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Authors Reviewing Authors

Two questions for the readersphere:

  1. Do you think it’s appropriate for authors to post reviews of books/stories by other authors?
  2. Do you think it’s appropriate for authors to post negative reviews of books/stories by other authors?

Years ago, when I posted about the creepiness of one of the Xanth books, I was told I’d broken an unwritten rule by speaking badly about another author’s work. There was no substantive reason given; it was just against the rules.

Sure, fine, whatever. But I’ve been thinking about the author-as-reviewer thing a bit more lately, wondering about potential ethical pitfalls and such.

I’m pretty comfortable talking about books I’ve enjoyed and recommending them to others. That’s part of the fun of being a reader and a fan. I love posting a review and seeing commenters complain, “Dammit Jim, there goes more of my book-buying budget!”

I’ll usually try to acknowledge flaws or problems I encountered, even in positive reviews. But what about when the review is generally negative?

From a pragmatic perspective, there’s the potential for burning bridges. Will Chuck Wendig refuse to speak to me if I review his Star Wars book and complain that Jar-Jar Binks, Jedi Master made me want to burn my eyes out with a lightsaber? If I give a negative review to an author from one of my publishers, am I going to piss off my editor in the process?

At the same time, does a positive review lose value if the reviewer is unwilling to post a negative review? Do the rules still apply if it’s awards season and you’re discussing nominated works?

And finally, if a reviewer is ethically obligated to disclose any real or potential conflicts of interest, then as an author who could potentially be working with any of these publishers in the future, isn’t every review I post pretty much saturated with conflicts of interest?

I’ve got more thoughts and opinions on this, but I wanted to throw this out for discussion and see what other folks thought.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 57 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 26th, 2015 01:20 pm (UTC)
I don't see why authors shouldn't review other authors' books. Common courtesy should apply, and if you're competing for the same prize it will look like you're bashing the competition (AKA, "being a jerk") but in general your opinion is as good as anybody else's.
May. 26th, 2015 02:00 pm (UTC)
That's a good point, and yeah, I think if I was up for an award in a category, criticizing the other nominated works is a definite no-no.
(no subject) - brendanpodger - May. 27th, 2015 01:49 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 26th, 2015 01:26 pm (UTC)
If there's a rule against it I'd be surprised--I review all the time.
May. 26th, 2015 02:00 pm (UTC)
I wasn't thinking so much about an official rule as pondering reasons why it might be problematic or a bad idea. If any such reasons exist.
(no subject) - sartorias - May. 26th, 2015 03:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 26th, 2015 01:37 pm (UTC)
I don't see anything wrong with authors reviewing books. I do it all the time on my blog and on Goodreads! I can see why some people might choose not to publish bad reviews, especially if the author of the book is a friend or acquaintance. But I've found that if the review is honest about why you don't like the book -- and avoids inflammatory hyperbole like " made me want to burn my eyes out with a lightsaber" ;-) -- it doesn't cause any bad blood.
May. 26th, 2015 02:01 pm (UTC)
You call it inflammatory hyperbole now, but you haven't read Wendig's Jar-Jar vs. Darth Noid lightsaber battle scene.
(no subject) - nick_kaufmann - May. 26th, 2015 02:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - valarltd - May. 26th, 2015 03:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 26th, 2015 01:45 pm (UTC)
I know authors who routinely post reviews of books ... as long as they are honest (and honorable) I appreciate the review and actually use them to expand my pool of books to read.

First - writers are also (or should be) readers and as writers should have some skill in the world of story craft.

Second - if they review often, you can get the idea of how they review. If they are always negative, reader beware, if they are balanced ... take it from there.
May. 26th, 2015 01:46 pm (UTC)
I stopped doing negative reviews save in case of extreme revulsion when I realized that my being an author was giving my negativity more "weight" than it deserved. Basically, if a negative review usually = one person going "ew no thanks," I was finding that an even mildly negative review got ten "wow no yuck thanks for the warning." And that is not the space I want to create.

I'll still negatively review books that are really, really awful, but as time went by, it felt more and more like punching down.

There are "how well do I know this person/what is the relationship" issues to be considered as well. I would be actively uncomfortable posting a negative review of a friend's book, because I am not a book reviewer. My friend Amal, on the other hand, is a book reviewer; if she negatively reviews one of my books, she's just doing her job, rather than using her one review a year to pick on me. And I would be even more uncomfortable publicly posting a bad review of someone I share a publisher with. Whether that's against some unwritten rules or not, it feels tacky and unnecessary to me. I know that some people feel like bad reviews prove their good ones are honest, but some things feel a step too far to me.
May. 26th, 2015 02:04 pm (UTC)
That sense of punching down puts a label to one of the things that was making me uncomfortable, thank you. I think that's why I went ahead and posted that review of Piers Anthony, but would feel more reluctant to do the same for a newer author, if that makes sense.

It's hard to remember sometimes that I'm not posting just as another fan who geeks out about SF/F, but that things I say in the blog can carry a bit more weight...
(no subject) - seanan_mcguire - May. 26th, 2015 02:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cissa - Jun. 1st, 2015 11:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swan_tower - May. 26th, 2015 04:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 26th, 2015 01:52 pm (UTC)
I think it is appropriate for authors to post honest reviews of books. I can see why an author might choose not to post negative reviews but I don't think there is anything inappropriate about doing so as long as the review is an honest one and there are no big conflicts of interest involved. If it is rewards season and you're discussing works that have been nominated along with your own work for an award, that might qualify as a big conflict of interest. The mere possibility that you might work with the book's publisher in the future doesn't qualify as a big conflict of interest in my opinion.
Jun. 1st, 2015 11:42 pm (UTC)
I agree.

At this point I trust reviews from authors less than from readers, because I know authors hedge their bets. They are not very likely to say "I hated this and here's why"; they are much more likely to ignore, or to praise because of the fellowship or whatever.

About the only author whose praise i trust these days is LeGuin.

I review most books I read, whether they are purchases that I've made, or books I've received specifically for reviewing. While I may not review a truly awful book I bought myself, I am obligated to review books that have been sent to me specifically so I can review them, whether said review is positive or negative.

But I am not myself an author.
May. 26th, 2015 01:57 pm (UTC)
A long time ago, when I was first published, I ran into reviews posted out of spite. Reviews based on an author's perceived beliefs. Review wars, where a negative review spawned attacks on the reviewer's own works.

I'm a coward. I decided to keep my damned mouth shut. Events since then have only reinforced this decision.
May. 26th, 2015 02:05 pm (UTC)
I don't see anything cowardly about recognizing what you are and aren't comfortable talking about online, and sticking with that boundary.
May. 26th, 2015 02:11 pm (UTC)
You don't prefer reviews by people who do not write? Or read, for that matter?
May. 26th, 2015 02:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Wot?
Why would I prefer reviews by people who don't read?
May. 26th, 2015 02:26 pm (UTC)
Note: I am not an author. I read books and post public reviews if they're positive.

A review can be kind, honest and fair. Being kind doesn't mean being dishonest. :) Reviews don't have to be kind, but kind and honest reviews are not a bad thing. They sound pretty good. I think reviews should be polite, honest and fair, as a minimum.

I think authors can write negative reviews, provided:
- they're being polite, honest and fair.

- there is no conflict of interest.

For minimising conflict, writing mostly positive reviews is probably best. :)

Edited at 2015-05-26 02:29 pm (UTC)
May. 26th, 2015 02:27 pm (UTC)
I don't see a problem, as long as the review comes across as a review of the book, rather than an attempt to bash the author.

Some people will still take it personally if its negative, but that seems to be true whoever reviewed it.
May. 26th, 2015 02:49 pm (UTC)
You know, in the wider world of writing, writers review other writers all the time. For money, even.

They aren't (and weren't) always tactful in their reviews. There have been some highly entertaining (for observers, anyway) feuds as a result. Granted, The Internet Changes Everything, but as long as there have been reviews published, this has been a thing. I think, as you noted already, the best thing to do is ask what you're up to dealing with, and proceed accordingly.
May. 26th, 2015 03:22 pm (UTC)
I think there is a punch up thing as in comedy. If you review say a Jim Butcher, or George R. R. Martin book and review it poorly... eh. It probably won't make a difference to their sales or success. But if you review a debut author's book poorly you've got more "clout" then they do at the moment, and it's going to have more effect. At least that is my two pennies worth of opinion.
May. 26th, 2015 05:33 pm (UTC)

I admit if I were ever to become a bestseller (wouldn't that be nice?), I would have a much harder time giving bad reviews.

Though if I couldn't give bad reviews, I probably wouldn't review at all. I don't see the point of only good reviews. I like to know a reviewer's tastes through their whole range, as a calibration system for me as a reader.
May. 26th, 2015 03:39 pm (UTC)
This sorta depends. In the romance genre, it's really frowned upon, but having discussed it with other romance writers, we tend to think it's because it's a genre primarily written and consumed by women, and societally women are conditioned against saying anything "mean."

In SFF, I see a LOT of authors reviewing other authors' work -- sometimes with extreme snark and sarcasm. I think it's much more accepted in the genre, although I'd take some things into account. One is the author; it's probably not very kind to tear into a debut author, although mentioning issues is one thing. Granted, the number of reviewers and authors who called out Jay Kristoff's work for being appropriative (though he does fix some of the issues in the rest of the trilogy) didn't seem to affect sales or anything... but that book was also heavily, heavily promoted by the publisher. So, even then, it depends.

Another is content; if the book is problematic for some reason, I think that's a different matter and worth commenting on. Taking the Piers Anthony example, his entire breadth of work is extremely problematic, and I do think that's something that's worth discussing, especially from the perspective of being another author. I see readers point out problematic stuff a lot, but an author does have the advantage of also showing where it could have been done differently, which is something that I'd like to see more of, if only for other writers who are trying to figure out how to avoid problematic issues in their own work. This isn't to say readers can't give those types of suggestions, as well, but... well. To be blunt, writers are going to listen more to a well-respected author who points out problematic things and how it could be approached differently than they are to a reader/reviewer. Which is annoying, because readers have a lot to bring to the table, but that's a whole 'nother rant.

I have no idea if that would even be a route you'd want to take in reviewing, but I suggest it because I haven't seen it much, and I think that for a lot of things, you'd have very good insight on how to avoid certain issues. Figured it couldn't hurt to mention. :)
May. 26th, 2015 03:49 pm (UTC)
I am not an author!

I think it depends on how picky you are as a reader. If I recommend books to friends, I tend to stick to positive reviews or I say 'such and such didn't click with me, but someone else might like it.' I don't care for books with heavy, florid worldbuilding, but some friends think that's just the bees knees.

Actually bad books are rare enough that they can be warned against.
May. 26th, 2015 04:00 pm (UTC)
If the only reviews you post are positive, it doesn't lose anything, as long as they are fair. Giving everyone five stars and gushing "Best thing I ever read!" every time, that's not a review.
Giving someone four stars, calling it solid in all the right places with engaging characters, ripping action, good world-building and a banal moral, that's fair.

Even a negative review can be fair. "I usually like this author's books, but this one feels by-the-numbers and phoned-in. I couldn't connect with the cut-out characters whose actions made no sense. The usual snappy dialogue and colorful setting are the only redeeming factors." That's a fair review. ("Brooks and Sparrow can write great fiction. This isn't it" reads one of my more memorable bad reviews. Harsh but fair)

"This book appears to be two books kluged together because the author had no idea how to make them stand alone" is a fair review. "This author lacks the brainpower to make something readable out of a mishmosh stolen from her betters" is not.

I don't feel any obligation or conflict of interest regarding any of my publishers or the other authors at the house. Half the time I don't even look at who is publishing the book.

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( 57 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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