Should Writers Write Book Reviews?

I review every book that I read on Goodreads.

I do this because I’m a writer with aspirations of future publication and strong book sales.

I’m aware of how crucial reviews are to authors, both in helping produce those strong sales and in enabling one to (traditionally) publish subsequent books.

Writing reviews is thus my way of providing the assistance I someday hope to receive myself.

There is a school of thought within the writing community that writers should only review books that they like.  That we shouldn’t pick holes in the efforts of our fellow authors, especially since we well know the struggle that goes into writing a novel.

This same argument also asserts that a negative review from a fellow writer can be even more harmful than one from a non-writer.  The reason being because, as writers, we’ve seen behind the curtain.

We know all the tricks of storytelling that non-writers don’t, and thus are more likely to include things in our negative reviews that non-writers wouldn’t even notice.

Some writers have a policy of only leaving five-star reviews for books, believing that we should never do anything that might hurt our writer colleagues’ chances of success.

Two minds and two hands

Personally, I’m of two minds about the whole thing.

On one hand, I definitely recognize how my perception of stories has changed since I became a writer.

In now knowing how the sausage gets made, rarely can I fully escape into a story.  Always a part of me is evaluating it on a technical level, judging flaws of execution that most readers don’t really care about.

On the other hand, to only ever leave five-star reviews seems disingenuous.  It would be an affront to my literary integrity and a misrepresentation of reality.  The fact is that I don’t love every book that I read; sometimes I just like them.

Sometimes I don’t like them so much as not dislike them.

And since I have no way of knowing what books I’ll love vs. like ahead of time, trying to portray it as if I just happened to love every book that I’ve read would be misleading.

Besides, I am a reader too, if a compromised one.

Reading is my oldest pastime, and at this point in my life I’ve still been a pure reader longer than I’ve been a reader-writer.

I’m allowed to have an honest opinion on what I read.  And I want to.  Whenever I finish reading a book, I want to let people know what I thought of it.

To balance out these two opposing perspectives, I’ve created the following rules for myself for writing book reviews:

1) I only review books that I finish

In truth, I see nothing wrong with reviewing an unfinished book so long as this fact is disclosed and the reason for not finishing is clearly explained.  Sometimes, this reason can be instructive.

But since a review of an unfinished book is guaranteed to be a negative one, I prefer to give books the best possible chance of earning my praise.

If I really want to write a negative review, the price for my doing so is finishing the book first … and thus remaining open to the possibility that I’ll actually end up liking it in the end.

2) I mention only one or two of a books most notable flaws

This is both because I like to keep my reviews reasonably short and also because I see little value in beating a dead horse if I feel a book is seriously flawed.

As well, the idea that as a writer, what I consider a flaw mightn’t be seen as such to a reader once again comes into play.

Only including one or two problems forces me to be selective about what really bothers me the most without possibly spoiling all the fun for everyone else.

3) I apply the Third Law of Library Science

The Third Law of Library Science is “Every book its reader”.

Whenever I’m faced with a book I didn’t enjoy, I ask myself if it’s merely a matter of personal taste—that I just wasn’t that book’s proper reader, rather than a case of it being objectively bad.  If the former, I write my review accordingly.

(I should also note that in general, I believe that very few books are truly, objectively bad.)

~

Beyond all that, as a reader, I’m actually very easy to please.

If a story follows a standard narrative arc and makes me feel a little something for the characters, I’m all but guaranteed to at least like it.  The easiest three stars any author has ever earned.

(The only time I’ve ever given a two- or one-star review was when I felt the messages of the book were harmful to society.)

From there, it just becomes a matter of my favourite story tropes, educational interest, or subversions of well-worn storylines that make me hand out four- and five-star reviews.

For these are the books that make me remember why I love reading so much, and further encourage me to work hard at my writing to someday bring that same joy to someone else.

Want to see what books I’m reading and what I make of them?  Follow me on Goodreads, or send me a friend request.

(Image source #1 and #2 – J.G. Noelle)

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8 thoughts on “Should Writers Write Book Reviews?

  1. I feel like I am easy to please reader myself. If the story catches my attention, I probably won’t get below 70% when giving my rating (and eventually converting it to 5-star scale for GR/Amazon). If it makes me really want to know how the story goes (and ends), it’s pretty much guaranteed 5-star as I will be willing to forgive all small issues for the good escape from reality.

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  2. Review away. It’s good to do so on Goodreads only if you are careful: do not connect your various social media accounts, and then leave a review on Amazon. They’re picky about ‘friends’ and they own GR. Your review on Amazon may be removed if they think you have a friend relationship with someone on GR and they know about it. I don’t leave reviews lately because of that.

    If you do review, I’d stay out of your own genre – appearance of bias is as bad as bias. A reader thinks ‘she expects a 5* back’ if you leave a 5*, or ‘she is badmouthing the competition’ if you leave anything else than 5*. You can’t win that one.

    It is good for writers to review, but I can’t take the fine gradations, and the pitfalls. Probably better to let the readers do it, though that isn’t perfect either!

    And you can’t summarize a book by a couple of its flaws! Especially if the writer thinks the things you don’t like are features, not bugs. I have a single 4* review that I hate with a passion because I see it as passive-aggressive, the kind only another writer can create.

    Good luck. It’s a minefield filled with UNexpected bombs.

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    • Even though Amazon owns Goodreads, GR is the only place that I leave reviews (I don’t on Amazon). I just like the look and feel of that platform better than Amazon’s homepage, as well as GR’s sole focus on books.

      I have reviewed books in my genre before. I hadn’t really thought about the appearance of bias; I’ll have to think on that some more. I try to be very thorough in my explanations of why and like and don’t like things. Beyond that, I can’t really control how others choose to perceive me. I have seen some people on GR write a review but not leave a star rating, so there is always that option as a means of reviewing without affecting the authors’ overall rating for either good or for ill.

      So far, though, I’ve always left star ratings, although I do sometimes agonize over them. I really wish half-stars were available. I often indicate my true half-star rating in the review itself and just round up when actually clicking the stars.

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      • I don’t think GR cares who leaves reviews, unless they fail the guidelines somehow, since no review there affects selling.

        But if you like a book, not leaving an Amazon review or rating does affect the selling of the book – thus saying you really don’t like it (or have other reasons not to leave a public review).

        It’s tricky.

        Amazon just returned a 3* review it had removed. The returned review says it likes the book (possibly started as a GR review, where 3* are a positive review). It is listed as my top CRITICAL review. I laugh at that one sometimes. And it lowered the book’s rating.

        A 10* system might give you more gradations, but 5* is hard enough for many readers.

        I love a review that says the reviewer lowered the rating by 1* because she had trouble getting into it. Her failing, I tell myself.

        You can’t get too involved in the details – like the old lady (apocryphal, I’m sure) who was delighted by a book and happy to give it a Gold Star!

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  3. I believe you would be fair to all authors in your reviews. I only read reviewers comments if they use their names. ( profile picture cant hurt either) I don’t believe anyone hiding behind the internet.

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    • I definitely try to be fair, especially when I’m reading outside of my favourite genres.

      You’re right in alluding to the bullying that often occurs on reviewing platforms. I generally don’t read one-star reviews for this reason (I actually find that three-star reviews are often the most helpful in terms of really breaking down what the reader liked and didn’t like, and giving thorough reasons). I also follow a few of the top reviewers on Goodreads because they always put a lot of thought into their reviews, which I’ve found helpful as both a reader and a writer.

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  4. Like you Janna I have mixed thoughts. I generally don’t bother reviewing an established author’s work – my review is worth little amongst all the rest.

    Books by new authors, or fellow blogger-authors I’ll always try to review positively. If I don’t like it I stay silent on the matter.

    I spent a year or so reviewing for a book review website. It was dreadful being committed to both reading and reviewing some awful trash (along with the better stuff). I was honour bound to review but always tried to find some merit in there even when leaving 1* or 2* reviews. As you say, the writer has invested part of their life producing it.

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