Wednesday, December 1, 2010

To Review or Not to Review...

There's a great discussion going on over at Dear Author about authors reviewing other authors' books on Goodreads and other online venues. This issue is a murky, swampy mess for authors, and shocker, I do have an opinion on it. Rather than spout of on Dear Author, I am spouting here, in my own cyber living room.

I decided years ago to keep most of my opinions to myself when it came to the work of other romance writers. It goes back to the "do unto others as you'd have done to you" credo we were taught as children. If I don't want other authors spouting off about all the things that are wrong with my books, why would I do it to them? Why would I give a fellow romance writer a one-star review on Goodreads when I might someday be asked to work with her in some capacity or another? What do I gain from posting that negative review about her work in a public setting?

This goes for my friends, too. I would never give an author friend anything less than a five-star review on a public site. Why? Because anything less than a five suggests there were things about the book I didn't like. Maybe they were small things that really didn't matter much in the grand scheme, but I would not want my friend to wonder what it was about her book that made the difference between a four and a five for me. Why should she have that question in her head from me when she has so much other praise and criticism being hurled her way? Authors have enough arrows slung at them—friendly and not-so-friendly—to be wondering what it was about their book didn't work for their writer friends.

If I wouldn't give a friend less than a five-star review, that pretty much removes any value the reading public might place on my reviews, right? So why bother? The closest I will come to expressing an opinion is the list you see on my sidebar of books I've read in 2010 with stars next to the ones I truly loved. The remainder span a wide range from what would be a DNF on a traditional review site to a 4-star review. I don't feel the need to differentiate between them. That list began more as a curiosity experiment. I knew I read a lot, but I had no idea what the full number of books for a year would be. As the list unfolded, I realized I wanted a way to highlight the books I truly loved, thus the star. I never felt the same need to show which ones didn't work for me.

I was talking books yesterday with a group of reader friends and one of my all-time favorites came up. One of my close friends HATED that book. Another started it but never finished. How a story hits one reader vs. another is always going to be a subjective exercise. As an author, I believe it is far more important for me to be supportive of my author colleagues than it is for me to express my negative opinions about a colleague's work. And whether we know each other or not, whether one is small potatoes like me or a NYT bestseller like Nora Roberts, we are all colleagues in a business where we put our souls on display in every book. That's why when we started the book club, there was one major rule I emphasized and that was respect for the work. You don't have to like the book, I said, but you must respect the author. I believe that with every fiber of my being, and I try to live it in my online interactions.

What about you? Where do you stand on authors reviewing authors?

7 comments:

Dee Carney said...

I was a reader before I was a writer, so I have no problem reviewing books. BUT that being said, on a public site such as Goodreads, I will not give another epubbed author less than 4 stars. That doesn't mean I'll inflate their ratings either-if a book deserves 2 stars in my mind, I keep that bit of news to myself. I've read three ebooks recently, by people I correspond with on Facebook and/or Twitter, that did not resonate with me. Instead of bashing their work, I chose not to acknowledge that I read the stories at all.

5 stars go to reads that I want everyone to pick up. 4 stars means it's a damned good book, but like almost every book out there, there were one or two things that I wished were handled differently. 4 stars is not a bad review and I'm quite pleased with 4 stars for my own work so I have no issues with giving it out.

People like Nora Roberts, Stephen King, etc. who don't know me from Adam? They're another story altogether. If I don't like their story, I mark it accordingly.

Marie Force said...

Dee,
I love hearing how other writers handle this murky issue! Thanks for weighing in!

Donna said...

I'm not published, yet, but still consider myself a writer. I don't review a lot of books, but when I do it's only if I think the book is a must read. I will not put up a negative review. I don't think it is fair for fellow writers to put up bad reviews of their fellow writers. I've watched flame wars on the loops and could see one easily happening through negative reviews. I believe it is professional courtesy not to bash another writer's work.

Lori said...

As a reader, I usually take author/author reviews with a grain of salt, the same way I do cover quotes. I also don't read a ton of author's sites/blogs, and am intentionally not friends with a lot of authors on Goodreads so that I feel like I can review books objectively and not feel like crap if I didn't care for a book. That said, if a trusted author reviews something and can spell out what she liked and didn't explicitly and understandably, then I'm more willing to give some credence to the review. But in general? Yeah, I pay no attention to authors reviewing other authors.

Ronlyn said...

I pay very little attention to reviews as a whole, regardless of who they are from. (I really shouldn't even be on Goodreads. I input nothing there.)
I think though, if you are unwilling to give a poor review to an author you know on a personal level, it's wise not to review at all. I have a hard time taking a reader/reviewer seriously when they are always gushing about every. single. thing. they read.

Marie Force said...

Well-stated, Donna. It is professional courtesy. Sure, writers are readers, too, but we don't also have to be critics/reviewers. That's not to say writers can't (and aren't) excellent, thoughtful reviewers. For me it was a matter of deciding what I most wanted to be in this business, and that was an author who supports other authors at all stages of their careers. I didn't feel that I could do that and give honest reviews, too.

Lori, as a reader, I too hardly ever look at reviews for books that interest me. Sometimes I check out the reviews AFTER I've read a book and had a few issues with it, because I like to see if it was just me or if other people had the same concerns. I always find that interesting (and usually, it's not just me). Which leads me to another point: often, when something doesn't work for me in a book it doesn't work for others, either. So someone else has already said whatever I have to say, so it would just be piling on at that point. I also agree on cover quotes: not something I have ever put much stake in as a reader, but I can see the value as an author.

Ronlyn,
Your point is well taken. That would be me: only gushy nice reviews for people I know, which would come across as suspect after a while. LOL! I don't love everything I read. I love a lot of it, but certainly not all.

oklanannie said...

I read a lot of reviews but most don't influence my reading choice one way or another. They are just cheap entertainment! I do, however, get very mad when there is a reader who continually posts negative and mean reviews. And my biggest pet peeve is where a reader says "I didn't finish this book" -- and yet goes ahead and posts a bad rating. How can you rate something unless you've given it your full attention to completion. I tend to reply (and not in a happy voice) to those reviews.

As far as authors rating other authors, I don't think those reviews reflect unbiased opinion. And I understand why. If I were an author and I wanted to give another author's work my opinion, I would do it via an alias. Otherwise, those reviews are mostly just an act of support.

My favorite saying is "diff'rnt strokes for diff'rnt folks." That definitely goes for choices in reading. What one person may enjoy, another may find simply unbelievably unenjoyable. Thank God for so many books and so many authors and the right of choice!!