Authors Reviewing Authors
Two questions for the readersphere:
- Do you think it’s appropriate for authors to post reviews of books/stories by other authors?
- Do you think it’s appropriate for authors to post negative reviews of books/stories by other authors?
Years ago, when I posted about the creepiness of one of the Xanth books, I was told I’d broken an unwritten rule by speaking badly about another author’s work. There was no substantive reason given; it was just against the rules.
Sure, fine, whatever. But I’ve been thinking about the author-as-reviewer thing a bit more lately, wondering about potential ethical pitfalls and such.
I’m pretty comfortable talking about books I’ve enjoyed and recommending them to others. That’s part of the fun of being a reader and a fan. I love posting a review and seeing commenters complain, “Dammit Jim, there goes more of my book-buying budget!”
I’ll usually try to acknowledge flaws or problems I encountered, even in positive reviews. But what about when the review is generally negative?
From a pragmatic perspective, there’s the potential for burning bridges. Will Chuck Wendig refuse to speak to me if I review his Star Wars book and complain that Jar-Jar Binks, Jedi Master made me want to burn my eyes out with a lightsaber? If I give a negative review to an author from one of my publishers, am I going to piss off my editor in the process?
At the same time, does a positive review lose value if the reviewer is unwilling to post a negative review? Do the rules still apply if it’s awards season and you’re discussing nominated works?
And finally, if a reviewer is ethically obligated to disclose any real or potential conflicts of interest, then as an author who could potentially be working with any of these publishers in the future, isn’t every review I post pretty much saturated with conflicts of interest?
I’ve got more thoughts and opinions on this, but I wanted to throw this out for discussion and see what other folks thought.
May 26, 2015 @ 9:34 am
First of all, I don’t think a positive review loses value if no negative reviews are posted, as long as the reviewer doesn’t do positive reviews for everything they come across to be “Part Of The In Crowd” or whatever.
I do think it’s appropriate for authors to write reviews, even negative ones, of other authors. HOWEVER your pragmatic perspective is right. As a fan, I don’t see a problem. But the author-reviewer’s own career could be in mild jeopardy for doing so. So not doing negative reviews would be smart on the author-reviewer’s part. You never know what reasonable critique the author-reviewer thinks they have turns out to be the authors, or editors, or whomevers most beloved part of it and the author-reviewer is forever on their List.
And there is the danger of ‘conflicts of interest’ for an author review. That’s why I said above to only post positives when it’s truly positive. At least fans of the author-reviewer will grow to trust them.
Jim C. Hines
May 26, 2015 @ 10:06 am
Trust is something I think about when blurbing books, too. Reader trust means a lot, and I don’t want to risk it by praising something I don’t genuinely believe to be praiseworthy, or blurbing just anything that comes across my desk.
May 26, 2015 @ 10:08 am
I’ve done many a review over the years, both kind and scathing. I find myself less inclined to review the work of my peers since becoming published myself; it is an anxious moment when you sit on a panel with someone whose book you shredded recently. I am also reluctant to even read new writers these days, for fear of discovering that they’re really not very good (and then what do you say when they ask for help promoting their stuff?)
But: Real professionals handle criticism with grace. I will always respect Joe Lansdale for that alone.
I do tend to review only nonfiction books these days, and exceptionally good fiction books, but I’m still willing to rip a bad book apart if I get sufficiently annoyed. In my current opinion, there are four basic types of books. One, a really good book that I will rave about. Two, a book that is well written that I simply do not like (and I always point that distinction out very carefully). Three, a book that is mediocre and just not interesting. And four, utter crap that belongs in the bin.
I think that if you write for the public, you have to understand that every reader and reviewer will put your book in one of those four categories, and that’s not something you have any control over. (Except category four. Seriously, that is SO VERY AVOIDABLE. And thus unforgivable.) And if you review books, you might consider this: Anyone who, in public, freaks out over a bad review, or behind the scenes causes drama and ostracizing, is a snowflake you probably would have riled up sooner or later anyway, so it’s best done sooner and gotten over with.
Angela Korra'ti (Highland)
May 26, 2015 @ 10:13 am
This is a thorny issue, yeah. I know several authors who flat-out refuse to post reviews of other people’s work. I myself used to post reviews a lot more often before I did my trilogy with Carina Press–and hand in hand with that, before several Goodreads brouhahas made it significantly trickier for reviewers in general to post there.
Now that I have work of my own out there, I will usually only post a review if a book REALLY blows my socks off, or if it’s a fellow indie author who could use the signal boost. Or for special circumstances, like the sweep I’m doing through the Hugo nominees for Best Novel this year. Otherwise I’m likely to just rate anything I read on Goodreads and leave it at that.
But I also know of at least one other author who does in fact regularly post reviews. He’s good at it, though, and keeps the gist of his reviews very very focused upon the book and whether or not it personally works for him. Me, when I do still post reviews, I try to make a point of doing the same. And even if a book didn’t work for me, also trying to find at least a couple of positive things to say about it if at all possible.
I’ve mostly moved instead to running a semi-regular promo column for other authors. ^_^
May 26, 2015 @ 10:14 am
I can’t speak to what other folks should do, but I only publicly review works that I enjoy. I do this for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t want to signal boost for things I did not like and two, fiction writing is really difficult and I don’t want to poop on someone else’s hard work. As an indie author, I feel like there are fewer pitfalls and conflicts in reviewing work by other authors than perhaps for someone traditionally published. I can fall into the trap of overthinking this sometimes and that results in no review. One thing I’d like to point out is that often the first readers of a work are the authors’ peers so to get things moving in terms of reviews and to offer support in this way can be important for those of us who aren’t that well established. So does the set of ethics/conflicts et. al. change between trad versus indie? I mean, if you want to build a supportive community than you have to be supportive when and where possible, too, right? Is there an ethical obligation to review peer work when you can? (Sorry. It seems I have no answers… only more questions.)
On Reviewing My Reviews - Shannon Ryan
May 26, 2015 @ 10:34 am
[…] So, today, Jim C Hines was writing about the ethics of authors reviewing other authors. […]
May 26, 2015 @ 11:10 am
An author-as-reviewer would likely not be the best idea and you site many of the reasons in your post. Even if you can compartmentalize enough to give an honest review of someone you know, or publishes with the same house, you can’t control the perceptions of those others involved. Basically, you are opening a real can of worms, for which Smudge thanks you.
My suggestion would be to adopt and nom-de-plume, or rather a nom-de-clavier, and review to your hearts content. You would have to build an audience as this new persona, but you’ve been through that process already and know how to navigate it. Just remember that your writing style is your signature as well.
May 26, 2015 @ 11:11 am
I think there’s a line to walk.
I think authors *should* review stuff because they have insights and can show it. It also demonstrates that they are a part of what’s going on and the conversation as opposed to being above it all. It also potentially means that a fan who questions or applauds something can see someone with a little more gravitas on the subject say something and compare. I also find author reviews invaluable because authors whose work I know and like or respect give me a way to mentally weight their reviews and appraise stuff in relation to what I already know. I can’t tell you how many books or new authors I’ve started reading because another writer praised (or damned) the work.
I don’t think an author *must* publish a negative review. But I would be a little disappointed if authors just refused to write a negative review at all. If it’s a job, part of the job is being honest. And omitting negative reviews is a statement itself. And there’s something false if a review fails to point out flaws, or if a reviewer only ever says positive things. If it’s not a job, do what fulfills your personal criteria.
In general, I appreciate reviews that point out both the good and the bad. People will flip out eventually even if you write nothing but positive stuff (if only because “why didn’t they review *my* work” or “why was my review not as positive?”), so at some point you might as well just bite the bullet and be honest. There is a distinction between reviewing the work and reviewing the author and just taking potshots at someone. The first one is ok, the second varies, the third usually is not. As long as the review is more the former and not the latter 2, I have a hard time seeing the problem with writing the review.
May 26, 2015 @ 11:13 am
That doesn’t really remove the ethical issues. It just attempts to hide them from the public. And if the identities cross or are revealed to have conflicts of interest (Jane Litte of Dear Author), it can backfire pretty badly.
May 26, 2015 @ 11:21 am
There is that, but nothing is completely without risk. If the reviews are honest then it can be argued that reasonable effort was used to prevent undue influence by the author doing the review.
I think it’s unfortunate that people have to give up being a person when they attain celebrity.
May 26, 2015 @ 11:23 am
Talk about a can of worms. That’ll work very well until the Internet finds out, and the Internet will find out. Then not only has poor Jim got all the flack for being an author reviewer with its complications, but he’ll run into a heap of trust issues for being the guy who give negative reviews while remaining amiable in his author persona.
May 26, 2015 @ 11:26 am
I would probably find funny sporking reviews like Spider Goddess probably a little off putting from an author to his peers, but I don’t see what’s wrong saying “Here’s what didn’t work for me and why.” It’d be illustrative if nothing else, especially if they’re about technical or structural aspects that non-authors could sort of feel was off but might not have the words for.
May 26, 2015 @ 11:29 am
I think in a perfect world there would be a more healthy review ecosystem, either (my preference) because authors would be able to do reviews of other authors without much fear of repercussion or because there would be a stronger set of reviewers out there.
Without that perfect world, I’ll take what you give us 🙂
My request would be: if there are more than 3-4 authors who you wouldn’t do critical reviews of, then don’t do critical reviews. It gets far too easy to end up picking on some authors while letting others skate by.
That said, having a formal or informal policy of reviewing and enthusing about what you like (while hopefully also being able to notice problems) seems fine to me.
May 26, 2015 @ 11:32 am
Don’t review in the author persona. I’m not talking about using the alternate ID only for negative reviews. This would be the only way he would review other authors.
If or when his true identity is revealed he has a catalog of reviews, positive and negative, that show as honest opinion. His case is then; this was a way for me to review without creating undue influence as an established author.
May 26, 2015 @ 12:07 pm
Good topic, and I think you have the right idea. It makes me very uncomfortable when authors promote themselves by denigrating other authors’ work. I think that there’s automatically a conflict of interest. I believe in author solidarity (as unlikely as that may sound), with SFWA being the prime example of writers working together, not slagging each other.
May 26, 2015 @ 12:12 pm
Your closing line shows the problem of the author-as-reviewer. You identify a negative review by an author as ‘slagging.’
May 26, 2015 @ 12:37 pm
I’d say it’s okay if it’s ‘punching up’ rather than down. Piers Anthony has published a squillion books, and I think it’s completely fair for you to say what’s wrong with one of his books. If you started negatively reviewing brand new indie authors, that might feel unfair – like you were pulling the ladder up after you’d climbed it.
OTOH, you could always make a blanket policy of ‘I don’t do book reviews’, like a lot of authors do. If you happen to bubble over with ‘Oh wow, I just read a great book!’, I don’t think anyone will confuse that with a proper review.
May 26, 2015 @ 12:46 pm
I am not a real author (only one book published), so I don’t really feel affected. But another rule has served me well during my professional years (and if you are an author, books are business): With praise select the widest audience and be as sweeping as possible, with criticism choose the smallest possible audience and be as specific as possible.
Therefore, I would not go public with a negative review as an author. Exceptions may apply.
May 26, 2015 @ 1:19 pm
Speaking as a fan/reader, I think the main thing that I like to see in any review, positive or negative, is specifics. “This book is awesome!” / “This book is garbage!” type statements without anything to back it up is just fluff. Personally I like reviews that have both good & bad in them – eg “I enjoyed this story because of A, B, & C, but I thought X character ended up flat and one dimensional” or similar.
In terms of disclosures, I would think that you only need worry about current and known (contracted or in discussions of contract) relationships, not relationships in potentia.
As I’m not a writer or involved with the industry in any way other than as a consumer, I don’t know what any unwritten rules/codes of conduct you might be up against; and if it would potentially have a downside on your work/career, then I’d probably avoid the negative reviews.
All that said, I would think discussing works nominated for an award fall outside those parameters; the works have been put up for discussion, so to speak, so getting your thoughts out there, positive or negative, is fair game, IMO.
May 26, 2015 @ 1:27 pm
One of the things I noted is that if you make it clear that that you don’t give negative reviews, and that a lack of review can come down to everything between ‘this book is awful and everyone involved should feel bad for not stopping it going to press like this’ to ‘I had to write my own book, so I can’t read anything that wasn’t page proofs or research’. So it’s more of a recommendation than a review. And it still comes with the ‘I thought this book was good enough to read, remember and blog about’.
A bit like if I ask someone what’s good that’s playing at the theater. They can answer ‘Action Film Five was worth every penny, including the three-dee glasses fee!’ or ‘I liked Serious Oscarbait, but not if you want brain candy rather than a thinky film’, but not tell me about ‘Sexist Bro-comedy’ because I didn’t ask about things I’d probably regret watching. Or they can say ‘I haven’t seen a movie in six months because I’ve been busy’, which isn’t a put-down on any of those movies.
May 26, 2015 @ 1:53 pm
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a writer reviewing another writer’s books, in principle. I loved Spider Robinson’s reviews in Analog back in the day, frex. But in practice, there’s so much potential for major screaming and drama and retaliation and snark that I don’t do it myself, at least not for anything I write. I’ll rate and review non-fiction, but I don’t touch fiction. You never know who’s going to turn into a crazed weasel if you dare speak less than fulsomely about their prized baby, and I don’t need the crap. :/
May 26, 2015 @ 3:07 pm
In my opinion, you should review what you liked/enjoyed. Negative reviews of books by your fellow authors could get problematic for lots of reasons, even if it’s just the ‘now I have to sit next to them on a panel.’
May 26, 2015 @ 3:49 pm
I think it’s wholly appropriate for authors to review other authors. As long as it’s clear that the person writing the review is a working writer herself (and thus could be construed as being “in competition with” the reviewed writer, though I personally find the notion of any two writers “competing” to be laughable because everyone’s work is SO DIFFERENT), why not?
I’d rather read a review by someone who writes for a living (or part of one), and who therefore is by implication both more literate generally, and better-informed about the mechanics of book-writing specifically, than a review by someone whose knowledge of books and writing does not go beyond “I heard they’re making a movie out of this so I bought it.”
May 26, 2015 @ 3:56 pm
I suspect part of the hostility is because a negative review might look like an attempt to smear the competition instead on an honest review. That’s a legit concern when the number of competitors in a field is relatively small, and I’ve seen it done on Amazon. But for fiction? Too much competition. Smearing a few authors is likely to have zero impact on your own sales.
May 26, 2015 @ 4:06 pm
I really enjoyed this post from a while ago (https://thereadingzone.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/the-critics-and-the-criticized-or-should-writers-write-reviews/) by Shana Mlawski. She lays out what she sees as the five kinds of reviews/criticism and the purpose of each; whether it is appropriate for an author (she applies it to herself and her approaches) to engage in a particular type of review.
Personally, I like reading recommendations from my favorite authors of books they LOVED and reading their thoughtful engagements with texts both to highlight well done/well crafted purposes and those that are problematic. For instance of the latter, Marie Brennan addressing the problematic absense of female characters in Rothfuss’s The Name of The Wind; a book she enjoyed, but still engaged critically with.
Re: the question of losing reader trust by only speaking positively about books–trust is built and won by consistently recommending books you actually do love and not just recommending friends’ books to make them feel good or bump their sales regardless of how you actually feel about the book. While this does run the small risk of author friends getting a bit miffed if you *don’t* write any recommendation for their book (for whatever reason, it just not being a book you loved), that’s for each person to decide whether it is likely in their friend groups to cause any issue and if yes, whether it is worth it or not.
TLDR; if you have the time/inclination to engage with problematic texts, I’m all for reading it. Otherwise, please keep on with the book recommendations!
May 26, 2015 @ 4:44 pm
As a reader, I’m more interested in positive reviews from authors. Basically, I assume that authors write the sort of books that they would want to read, therefore an author that I like has tastes that overlap with my own. So if an author I like gives a positive review of another author’s book, I might want to check that out.
I certainly think there’s a place for negative reviews, but I can certainly appreciate the awkwardness of a negative review of a fellow author’s work. And honestly, given the “so many books, so little time” problem, I don’t often find myself trying to avoid bad books so much as trying to figure out which of the good books I should prioritize.
May 26, 2015 @ 4:48 pm
I think it is appropriate to be slightly more cautious with negative reviews, if only because it’s easy for anyone to fall into a trap of not keeping things balanced. Regardless of whether the reviewer is a professional author or not, it’s important to remind ourselves to lay the same emphasis on the same criteria. So, say we write that “LovedItBook22” had a few small technical flaws, but was so (fun/interesting/loved the character so much) we didn’t care. An appropriate negative review (for a similarly written book) might be that “YuckYuck3” had very few technical flaws, but this one plot device (or character, or a certain trope) was so objectionable to us on a personal level that we couldn’t care. If we give gentle hand waves to issues in what we mostly like, it’s important to resist getting out the fine tooth steel comb and proceed to pick All The Nits! when we dislike it. Those of us who only review as non-writing folks slip into this trap much more often than professionals do, but it can happen.
I also feel that getting very detailed and technical on points of craft may actually be riskier as a professional, because while we all have preferences, there’s not a single right way to write. When critiquing craft I feel it would usually be more appropriate to praise pleasant results, maybe politely note if there are basic errors that shouldn’t happen in writing that aims to be on a professional level, and stick with not being too specific about the in-betweens unless you’ve been expressly invited to go there by the author being reviewed. It would be interesting, yes, but it’s very close to crossing that thin line.
Just my 2¢. 🙂
May 26, 2015 @ 5:06 pm
This is what I was thinking, all of it, but I couldn’t type it coherently. So I will just point at you.
May 26, 2015 @ 7:29 pm
As painful as it is, I think negative reviews by authors are good. The key part of it, though, is the reasons why it is negative. If the reviewer just writes “it sucks, don’t read it,” then it is being cruel. But, having a well-reasoned reviews with examples or points helps both the author and also the reader. Not attacking the writer is also key.
I recently gotten another negative review from an author that was all that. It hurt, but not that much because it was well-reasoned, supported, and written. And with a review like that, it was a good review.
May 26, 2015 @ 7:32 pm
Why is this even in question? Isn’t it long-established and conventional for authors to review each others’ works? Every broadsheet newspaper I’ve ever read has had authors reviewing authors. Peers are some of the best people to review the work of peers. If anything, the only ethical issues I’ve ever been aware of are in authors “log rolling” people from the same publisher.
May 26, 2015 @ 9:06 pm
I remember that Spider had a code. When he referred to the authors he used the first name if he knew them and the last name if he didn’t.
I think that most of the SF magazines have writers doing their reviews.
Mainstream book review sections often use professional writers and other experts in the field for reviews. Unfortunately, they sometimes deliberately pick a reviewer who has a major bone to pick with the author.
May 26, 2015 @ 9:11 pm
Yes, I believe authors should write reviews of other authors. As others mentioned, many famous writers did reviews at many points of their careers. The problems there are when they are unfair or dishonest in their opinions. Authors are often the source of many good reviews as they are more likely to be able to identify the better parts and the weaknesses. And as writers they will be able to convey this to their audience in a useful and entertaining way.
I personally think omitting all bad reviews may be a disservice as readers are looking for reliable opinions before they spend their hard earned money. I really dislike when a book has ALL glowing reviews, as any book will have someone who it didn’t work for. If all happy families are alike, then most rave reviews sound alike. I want to know what’s different about the story, the specifics about mood and character challenges. Forex I’m tired of young teens and angst wallowing instead of being active, so every reviewer who saves my lean budget of the 5-12$ for a book, gets my blessing.
The big issue for professional writers is to be honest and fair in their reviews. So avoiding doing reviews is very applicable in cases of conflict of interest, and bias against story or author. And I think it would have been cool to be reviewed by an author I like. At its base reviews are to help the readers and writers. If I’m fooled into buying a book I hate by glowing reviews, I not only will probably never buy them again, but tell my friends. and I will not trust the reviewers. I get more angry about being fooled, than if the book just wasn’t to my taste and never purchased.
D. D. Webb
May 26, 2015 @ 9:15 pm
I may have a useful perspective on this. Then again, I may just be inflating my own significance; let the reader be the judge.
I am a webserialist, and if you don’t know what that means, that’s why I think it’s relevant here. Webserials are exactly what it says on the tin: fiction published on the Web in serial form, usually a chapter at a time. At issue here is that this literary venue is not a big deal; compared to, say, webcomics (to say nothing of conventionally published work), serials are a tiny field with a relatively few people working and a pretty small readership. I only know of one person who actually makes a living as a webserialist, and as I recall his most successful serial (Worm, by Wildbow, which might be THE most successful serial yet published) got about twenty thousand daily views at the height of its popularity. In our little community, that’s a godlike level of accomplishment; for a mainstream SF/F author of modest success it would be a shameful serving of airline peanuts. If the genre as a whole is a bustling metropolis, the serial community is a sleepy little town.
As such, while we certainly don’t all know each other, most of us who work actively and regularly know OF each other, which magnifies the social concerns being addressed by this topic vastly, even as it diminishes the professional stakes. Not much money is changing hands (in many cases, none at all), but we all know very well who did what to whom and the person who did the doing has to face the rest of us quite directly and regularly.
I’ve learned a few lessons in this literary cabbage patch about reviewing my fellow authors.
First of all, it’s not only permissible but arguably vital. This may be a cultural peculiarity of the serial community, but I think the concerns on which it’s based are applicable in all literary circles. The word of an actual author automatically holds weight and credibility, justifiably or not. Our positive opinions can make or break a fellow author’s work; most of my own big increases in readership came from plugs by other serialists. Conversely, panning someone else’s serial can significantly hurt them, and when we all really only have the one forum in which we hang out and communicate, that is not a thing to be done lightly.
By extension, when everybody knows your name, you really cannot afford to fudge the truth. Giving undeserved praise to a bad work will harm your own credibility, and showing unnecessary vitriol to a competent fellow writer looks suspiciously like self-serving sabotage.
My observation in this tiny pond of writers competing for the same relatively narrow readership is that it’s a self-policing community that, by and large, doesn’t need or bother to self-police. While occasional little kerfuffles do occur when someone gets a scathing review, the general consensus is that part of being a professional is taking such things in stride. A person has to step pretty far over the line to provoke any significant backlash.
The most important thing I myself have learned, I think, is that reviews are no place for snark. Writers have a tendency to want to show off how witty we are, which is a fine enough thing in our own work, but is not appropriate when reviewing someone else’s. Tone can make all the difference in the world if you have to say something uncomplimentary. It always stings when someone points out the flaws in your writing, but if it’s carefully put, clearly showing respect for both the work and the author, it’s fairly easy to take in stride. Unnecessary meanness masquerading as humor in a review might make it a more entertaining read, but the purpose of reviews is not to entertain. That’s an excellent way to look like a jackass in front of your peers and readers.
How well does all this apply to the genre at large? It’s hard to say how much qualitatively changes when the community is scaled up by so many orders of magnitude. Generally I’d say the lessons acquired in a smaller community are still valid in principle on a larger scale, though the stakes of individual violations are smaller. With more people, more competing voices and more general clamor, I think you have correspondingly more leeway, but can only benefit from acting as if you were working in a smaller community. I see no professional advantage in being heavy-handed or dismissive toward fellow authors, but many potential benefits from acting under the assumption that you might find yourself sitting on a panel with a given person at any time. Likewise, in such a large pool of talent and readership, one person’s voice isn’t as important in promoting the genre or any individual writer or work, but the same risk/reward ratio scales up, I believe: you can do the genre (collectively or individually) a lot of good by posting responsible, professional reviews wherever you find it appropriate, but relatively little harm if you slip up.
So, to answer the specific questions posed, I would say:
1. I think it is not only appropriate but of great benefit for authors to review one another’s work.
2. It follows that it is necessary to review negatively when a negative review is truly, in the author’s estimation, what the work deserves, to which I would add a corollary:
3. It is absolutely vital that authors review one another’s work with consummate professionalism and respect, and not use reviews as a platform for showboating or self-promotion. Authors should, to the extent that they can without compromising intellectual honesty, be kind to one another.
Whether my particular perspective is truly relevant here or in fact renders me unable to look at the matter objectively I’ll leave to individual readers to decide. That’s how it stands as best I can see it.
May 26, 2015 @ 11:41 pm
My advice, for what it’s worth: do reviews under your own name (you don’t want to become the next “Requires Hate”; that trick never works), and be honest about whether you’re reviewing as a reader or a writer – you should be allowed to offer consumer feedback in the same way as anyone else. Don’t stop yourself from writing a negative review – but do consider twice about whether publishing it is going to be seen as “attacking the competition” or “punching down”.
Even if your book reviews turn out to be limited to “stuff I liked and why”, that’s more than enough to be going on with.
Caveat: I tend to believe negativity returns to sender with interest. Given I have chronic depression, and can therefore generate quite enough negativity on my own even on a good day, I try to keep the level of negativity I’m sending out down. I’m also not a published author.
May 27, 2015 @ 4:34 am
This issue confuses me too. Sometimes a book just doesn’t grab me, not because it’s flawed, but simply because it’s not my kind of thing, and the point of reviewing it is to let other readers with my tastes know it might not be their cup of tea, and to let people with different tastes from mine know that it might be to theirs.
But what if I think a novel that could have been good and interesting has serious technical flaws that should have been dealt with before it was published?
Clearly this kind of comment would not be well received by the editor of said book, who presumably is a professional who knows far more about craft than I ever will and had perfectly legitimate reasons for leaving in place all the things I saw as technical errors.
I always thought the unforgivable line is when one attacked the writer instead of simply criticizing their work. Big difference between saying, “The way X, Y or Z is portrayed in this book really bothers me, and here’s why,” versus “The author must be a creep who does or wants to do the things his/her characters do.”
But I’m still figuring all this out. I’m not published (and trying to be), and I sure as heck don’t want to burn any bridges by insulting anyone.
May 27, 2015 @ 4:38 am
To correct the error–I’m trying to be published, so I don’t want to burn any bridges. But even if I weren’t querying agents and subbing stories to magazines, I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or make unfounded allegations about their character.
May 27, 2015 @ 8:38 am
As a reader I like to know which books my favourite authors like.
As a writer, it does feel a tad unprofessional.
If the writer started off reviewing stories long before they sold their own books (and I mean long, long before), then I’m okay with them reviewing books – both positive and negative. Not so okay if the writer already has books out and then starts reviewing.
I do like writers saying good things about other books, rather than reviewing them. “Loved this book, couldn’t put it down” type thing. But they must be genuine. It’s a way of paying forward to other writers, and sharing and encouraging stories you enjoy.
May 27, 2015 @ 10:07 am
I asked my Google Plus group (Google Plus for Writers) what they thought about this a while back, and they pretty much universally said, review, review, review – even negative reviews can be helpful and at least indicate there are actual live readers out there.
For me, personally, I still don’t think I could do bad reviews for two reasons: one being that to for me it’s more of a “hey, I loved this book, and here’s why” idea, they way I would with real live friends; the other being my training is in academic history – we do pretty much nothing except book reviews and are trained to be highly critical in a way that isn’t helpful for fiction (how did Jim Hines use his source material? Does his portrayal of librarians indicate a bias toward a Marxist historiography of literature? snort). If I tried to write a critical review I’m afraid I would fall back into *that* pattern, and that is not helpful for readers (or writers) of fiction.
This has given me food for thought, though. Until I started writing, a review that said a “character was flat” wouldn’t have meant much to me. A review that said a story was a good adventure or that it was too violent (with some examples) would have – so I’m not sure reviewing a book with my writer’s hat on would be helpful either. I do think the “this book was fine but not my cup of tea” can be really helpful, but would I recommend that book to a friend?
I have picked books from “negative” reviews (example: I like really long, unwieldy tomes, so when a review says a book was too long, that’s almost a “must read” for me. But I’m weird, I know).
In contrast to that, I love the GRRM series that’s currently so controversial because of the portrayal of rapes in the show and in the books, but I probably would have been put off if I’d read the current internet convos about them as reviews before reading the actual books.
I also know that I’ve picked up books that you, Jim, have said you liked, and liked them too, so I guess that, to me, that’s what reviews are, a recommendation or opinion from a friend.
Not sure any of that helped, other than to point out that reviews mean different things to different people.
May 27, 2015 @ 10:35 am
We all have to build a platform, and we can’t do that solely with inside baseball opinion pieces. So I’d say reviews are fair game, including negative ones. As long as we retain some professionality in how we do it, we’re good to go.
May 27, 2015 @ 10:52 am
So I’m going to be the lone voice here and say, I don’t think authors should review other author’s work. To me, it feels a bit like a chef walking into another chef’s kitchen and going “Well this is good, but I would do this differently, but I do love this, but oh, get that off the menu.” Whether positive or negative, I think it’s rude.
On top of that, with social media, and blogs and FaceBook, I feel like the writing community can feel a bit incestuous. I see it on goodread and blogs all the time. One author reviews one author’s work, and then that author reviews the first author’s next story. Which would be fine, but the main problem with that is that none of the reviews feel honest to me. I want truly in depth reviews, highlighting the positive and the negative. And I’ve seen too many authors review fellow authors work and give it 4 stars, when there are some glaring problems with the work. (I’m not talking about taste here – I’m talking about basic grammar and punctuation problems, and you’re still giving it 4 stars?)
But I tend to be jaded about reviews in general. I also feel that way about professional review sites as well. I feel like anyone who runs a review site, or blog, and are getting free copies of books from the publishers, or are hosting author interviews on their site – Nope. Sorry. I’m not going to trust your reviews. (And yes, I understand it’s how the system works, and these things are co-dependent upon one another, but for me it’s a SERIOUS violation of trust. Especially when most of these sites barely, if ever post a review under 3 stars. They seem to have the occasional one or two star review that they like to point to to say “But see!! We give honest critique.” Yeah, 2 low reviews out of 100. I don’t think so.) I’m one of those readers who used to look for the highest and lowest reviews before buying a book. Now, not so much anymore.
What works for me as a reader is more along the lines of when an author I like and respect hosts another author on their site with an interview or lets them talk about their upcoming books. That way I feel like it’s getting a bit of a push from an author I trust, and can make my own decision from there.
TL:DR – I don’t think authors should review each other’s work. It feels unprofessional to me, and I don’t think that I, as a reader, can then trust that review.
May 27, 2015 @ 11:22 am
I don’t see why writers shouldn’t review the works of other writers, and I don’t think writers should skip over what they feel are the negative aspects of those works, particularly as long as the review focuses on the work, not the author and is legitimate critique rather than attack. Writers are usually readers as well, and IMO bring a valuable perspective to the discussion of a work. To me, “I read/watched/listened to X, and I have opinions about it,” is always legit, no matter who it’s coming from.
I really don’t see the conflict of interest, either, in most circumstances. In a general sense, you’re competeing with other authors/publishers for readers, but but that audience is so huge and so diverse that absent a concerted effort focusing on one particular author or publisher, your single review is not likely to have a great or lasting influence on anyone’s sales or career. I might disclose any particular connection–X also happens to be my publisher, or I worked with Y on Z project, but it’s not as if people who read your blog don’t realize that you are a writer and do have an interest in selling your own books.
NB–I am not a professional author [yet…] and may be stepping over unwritten lines left and right with both feet…But that’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.
May 27, 2015 @ 11:57 am
But again we return to the platform issue. There’s an expectation, within the industry, that authors regularly produce online content. This is going to take basically three forms:
1) Opinion pieces on events-of the day (which is very inside-baseball and even more in the weird space where publishing is half social circle and half profession “incestuous” issue)
2) Writing tips (which is a pretty limited subject)
With regard to “no reviews lower than three stars,” I’d say a review should be about a book that impacted you somehow. It should be a book you loved, a book you hated or at the very least a book that made you think or feel strongly. As such, I’d expect reviews to be polar; either vitriolic or glowing. And we’ve seen how, long term, the community responds to a review blog that is non-stop vitriol, so a person who is trying to build a platform to sell books is going to veer towards the glowing rather than the vitriolic.
I guess, what I’m saying is if you don’t think it’s ethical for authors to write things about other authors, that’s fine. But you should be leaning on publishers, editors and fans to not expect daily / weekly author blogs.
Kate (formerly Kate)
May 27, 2015 @ 12:38 pm
Of course they should. How is it a conflict of interest? You are using your understanding of the medium, your knowledge of what goes on under the hood, to speak to what another practitioner is doing. Saying that you shouldn’t is as ridiculous as saying that a mathematician’s proof should be reviewed by a committee of, say, medieval historians rather than her peers.
Artists reviewing other artists’ work, whether formally or informally, is a valuable thing, I should say, for everybody, including, if the review is fair, the two parties in the process. Should a reviewer make a fair attempt to confine their review to the work, rather than their opinion of the creator as a person – yes, absolutely. But to say they shouldn’t do it at all is, I believe, short-sighted, and comes more out of professional ego and fear and jealousy than anything else. (I say that as an artist practicing in a number of media, including performance.) It’s hard, to learn from a less than kind analysis of your work. On the other hand, kind analyses are often less than valuable.
Some of my very favourite reviews of books ever have been written by Ursula K. Le Guin, because her understanding of books and how they’re made opened up my understanding so beautifully, often on a broader scale than simply the book she began with. And she’s only the first I thought of, out of many literary greats who have had a secondary line in insightful reviews. Anyone wants to tell me that Ursula K Le Guin shouldn’t be writing reviews because conflict of interest – care to step outside? And even if one is not Le Guin, why not aim high if you’re aiming for anything at all?
Jim C. Hines
May 27, 2015 @ 12:58 pm
Do we have to? Rowling, Meyer, Collins, and others seem to have done pretty well without significant online presence or platforms.
Jim C. Hines
May 27, 2015 @ 12:58 pm
BUT WHERE DO THE CAT PICTURES FIT IN? 🙂
May 27, 2015 @ 1:02 pm
May 27, 2015 @ 1:07 pm
It’s not a must, but if you don’t have *some* online presence and platform to use, someone else will take that space from you and fill what you could put out with their stuff.
It can be a valuable tool (Pottermore) or like EL James and 50 Shades and other fanfics turned publishing hits, it can be what propels that deal to a megadeal. Ignoring the web is one option but it’s increasingly one that can hamstring someone.
May 27, 2015 @ 4:42 pm
LOL. I was just going to suggest something similar…In saying that there are plenty of things to talk about, so if an author needs interesting online content, I don’t think there’s any shortage. Although personally, I prefer pics of fat kitties myself. 😉
May 28, 2015 @ 2:14 am
Take that space from you, how? There’s plenty of internet — if some fan sets up a web site in your name and talks about your fiction, and you decide to start blogging later on, you can probably find another URL for your own site.
For that matter, these days you’re likely to find that someone else has the URL you wanted anyway, even if you go to set up a blog or a web site or a Tumblr or whatever as soon as you start writing or publishing. Some other woman with my name already had the URL I’d have preferred to have — both of them, actually, for both my pen names. Neither are fiction writers; they just have my name and wanted internet space for their own stuff. I just cussed a bit and used something similar.
It can certainly be valuable for a writer to have an active web presence. I discovered Jim Hines through his blog, and started buying his books because of it. But all you really need is a static web space you control — a classic web site, or a static page or three on a blog you don’t blog on, whatever’s easiest to use — to list your books and stories, the reading order of any series, and links to where they can be bought. Everything else is optional. And if a writer isn’t really into blogging or whatever, then forcing yourself to do it can be counterproductive.
Someone who’s really brilliant at blogging can certainly turn a web site into a major driver of sales. Someone who’s reluctantly blogging only because they think they have to can end up convincing the few people who trip over their blog that they’re boring, awkward people with nothing interesting to say. 😛
Angie, a Harry Potter fan who spends a lot of time online but has never bothered visiting Pottermore
May 28, 2015 @ 11:00 am
As a reader, I really enjoy when authors I like recommend books/authors (especially when they go a little bit into why they liked it and talk in general about the content so I can avoid or dive right in depending if it seems like my things) and I also enjoy thoughtful, honest reviews, but I do think more care has to be taken with the latter. Avoiding negative reviews unless they are “punching up” is probably the way to go, but a review that points out “Hey X, Y & Z were amazing, but part B and character E weren’t working for me because…” is useful stuff for readers and authors. I can certainly understand avoiding reviews or even recommendations all together, though I hope you will keep doing your recommendations!
June 8, 2015 @ 5:00 pm
I think the real problem was in the second line, with the default assumption that it’s a zero-sum game, and that any negative review of a work by an author is automatically an attempt at self-promotion. Which makes no sense. A really well-written, positive review of Author A by Author B is more likely to make me remember Author B as a good name to watch out for. I might even follow the link back to Author B’s website to see what’s cooking there.
On the flip side, a nasty, negative review will *not* make me think well of Author B, and depending on how well-written or well-reasoned it is, may even motivate me to try Author A instead. Meanwhile, I’ve now got Author B mentally tagged as “Asshole”. I try not to buy things from assholes.
Given all that, that last thing I would assume is that any author will leave a negative review for the express purpose of puffing him/herself up. Instead, I would expect that an author’s review will be left because the work caused a strong reaction, and the reviewing author chose to run the risks and share that reaction. I’m also going to expect it to be an informed reaction, from the point of view of a fellow artisan or artist. That’s a kind of insight that can be extremely valuable.