Thursday, June 7, 2012

Authors reviewing other authors

I enjoy writing reviews but that hasn't always been the case.

I used to be influenced by a true story I read from Joyce Meyer. She'd been feeling flat and downcast for weeks with no idea why. Her husband, Dave, suggested that her doldrums started shortly after she'd verbally critiqued the style of another preacher. Joyce and Dave had been discussing his delivery and content in detail after the event. At first she hotly denied that could have anything to do with her misery but figured out later that it made a lot of sense. God doesn't regard it lightly when we take it upon ourselves to judge or assess the merit of others and particularly of people in the same field we are. Her words struck home to me and I decided I'd steer clear of reviewing other fiction authors' books.

Some time later, I had a completely new thought. I couldn't help appreciating the generous spirit that comes behind an act of writing a review for an author. Writing an encouraging review after finishing a book I'd enjoyed was a gift I could make both the author and potential readers. I dearly love it when people do that for me. Suddenly, I really wanted to bless others the same way. Words are my preferred currency and reviews seemed another good outlet for them, along with novels and blogs. When I write reviews, I like to focus on the positive, excellent things I can find to say, maybe touching on other areas that the author can choose to consider if they please.

Lately, I've come across feedback from a few different sources suggesting that it is a faux pas to write reviews for friends. That was a blow for me because many of the people I've written reviews for have become friends over time if they weren't to start with. We like to stick together in our industry, and we all keep writing books. I'd feel sad to have my voice silenced in a way I can actually bless and encourage others who are also plodding on trying to use stories as their gifts to the world.

I can understand part of the wisdom behind the advice. When you write reviews for friends, do you feel restrained from saying some things so as not to risk hurting their feelings? We can also move into an area where a sense of obligation becomes an issue. If an acquaintance gives your book a 5-star rating and you feel theirs deserves a 3 or 4, what do you do? Also, I've had people who have told me they've got hold of one of my books and then announce, "I've finished," without a review or feedback of any sort forthcoming. It's difficult not to feel crestfallen in these circumstances. We're imaginative people.Our minds can begin teeming with all sorts of gloomy thoughts such as, They know how hard I worked so if they're not doing anything for me, they must think it's awful!

Is it possible for people to sabotage the credibility of their friend's book with their good intentions? I always read Amazon reviews before committing to buy books, and sometimes come across a very low rating with a comment such as, "It's obvious this person asked their friends to spam us with bogus glowing reviews of this very mediocre book. Please do yourself a favor and pay no attention to these 5-star reviews all posted within the same week." If I am to continue to write reviews, I'd prefer mine to be known as honest, well-written and trustworthy that don't play havoc with readers' expectations and lead them astray.

I'd love to know where others stand on this issue of writing reviews for friends and acquaintances. At the moment, I feel that the opinions I express in reviews can still be good and useful, regardless of how well I know the author.

Paula Vince is an award-winning fiction author and homeschooling mother from the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. She writes contemporary drama/romance with aspects of mystery and suspense. Please visit her at or 


  1. Hi Paula, I understand what you are saying I feel alot of the authors are my friends now too. I have had a few books I read and didn't really like and could only give a 3 star but I actually spoke to the author about why I had an issue with the book. One was one that jumped around to much. we were in one place then of to another and it was a little disjointed for me. She was ok with it and then asked more questions about what parts I had problems with etc.
    I admit most I give a 4 or 5 star but its because I like the book. I admit there are times I feel bad if I have been given a book and then dont like it as much. But I know 4 is still a good read.

  2. Hi Paula, I have done it quite a few times in recent years. I count it a privilege and a blessing to be able to help promote a friend's writing through my reviews. Some day soon I'll review one of yours too. Promise.

  3. Hi guys,
    Jenny, yes, I agree 4 stars is a good rating. In fact if you stick to Amazon's rating to the letter, I'd hate to give anyone less than a 3, as 2 means you don't like it and 1 means you think it stinks.
    Trevor, that would be great and I'd appreciate it a lot. As I always read the Amazon reviews, I know how important they can be to help authors sell books and any help is awesome.

  4. Paula its interesting as I know alot don't read the Amazon reviews as its been known that there are authors who pay for the reviews. (Heard about this from another blog post last year and that alot boycott reviewing there).
    But I have read some of the 1 stars and they state I haven't read this book but it looks like other books by the author and they are all the same, the author has the same story just a different setting etc. I dont know how someone can post a review when they dont read the book. I also read some of the comments to the reviewer and they can be quite refreshing also. (ok back to bed. feeling really off tonight funny how it seems to hit late at night! its also warmer in bed)

  5. Hi Jenny,
    Interesting that you should bring up this topic this week. I got myself into a whole stack of trouble last week as a result of giving a book a 4-star rating - with a really good review.
    I was completely taken aback, but refused to change my rating. I removed my review instead. Like you, I want my reviews to be trustworthy, not to keep people happy. Otherwise it turns the star-rating into a mockery. At the same time, I certainly don't want to sabotage any book because I didn't enjoy it.
    Thanks for the encouragement!

  6. I'm loathe to post a review of a book I didn't like. I'm happy to give a shout out for something I really enjoyed, something that delivered beyond my expectation. Amazon reviews are tricky things. Since there are no qualifications required of the reviewer, I tend to dismiss them. Some people make a habit of posting nasty reviews just for the "fun" of it. And, it's true, authors friends can load up the review site with positive comments, even if the book doesn't merit it. I prefer to get my reviews from sources with qualified reviewers like Publisher's Weekly.

  7. Jenny, I've something else I never knew now. Whoa, I can't believe some authors pay people to write reviews, but then again, maybe I can. You've rocked my naive world!
    Shirley, I would've been taken aback just the same as you. 4 stars is a good rating. I don't like the thought of being expected to give an insincere rating just to keep someone happy. Good on you for removing the review.
    Alice, I agree with you completely. I got one of those 'nasty' 2 star reviews earlier this year, but gladly, I don't think what she said made a lot of sense to sway the discerning reader.

  8. Update: Just after posting the reply above, I heard from someone else about Book Rooster, an Amazon initiative to which authors can pay for 10+ reviews. Well, as I wouldn't have been able to afford it anyway, I guess my not knowing made no difference, but it just goes to show that there is always something to learn.

  9. Paula, I only know cos I think it was Lyn Cote discussed it on goodreads and her blog I think and with a link to another blog talking about it. Also said many authors and well respected reviewers will not review on Amazon because of the issue of people being paid to give good reviews. (I am not sure they are even mentioning they got paid which by law in america you now have to.)
    They trust sites like goodreads, and other sites more than Amazon. I tend to give 4 or 5 because if I dont like a book I stop after the first chapter or two. With the reviewers who are nasty by reading there other reviews you can see if its a one of or a common thread. I have seen someone give a 2 star but then go on to say how much they liked the book which makes you wonder why it got 2 star and not at least a 3 star. they didn't say it was cos of the editing etc they just gave it 2 stars. I some ways I could use the out of 10 point score then most would be 7 - 9 with the ones that keep me up all night or are on my top 10 list would get a 10. Or even if they had 4 and a half stars as many I give 5 would be 4 and a half.

  10. Yes, with a 10 point system, we'd probably see less 10s than we currently do 5s. That's an interesting concept.

  11. I also have a difficulty giving terrible reviews (one or two star). In fact, I don't think I've ever given any for a Christian author. The only one I can ever remember giving is for a book by a well-known secular author. I felt particularly upset not just about the actual writing, but also because the book had been packaged and marketed as a light summer kind of read and it turned out to be a very dark, creepy book about a serial domestic abuser.

    If I really enjoy a book I'll often email an author (if possible) or try and leave them a comment somehow online. I just don't have time to review all the books that I read so it's really only ones that blow me away that I do. (And not even then - case in point Cathy West's Yesterday's Tomorrow which I thought was brilliant but still have never gotten around to reviewing!)

  12. Hi Kara,
    I think it may be worth giving a 2 star review in cases which you've mentioned, when we may alert hapless readers like ourselves who have been misled by the package. Thankfully they come up very often.
    I'm with you on letting the author know. I used to give them a private message but now think making more of a public gesture might help the sales of the book if it is great.

  13. Paula, interesting post! I had no idea people actually pay for Amazon reviews...

    I think that we're either writers or reviewers, and it's a delicate balancing act to try and do both. I write book recommendations on my new blog because I'll only review books that I really like.

    Published authors can bless their writing friends by writing endorsements. I always read endorsements whereas I skim or ignore Amazon reviews.

    I'm also skeptical about the quality of a book when I see a number of Amazon reviews that are written by authors who write for the same publisher as the book being reviewed. I guess I wonder why at least a couple of these authors haven't chosen to endorse the book...

  14. Following Narelle's comments about endorsements-- I have a book coming out in a few months' time, and the publisher has opted for no endorsements. I gave a list of possible names, a number of whom had already agreed to do this. However, they don't feel endorsements do much for a book, unless I guess they are really high-powered names who are authorities in the subject. So it may not be up to the author to decide whether to write an endorsement or not. Or is there another place where you can post endorsements?

  15. Hi Narelle and Shirley,
    I'd love to know the answer to this too, as Narelle's words about endorsements as opposed to reviews made sense to me. I guess the main places you'd find endorsements are at the beginnings of books and on authors own personal blogs and websites, do you think?

  16. LOL! We've got a whole discussion group going here. Thank you Paula! The beginnings of books is mainly up to the publisher, I think--as I've just said, but I hadn't thought of the websites/blogs. Would it be acceptable to have a page dedicated to endorsements? What do you people think? I personally can see that as being really useful to folk wanting to check us out.

  17. Shirl, I think a testimonial page on your website that includes endorsements is a great idea :)

  18. Just a thought as there is a difference from Author/writers to readers have you thought maybe have a survey of readers to see if they actually read reviews. I have seen many discussions on this subject and I know many readers like myself do not buy books based on reviews at places like amazon and if they do they will check out reviews by reviewers they have gotten to know like from book blogs. It often too is more from blog posts etc.
    I think its more the authors who were reading the reviews.

    I think when you had a survey here about books and what made you buy (blurb, cover etc) I dont think reviews was high on the list but I am not sure.

  19. Thanks, ladies (and one gentleman) for making this an interesting discussion. I think that sounds like a great thing to do with endorsements, which are precious and not easily come by, to put them all into one, easily-accessible spot.
    Another thing I learned was that Amazon reviews may be regarded with a pinch of salt at times.

  20. Interesting points raised, Paula.I tend, if it is an author I know personally, not to write a review unless I really enjoy the book. If I do I am happy to help promote with a good review. I don't review on Amazon, but Goodreads,Aussie Reviews and Good Reading magazine.