Is it FAIR for Authors to Review Other Authors? Do We Ruin the Magic?

Ooo! A really cogent follow-up to Kristen Lamb’s post yesterday about writers giving bad book reviews. She makes an interesting point about “knowing too much” as a fellow writer. That’s something that was discussed on the post I put on Facebook about the issue yesterday. What do you think? Are we being FAIR if we review books?

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Wednesday I wrote about the Three Nevers of Social Media, one of which was “don’t flame other writers in reviews.” This then led to yesterday’s post, Should Authors Write Bad Book Reviews? And, I have to say, you were all BRILLIANT. I was traveling all day, nearly going blind reading your debate over this issue on my iPhone. Yet, this got me to thinking….

Uh, oh. Right? *smells something burning*

For the moment, hold your digital tomatoes. Bear with me and just noodle this.

Is is fair for authors to write book reviews?

I am not taking a side because I am still pondering the idea, myself.

Writers SEE The Man Behind the Curtain

Most regular people don’t know all that goes into creating the overall “reading experience.” Novelists are like magicians, conjuring another world and imaginary people, places, events with the use of various combinations of 26 letters and…

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7 thoughts on “Is it FAIR for Authors to Review Other Authors? Do We Ruin the Magic?

  1. I’ll answer with something that happened to me: a self pubbed author requested I read and give an honest review for Amazon. The premise had me shaking to open and read the book. Seriously. How can you NOT want to read a book about Vampires vs Nazis in WWII? And it wasn’t sparkly, good vamps either. I mean the author stuck to the old legends – all vamps were bad. He had a villain vs villain book.

    I posted an honest, non-flaming review – started out with what I loved. But the book truly needed a lot of editing. We exchanged emails, I helped him to navigate editing, etc, what to look for, blah blah blah. Two months ago, he uploaded the revised edition. Oh holy crap on a cracker! It sat on the top 10 best selling eBooks – B&N, Amazon, etc, for a month.

    I think it depends on HOW we review. If the book isn’t up to par, I think we can give a good, critical feedback to help the other author. Especially if it’s the only way we can reach them. Tell them what worked, what didn’t.

    To say author’s shouldn’t review … frankly, it doesn’t make much sense. We are also readers, albeit a little more stringent in most cases.

    • This is a good example, TJ. I lean toward trying not to review as a writer or complain about something in an otherwise awesome story. Your post has made me reconsider possibilities when I might want to speak out. I don’t like embarrassing someone, so I’d resort to private conversations first, if I could, but yeah, you’re example highlights that, sometimes, it’s a good thing when you can’t otherwise get ahold of the author in a more private form.

  2. Reblogged this on Rakes Rogues and Romance and commented:
    Is it fair as authors to review other authors? do you reveal that in your review, or are you reading the book as if you were just another reader?
    Before i dipped my toes in the writing game, I wouldn’t have recognized head hopping (some of my critique partners may say I still don’t but that’s for another post!) I would read and just know if I enjoyed the book or not, for the sake of enjoyment. I will say with 100% certainty, I do not listen to reviews. I never paid attention to movie reviews, or book reviews. I know what I like. I pick up a book if the title grabs me and the blurb is intriguing. It doesn’t matter to me if the cover is pretty, although it is nice to have a pretty cover. I don’t care what someone on Amazon or Goodreads says.
    Sorry.
    I have to make up my mind about a book. I will read the first chapter and can tell, by my gut if that book will interest me. Of course there are authors whom I auto buy. And yes, not every one of their books have been the best I could’ve read, But I’m rarely disappointed. Those times are few and far between.
    But when writers write reviews are we looking at the book from a reader’s point of view; reading for the joy of reading? I dont’ know if I care so much that there may be 3 or more POV’s in the book. I don’t really know if I ever noticed or card if there is head hopping going on. If I am reading for the pure enjoyment of the book, would I give someone a bad review for that?
    Me? No way. An impossible plot, awkward wording, inaccuracies and lots and lots of typos and grammatical mistakes. I might say something.
    But frankly, if I don’t like a book, I choose not to give it any review. It’s not my call to tell someone how they should feel about another person’s writing.
    I have started many a prize winning book only to find myself with crossed eyes, re-reading the same page three or four times to understand it. Obviously, not for me. But just as obvious, it was for someone else, because it won awards rights?
    That’s why I go by different strokes for different folks. I don’t believe you make yourself smarter or more knowledgeable by putting other writer’s work down.
    How do you all feel as readers and writers about reviews in general and writing them as professional writers/bloggers/readers?

    • I pretty much agree with everything you just said, Nancy. Sometimes I will read a review, but usually it’s after I’ve already decided to at least check it out at the library or take advantage of a free sample somehow. I’ve never had a bad review talk me out of not reading or watching something for the precise reasons you point out.

      As a writer, I do think it’s important to try and be as precise and purposeful as possible, or to at least know the rules before you break them (and thus also know when you are breaking them and why), even if the reader won’t consciously notice it, it’s more likely to lead to a more enjoyable experience, overall…provided they were into the story you want to tell in the first place. For myself, I’d probably not make it through chapter one if any of my favourite authors decided to write a western, even if they were putting forth their best writing. I don’t know what it is about westerns, I just don’t like them, even when they star some of my favourite characters and are well written (such as a Dr. Who in the wild west story I started and just couldn’t get interested enough in it to finish).

      Having said that, when I do write a review now, I try to do it purely from a reader’s perspective and only on stories I liked. My reasons for writing a review any more are as simple as raising awareness on books I enjoyed…that’s something I frequently end up finding books and movies over (when I’m ready for them) that I wouldn’t have otherwise stumbled over in the bookstore (online or brick) or library (again, online or brick). For me, it all boils down to: I found a good book and think it deserves more attention and some of my time to make it happen.

      As to the final statement, I completely agree with you on bashers. My confidence was nearly shattered long ago in every area of my life by knowing one-too-many people that put others down (in some vain attempt to make themselves look/feel better by comparison, apparently). It’s a very unattractive quality to me and every time I hear someone engaging in it now I feel like I’m learning far more about them than the person they’re trashing (whom I now assume I know nothing about at all).

      I did write a bad review once, it’s still up on Amazon.com. The reasons behind it though were not to make myself feel better or superior though, but to get something out there on a textbook I felt was very poorly put together. In this case, my history as a writer, published or not, together with experience with foreign cultures and peoples enabled me to recognize a lot of things that were actually pretty subtle as bad for a textbook. Subtle enough that I was, apparently, the first student to complain about the book, let alone list and cite exactly what was wrong and why. Short example, he was overly-fond of absolutes and declaring how each one supported or opposed Christianity (he claimed it was a comparison to help us learn more about them at the beginning of the book; how are they different and how are we the same). I had no real problem with the comparisons except that we’re not all Christian over here and he barely talked about any other religion in the entire book. He declared that, because they don’t have a religion, Japan was without any spiritual existence (failure to recognize a difference between religion & spirituality at the very least) and is in trouble now because they have only money to worship. However, several hundred pages earlier he sings the praises of capitalism and how incredibly awesome and perfect it is. I guess it’s okay for us to sing the praises of money because we have the word God on it? In short, in cases like that, I just can’t keep my mouth shut. If he was writing an editorial, A+ even if I don’t agree. However, trying to then present that editorial as a factual textbook with no clear markers of where your opinion ends and the facts begin? Failing grade, and, I would posit, unethical, at best.

  3. I’ve often wondered this, it’s part of what’s led me to a different process from years at a traditional crit group that has seen a drastic fall in my output rather than proliferous improvement (improvement, yes, proliferous…no, got more of the wrong p word instead…procrastination).

    I’m not saying crit groups are bad or that I’m too good for one, mind you. What I am saying is that either I haven’t found the right one, or they just don’t work for me. I tend to be a small-group sort of person anyway and I’ve noticed something over the decades I spent in various crit groups. I know my work isn’t perfect, I also have a thicker skin now (though I still can’t keep a horrible review from hurting my output at least temporarily)…but I began noticing a lot of the comments I received or read others giving weren’t really critiques so much as they were writer differences…I’ve not put this into words yet, so sorry if it seems clunky.

    I was noticing kind and genuinely-trying-to-be-helpful critiquers (who are also writers hoping for critiques as well) leaving advice and critiques on stories I liked and was following that made me think, even if I didn’t know the author, I’d like this section of the book. It just seemed to me that they liked the story, wanted credit for reviewing it and to be helpful so they went -looking- for things to “improve.” I know you’re supposed to look, as a critiquer, but I was noticing far more that felt like forced looking just to leave something, anything to earn your credit. I began wondering if all the advice I was trying to follow in my head…if people are forcing themselves to find something “wrong” or they’d simply do differently, etc…at what point do you know the difference between genuine problems and things someone forced themselves to find because the crit put them into a critical frame of mind and they wanted to be helpful?

    I guess maybe my need for more writing experience and improvement is an apparent answer. All the same, a critical frame of mind (which we all enter the moment we know we’re critiquing rather than enjoying/reading), backed up by all the different (and sometimes conflicting) story-telling advice and experiences may just help you over-edit your work (and your voice out of it). For now, mistake or not, I’m without a crit group because I’ve only ever finished the rough draft of one novel. I needed other voices and whether or not they had a point out of my head. It was pulling me out of my stories.

    So…yeah, I think absolutely the same can carry through from author reviews by other writers. I don’t think we should never review, but yeah, I’ve been trying to bite my tongue on things I dislike about a book that’s already published when I liked it overall. Mostly that’s because I’m not sure if it’s just a problem in my personal preference (since I enjoyed the rest of the book), or if it’s a genuine problem. The first review I did for you on “The Loyal Heart” was an exception, I hadn’t yet come to these conclusions on writers reviewing/critiquing other writers. I think it’s very helpful, but it can also be harmful in certain situations. Example, one of my favourite writers I was following in a crit group received a few of these nice crits from members I know are nice and trying to be helpful but I didn’t agree at all that their suggestions would make her story better, in fact, a few I felt would weaken her voice and the story as a whole. Regardless, because they are nice and helpful, and because we always have room for improvement, she would frequently hate her book and consider giving up on the story altogether because a few writer-critiquers suggested “improvements” that came with their own problems for the story she wants to tell.

    At one point she even said she doesn’t know anymore if I’m right about her writing ability and strengths (as well as the story’s potential) or if neither of us can see how badly the other sucks because we suck equally (we tend to favour similar story elements).

    Point in case, I’ve seen this writers reviewing/critiquing other writers undermine the writer’s confidence over things that aren’t bad, but aren’t what they’d write if it were their book, or because they’ve put their crit-hats on with the old addage that, no matter how good something seems “There’s always something that could be better.” I believe that last in quotes is true, but that doesn’t mean the next writer is going to find it instead of something they just would have done differently, writing the story in their voice, but is none-the-less an equally valid example of good, but different story-telling choices. Also, what’s in those quotes should never keep you in permanent editing. At some point you have to remember that there’s no such thing as perfect, only your best, or your writing will remain forever in a drawer.

    I’m reminded now that I still haven’t reviewed The Faithful Heart (loved it, short and sweet), and I’ve yet to read the Courageous Heart. I loved how, over the two books, you slowly and naturally moved, not only the heroes through character growth, but one of the entitled antagonists. That was win ❤ In book one, I most definitely would not be interested in an Ethan-centric romance. By the end of book 2, I'm looking forward to it despite not having picked it up yet…it makes him seem like that much more of a real person to me!

    I think those are examples of where other writers help. When we're being constructive rather than critical, we're better able to pinpoint exactly what we liked about something and why. We're more likely to note and get excited over subtle examples of writing brilliance and be more impressed and pleased by them…at least I am.

    • Yep. You’ve just expressed a lot of the reasons why critique groups were never for me. I find so much more value in paying an editor who I’m confident knows what they’re doing.

      And I have to confess that I love it when people say they hated Ethan after TLH and had no interest in reading a novel in which he’s the hero, then change their minds by the end of TFH. That’s also why I think you’ll love TCH. 😉 Really, the entire trilogy is about Ethan’s transformation. And Toby. The entire series is about Toby.

      • As you should! It was a brilliant move and (in my humble opinion) brilliantly executed and I haven’t even read the last third of the series yet.

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