews on my blog (only for books I love) and for a few organizations. Granted, I’m not published yet. Like others have said, if I don’t like a book, I don’t review it or if I have to for an organization, I give the most constructive feedback I can and try to look at the book from the pov of a fan of the genre/time period/author. On Goodreads, I only review books I can give 4 or 5 stars to. Even on Amazon where my account uses another name (not done on purpose; it’s been set up that way since long before I even thought about becoming an author), I refuse to bash an author or a book.

    1. livrancourt

      Sounds like you’re in a similar place to where Amanda was before she got published, Nicole. You’ve set a precedent for the kinds of reviews you give, so people know what to expect from you. I find it hard to take off my author’s hat and respond as a fan, though. I’m too cognizant of how I’d do things differently.
      Hmm…ego much, Liv?

  9. I’ve done a handful of reviews (four, to be precise) on my blog since I started it in … 2008? Has it been that long? Whoa. Anyway. None of those authors asked me to do it, and I only talked about books that blew my socks right off. But I’ve instituted a “no review” policy on my blog because I’ve been getting review requests, and that’s not why I have a blog.

    I also get requests of the “I’ll review yours if you review mine” type, but I don’t ever take them up on it. First of all, I can never be sure their review is honest since they’re asking for a review in return. Those kinds of reviews are easy to spot, too, and I don’t want a potential reader thinking, “Pft. I’ll bet all these good reviews are just as fake.” And secondly, what if I don’t like their book? If I can’t give a book a 4 or 5 star rating then I don’t leave a review. That’s just the way I do things, always have, always will. But what am I supposed to do? Send the author an email and tell them I didn’t like their book? Nope, not gonna do that, either.

    I do occasionally leave a review on Amazon (being careful about it, too! Like Laila said, The ‘Zon doesn’t like authors to review books.) but it’s only on books that knocked me out and made me sit back and say, “Damn!” Especially if those books don’t have a lot of reviews yet, and I’m jumping up and down thinking, “Why haven’t more people read this book? It’s brilliant!” Then I hope my review will at least make people give it a chance.

    Even though I no longer review books on my blog, I’m always happy to spotlight an author. My blog interviews focus on them so readers can get to know them a little. The book is mentioned, but not reviewed. I leave it to my blog readers to make up their own minds. 🙂

  10. livrancourt

    I like to do blog interviews, too, Juli, and I agree that review swaps can be tricky. I’ll have to do some reading about Uncle Amazon’s review policy – totally didn’t know about the No Author rule. Of course, it’s not Liv leaving the reviews, anyway…
    😉

  11. Interesting post and discussion. As you’re aware, Liv, I’m blogging a round-up of every book I read this year on a monthly basis, but most of them are not what I would call a proper review. In most cases it’s a brief summation of the story for anyone who might be interested, although I am likely to gush about things I like a lot. I do sometimes post reviews on my blog, although I can usually only rouse myself if I LOVE the book. But I’ve been terribly slack about posting reviews to Goodreads and Amazon. Mainly because the blurt on my blog is not usually appropriate.

    I was asked earlier this year for a review and I disliked the book so much I didn’t read it. I felt a bit bad about that, but I thought it better than either giving a bad review or a false one. It was a really tricky situation… fortunately the author never followed up or hunted me down.

    With reference to Kristen Lamb’s views on authors posting reviews on their blogs, I agree that negative reviews are no go, but I don’t see the harm in posting positive ones. Hopefully we can manage to sound authentic if we’re actually being authentic… people can choose to be skeptical if they wish, I suppose. The positives I see are that it helps authors connect with readers, based on their own reading choices. It’s all part of being authentic. Maybe it’s less appropriate to write “proper” reviews, but why not chat casually about books read? (Having said that, I’m with you on wondering who reads book blogs… I think for authors it’s more about building audience.)

    1. livrancourt

      I feel like your monthly reading round-up posts are more akin to a conversation we might have over a couple glasses of wine. “What have you been reading lately, Ellen?” “Well here, let me tell you…” Those posts are an e-version of the kind of word-of-mouth that every successful book needs. Maybe that’s a strategy I could use in the future…hmm…

      1. Yeah, I think that’s kind of what I’m aiming for… much less pressure to be eloquent and well thought-out if you know what I mean? And I think they can definitely help with spreading the word without all the pressure of a “proper” review.

        I would so love to sit down with you and talk books over a glass of wine. 🙂

  12. I’m a reader, not a writer, but I get the logic of thinking author’s shouldn’t review. However, but since my favorite author & my favorite reviewer of all time are the same person (Alexis Hall – though he doesn’t review much any more *sobs*) it’s not a thing I could ever get behind! (And let me add Yay – Prosperity! *ahem*)

    I have to say, I look at a review by an author whose work I like or love as a bonus. If they are also a good friend (as with Alexis), it’s a double bonus. Liking someone’s writing gives me extra insight into whether I am likely to agree with their opinion on the writing of others. Being friends with someone means you know their taste in books, & know whether respect their opinion. Some might say that the review of a friend alone has undue influence. I will say, if Alexis loves a book that’s enough for me to take a look, but I don’t just blindly buy. Sometimes they just are not for me. Of the ones I have read, I’ve loved every one & they are often books I wouldn’t have looked at or known about if he hadn’t mentioned or reviewed them. But I’ve also liked things he didn’t like. I would never choose not to read a book based on a lukewarm or negative review of one person, no matter who they are. And for me, star ratings without a review to back them up are not enough to base a decision on, they just contribute to the average & I do look at that, but just as one of several considerations. But, of course, that’s just me.

    I would point out it can be as problematic for readers to write reviews of authors they like , particularly if you are also a friend. I always state friend status in the review & people may dismiss the review because of it, but if a review is in me I have to write it. In a way, it’s pretty ironic. Reading a book you love makes you a fan, first of the book then often of the author. And sometimes you can go from being a fan to also becoming a friend. But it all goes back writing you loved. To me it wouldn’t make sense to stop reviewing the very books you love the most, just because they led to becoming friends with an author. And in a similar way it doesn’t make sense to me that people who love books so much that they want to write as well as read them & have the talent to get them published, should be the only opinions silenced.

    I *want* to read reviews by authors I love, if they want to write them.

    1. livrancourt

      I think you’re getting back to the idea that the best way of selling a book is by word of mouth, and these days, when your friends are just as likely to be on-line as in person, a book review is a way of getting a recommendation from a friend. I can absolutely see where you’d look seriously at reading any book your friend Alexis recommended. So would I – although I’m more than a little in awe of him. Where I struggle is with the inconsistencies in the system (KJ Charles means one thing by a 3-star review, while I may mean something entirely different) and with the idea that authors are somehow obliged to review each other’s work. Of course, it took writing this post and seeing all the comments for me to distill my primary concerns. So, food for further thought…
      And YES, I too would love to see book reviews from Alexis Hall. He’s pretty much a genius with words!

      1. Yes, the star rating system is definitely confusing. To begin with they don’t even mean the same things from one site to another. On Amazon it’s: Hate, Don’t Like, OK, Liked, Loved, while on Goodreads it’s: Didn’t Like, OK, Liked, Loved, It Was Amazing. So a 3 star on GR is equivalent to a 2 star on Amazon. Then there’s the question, what do the stars represent? Are you rating quality? Or are you just rating how much you liked? Personally I’m typically rating how much I liked, which means on GR a literary masterpiece & some piece of fantastically hot erotica can both be a 5 star rating. Still, I end up using stars a lot, because I don’t always have time to review. And I can’t always find the words for a review either, often with the books I love most.

        Oh, Alexis: I’ve only gotten to know him this year, since reading Glitterland the first time in January, but beyond all the talent he’s just the best, kindest person. Also, have you not read any of his reviews? He has a bunch of older ones saved at his http://www.quicunquevult.com/, under “Reading”. And he also blogs there regularly & at wonkomance.com

        This was a fantastic review from April: http://www.prismbookalliance.com/2014/04/the-silvers-by-jill-smith-review-by-alexis-hall/www.prismbookalliance.com

        And he reviews occasionally for Heroes and Heartbreakers; this was the last one: http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2014/05/surrendering-slowly-to-cecilia-tan-slow-surrender

        Okaaay, I think I’ve finished pimping out my friend 😉 If you look at the reviews, hope you enjoy!

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