Home » Should Authors Review? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

Should Authors Review?

Should Authors Review? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

This week I’m addressing a question many authors ask: should authors review? First, let’s back up to a more important question:

Should authors read?

Yes!

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

My personal view is that authors should read both inside and outside their genre. The odd writing craft book doesn’t hurt either!

  • Authors should read inside their genre to understand current trends in subject and voice.
  • Authors should read outside their genre to get ideas and inspiration for their own books.
  • Authors should read writing craft books, because we all need to be teachable.

But should authors review?

Yes.

Well-written reviews influence sales, so writing reviews blesses authors you enjoy reading, and influences others to try their work.

Do authors have to review?

No.

Reviewing a book is one way of blessing the author. But it’s not the only way. There are other ways, tangible and intangible. Pray for them. Buy their books. Recommend their books to friends. Comment on their blog posts. Follow their blog. Sign up for their email list. Like them on Facebook and Amazon. Follow and Fan them on Goodreads. Like their reviews on Goodreads. Tweet their new release. Tweet helpful reviews.

Should authors review everything they read?

No.

You don’t have to review everything you read, and you don’t have to publish your reviews on commercial sites. Most websites have a clear set of reviewing guidelines, and authors need to bear these in mind when deciding what to review—and what not to review. We discussed the Amazon Community Guidelines in this post.

I believe that as Christians, we absolutely need to adhere to the rules of each website. In fact, I believe we should hold ourselves to higher standards, not just to abstain from unethical behaviour, but to abstain from the appearance of unethical behaviour.

For example, I’m a book reviewer and a freelance editor. While I have an obligation to review books I obtain from book blogger programmes (e.g. NetGalley), I can’t review any book by clients on a commercial site such as Amazon.

So where can authors review?

Commercial sites

Commercial sites are any sites which sell books to readers. These include Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookDespository, ChristianBook, and Koorong.

But just because you can review doesn’t mean you should. When reviewing on commerical sites (especially Amazon), ensure you only review within the sites reviewing guidelines. If you choose to review on Amazon, review a wide range of titles. Don’t only review books by friends or authors from your publisher, as that will look like a reviewing circle.

As a guide:

  • Don’t publish reviews which could be seen as promotional
  • Don’t denigrate books in the same category (books which could be seen as competing with yours).
  • Review under your author name, not a pseudonym
  • Don’t include the word ‘Author’ in your Amazon reviewer name
  • Don’t include ‘Author of …’ or refer to your own books in your reviews

Some authors do choose to review under a pseudonym (e.g. under their real name if they write under a pen name). If you do, you need to act as a regular customer, not an author. This means:

  • Review everything under the same pseudonym
  • If you copy reviews across sites (e.g. reviewing on Amazon and Goodreads), use the same pseudonym across all those sites (that’s good branding).
  • Never mention your own books in reviews or discussions
  • Never comment on reviews of your books. This catches a lot of authors out.
  • Always remain within the reviewing guidelines. Your real name might not be visible to customers, but the retailer has your real name and address. And someone with better Google-fu than you will work out your true identity.

Overall, I think it’s easier to use your own name.

Reader Sites

Reader sites don’t sell books directly (although they might link to retail sites, and they might earn an affiliate commission from those links). Reader sites include BookLikes, Goodreads (owned by Amazon), Library Thing, Litsy, and Riffle.

Reader sites are a more problematic than retail sites for author/reviewers. If you’ve been using a site like Goodreads for a while (months, if not years), and are a member of different discussion groups, then it might appear strange to change the way you use the site simply because you are now a published author. So continue using the site as you have done in the past.

If you are a published author and you’ve never used Goodreads, I suggest you set up an author page, perhaps link your blog, and then sign out. Do nothing. Observe for a period (perhaps months) before deciding if this is a community you want to be part of. Goodreads is a complex site with its own culture, and a lot of author-vs-reviewer angst could have been prevented if authors made the effort to get to know the site and its users before jumping in.

If you decide to participate in the Goodreads community, participate as a reader.

Don’t mention your books, or the fact you are an author. If people are interested, they will view your profile, see you are an author, and may be interested enough to try one of your books.

I think the major thing to know about Goodreads is that members use the rating system in a variety of ways. One star often means “I don’t want to read this book”. They might not like the cover. They might not like the blurb. They might object to the way the author behaves online. They might not like Christian fiction (in which case, it might be an example of Christian persecution, which calls to mind Paul’s pesky injunction from Romans 12:14, to bless those who persecute you).

I understand this behaviour annoys authors, who see it dragging down their average rating. But Goodreads is for readers.

Personal Website or Blog

This is your personal space, so review away. Host blog tours. Endorse. Influence. Interview authors. Guest post on other blogs. Gush about everyone and everything. Blog readers want to connect with the author, so give them the opportunity to connect with as many of your author friends as you want.

My only proviso with promoting other authors through your blog is that readers will judge your writing based on the writing of those authors you choose to endorse and influence. If you write Christian romance, you probably don’t want to be endorsing an author who specialises in erotica. If you review a book with obvious writing or editing issues and don’t mention them in your review, I’m going to think you didn’t notice them—which makes me wonder about the quality of your own writing.

Should Authors Review?

I hope I’ve convinced you that authors should review. Do you review everything, or do you only review titles you can recommend and endorse? This is something you will ultimately have to decide for yourself, but I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:

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25 comments

  1. This is such a tricky subject for authors, and I’m so happy you’ve addressed it. I used to review everything I read across as many platforms as I was using, but I’m tapering that off a little. If I can’t rate a book highly, I’m likely just to add it as ‘read,’ with no stars, no review. Great post!

    • Iola says:

      I’ve also started marking books as Read on Goodreads without leaving a star rating if I didn’t enjoy it. Although that’s not always reliable – I sometimes leave a star rating and find Goodreads didn’t save it, so I have a review with no rating. Odd.

  2. Anna says:

    I’m sorry to say, I’ve had some bad experiences. Several times I didn’t like the book I promised to review, and the authors still expected a good one. The pressure was incredible and I couldn’t hurt them.

    I’m ashamed to say that I lied. Promoting and raving about their work. After that I swore off any review. I’ve learned my lesson.

    That said. I will always help a fellow author when they can take or leave my feedback. I beta read and crit when asked.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    • Iola says:

      I’ve been burned as well, agreeing to review books that turned out to be awful. I now insist on reading the Kindle sample first if it’s a new-to-me author, and tell people that I may or may not review. That lets me off the hook if the sample is okay but it goes downhill from there. I want my readers to trust my reviews and recommendations.

  3. Adam says:

    I think writing a review is a good way to study a story, to really formally identify what worked and didn’t work for you, and why.
    I also think whether an author should share their review is very tricky. Sometimes a book may be very well written, but also be thoroughly outside an author’s taste. For example, I am no fan of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen. I recognize that they are skilled writers, but I do not enjoy them, and any review I might write would reflect that.

    Your thoughts on being both a reader/audience and an author are quite insightful, and I think it’s easy to forget that once one becomes a public figure (i.e. as an author), personal opinions cannot be publicly expressed so casually.

    • Iola says:

      Reading is a matter of personal taste. You don’t like Austen and I do. That doesn’t make either of us right or wrong (although I’m with you on Dickens). I think we have to remember that when we publish as well – a low-star review means that wasn’t our target reader, not necessarily that our book was “bad”.

      Also, you don’t have to publish every review you write. I have written several long, vitriolic reviews that will forever stay buried on my hard drive. But the act of writing the review helped me analyse why I didn’t like something, and that’s often more about me than the author (which is why the review stays buried on my hard drive).

      • Adam says:

        Mmm. I definitely think there is merit in writing a review as a learning experience, and I agree that low ratings should be recognized as evidence that the audience was not a good match for the story, but it’s also difficult to escape that many systems use the average of review ratings as a quick and easy way to rank stories, and a less well known story can easily be hindered by a few low reviews. It’s definitely a tricky system, no doubt about that.

  4. I agree 100%! I’m always honest in my reviews. I think it’s important to remember your readers can see your reviews so no slagging off other writers, books, etc. I try to keep my unsolicited reviews light and funny because I write light and funny books. Maybe someday some one will read a review I’ve written and think: “That girl’s funny. I’m going to try one of her books.” Then again, maybe not.

  5. Louise says:

    Great post 🙂 Lately I’ve not finished many of the books I’ve started because I didn’t get on with them, and I tend not to review those. When I do review I leave star ratings on goodreads mostly, although if there’s something I particularly like I’ll leave a full review. I agree it’s tricky to review as an author, because what we like and dislike can influence readers opinions of our own writing.

    • Iola says:

      Leaving star ratings is a good compromise if you don’t have time to write a review.

      And I agree on books you didn’t finish – Amazon and Goodreads do allow you to review books you haven’t read, but that does seem dishonest unless there is a really good reason you didn’t read/finish the book, and your review is a content warning.

  6. Great post 🙂 I review everything I read — it’s one way to remember what I’ve read and what I enjoyed about it. (Books tend to blur together after a while… But maybe that’s just me 😉 ) And hopefully it will give others the answer they’re looking for when I leave a two star review. I like how you’ve clarified how some readers review books — giving a one star rating without even having read a book seems like cruel and unusual punishment on the reading community as a whole.

    Ronel visiting on Author Toolbox blog hop day: Running Your Author Empire

    • Iola says:

      You review everything? Well done!

      I used to review almost everything, but it does take time and I do read a lot. As a result, I now focus on reviewing review copies and books I’ve enjoyed, and ignore books I didn’t finish.

  7. TD Storm says:

    Eleanor Catton had an essay years ago that convinced me not to give stars or ratings to books I read. “Starred reviews affix to all works of literature a kind of efficiency rating, which over time average out to a meaningless valuation somewhere between the middle threes and the low fours.” That’s not to say that a well-thought-out and honest prose review isn’t valuable, but she’s right that the starred reviews carry very little meaning. Here’s her essay: https://www.noted.co.nz/culture/books/eleanor-catton-on-literature-and-elitism/

    • Iola says:

      I often struggle over the star ratings. In many cases, it’s easy to write the review than decide on the rating – especially for those books I didn’t love or hate.

  8. Excellent advice – I 100% agree that reading is essential to building a good skill set, and that reviewing is one of the most basic ways in which we can help other authors, especially those just starting out!

    • Iola says:

      I think a blog is a great place to review. It will attract your target readers (and show people what you like to read). Also, you can review books by your friends on your own blog, which is a no-no on Amazon and some other sites.

  9. I never thought about all this, Iola. Definitely some food for thought here. I didn’t know Amazon owned Goodreads. I usually post reviews to both platforms. And yes, I review everything I read. I thought I had to in order to be part of that Goodreads book challenge. I think I’ll be more selective now. Thanks for a great post. I’ve shared it online. All best to you!

    • Iola says:

      Good on you for reviewing every book!

      But no, you don’t have to. All you have to do to have a book count towards your Goodreads challenge is to add the date completed. You don’t even have to add a star rating.

      Thanks for sharing!

  10. Kristina says:

    Great post. I only review books I like. My reason for this is simple. Once I started reading a book and thought it was boring. A year later, I picked up the same book and LOVED it. What if I’d given a poor review the first time around? Sometimes, whether I enjoy a book or not depends on my frame of mind, not what the author wrote. Hence, if I don’t like a book, I just keep quiet. I always enjoy reading your posts.

    • Iola says:

      Interesting that you didn’t like the story the first time, but that you tried again and liked it. I admit that I rarely do that – if I didn’t like it the first time, I tend to donate it. The exception is where I’m not in the right mood e.g. when I pick up a book wanting a light beach read and realise it’s going to be more serious.

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