Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reviewer or Author?

It's no surprise that many aspiring authors start blogging and, naturally, reviewing books. For the most part, authors like books and enjoy writing about them - so book reviewing is a natural progression. It seems like lately, though, the industry is telling these people to make a choice: Do you want to be a reviewer or an author? Because you can't have both.

Agents & editors are less inclined to take you on as a client/author if you have publicly criticized books they have represented/worked on.

Perhaps it is time to admit my obsession with book-related lolcats?

And I get that. I totally do; that's not what this post is about. This post is about the authors who know this, but seem to want to have it both ways. It's about aspiring authors who post one or two book reviews every week - and they are all given five star ratings.

I'm sorry; I don't know how to say this more delicately. I'm not buying it. There's no way you love every book you read. If you post one or more 4-5 star reviews per week and NO reviews with lesser ratings, I don't read your reviews - even if I subscribe to your blog. If you don't have a single negative thing to say about any book you read, I don't trust your (public) opinion.

Over the last few weeks, a few aspiring authors have asked me advice on this very topic. I say there are two options if you want to keep readers' respect:

1) Review under a pseudonym. This way, you can be completely honest in your reviews. Yes, it may be difficult maintaining two online personas and there's a good chance you've built a following that you don't want to lose. But at least you'll be able to say what you feel about a book without feeling like you're compromising your opinion in fear of burning an industry bridge. Also, readers will be able to trust that when you say you love a book, you truly mean it.

2) Only do book recommendations, not reviews. I've seen authors like Veronica Roth (who I totally adore; full disclosure) and Roni Loren do this. They only post when they truly enjoy a book and want to share it with their readers. It happens rarely enough that I still believe them when they recommend a book. Yeah, there are a lot of books they read that they don't recommend; I like to think of these as "pocket vetoes." I don't know what they are, but I don't worry about it too much.

Of course, there are other options. You can continue to post all honest opinions and risk burning bridges. Or you can continue to post those weekly+ five-star-reviews that I totally ignore. But I think the two I outlined above are the most viable for aspiring authors who wish to review books.

What do y'all think?


  1. I struggled with this issue when I first started my blog, to review or not.. I wanted to talk about books, but didn't feel comfortable writing negative reviews.. but I wasn't going to lie either.... so I came up with my Book of the Month. I read 5-6 books/month, so at the end of the month I share my favorite read for the month. That made sense to me, I want to gush over books l love... if I don't like a book I move on.

  2. This is why my 'reviews' have become less frequent. I don't write negative reviews in general because I don't think that's productive or helpful for readers. Just because I didn't like a book doesn't someone else won't and I don't want to deter someone from reading something they might love. As I've mentioned before, I do usually say something I didn't care for in a book to keep my reviews from being one-sided.

  3. When I review, I typically add a "who this would appeal to" section. I specifically mention why it wasn't the book for me, but why someone else would like it. And I don't give a rating system. Yes, I'm honest, but I don't think I'm mean. I give "I wish this book was 1. longer 2. more descriptive 3. had a faster pace" and I say something like... "If you love 1. MG 2. simple, fun stories 3. sarcasm" you'll love this book. I try to give an honest opinion, but at the same time not telling the author "Hey, your work sucked." Because that's not productive... I say "Okay, if I was the author, who poured my heart into this piece, what would I want to here if it was actually constructive?" I love critiques of my own work - but ones that offer suggestions. And I don't see why agents would *hate* you if you offer genuine and heartfelt constructive feedback. A recent review I wrote, I said the book felt like a snack and I wanted more - more description, more insight, more everything. The fact that I want *more* should be a good thing - because I didn't hate the author, or their writing, I just wanted more details.

    I don't know... I definitely don't do scathing reviews, but I don't have a "star" system either. Maybe that helps me be honest, but still be nice about it. I certainly don't recommend every book for people that are like me - but not everyone IS like me, so I try to recommend it to people that I think will like it.

  4. I very consciously decided to never do reviews because my opinion is unimportant and there are so many people out there who can express themselves far more eloquently. I also tend to have quite strong opinions, and I've learnt to keep them to myself ;) Occassionally I use an example from a book I love, but I never sit down and list what I do and do not like.

    Basically, my opinion is totally unimportant, and who am I to risk taking an author's potential reader away from them?

    My blog is about writing, and that's the way I intend to keep it.

  5. I suck at reviews. But I totally agree with you on this. I only recommend if I think something is really great.

  6. Book recommendations sound pretty smart! I couldn't keep up a review diary, since I do a lot more writing than reading, but I love love reading reviews from Evie and other bloggers from inkpop. I think it's dumb that you have to choose - people should be able to share their honest opinions. Though I completely understand. If you work for a corporation, you can't exactly go around and negatively review (publicly) their products.

  7. I review a lot of books, usually one once a week but I rarely ever review a book I really didn't like. I don't give ratings, I just tell what I did and didn't like about the book, along with it's plot, characters, etc. But if it's a book I really didn't like, I just won't do it. Mostly because if I really don't like it, I'll just stop reading it. But I still do reviews.

    But I understand where the publishers are coming from. I actually haven't thought about this subject very much, but I think in a way, it's hard to understand why authors can't review books and be an author at the same time. It's unfair, but I understand where they're coming from.

  8. This is so funny, Sarah. I actually just went on Goodreads and took off ALL my ratings. :( It was a sad moment for me. I left all of the books listed that I've read, and I still have my favorites listed on my "favorites" shelf, but I just don't want to take chances of offending or misleading anyone.

  9. Great post.

    On my blog, I don't review much. I ONLY review if I loved a book so much... if he SPOKE to me so much that I have to share. Then I review/rec it. On Goodreads, I mark books I finish, but only rate the ones that I loved. If I didn't love it, I don't mark star. That being said, I used to not do it that way so I'm considering doing like Wendy and going in and taking all my star ratings out.

  10. This is a subject that totally terrifies me. I still haven't figured out how to handle it because I don't want to stop sharing my opinions. I guess I risk burning the bridges as scary as it may be. I like to think that most of my reviews are fair but honest... I suppose I'll figure this all out someday!

  11. Great post! I love reviewing, though, so this is a hard choice for me. I still post my completely honest opinion on my reviews (therefore including negative reviews), but I'm almost ready to query, and I'm afraid of "burning bridges", so to speak. Which would kind of suck.

  12. I didn't realise reviewing would cause such hassle, although, of course, it makes sense. I enjoy reviewing, but don't do much of it. Maybe I should have a rethink. Thanks for the advice.

  13. It's tricky for me since I initially started my review blog specifically to build cachet in hopes it would help me land a publisher. When I realized that wouldn't work, I severed connection between my real name and my blogger identity, so now the agents only know about it if I tell them. You might ask, why not just kill the blog. Well, I like my blog, okay?

    By this point in the Intertwined series, you either love it or you hate it. Put this reviewer in the former camp, but I am well aware that it's not for everybody. In reviewing the previous two books, I noted the randomness of the plot, the way it picks up and drops plotlines at random, and the occasional out-of-character moments. I also noted that, on the whole, the books rise above that by being unique, unpredictable, and plain old fun. Book three more or less stays the course in that respect, serving up a fun little read, albeit not exactly thought-provoking.

    Read the full review at Lupines and Lunatics