Should authors write book reviews?

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:

  1. Books in my genres
  2. Books by authors I know
  3. 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.”


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74 Responses to Should authors write book reviews?

  1. I pretty much do the same thing that you do! If the book was so bad that I couldn’t award it at least three stars, I won’t write a review. My reviews are always positive for the most part and although there may be a little critique in there, I’ll always end on a plus note.

    It’s difficult one – but I do know this – reviews are the lifeblood of authors/authoresses and, in general, less than 5% of people leave one. So each one counts!

    Great post 🙂

  2. I think this is so tricky. I also won’t review a book with anything under 4 stars. If the book (in my opinion and you’re right, it’s so subjective) didn’t earn 4 stars at least, I simply don’t review it. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but I also want to be honest and everyone’s opinion will vary. If it’s not my cup of tea, it’s just not my cup of tea – I’m one person and the next person will think differently.

    I’ve actually stopped updating my ‘currently reading’ list on goodreads in case I read a book I can’t review for the reason stated above and only add them after I’ve read them and am able to rate them 4 or 5 stars.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Yes, I’m hesitant to add books to my currently reading list for the same reason. I’ve also noticed that many people never get to their currently reading list! Some people have hundreds of books on their list.

  3. Kayla Lords says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. I won’t review something that I can’t give at least 4 stars – especially if I know the author. I’ve been lucky (knock on wood) that I haven’t read anything truly awful recently.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I read one this weekend by an author on Twitter who has been very good about retweeting my promos. I really, really wanted to like his book. And I did like it–he had a very sexy concept, but the POV was SO messed up, I couldn’t give it more than 3 stars. It was the the kind of book that had tremendous promise but was not ready for publication yet.

  4. Casey McKay says:

    Reviews! I feel like this is such a hot topic lately. I am the same way though, if I don’t feel like it’s worth at least 4 stars I won’t review it, but then I don’t want to make it look like I only give 4 and 5 star reviews. Do you think that makes us seem less credible as reviewers?
    But even before I was writing, I would only ever leave a review for a book if I absolutely loved it (or if I felt the book had some unfair bad reviews and I really enjoyed it). I am just not the type of person who feels good posting negative things.
    I was finishing up reviews last night and I was trying to decide what distinguished a book between 4 and 5 stars for me and I couldn’t pin point it. You’re right, it’s just subjective. If I get to the end of a book and feel like I want to re-read it at some point or would love a sequel, it’s a clear 5 star- but really not hard and fast criteria.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I think a lot of people look at glowing author reviews and think that we only give positive reviews. They don’t realize that we’re not reviewing the ones that we can’t give positive reviews to.

  5. P J Perryman says:

    It’s certainly a dilemma, because we are considerate beings and we know we’re custodians of a very sensitive part of a writer’s heart. Personally, I’m thankful people have supported me by taking the time to post a review with any star rating. I am fortunate, in that I choose to review writers from a certain pool where I know the quality of the work is high to begin with. I am also careful to read a writer’s sample, if they have one, before taking the plunge and accepting the work. I read recently there is too much negativity in the world, and I’ve no desire to add to it. It makes more sense to uplift and support, rather than trash and demoralize. But at the same time, we’re not only writing the review for the writer; the most important recipient is the reader. If every book gets a five star rating; what value is there is in the rating system at all? So, like you, if (in my opinion) the book deserves a low rating, I pass. And I would let the writer know too, because whether they ask you or no, they are looking out for your review. We cannot control if they understand or not, all we can do is act on our own conscience and integrity, and pray we do the right thing. Thank you.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Yes, even though we try to help our fellow authors, reviews are for readers and it does not serve them if the reviews are positive but the book isn’t good.

  6. While my list isn’t exactly the same as yours, Cara, I certainly have one in my head. One of my rules is “If I didn’t get into it because it doesn’t match my personal kinks- I either say that in the review or skip reviewing said book.” And I refuse to give 1 or 2 stars, at least posting it- depending on the author, I may give it directly to the author as feedback. Yeah, I avoid the big names often too.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      That is an issue with erotic romance/erotica: what is hot and sexy? What is a turn-on? What is a turn-off? Is it fair to ding someone for a solidly written story that somehow offends you, turns you off, or doesn’t turn you on?

      • I generally don’t think so. Admittedly, I’ve been one of those “BDSM lifestyler” voices talking against FSoG. Or at least, I’m selective where and how I talk about kinks- like my post last week talking about my mixed feelings on the trope of “anal activity as a punishment in DD”- that was on my personal author blog, not part of any book’s review.

  7. Cara,
    My review techniques are almost exactly like yours.
    I want to help my fellow author, but don’t want to “lie” to the readers.

    I also have a huge guilt complex. I feel badly if I can’t say something nice about the book. I even have a tough time when Beta reading for the same reason.

    I am honest with my constructive feedback, but it still makes me feel uncomfortable thinking that I may have hurt that author’s feelings.

    And I have stopped doing my “currently reading” ‘s also. I had several embarrassing moments where I publicized the book I was reading, only to find out, it was not my cup of tea.
    I kind of learned the hard way with that one.
    Great topic!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      It’s hard to criticize another author’s work, especially when the author is friend, as she probably is if you’re beta reading. And every author would love to hear, “It’s wonderful! Don’t change a thing.” But beta reading is a time when you can catch the issues and prevent your friend from receiving a negative review. It’s always a good idea to have more than one beta reader, I think, because still personal likes and dislikes influence how one reacts to a story.

  8. Great article – I like your policy and will use it to refine mine.

  9. Sheri Savill says:

    I have strong opinions on this, as some of you may already know. I’ve been reviewed negatively by other authors a couple of times and it’s always been a real WTF?-moment for me, because it wasn’t even someone who reads my genre. I mean, WHUT? Also, I was brought up with the “Can’t say something nice, STFU and tend to your own knitting” thing, so that’s my own bias in this. And of course it helps if the reviewer, author or not, can at least be semi-literate as they inform the world that I am not literate. Some of my reviews are absolutely insane and I hate not being able to fire back. It goes against everything I was taught in life. Anyway. For more of my blustering opinions on this topic, see my website. I say things I’m not supposed to say. I do like to eff the ineffable. I figure I have nothing to lose. 🙂

    • Cara Bristol says:

      The most unfair reviews often come from people who don’t read the genre. That’s why I think it’s important to take the genre into account when reviewing a book.

  10. Cara Bristol says:

    Here’s another question for you all:
    What matters most to you in a review, the story or the writing? Is it easier to give 4 or 5 stars to a book that is well-written, but you don’t care for the story OR you like the story, but the writing needs work?

    • AE Lawless says:

      Considering that it’s rare for me to make it past the first chapter of a book, I would have to say the story. If the writing doesn’t work for me I don’t finish it, plain and simple. So the only thing that really gets reviewed is the story.

      I feel like that makes no sense, but it does in my head, so…

      Basically I guess what I’m trying to say is that writing is a non-issue for me in terms of a review. If it’s bad, I don’t finish the book and therefore don’t review. If it’s good, it just fades into the background, a frame around the story and the story is what takes center stage in the book and in the review.

      • Cara Bristol says:

        For me, there are two key parts to a book: the story and the writing. When both are great, it’s a real pleasure to read. I’ve read books that were well-written, but I didn’t care for the story, and I’ve read fantastic stories that were murdered by poor writing. If a story is boring or offensive to me, I tend to not finish it, but if the story is good and the writing poor, I tend to finish it but not review it. I read a lot of books in my genre that need more editing–not to fix typos (that’s proofreading), but editing, more focus on showing rather than telling, tightening of sentences, more creative verbs, elimination of word repetitions, etc.

  11. AE Lawless says:

    I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve stopped reviewing. I’m VERY picky about what I read and have a lot of pet peeves that I know other people don’t share. I would never review negatively based on those things. In fact I don’t finish those books for the most part (85% of books I start I never finish) and I never post a review or rating for a book I didn’t finish. I try to be as positive as I can in my reviews but certain authors know I’m reading their books and expect me to review it. I try to be as positive as possible while also being honest. However, I recently got a nasty message from an author friend for what she thought was a “negative” review and so have made the personal decision to just stop reviewing.

    I’ve never liked the concept of reviewing anyway. No one else’s opinion on a book (or a movie or tv show for that matter) has ever helped me make a decision on whether or not to read or view it. I don’t think my opinion of something matters all that much to anyone else; I’m just not that important. But I did review books because I know as an author what receiving reviews can mean for promotional purposes and also future projects. I felt like it was my contribution to the author community, small as it was. But it was never something I felt comfortable doing and now feel very alienated from.

    I think as a whole, authors are very sensitive about reviews, and I can’t say I’m exempt. There have been a few that have just really made take a step back and go “okay, don’t argue with this crazy person because that just makes you look crazy” But I think if we constantly walk on the tightrope of trying to be honest while not offending anyone with our reviews, than what value do they really have? If we’re all trying not to offend and just posting positive reviews, then what’s the purpose? In my opinion if you’re the type of author that enjoys reviewing then review honestly 1-5 stars, doesn’t matter, put what you feel. No need to be nasty, but honesty is good. If people get offended by negative reviews they’re in the wrong business. Writing is not for the thin-skinned. I would definitely value a “good” review from an author I knew rated on the whole spectrum rather than a “good” review from an author who only rated 4 and 5 stars. But that’s probably just me. I can understand where it would feel uncomfortable rating something negatively for a friend or colleague.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Wow. You don’t finish 85%? You must be a “hard grader.” I probably don’t finish 5%. But I almost always get the Kindle sample first. Of the Kindle samples, I probably only end up buying 25-40 percent, so maybe we’re not that far off.

      • AE Lawless says:

        I think I’m just apt to give up quickly. I know what I don’t like and if I run across it, I quit. End of story; I don’t keep reading hoping it will get better. I give myself so little time to read I won’t waste it reading something that I think will just end up being “okay”. I have to know I’m going to love it to keep going. But yeah, I know I’m really picky and I know most readers aren’t as picky as me and that most of my pet peeves are very personal and while they would make me put a book down would never bother the average reader. I probably have about 3000 books on my nook that I never made it past the first chapter.

        • My first book had several good reviews. I floated along happily until a the lady who runs the library, said she couldn’t get past chapter two and stopped reading. She admitted she doesn’t care for romance novels. Her poor review taught me to improve the way I handle chapter one. I think I accomplished this in my second book. I was also pleased that my feelings only felt bruised for about ten minutes. When I give a 3 star review, I explain why, knowing that it may help the author in the end. An example of this is when I say the book (thriller) was too scary or frightening. This would encourage many readers. I would never be malicious. Have a great day!

          • Cara Bristol says:

            If she doesn’t care for romance novels and you wrote a romance novel, she is not a good judge of the book.

  12. Great discussion, Cara. I think that it does pose a bit of a sticky problem when authors review other writers’ work. But writers are also readers. In our genre it seems that very few readers are willing to leave reviews and I assume this is because they don’t want to risk “outing” themselves, so most of the reviews are by other authors.

    I have not written any Amazon reviews for several months, but I have tried to make up for that by featuring books on my blog in various capacities. I’m not sure if that’s sufficient or not.

    I’ve been burned a couple times by posting something on a blog or social media saying I just bought a certain book and couldn’t wait to read it…and then didn’t finish, so I’ve learned that lesson.

    Also, I might give feedback on a book as a Beta reader but once the book is for sale, I’m not going to say “gee, I wish you had done this or that” because that’s not helpful.

    Many good points to consider, Cara.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I’ve noticed the reluctance of spanking fiction readers to leave reviews, also, Celeste. I think you’re right. Reviews are public, and readers probably don’t want to be associated with our kind of fiction. But I guess as long as they continue to buy our books, that’s the best thing!

      You do a lot to support other authors, Celeste, even without Amazon reviews.

  13. Great post.

    Reviews are so vital and most readers don’t understand what kind of power they hold. You have a great policy in place, never feel guilty about it. You balance a desire to support with honesty and professionalism. You can’t go wrong.

  14. Such a tricky situation, I agree. I’ll probably be slammed for my approach, but here goes anyway.

    I also know authors who have been unhappy with four-star reviews, and I can understand why. The fact is, most books have an Amazon rating somewhere between four and five stars. That means that a four-star review, while positive, will actually lower their overall rating. As a reader, I think I’ve unconsciously absorbed the fact that most reviews are positive, so when I see four stars, I translate that as “Not bad, but not great. Probably not worth your time.” Three stars mean there are serious problems, and one or two stars mean the reader is angry about something.

    For those reasons, I never give anything but five stars. That makes me a terrible reviewer, I know, but my priority is to support other authors, and in my opinion, only a five-star review truly does that. If I feel that I can’t give a book five-stars, I don’t review it.

    Lately, I’ve had so many friends releasing books that I can’t possibly keep up, and I do worry that some of them will think I skipped reviewing their book when the truth is I simply haven’t had time to read anything outside of my genre. Tricky, tricky, tricky.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thanks, Sharon for your perspective. It illustrates the subjective nature of reviews. The way you describe a 4 star is how I would describe a 3 star. I see 4 stars and think, “it must be pretty good.”

      I think I’m influenced by my genre (erotic romance, and particularly spanking romance) which often receives less than stellar reviews from readers who don’t appreciate the genres.

      I can’t keep up either with all the books my friends are releasing! And in epublishing, in which many authors write novellas, authors tend to be very prolific.

    • I agree that most one or two star reviews are angry about something! And it never occurred to me that anything other than five stars would lower many books’ ratings, but I think you’re right.

      With half a dozen kids, I rarely have time to read, and when I do I usually read thrillers. I read some romance, but if I read too much I get burned out. If a book really speaks to me, I will leave a review even if it’s a big name author. Wish there were another five hours in the day so I could read (and review) more. Lol

      • Cara Bristol says:

        Whether 4 stars lowers your rating depends on what your average rating is. If you have a 4.5 or a 5 star rating and you get a 4, yes it will lower it. If you have a 4 average and you get a 4 star, you just maintain. It’s like school grades: If you have a A at the mid-term and you get a B on the final, your grade drops. If you have a B and you get another B, you stay the same.

        I wish ratings allowed one to post in half increments like 4.5 stars.

  15. LA Cloutier says:

    Very thought provoking blogpost, Cara.
    When I write a review I do so from the aspect of a ‘reader’. Until recently I’ve not felt the pressure about reviews from the ‘author’ side of things.
    Reviews are very important to me as an author. It tells me what people thought and if they liked my work. If they didn’t like it simply because the story was not to their liking and they give it a 1-3 star that’s fine… not everyone likes bacon either.
    If they give it a 1-3 star rating and state the reason was because of typo’s or words used out of context. Or something like this story had promise, but could have used a few more edits to polish it up… well, I take that to heart. I don’t get upset by them. (okay, well they do sting a little, but it tells me what I need to focus on more).

    Cara, if I was the author of that book you said you thought needed more work before having been published I would definitely want to know. How will new authors know what to change about themselves or their style if fellow author friends don’t tell them because they’re scared of how they’ll react? In this situation, (an author reviewing a fellow author), I think the review is even more valuable no matter how many stars they give.
    I understand that 1-3 star ratings can bring down an authors average rating, so not leaving a review because you don’t want to tarnish their overall rating is very understandable. But then again, if you think their book needs some serious work and chose not to tell them about it, how will they ever get better?
    I leave only 4-5 star reviews also because I don’t want to feel guilty about having tarnished a writers reputation. I can always find the good in something and focus on that and thereby honestly leave that 4-5 star review. But if there was something about their work that I really found annoying as a reader I’ll send them a private message and tell them about it. They deserve to know, and what they do with my opinion is totally up to them.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I wrestle with that, Lisa — critiquing another author’s published manuscript. I agree it’s information that would benefit the author, but I can’t imagine that it would be well-received. I will say that the person in question is self-pubbed. I’ve read some excellent indie books, but I truly have itched to edit others that I’ve read. Yet for many of these authors, their sales are good. So maybe it’s a nonissue.

  16. Emily Tilton says:

    Thanks so much for taking this on, Cara. The one thing I don’t see being talked about is what one does about the books one doesn’t review because one can’t give an honest four or five star review. I kind of wish people were more in the habit of mailing those author-colleagues to say “I read your book, and I didn’t love it; do you want to know why?” and then (assuming an affirmative response) just giving a couple of sentences worth of feedback. It’s not getting feedback that really kills me, as a new indie.

    • Sheri Savill says:

      Emily, I understand you, I do, but I’m sorta the opposite there, in that I really don’t want people (anyone) emailing me with criticism out of the blue anyway. *If I don’t ask for their opinion*, I mean. None of this: “Hey Sheri, I’ve decided I’m not going to post a review of your book because, well, I didn’t care for it. Here’s why…” I actually had an author do that. Proceeded to give me all manner of “pointers” that I never asked for. WTF? Yep. I attract ’em, I’m tellin’ ya.

  17. Viv says:

    I pretty much follow your same process: I only “review” books I’m prepared to give four or five stars to. I read substantially more than shows up on Goodreads, but I’m a picky reader and a hard sell, and my peevishness has no business affecting another writer’s marketing plan. The rare books/authors that impress me, however, get the full force of my fangirling. You poor folks. 😉

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I think being writer makes one a more critical reader because one is more aware of the mechanics. Word repetitions are my pet peeve. They leap off the page at me.

  18. Whitley Gray says:

    Hello, Cara.
    I’d say my philosophy is very similar to yours about rating, and which authors I choose to “grace” with a review. The NYT bestsellers don’t need help, but new authors do. Since I read mostly in my genre, I have a fair idea of what’s out there and what I will and won’t like. Every once in awhile I get surprised, but I won’t diss another author–I don’t write a review.
    Some authors say they don’t care about “how many stars” a book gets, but I think everyone has feelings. And readers do look at the number of stars. Bad reviews can affect sales.
    Thanks for mentioning that authors can’t set price–if a reader doesn’t think they got enough bang for the buck, it’s not the author’s fault!
    Nice discussion.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thanks, Whitley. I have a long list of authors I know I will like, but I add new ones all the time. Indies are a grab bag though. You never know what you’re going to get. I do like Kindle samples!

  19. Paloma Beck says:

    I nodded my head while reading your post. If I read a book and would give it 3 stars or above, I will always at least rate it on goodreads. I try to put at least a sentence or two in review but not always. Like you, I also do a monthly post highlighting books I read and enjoyed that month.

    When I became published, I gave up my reviewer gig with a site because it wouldn’t work anymore for me to be reviewing authors I was meeting on a different level now.

    I think as authors, we might be in a good place to recommend books rather than review them. This leaves out those books we wouldn’t recommend and steers clear of being offensive to our peers.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      That’s a good point, Paloma, about recommending books, rather than reviewing them. It’s something to consider. I would worry though, as Celeste pointed out, that readers tend to be leery of posting reviews for spanking fiction. I fear we’d have a bunch of orphan spanking romances with no reviews — other than the 1 and 2 star ones from people who bought a spanking romance not realizing it contained spanking.

  20. I don’t review books as often as I rate them through Goodreads. I don’t post many reviews to Amazon even though I know how influential they can be because I’ve always been paranoid about the whole “author reviewing another author” problem Amazon has. That being said, I have left reviews on Amazon, especially if the book is the author’s debut.

    I also don’t give less than four stars. If I didn’t like it enough for that I just don’t rate/review it. I’m such a voracious reader I doubt anyone would notice if I didn’t rate their book.

    Story is more important to me than writing – to a point. There sometimes comes a time when the writing is so bad the story can’t trump it. I do DNF way more books these days. I have around 200 unread on my Kindle right now (you’re welcome, authors, lol) that if I’m not enjoying the book for whatever reason I just move on.

  21. Wow! My post is #46. I think you have pushed some buttons here Cara. I agree with much of what you said.

    Here is the button you pushed with me. The thing that really hits home is where readers will trash a spanking romance for containing spanking. I just don’t understand this and it frustrates me even more when the product description clearly contains a warning. Of course, these reviews stick out like a sore thumb. I have seen many reviewers go back and leave comments for these reviewers, championing our genre. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Or get some help for your latent spanking fantasies that are tearing you up inside so much so that you inwardly are compelled to read them, but outwardly must vent and rail against them to soothe your guilt.

    I also got a review the other day that called my heroine who had suffered a quite brutal rape, a “spineless bimbo”. That made me angry. Who blames the victim? Maybe that pushed a few buttons as well?

    As a new author, I try to look through the reviews and pick out the constructive criticism so I can improve my craft. I welcome these wholeheartedly and will happily accept a two or a three if it is constructive and will help me grow as an author. The derogatory remarks are at times hurtful and the issues with formatting and price frustrating. But, I am trying to develop a thicker skin.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      “Or get some help for your latent spanking fantasies that are tearing you up inside so much so that you inwardly are compelled to read them, but outwardly must vent and rail against them to soothe your guilt.” LOL, Maggie!

  22. Lucy Appleby says:

    What a fascinating and thought provoking discussion. My view is that once someone starts sharing their writing, then like it or not, they have to learn to take criticism.

    I have bought some 5 star reviewed self-published works from Amazon and found them to be absolutely awful. This annoys me, not because the books are awful, but because the reviewers/friends of the author have not presented a fair and unbiased opinion. Being basically a kind-hearted soul (I think!) I have no wish to upset someone by slating their book no matter how deserving it is of being slammed. However, if that person is known to me and asks for my opinion privately, I will give it honestly, along with any suggestions for improving things.

    A vanilla friend of mine told me recently that she always heads straight to the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon, and makes her own independent assessment of the quality of the writing, and decides from that whether she will purchase the book. She was previously influenced by heaps of 5 star reviews only to find that when she bought the book, the writing was poor and the story full of holes.

    It’s a fact that most authors would be delighted with a five star review, but to gain five stars for merit as opposed to getting all your friends to review it is far more meaningful…

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Lucy, I agree with you. Getting negative reviews is part of the job of being an author. Not everyone likes the same books. And I don’t want to make it sound like I am opposed to anyone rating a book honestly. I’m not. If someone doesn’t like one of my books and gives me a 2 star or a 1 star (and I HAVE those), I accept that.

  23. Sheri Savill says:

    Well, I’ve been ranting about reviews for ages, Cara’s just a household name. 🙂 Seriously, Cara, this is a great topic and obviously we all have our … feelings about it.

    As for what’s more important, story or writing, to me it’s writing. If I’m not pulled in during that first few pages — yeah, paragraphs, even — I wander off, never to return. I bore myself in my own books, too.

    Which kinda gets me back to my feelings about reviews. I’m very hard on myself; I don’t need someone else to pile on, really. Especially when I don’t see them as qualified, and most aren’t. Not to be too arrogant, but writing criticism from people who have no idea of my background? Irksome. And this IS fiction. There are liberties. Or there should be. And above all, this is smut. Yep, I said smut. This ain’t Shakespeare, is it? No.

    Also, no one’s really touched on it much here, but I’ve heard that “bad” reviews actually help sales. I don’t see that personally, yet. Heh.

    But hot damn, why do I get the ones who review nothing but auto parts and bathroom plungers, and then come along and read one erotica book (one) and decide to tell me what’s what about my writing? And with a tone! of! authoriteh! no less. Whut up wit dat, homegurls?

  24. Sue Lyndon says:

    Great post, Cara. I think all authors should read this post! I mean…I cringe when I see authors giving their fellow authors 1 and 2 star reviews, publicly, using their published name. Not cool! I just don’t understand why they think it’s okay. I’ll stop now before this turns into a rant LOL. Again, great post. 🙂

  25. Cara Bristol says:

    One thing I should mention, in case it’s not clear, is that this post is focused on authors writing reviews of other authors, and my personal policy and reluctance to ding other authors. Not readers writing reviews.

    I am in favor of readers writing honest reviews–if they feel one of my books is a 1 or 2 star read, so be it. Yeah, it might hurt my feelings for a moment, but I’ll get over it. Mostly I roll with punches.

    It’s different when you’re on the author side. I don’t want to hurt another author’s feelings. So I don’t inflate reviews, but I won’t post negative review. My “negative reviews” are the one’s you don’t see publicity — they’re the books in my DNF file in my Kindle.

  26. This is really interesting! I’ve definitely thought about this, and here’s what I came up with:

    I RARELY review a book in the DD/Spanking genre. That’s actually because they’re either authors I’m publishing myself, authors I wish I was publishing, or authors I know of or are even competing with. The authors I work with I’m proud of, and they should know it without me writing a review about a book I’m working with. Honestly, if I hated it I shouldn’t be publishing it, anyway, which means I’m only going to give good or great reviews on everything, making my opinion worthless. Besides, the review might sell more books, and thus be financially beneficial to me, so my opinion is not only worthless, but self-serving in a way that other authors would find contemptuous of not just me, but my author that I’m reviewing for. If I review OTHER people’s books, I’m afraid my authors will wonder why I’m not reviewing theirs as well.

    Also, I worry to get caught up in the politics of my own genre. If I hate a book, then I would alienate myself from an author out there that I’d prefer being on friendly terms with at the least. If I love the book, I’m afraid they’d confuse that with me kissing their butt and that I don’t really mean my praise, or trying to steal them away from their publisher or that I’m doing something devious along those lines, or trying to pull a tit-for-tat for my own books.

    I do read a LOT of mainstream romance and after the book, I’ll normally write a review for it because I spent 9-15 hours of my free-time with it and I reviewing is how I give my relationship with that book some closure, and I don’t fear retaliation from them on the rare occasion that I do make a 2-3 star review because I write in a niche market they probably don’t want to look like they’re reading–people are very careful about their own image, and reading a naughty bdsm/dd/ageplay/menage book might hurt them more than it’d hurt me. I also only review on goodreads. The reason for this is because that way their amazon star rating doesn’t get hurt thus I wouldn’t be hurting their book sales, but that they’d still possibly read my review. Goodreads, after all, doesn’t have a store-front where people normally make split-second decisions based on star reviews like Amazon and B&N does. Not that I think they care about me personally; who am I to them? But I like to think my reviews don’t sound stupid and are made in complete sentences, so they’d at least let it hit their brain stem. Good reviews would give any authors good feelings no matter what and no matter who makes them. In that, they just deserve the elation.

    Besides, I want to encourage them (mainstream authors) to write more of the stuff I want to read and write it in a way that I enjoy and would like to continue to enjoy. Even if I had 500 reviews on Amazon it’s not as if I would stop taking every single one under account just as I do with the lesser amount of reviews that I have, and they feel the same way. So they don’t need my review, but they probably want it, and I feel like I can be honest because if I want to give a 1-3 star, they can take it without too much pain and maybe even get some insight on how to improve or what their audience would rather want, just like we all do.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Good points, Korey. Being a publisher puts you in a different position. I think it’s a smart move to not review in your genre.

  27. VJ Schultz says:

    I’m rather new to doing reviews. I did decide that if I read a book that did not justify a 4- or 5-star review, I would skip doing that one. As a newly published author craving reviews, I understand the importance of doing them. Being credible is also important. You put much of what I believe into words and helped clarify my own ‘rules’ for reviewing. Thank you for a great blog post on a relevant topic.

  28. Yvonne Erwin says:

    Hi Cara. This is a great post – insightful, thoughtful. You ask good questions and make excellent points. I tend to follow the same basic guidelines as you do in reviewing others’ books. I don’t pan other writers either but I don’t give more credit than what is due. It’s a hard balance because as an author, you know what that work means to the writer. And in thinking about a question you asked later on in the thread, is it the story or the writing, I would like to say that I can overlook poor writing if the story grips me but in instances where the writing is poor but the story line is good, I find myself scribbling in the margins and scratching out words/sentences. Such a slippery slope. Mostly, I try to be fair.

  29. Lina Sacher says:

    Great topic, Cara. Lots of perspectives and opinions.

    My personal opinion is that unless I know the author who is writing the review is not going to blow smoke up my behind, I won’t take the recommendation seriously. More of than not (with a few, very few, exceptions) I do not trust when authors rave about each others’ books.

    Then again, it’s not just authors, it’s all reviewers. And there’s nothing nefarious about it. I don’t think that people are out to trick readers into buying books. It’s just that there’s no accounting for taste. I’ve stumbled upon plenty of reviews of books I’ve read that were the complete opposite of how I’d have reviewed it. It’s made me wonder if we read the same book. Obviously, in a way, we hadn’t. So, I don’t just read one review and blindly accept it. I read a few, read the blurb, check out a sample, then decide whether to take the plunge. Unless, I totally trust the reviewer/author who is recommending…

  30. Louisa Bacio says:

    What a topic you’ve touched upon here! I review books, because I am a reader! Before I was published, I admit for giving some negative reviews but I did support the reasons why I didn’t care for the book. (I can think of one book in particular and the author is quite popular. Wasn’t my “cup” obviously.)

    I differ in one aspect — I sometimes review big-name authors. Part of it is to show that I do read in a more expanded list (Robyn Carr, contemporary; Tessa Dare, historical; Heather Graham, suspense). I am “like” other readers, and I think it shows a bit about my personality, too.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Yes, you’ve brought up another point. We all are readers, and we like and dislike books just like other readers.

  31. Selena King says:

    I feel pretty much the exact same way you do. I review books often. I know how important it is as authors. Also, I’m going to start posting reviews on my blog. Hopefully, other authors feel inclined to at least try my books and post their own reviews as a result. But I’d never try to set up a “tit-for-tat” relationship (not least because it’s against Amazon’s policies).

    But more than that, if I write a review, an author is very likely to at least tweet about the review to their readers. Their readers might check out the review on my blog. If they do, they might see that I agree with their sensibilities about what makes a good book. And if that happens, there’s a strong possibility that they’ll buy my book. It’s a long chain of events, but it’s an organic one. And I think the readers you can get from this could be the best kind—already in the mood for what you like, and therefore what you write.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I agree with you. And having one’s name attached as a reviewer to a book in your genre helps to get your name out there.

  32. Angela says:

    Hi Cara!
    Thank you for blogging on this tricky topic. Many times I’ve read a good book premise-wise but the mechanics left a lot to be desired. So I try to be diplomatic, ‘though some writing mechanics created speed bumps, I enjoyed the story and look forward to more in this series.’


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