Friday, December 7, 2012

Too Afraid to Review?

I saw a conversation on Twitter the other day where authors were encouraging writers never to post a bad review of a book anywhere on the internet.

Why? Because someday that writer might want to work with the editor of said hated book, or he/she may need a blurb from that writer. We want to make friends, not burn bridges.

I felt a little defensive when I read this advice.

Do you think authors need to leave their critical-thinking caps in the closet when they're writing reviews? Should honest book reviewers never try to write novels?

I'm not talking about people who go out of their way to slam books just to be mean. I'm talking about thoughtful, critical reviews. Sometimes a thoughtful, critical review can cast a book in a negative light. We live in a culture where a bunch of three-star ratings can bring a book down.

While I'm all for preserving bridges and making friends and building relationships, I don't think editors are so egotistical that they cannot take a critical review of one of their books with grace. We all are trying to grow and learn. Editors, too!

I don't want to be afraid to give a two or three star rating on Goodreads if I think it's deserved. I would honestly hope any editor I worked with would be more interested in my book than in my opinions about other books. But maybe I'm too idealistic.

How about you? If you're a writer, do you shy away from giving honest reviews of certain books because of possible backlash? Do you avoid reviewing books at all? (If you're not a writer -- lucky you! You can review however you want!)

I'm really interested to hear what you all think, so please let me know in the comments!


  1. I think civility can get a writer a long way, and as you pointed out, there's a difference between absolutely slagging a book through use of sarcasm, hyperbole, etc., and offering thoughtful, measured criticism. People can review however they like, but our behavior online can make people react to us, and that's simply a reality. Writers, agents, and editors are human.

    I've chosen not to review anything, but that's just my personal decision.

  2. I don't do reviews. And I'd definitly never do it for someone I know personally. I guess I hadn't worried about editors, more the authors. But I think you're right, they probably can handle bad reviews, it's just a part of life.

    I feel like it's a lot of pressure. If I'm gonna give a 2 star review, I better have darn good reason, and be able to articulate it well.

    On the other hand, I appreciate negative reviews that really analyze a book, so I'm glad people write them. I just don't want to.

    It's be interesting to hear from someone (like CD) to see if editors pay much attention to Goodreads and Amazon reviews. Is it expected that they do that? And have they ever considered someone's review and made changes to a following book because of it?

  3. I like the fact Goodreads gives you the option to write a narrative review without having to use star ratings. I feel like that has enabled me to be honest when I felt a book had major flaws or I simply wasn't the target audience, without feeling I'd wounded someone's overall ranking to the degree they'd want to retaliate. But most of the time I don't bother reviewing books that didn't do it for me.

  4. No, I don't shy away from being honest, but I am VERY careful about how I say it.

    I think as authors, we all understand that we can't connect with everybody or please everyone so I don't take reviews like that personally either.

  5. It's time consuming to write a thoughtful review, so I only spotlight books I like.

    I do appreciate others who write honestly and critically. It definitely influences my choices, esp. when I'm buying.

  6. This is a tough subject for writers. I've read some really crazy posts by writers who say writers should never post a negative review. And I hate to give a friend a bad review or low stars. But I also know that readers are looking at what their favorite writers and fellow readers are reading and reviewing. So I'm torn.

    Now that I'm gearing up to publish my own novel, I'm asking myself some hard questions as I prepare to be a bestseller (kidding about the bestseller status, I promise). If I give a friend a 5-star, gushing review but don't truly mean it, am I misleading my own readers? Will they stop following my reviews and trusting my judgement? If I give a fellow writer a one or two star review, will that writer do the same thing to me? They sound like silly questions, but I think our online presence takes care and attention based on how we want to influence and attract readers. Do we go with 100% honesty? Do we go with 100% positive reviews? Or do we find some sort of balance?

    I know that I will never give a one or two star review - but only because I would never finish a book that deserves a rating like that. I don't have it in me to finish a one-star worthy book. There are just too many good books out there. And I don't review books that I don't finish.

    Okay, that was probably way too much info. :) It's a great topic to hammer out.

  7. Like Vijaya, I tend to only review books I liked--because life is too short. Honestly, if I don't like a book these days, I'm probably not going to finish it, and I don't think it's fair to review a book I didn't make it to the end of.
    However, I used to have a book review blog, and I spent a TON of time writing thoughtful, thorough reviews, basically dissecting every part of the book's craft. I had authors tell me how helpful this was, that they could see exactly the areas I didn't like, while I could still be positive about the book overall.
    Obviously when I have books reviewed someday, I'm going to WISH everyone would just love them, but, uh, that'll never happen. So to have a reviewer carefully express where the book didn't work for them would be a lot more enjoyable than random, "I hated this book and couldn't even finish it" reviews...which I see far too many of.
    And as a reader, I absolutely rely on those thoughtful reviews. One review isn't going to make up my mind, but if it's from someone I trust it will certainly sway my decisions.

  8. I generally only recommend books on my blog (so I only mention the books I really loved), but I do leave star ratings on Goodreads. Five-star books are the books I also recommend on the blog, but three- and four-star books are still good. I think we forget sometimes that not every reader has to love every book. We all have our own tastes (but that doesn't make those books bad books).

    On the rare occasion I give a two-star rating, I always justify it with a few thoughts about what didn't work for me. But as several others have mentioned, I do think it's important to write those less-than-glowing reviews with the most objective, levelheaded language possible.

  9. An excellent question. My opinion, as a reader and an author, is if someone has paid for the product, they are entitled to review.

    Just critique in a constructive way.

  10. I write honest reviews. I am a writer and a reader BUT I was a READER looooong before I was a writer. :)

    I write more of my harsher reviews on Goodreads and they are honest but I always try to find something positive. If I don't I just say the X didn't appeal to me but definitely will to someone else.

    With my blog I try to post honest but thoughtful reviews. I ALWAYS post something I felt needed improvement or changes ALONG with a lot of smiley faces and good things about the book.

    Thoughtful reviews are the way to go. They really impact my book buying, reading, library going self. I don't think we should shy away from harsher honest thoughtful reviews as long as they are in good taste and at least manage to find one thing about the book they liked.


  11. I write for two book review sites. On one site, we only review books that we like, and there is no star rating. The other review site is aimed largely at homeschoolers, so we review books,curriculum, and products. We have to write honest reviews, even if they are less than stellar. Now, we are careful to be kind in how we word things. We do articulate clearly what we liked, what we didn't, and who this might work well for. Our purpose is two-fold in posting both good and "bad" reviews: We want homeschoolers, who are often on tight budgets, to have the information they need to choose the best books for their kids. We also want to help authors and publishers make their products even better.

    It's so very hard to write a less-than-stellar review. I know people put a lot of time, effort, and money into their books and products. And when I'm looking up author bio information, I often read through a blog and feel especially bad because I really like the person! But, if they ask us to review their book and we aren't honest, then we lose all credibility with our readers.

    Being civil and kind is the key!

  12. Before I was published, I reviewed, and reviewed critically-- I just used a pseudonym. Cowardly, perhaps, but it seemed the best of both worlds to me.

  13. I have posted not-so-favorable reviews, but then have gone back to revise them when I've connected with those authors on FB or Twitter. It's tough because I'm trying to publish my memoir, so I'm careful about stepping on toes. That said, if there's no chance I'll have any contact with the author, then I won't care too much.

  14. I do only "shout-outs" of books I love, not reviews per se, although people call them that. That means I only cover books I can pretty much gush about. I used to do more balanced reviews, but then this issue came up online and a few agents were quite outspoken about writers not reviewing, and I took the advice. I even went back into my archives and took two reviews down. I think the fact that I only post on books I love is still helpful; they're book recs, plain and simple. I avoid Goodreads. That place is way too nasty.

  15. I don't just shy away from giving bad reviews, I shy away from giving any reviews at all--because I'm a writer. Something in the back of my head screams conflict of interest, intended or perceived. On the flip side, I tend to give less credence to reviews written by people I know are published. There's just that sense of good review=buddy, bad review=competitor, even when neither is the case.

  16. Hi Amy .. if the book is awful .. don't say anything. Otherwise put the positives in and leave it ambivalent ..

    But lots of interesting comments .. cheers Hilary

  17. I have no problems giving a 1 or 2 star rating, but a full blown negative review is another story. I follow my mothers advice here...if you can't say anything nice (or mostly nice), then don't say anything at all.