I spent Friday absorbed in book reviews—researching book review sites in preparation for the October 15 release of Breeder, my erotic science fiction romance—and writing reviews of books I’d read in the past week, and that got me to thinking about reviews in general.
I can’t review every book I read, but I probably write reviews for most of them. But reviewing other authors’ books is problematic for obvious reasons. What happens if I don’t like the book?
- Do I give my honest opinion, ding their books, and risk offending them?
- Do I “lie” and give them a better rating than I feel is warranted and risk jeopardizing the credibility of all my reviews? Or is there such a thing as professional courtesy that applies to reviews?
- Do I skip reviewing their books and hope they won’t notice?
If it’s so tricky, why write a review anyway?
Because as an author, I know the importance of reviews, and I want to support my fellow writers. Reviews give feedback about their work, provide additional visibility for a book, and serve as an unofficial, anecdotal gauge of who/how many people the book has reached. (I have tweaked what I write based on reader reaction I received in reviews). Authors use excerpts from reviews in their promotions. For readers, reviews influence buying decisions by providing information that may not be available in the blurb.
Though I read for entertainment and pleasure, I also read “strategically.” I choose the books I read in this order:
- Books in my genres
- Books by authors I know
- Other books that look interesting
Most of what I read falls in the first two categories because I rarely have time to get to the third.
Reviewing is so subjective. What one person thinks is worthy of five stars, another will rate a two, and someone else may not even finish the book. Some people are “hard graders” who reserve five stars for a very short shortlist of the best books they have ever read while others seem willing to give five stars to anything.
Some people are “emotional” reviewers who judge a book solely on whim. (This is common in the spanking romance/domestic discipline genre where readers lambast a book because they dislike spanking. But then they continue to read and diss spanking books!) Emotional reviewing can come into play when a reader pans a book because a minor detail offended her. (An author I know got a ding because her book contained the word “squirting” to describe an orgasm).
Some readers are thrown by minor technical difficulties: a typo or two, a formatting error, and rather frequently, price. I’ve seen a lot of books get low ratings because the reader thought it was too expensive for the length. (Note to readers: unless if it’s an indie/self-published book, authors have no control over the price. If you’re unhappy with the cost, email the publisher.)
Other reviews attempt to apply professional, objective criteria to the plotting, characterization, dialogue, etc.
But all this begs the question. How, as an author, do you review another writer’s work?
This is my personal review policy:
- I will not pan another author’s book. Plenty of readers will be happy to award one and two star reviews, so my author friends don’t need me to do that for them.
- I choose not to review books I would rate as just “okay.” Some reviewers consider three stars to be “good,” but I personally don’t take it that way when I receive a 3-star review, so if I can’t give an author four stars, which I consider very good, then I don’t review the book.
- I don’t want to jeopardize my credibility as a reviewer so I don’t inflate ratings, but I am not a nitpicky or hard-ass “grader” either. I focus on what I like about a book within the context of its genre and whether I believe the average reader of that genre will like the book.
- I do point out things I felt strongly about, positive and negative.
- For me the difference between a four star and a five star rating is purely subjective and personal. Four stars is a very good rating; I’d recommend a four-star book to anyone. I hope my writer friends are not offended if I rate a book four stars. But, I’ve sensed that on at least one occasion I did hurt a fellow author’s feelings when I gave her book four stars.
- I rarely review “big name” authors. Nora Roberts doesn’t need my review. I prefer to use my time to review debut authors, authors in my genre, and other e-published authors.
- When I review a book, it’s almost always on Amazon because that’s where readers can buy it, and on Goodreads because readers hang out there. I often post on Barnes and Noble as well. I list my “recommended reads” on a special page on my blog, once a month I do a summary blog of the books I read that month, and annually I cite the “best books” of the year that I read. In addition, I have an intermittent blog series called “Favorite Lines” in which I quotes lines that struck my fancy from books I’m reading.
- Author friends sometimes ask me to review their books and I do that, but I do not accept unsolicited requests from authors I don’t know. My TBR list is too long as it is.
If you’re an author, how do you handle reviews of friends’ books? What is your personal review policy? Do you go easy on authors you know? Are you happy with a four-star review from an author friend? What if you got a 3 star?
By the way, tune in tomorrow for September’s list of “recommended reads.”