Should authors review books?

I do find this sort of question, as seen here at Writers Unboxed, a little odd.

Of course you have a right to write reviews—we’re all readers! Readers get to have opinions!—but you should give some thought to what you want those reviews to accomplish. Do you want to boost other authors and recommend the books you loved? You can do that by writing positive reviews of the books you loved and just not writing about books that don’t fit into that category. If, on the other hand, you want the internet to reflect the complete record of everything you read and what you thought about it—positive or negative—go for it. But remember that some authors can’t help reading their reviews, and your name is going to be associated with that negative review. 

The bolding is mine.

I think this is largely a no-brainer. There is absolutely no reason not to write positive reviews of books you love, whether or not you are an author. So why ask the question: Should authors review books? Yes. yes, if you are an author, you absolutely should review the books other people write.

You should write glowingly positive reviews that are also honest and perhaps mention something that might not work for just every possible reader. The author of the book will love that, or at least it’s hard to imagine otherwise. There’s no reason to hesitate. Onward!

So the actual question is: should authors write negative reviews of other people’s books? That’s a much harder question. I’ve only written negative reviews about three times.

Once, I utterly panned a book. I put that review only here on this blog. I did not feel it was necessary right to put a truly negative review on Goodreads or Amazon.

Wow, was that a terrible book. Looking back on it, just … wow.

I’ve put one fairly negative review on Goodreads and Amazon for one specific book, Control Point by Myke Cole, and I’ve left it there. I had very specific reactions to certain implausible plot points and I think those were fair. I did think the actual writing was fine and said so.

For Tana French’s In the Woods, I posted a review of the “Wow, this did not work for me at all, even though it is beautifully written” type.

I kind of think those may be the only negative reviews I’ve ever posted.

I think it’s not only tactically wise for an author to generally post positive reviews, but in general, I truly prefer writing reviews of books I love and posting those here and hopefully seeing you all comment about the same book.

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7 thoughts on “Should authors review books?”

  1. I find author reviews to be quite helpful, especially if I really like the author and they are recommending another author’s work. I am not an author, but I regularly review books for Library Journal and for Choice, where the books are assigned to me. I will occasionally write negative reviews, but I try to do what Rachel did for the Tana French, aka “well written, but not my thing,” unless it is truly terrible. Which has happened maybe twice in 20 years. Much more fun to write a glowing review, and even better when it’s a new-to-me author.

  2. I think that tracks. I will say, though, that I write goodreads reviews mostly as a sort of external memory, because after a while I can generally remember if I liked something or not, but the why is trickier. It’s really useful to be able to look that part up. Since I’ve got 2 goodreads followers and one is my mom, no one cares what I write on there, so I review everything, positive and negative. Do authors just have a better memory for that sort of thing?

  3. The thing to remember is not to review the books of an author who’s reviewed your books in the same venue.

    To avoid accusations of review swapping.

  4. I agree on all points, but will add one more. If a book has 95 glowing reviews on amazon, and one buy it based on this, then it behooves one to channel one’s inner Dorothy Parker if the book is objectively bad. This kind of nonsense needs push-back.

    I confess to buying a book recently because i *knew* it would be horrible, and I thought a poison pen review would be enjoyable. (I had already composed much of it before purchase.) After finishing chapter one, I started the meat of the review, then realized that no matter how much fun the review might be, it wouldn’t make up for amy hours spent skimming the book. The review was fun nonetheless, but includes the phrase, “not a book to be tossed aside lightly.”

  5. Laurel, I agree, I especially like to write a very glowing review for a new-to-me author.

    Pete, although I don’t necessarily like to write extremely negative reviews myeself, I do enjoy reading a well-written, well-justified, highly negative review. And the phrase “not a book to be tossed aside lightly” is a classic line for a reason, that’s for sure!

    Sarah, that’s a bit like me figuring out what I think about a book, or actually more like why I think that, by writing a review. I will say, once or twice writing a review made me realize that some aspects of the book actually bothered me, and those aspects bothered me more after writing the review, so that I mentally took the book’s sequels off my TBR someday list.

  6. I did write one non-positive review of a book on Goodreads. Still gave it three stars (there were some good parts and I tried to balance my review by praising them) but the world building was so completely, absolutely lacking that I had to comment on it.

    I don’t review any books in my immediate genre because it’s too easy to come across as sycophantic (asking for reviews in return by praising a book) or as if I’m trying to drag down the other author’s ranking compared to mine.

    Some people claim you should only review if you have something positive to say. and I completely disagree with that. I have bought books based on one-star reviews, because the things that the reviewer hated are things I myself enjoy. Likewise, things I dislike are not show stoppers for other people. If a reviewer says there’s bad grammar or sloppy writing, I’d steer clear while some other readers don’t have a problem. I even think it’s fine to review a book you didn’t finish, so long as you are clear on why you didn’t finish. If a reviewer just says “This book stinks” then I’d rather they hadn’t written any review at all. If they say “This book stinks because A, B, and C” then it’s a helpful review IMO.

  7. I try to review everything I read/watch for a couple of reasons. I want to know what my thoughts on it were when the memory fades, I want to be able to point people who are asking about book so-and-so to my already-documented thoughts, and sometimes I just need to vent about a particular book (or gush enthusiastically). Some of the reviews that continue garnering likes are the ones that were one star, where I basically wrote a three page essay about why I found the book so annoying.

    I do try only reviewing books that I have FINISHED, although I think there was one exception to that rule where the first page was bad, and I read 50 pages and it only made me hate the main character more and more, and eventually I just gave up and left the review as a note to myself of “Love the topic but don’t be fooled this was trash.” But I did note in the review how far I got before I walled it.

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