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

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

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 punctuation. Black words on a white page. That’s all the material we have to spin worlds from the void.

Granted, some authors are David Copperfield and others more like Creepy Uncle Burney who is “stealing our nose” but we are illusionists all the same.

Regular readers don’t know about POV, three-act structure, pinch-points, turning points, character arc, themes, and all the tricks of the trade that create the show book. Writers are the jaded adults and regular readers are more like *shrugs* kids. Readers look for the magic, not the overuse of metaphors or the improperly developed symbolism.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Michelle Krill.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Michelle Krill.

I went looking for the comment, but I’ve been awake since three in the morning and traveling all day, so I am bleary-eyed. But one commenter made a particularly insightful remark. In a nutshell, she said:

The book review is NOT critique. Goodreads or Amazon is not the place to dissect the work.

That really stuck with me.

So when we writers do give that review, are we reviewing or critiquing? Is there a difference?

Often a lot of authors don’t find reviews helpful because they are from readers. But a professional reviewer or a fellow author might not necessarily be offering a review, rather a critique and, depending on how many blunders, this can tip over into The Land of We Should Really Talk About This in Private.

Before I Became an Editor

I LOVED reading. I could just get lost in books and I had an insatiable appetite and read all genres (maybe that’s why my first book was ALL genres, LOL). But I didn’t see the strings and wires. I didn’t notice the trap door because I was focused on the MAGIC, the STORY.

In ways, becoming an editor/writer ruined a lot of my love for fiction (and most movies). There are books I once adored, but now (with new eyes) all I can spot are the problems.

So I do feel the need to throw this out….

Are We Writers Ruining the Magic?

Is it an honest/fair assessment of a work of fiction when WE look at it? It would be like a group of illusionists going to Criss Angel’s show and then ripping apart his show, pointing out the doubles or the hidden key or the trick blades. People just want to be awed.

We know an illusionist isn’t really making that woman float, but we want to be “tricked.” If other illusionists posted scathing reviews, we’d never go to another magic show. We’d become disenchanted because we’d know there was a man behind the curtain and to look for him.

***Note: This is why illusionists never give up their secrets ;). Hmmm, food for thought.

This is Why I Don’t Listen to Film Critics (Or Read Book Reviews)

It’s hard enough enough to enjoy a film as a former editor now author. But I don’t like listening to film critics before I see the movie because they know about movies, screenwriting and even production. They point out a lot of stuff I would have never noticed because I was too busy watching the Enterprise burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

If I watch a movie review (or read a book review) I suddenly am scope-locked looking for all the problems. Often I read reviews AFTER to see if others picked up on the same stuff.

When we look at a piece of fiction, it’s a set of eyes better for critique than review. I think this is why reviewing really IS a skill. Book reviewers and book bloggers have a unique skill set. I think (aside from I never want to hurt anyone and I want a positive brand) this is why I don’t review. It’s too easy for my Editor’s Hat to come on and then I could ruin the magic for readers who would have never seen the false floor had I not pointed it out.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

This is Why Beta Readers Are Worth Their Weight in DIAMONDS

Writers make some of the worst beta readers. Sorry, but it’s true. We can nit-pick a good story into a Book-by-Committee faster than the coffee disappears. This is why a lot of novelists have two groups look at a book—the critique group then beta readers.

Piper Bayard just finished a new thriller and I loved it, but I told her to send it to my husband. HE is her readership for this series. Shawn might not spot a POV problem, but he will know if he was entertained. He’ll also be able to articulate as a reader what went wrong or what went RIGHT.

Thus, in a sense, reviews can end up a mixed bag. We have people who are trained and wired to look for every last problem (because we don’t want the typos and such in our own work) giving an opinion.

As I said, I’m not taking a position on this, just opening up the floor to hear what you guys think. Aside from the Golden Rule stuff, do you think it’s possible we could sabotage what regular readers might enjoy had we not written a commentary of the problems?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!


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  1. I’ve been debating over this one myself. I’ve read a couple of books lately that I really enjoyed, and I want to write them a glowing review as a reader. But as a writer, I can see some glaring mistakes. So I’m torn. Do I write that glowing reader review, or do I temper it with the writer’s thoughts? I still haven’t decided!

    I’ve found being a writer (or rather, editor of my own work), has destroyed a little of the magic for me. I can’t read a book without being aware of it’s structure anymore. It’s frustrating at times.

    1. Hmm, yeah. I suppose when I review books on Goodreads, or that sort of thing, I really am looking at it with an ‘editor’s mind’ (as amateur as mine is). I’ve also had some of the fun taken out of reading because I see the flaws. Sometimes I can’t understand why certains books are so popular when I can see how “terrible” they are.
      In the end, perfection gives way to magic. So, that might not be the point of the article, but that’s what I get out of it. : )

    2. Rinelle – why not do both? Send a personal message to the author with the writing comments and post the glowing review.

  2. I think I am still at the magic stage where I pick up a book and enjoy it for the content not the mistakes, unless there are a lot of mistakes that make it distracting. I like reading reviews from other readers but you are right that I wouldn’t want to read a critique before reading the book. It would ruin the magic for me. I avoid movie critiques and reviews for the same reason. Star Trek Into Darkness had lots of flaws, but I loved every second and would watch it over and over without once picking out any of the things wrong with it. I’m all about the magic. Having said that if another author wanted me to critique their work, I could do that as well, but it does ruin the magic. Unfortunately we need that curtain pulled back as writers so we can make the best story possible.

  3. I never come away from reading one of your posts without the proverbial light coming on. That’s no BS just for the giveaway. That’s the facts, ma’am. *smiles* Thank you for releaving me of the guilt I’ve shouldered regarding this subject ever since I started writing. I didn’t want to admit I’ve had the same opinions about other authors writing reviews. Now that the weight’s been lifted, I can separate the writers from the readers and utilize each group’s abilities to the fullest. Thanks, you’re a gem!

    • Jennifer Cole on June 21, 2013 at 6:56 am
    • Reply

    Based on the conversation so far that has come from this whole discussion, I think its prudent to say that it is a case by case decision. I still enjoy reading others’ work for stress release and entertainment. If I dissected a book by Stephen King and said A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, and then sub a, b, c, and on and on, chances are he’s not going to be all that concerned about my opinion. However, a new author is much more fragile than an established author.

    A new author may have spent YEARS working on their book and for another author to rip it to shreds wouldn’t be fair to them. So my opinion is that one should take consideration in who the author is before giving a review.

    Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2013 11:38:36 +0000 To:

  4. Wow.

    Kirsten you’ve really opened a can of worms with this one…. Do writers lose the magic of reading… I needed to think hard about that one and if I’m honest, I think we do. Not that I can’t enjoy a great book. Recently I’ve read a couple of books that have kept me awake until the wee small hours. I was so engrossed in those stories, that I never looked or noted any mistakes or even thought that the author could have improved her book had she done xyz. Those are the books that I will leave a review.

    On the other hand, if I pick up a book where the writing is seriously flawed then all bets are off and I can guarantee I’ll see and take note of every flaw while I’m reading. Those are the books I that I will never review…. and as you commented in your earlier post…silence speaks volumes.

  5. Oh, I can’t agree with you more. The more I learn about writing, the less I can just relax and enjoy a book without tearing it apart. I still love to read and I try to get in two or three a month, but that sheer joy of reading like a child in wonderland is gone.

    I started a book review column in our local newspaper and the editor and I had an agreement. I was not a critic, I was a reviewer. The goal was to get people to read books, not discourage them. So I only wrote positive reviews. Sometimes that meant having to go through four or five books to find one I could say only positive things about..As I got more and more involved in writing, I passed down my column to another reader friend of mine. She is doing an excellent job with the column.

    But I am getting off track. The other comment I wanted to make about reviewing other author books is once in awhile you read one that, because you know the mechanics of writing, you find the treasures that others might miss. For example, I just finished Holly Robinson’s, The Wishing Hill. What a wonderful book. Holly has a special gift with words and the way she strings them together is simply poetry. Some sentences, I just had to read over and over because they were so beautiful.

    I don’t believe authors should ever say anything negative about another writer on a blog or anywhere public. If they really feel the need to say something – and only if they are asked – they should do it privately.

  6. I think if you’re going to put your name out there and your work, you better be prepared for criticism. We all want everyone to love what we do, whether it’s writing a book, an article or a song. That’s how we grow (and learn) as artists and writers. As writers we see errors that the casual reader doesn’t, or cannot possibly be expected to. You can make up your own mind whether or not to – publicly – use that advantage to critique another author’s work, or inconspicuously refer to it in your review (hoping the new author will catch on). But reviews are fair game…once that publish button is hit. Just keep it civil.

  7. I suspect we should be barred from reviewing! It’s impossible for me to read a book as a reader any more; however much I enjoy the book, I’m looking for the bones. I’ve decided not to post a review I wrote recently. My problems with the book are technical; I don;t know any more whether they’d bother a “normal” reader!

  8. I

    I’ll give you a classic example of one author using an advantage to critique another author’s work. I recently wrote an Op-Ed. The editor who did the editing for that article, was the same person who was writing the opposing view article. Do you think that was fair? I didn’t, but it only taught me that as a writer, I have to always keep in the back of my mind the types of people (professionals or not) who could possibly be reading my work – if I want to survive.

    • Robynne Rand on June 21, 2013 at 7:22 am
    • Reply

    I missed the debate, but I’d like to chime in. I’m an author, and I write reviews all the time. I turn off my writer hat because I still love to read. I don’t find I need to point out the mistakes I may find. And mostly, now, as we’re all indie-professionals there aren’t a whole lot of mistakes. And when there are so many that I just can’t stand the book, I don’t review it. (Funnily enough, there was one book that had supposedly been edited and published by a small press that was just so god-awful I couldn’t get past the first chapter.) And even for those of they who arent’ indie, some of the stuff that’s come out of New York the last couple of years, isn’t all that great either. Where have all the editors gone?

  9. Writers work hard on their works. I respect that. I don’t find every writer’s work masterful or enjoyable. I respect the writer’s efforts.

    There is judgement, and there is discernment. Judgement is harsh, even hurtful at times. I don’t want to be hurtful. Discernment, many times, is best shared on a one-on-one, if the writer wishes it and is ready to hear it in private.

    Nasty public comments make you, the reviewer, appear nasty. Honesty carries power. Yet, honesty must be delivered with finesse.

    Reviews tend to be either too positive or too negative. If I can be effusively positive, without feeling dishonest, I am. If I cannot deliver a positive public review, I remain quiet. If the author really wants to know what I think on a one-on-one, I must take more time to develop an honest, appropriate communication.


  10. I agree that reviews and critiques are different, but I think that I can do either. I just finished the latest book in a series that I really enjoy, and I didn’t read it as an author, I read it as a reader. I haven’t lost what made me love books in the first place, and I really hope I never do.

    For what it’s worth, I also know a thing or two about stage magic, but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying magic shows. In fact, when I see a particularly well executed card illusion, I have two types of enjoyment, both the wonder of seeing something “magic” and the admiration of knowing the level of skill it takes to pull it off.

    I think it’s the same thing as a reader–I can get lost in the story while style admiring how the story is put together from a technical standpoint. I do think that being a writer has made me less accepting of bad writing, but it has enhanced my enjoyment of good writing.

    In my opinion authors can be the best reviewers.

  11. Yes! Though I’ve been a writer all my life, it wasn’t until after I worked with the editors of my first book that the magic of reading changed for me. Your analogy of the illusionist is spot on. I most certainly read differently now. It’s a little sad, actually. I try my best to just sink into reader mode and just enjoy the book for what it is, but it is difficult. I agree that it wouldn’t be fair for someone like me to post a “review.”

  12. Hi Kristen,

    I LOVE this post. I made a decision a long time ago that when I ‘review’ a book, it’s always done as a reader. I agree that any ‘helpful’ negative comments (or critique) should be done privately. That’s not to say that as an editor and fellow author I don’t notice issues along the way but I definitely don’t nit-pick in the review (and only do books that I liked). If I put my author hat on, I have to admit I was a little miffed when a reviewer of my novel held back half a star from an otherwise 5-star review because of a ‘few formatting’ issues in the eBook version, which she even mentioned hadn’t taken away from the enjoyment of the story! I held my tongue, shifted my thinking to gratefulness for the 4.5 stars, made a mental note to fix the formatting and moved on.

    J, thanks for the recommendation on Holly Robinson’s The Wishing Will! I think I’ll check it out!

    Happy writing,

  13. This has been a wonderful series of blogs, Kristen. I know, over the years, I have become far more selective in both my reading and reviewing. I do try to leave my editor’s hat on the hat rack whenever possible, mostly for the sake of my own enjoyment. If we start dissecting every story we read, we will suck all the pleasure out of the experience.

  14. I spent years studying ballet and reviewed it for years for a Canadian newspaper. I still love going to the ballet and can really enjoy an evening of it — while I can also see when it’s poorly done and know why.

    I agree with Joseph — if you’re so sensitive you cannot bear to have someone say a negative word publicly about your book, it’s going be a rough ride. But there is useful, intelligent criticism (of structure, dialogue, reporting [in NF]) whatever) and there is stupidity and emotion.

    I’m currently reading an old book by Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, and it’s so well-written I keep putting it down to just reflect on the quality of his work and how beautifully he writes. Having written for a living for 30 years doesn’t impede my ability to be gobsmacked by the greatness of other writers, torn between envy and awe.

  15. As usual, your blog hits the mark and asks the right question – does the “expert” review take the magic out of the book for the reader? Well certainly it can dampen the magic of writing for the fledgling author as mentioned in the comments to this blog. It seems to me, and I suppose I must admit to being the poster child for the unpublished writer, (who has a great critique group, btw), that critique can just be an exercise for the reviewer to prove his/her keen editor’s eye, never addressing if the story “works”. The mechanics of writing fiction, which seem to be more and more defined and confined by the ever-shrinking attention span of the masses, can beat the heart out of story with that righteous hammer of convention. This has happened to me at various times and I’ve learned to ask the most important question – does this story work? Have I conjured the magic I was feeling when I wrote the scene or am I just another muggle with a keyboard? Did I write something that brings the reader into the moment with me, making the stark words on the page or the glowing text on the Kindle morph from font to imagery for the reader?

    I think the answer most important and relevant would be from the reader who sits down with a book hoping to be pulled into “show” and will know if the price of admission was worth it.

  16. Good points. Will take them to heart.

  17. Recently, I was a beta reader for the debut by an unpublished author I’ve become acquainted with through Twitter, and even though my editor’s hat was on, I found myself quite swept up in the narrative, i.e., the magic. I think was more invested because there was a personal stake – I was rooting for a friend to succeed. On the other hand, the book at my bedside is a polished, multi-award winning work (by someone I don’t know) and I’m finding it a real struggle, fixating on mechanics and sentence structure and artistic choices and flipping ahead to see how many pages are left. Would it be different if I knew this guy? Perhaps, but then, that isn’t being fair to him. Still, I think our ability to lose ourself in the magic of pages depends entirely on our willingness to believe – and it’s a conscious choice we have to make.

  18. Many of us wear two hats. I’m a writer, but also a librarian. I write a lot of book reviews that are used on my library’s web site or attached to books in the catalog. The library wants to encourage reading, so all my reviews there are positive. If I don’t love it, I just don’t mention it.

    I also review on Goodreads, Amazon, and on my blog. These reviews are approached a little differently. At first I used the same criteria I used for my library reviews. Then one day after reading several rave reviews I ordered a book and was disappointed in both the usefulness of the content and the author’s ability to communicate. As a reader I felt cheated and misled. That experience led to my first negative review.

    I agree with you, Kristen, as a writer, we are all in the same boat, trying desperately to row against the current. Other writer’s deserve our respect and our help and we shouldn’t shove the boulder of a bad review in their way. Most writers.

    But there are a few sailing past in cabin cruisers, making the best seller list on the basis of name recognition alone, it especially bothers me when the big name on the cover isn’t even the same person who wrote the book. See my review of Robert B. Parker’s Ironhorse.

  19. I always approach the reviews I write as a reader, not as a writer. I spent my first career and too many years to count in graphics/publishing, and the main thing I learned there was things I sweat over, lost sleep over, cried over…were never noticed by the public at large. I saw a photo that was too dark and the flesh tones were all wrong and the public saw a fun photo of a boy in the rain. The person who receives your product is not looking for something to critique. They are taking it at face value…they simply want to be entertained/enlightened or to escape for a bit. They know less about grammar and punctuation than you, and what’s more they generally don’t care nearly as much about it. If the person who picks up the product has no idea what you originally intended, then they have no idea that anything is wrong. Face value.

    So when I review a book (and I only do public reviews of books I liked and can give 3-5 stars for depending on the place) I review it as a reader. Did I escape? Was I entertained? If that answer is yes, then that’s what I say. The magic is not diminished for me if I see a typo (unless, of course, the book is full of them, in which case I might say something in private). I don’t waste time dissecting the plot to death (I’d only do that if I didn’t like it, and I don’t publish those). I agree with the statement, that’s a critique…not a review. Did I enjoy it and will my friends enjoy it too? That’s all I care about when I’m writing a review.

    I’m still a reader, even if sometimes I wear a writer hat 🙂

  20. Great article! I also review only as a reader when I post a review. If I hated the book (and there have been a couple), I say nothing. Fortunately, I’m still able to slip off the writer hat and enjoy a good book. I agree with the post by Melinda – If I enjoyed it and think my friends will, it’s worth a review.

    And yes, I’ve had writers and readers read my manuscript. Two totally different points of view. Both absolutely necessary.

  21. This was an interesting read, and made me think a lot about how I read. I think for myself, the conflict is not between reader and writer, but academic and fiction. Sometimes I find the critical side most used in my academic writing stretching into my fictional reading or writing. This can be helpful, as academic writings lack of sentimentality allows you to perhaps be a more brutal and effective editor, but at the same time can dilute some of that ‘magic’ you mentioned. So perhaps it has more to do with the genre of writing and reading you work most in, rather than your capacity as a writer or a reader.

  22. I write, but when I review a book, I don’t do a critique, I review it. I talk about the story, the characters, what I liked, what felt like a weakness and the quaility of writing. I don’t address character arcs problems, or grammatical errors. What used to be my problem, actually, was that I would analyzed the book (seven years spent studying French lit. left habits hard to get rid of) instead of reviewing it. I still have a hard time with it, sometimes.

    So I think you can, as a writer, review books, as long as you’re able to take of your writer’s hat and don your reader’s hat to do so.

  23. For my part, becoming a better writer has definitely cut into my enjoyment of reading. Because I can’t usually turn it OFF. I’m listening to the latest in a long series in audio from one of my favorite authors right now and finding myself REALLY disappointed because it seems like she wasn’t edited AT ALL. The redundancy is killing me. But I would never talk about that in a review. IF I review a book (and I usually don’t), it’s because it was AWESOME and I want to spread the word. If I don’t have something nice to say about something, I usually won’t say it at all (or at least not naming names and pointing fingers at THIS BOOK SUCKED AND HERE’S WHY). Readers don’t care about that kind of thing (see popularity of several books that writers regularly bash for poor editing and construction) and that’s not my ROLE as a reader. So mostly I’ll just select my stars on Goodreads (more for my own purposes to remember stuff) and move on with no written review. And if I can’t put AT LEAST 3 stars, I don’t even rate it at all, just let it go quietly into the night.

  24. I don’t typically read book reviews or movie reviews either. I’d rather experience the book or movie first hand through my eyes before it’s corrupted by anyone else’s thoughts. I’ve left some of my thoughts on books on Goodreads, but usually keep it brief and try not to give away too much of the book. Everyone has an opinion and I don’t always agree with it. My mother is an avid movie goer and will share what she thinks of a movie quite often. I keep an open mind, because I don’t always even see eye to eye with what my own mother thinks of a movie.

  25. Nice discussion: Personally, I write reviews based on what works, not on what doesn’t work (for me). I see too many reviews (whether writers or readers) that don’t match with what I read. Not unusual; we’re all different. Also, since there are no rules, unless something is misspelled, writing is fair game for trying something new. It’s crazy when one person says that a book’s characters weren’t drawn out enough and another person believes that the characters were well developed. Even structural elements are like puzzle pieces. So, I try to see what the author may have been trying to do, rather than finding fault in what he or she did.

  26. For me there is no debate here. I was a reader long before I became a writer. My opinion is valid. I may not choose to review everything I read, but I will do whatever I want. Hahahahaha

  27. I know self published authors who actually rely on these reviews because they treat them like beta readers. They then edit the novel based on this feedback, sometimes to the point of changing the title and cover and republishing it. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. That is not the point of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.

    I don’t review books. I rate them, but anything less than three stars will be ignored.

    1. I’ve encountered this phenomenon as well, and nothing ticks me off more. I even encountered one arrogant, clueless writer who said right in the back of his book to email him directly if you had problems with plot, characters, POV, etc., so he could fix those, but not to bother him with typos and other errors because those didn’t matter. WTF??? You only get one chance to make a good impression. What on earth would lead that author to believe I would ever spend another dime on one of his books? I don’t pay for the “privilege” of being somebody’s beta reader, I pay for a complete, finished work. Anything else is disrespectful to your readers.

  28. You hit on it – when we review, we should review, not critique. I’ve been doing book reviews for decades, and when I do, I take my writer’s hat off and look at the work as a reader. If it confuses me, I say so, but without delving into the arcania of writing that most readers not only don’t understand, but don’t care about. When reviewing, the main objective should be to determine if the book does what it’s supposed to do for the reader. If it does, other than really glaring and distracting issues – stay away from comments on writing style.

  29. I’m really glad this 3-day discussion has come this far. I was wrestling with reviewing a book that I mostly loved, but had a structural weakness that I didn’t know how to address. Your post has helped me crystalize exactly how to put it, from the standpoint of entertainment, not structure. Thanks–great post.

  30. The magic never went away for me. In fact, I love reading even more now because I don’t have to look for errors in someone else’s book. For me, it’s a very freeing experience to take a break and be a reader. When I review books (and I do only review books I enjoy), I review it as a reader.

    I’m also part of a critique group, and in that case, I do look at things as a writer instead of a reader. There is a difference between the two modes.

    I agree that reviews aren’t critiques.

  31. As far as I know, magicians don’t go around to other magic shows and point out the smoke and mirrors to the audience.

    Is it fair for writers to write book reviews? I think it is but with a caveat: the reviewer must be very careful about WHY they are saying what they are saying in the review. Are we showing off our own skills by pointing out the flaws in someone else’s work? Or does a flaw in the work actually hurt the story as a whole?

    People checking the reviews want to know whether the story was exciting, if the characters were interesting, whether the STORY is worth spending not just their money on, but also their time. They’re not looking for the reviewer to point out that we spotted a weak spot in the middle of the second act.

    I think reviewing is the same as any other writing – know what will information will provide value to your reader.

  32. I think we might find this phrasing of the question more helpful, for fairness may or may not be relevant, but right-ness might:

    Is it right to review at all?

    I know this is coming from a guy who has done reviews, but I keep thinking that’s something I need to change. Critics were formed in the renaissance as a way to “judge” a work — literally to declare a verdict of whether or not it was worth your time.

    The more I think about this, the more I think it’s ridiculous. Kristen might hate the books I recommend and I might love the ones she recommends. There’s nothing to say that one man’s opinion on the merits of a given work outweigh that of another.

    Because of this, the entire review system seems broken. I’m finding it more and more helpful to talk about themes and story-symbols and whether or not those themes are true rather than to tell people, “Read this, don’t read this, read this.”

    That said, I’m finding reviewing more and more absurd and the reading of reviews even more so. Yes, I love word of mouth — but it’s just that, word of mouth. I trust the opinion and recommendation of a handful of close friends like the rest of the world. I think the more consistently we live to that reality — the reality that most people rely on their wife or their boss for a recommendation — the more content we will be to live without the review system.

    And therefore the need for fairness among authors will be rendered irrelevant because we’ll be more concerned with what authors are actually saying in their work, what the characters mean, what the jokes are making fun of, etc.


  33. I did my share of deconstruction during my A-Levels and, almost to a book, cannot enjoy anything I critiqued thoroughly for symbolism and nuances of technique, so – while I can do it – I have trained my mind to stay away from the details of craft when reading unless I am beta reading or editing. As one of my last reviews was criticised for not exploring the use of style deeply enough I am hopeful I am keeping the nitpicker at bay.

    I have another perspective on taking away the magic: authors actually know what it is like to write and proof a book, so, as well as the tools to attack the style, they have the background to empathise with other authors for the mistakes that creep in, so are better placed to politely ignore some hiccups.

  34. Excellent distinction here, between review & critique. You’ve sparked some really thoughtful discussion here. I’m going to have to think about the need for beta readers vs. critique group.

  35. Very good point. I find that when I enjoy a book, I can review it like a reader. But if too many problems trip me up, the editor hat comes out. Maybe that’s a good sign that I should not review the book.

  36. I am still amazed and awed by a good book. Of all the books and series’ I have read there has been one I will remember always, it wasn’t the style or writing but Characters that intrigued me. But with that said if I can’t write something nice I generally don’t. I don’t because I don’t know the author or what he/she put into the story itself and do not want to discourage them, on the other hand if its something that will help I will see if I can privately send them a note with my thoughts, both good and bad.

    But I still read for the “magic”.


  37. As a writer, you do have to make a decision about your brand and whether and how you should approach a book review/critique. That said, most of us have or have had other lives or occupations, as do our readers. To say that writers should not review books maybe is to say that no one should review anything in their field because they will be too critical or know the inside track. Example: I used to be a prosecutor. I have a really hard time watching TV crime shows or reading crime novels because I can’t help finding the flaws. So should I not review crime novels? The fact is that we have very savvy readers and if I can find the inaccuracies, so can the readers. My job as a crime novelist is not to rest on the information I had as a prosecutor ten years ago – it’s to make sure I’m current and accurate (so some other prosecutor doesn’t crush me).

    As writers, we put ourselves out there and if we haven’t done our best to suss out major flaws before we publish, then shame on us. To your point, Kristin, that’s the beauty of beta readers, both professional and audience. It’s also why every writer should seriously consider having a professional editor look at their work before publishing. In the end, you can never please everyone, but cutting off your most knowledgable reviewers isn’t the answer. I mean, do we want to stop doctors from reviewing medical articles?

  38. I majored in English with a focus on creative writing in college and I can’t say that it’s not “fair” for other writers to review another person’s work, but it is certainly more difficult for them to review it from the standpoint of a typical reader. In the classroom I oftentimes felt that the critiques were pulling me away from what made me unique as a writer toward something more along the lines of what the critiquer would write. Also, because we were graded based on critiquing, there appeared to be a huge slant toward tearing people’s work apart just so you could get credit for providing one or two pages of feedback. These people who had so much negative feedback for you about your writing style would then get loads of negative feedback of their own. Writers aren’t typically reading for enjoyment. They are typically reading to make themselves better writers by learning what works and what doesn’t in the writings of others. It’s hard to shut that off and just enjoy a story.

    Book reviews on Amazon or sites like that should be left to those who still enjoy reading for what it is. Let the readers fight it out about whether the book is good or not. Writers should really stay out of it because I don’t think we can be truly objective. There’s jealousy because that person’s book was published while ours still sits on our disk drives. We wouldn’t have opened the book with that particular line or scene so it affects how we see the book as a whole. We should voice our opinions–and they are just opinoins–in forums geared for critiques. Not forums for reviews.

  39. I don’t write bad reviews, because as some others said, then the author hat comes out. I start breaking it down to its core components. (What’s amazing for me though is even when I don’t like a book and I am breaking something down–I often find something that helps my own writing.)

    However if I enjoy a book as a reader, I love writing reviews because I know it helps the author–especially if they are independent or published by a small press. If I am on the fence about a book, I generally keep my comments short and to the point. I’ll say what I liked and mention briefly that I didn’t like. Give it 3 stars. However I do not comment on grammar or style.

    As an author myself, the other reason I found myself reviewing less and less, is because I enjoy reading. For awhile it seemed like all I was doing was reviewing books…it was taking away from my writing. Now I enjoy one or two books a month rather that dozen I just HAVE to review for my blog. I stopped doing reading challenges for the same reason.

  40. I love reading and I love writing, and the more I write the more I’m fussy about what I read – but, while sloppy grammar and confusing POV can be a severe (even fatal) distraction, what upsets me most of all has nothing to do with me being a writer. It’s lazy story-telling and cheap tricks. For example, I hated foretelling long before I started writing myself. How I choose to write is very much influenced by the things that annoy me when reading.

    • Jeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB) on June 21, 2013 at 10:26 am
    • Reply

    Isn’t an element of critique a given in a good review? Too many reviews for “regular readers” aren’t reviews at all, but summaries and declarations of how much the reader loved or hated the story on a gut-level response. If a reviewer if capable of dissecting POV, then by all means, they should. However, it’s possible to do so in a way that won’t ruin the book for a “regular” reader.

    1. Yes, I think we just need to be aware that we can slip into “critique group mode” and make sure we are writing a REVIEW.

  41. I’m a reader, AND a writer. As a writer, I know that most writers are hungry for reviews. Reviews help sell a book, and I want to help other writers. If a book has less than 25 reviews, it’s not even on Amazon’s radar. Even a negative review can help sell a book, because many readers will look at the highly rated positive review vs. the highly rated negative review, and decide to buy the book and make up their own minds. So, I review. I also review sometimes because other authors have read some of my reviews online and specifically asked me to read and review their books.

    I don’t want to spoil the magic for the non-writing readers, so if I discuss the technical stuff at all, mostly it is praise, “The way XX dealt with changing POV was outstanding, I never felt confused as to who was telling the story.” Occasionally I will mention, “There were a lot of typos and formatting issues in my copy, but it only slightly distracted from my enjoyment of the story.”

    I almost never bother with a negative review, but I’ve given a few. One was by a very famous author (I know I’m not hurting his books sales) because among other things, the novel threw in domestic violence almost as a side note for a secondary character, and represented it poorly. Another was on a novel chosen by my book club that was supposed to be about grief and weight issues, in which bingeing, purging, and anorexia were all glorified, and healthy eating was NEVER modeled. I did a review and warned that the book could be triggering for those with eating disorders.

    I think authors can/should review *IF* they can leave the brown-nosing (Every book is wonderful! Every book deserves five stars!) and cattiness at home. Giving a book a bad review because you are jealous or it feels like competition is unprofessional. But I don’t see anything wrong with an author-reader giving a fair, honest review: I liked this book, and here’s why. I *didn’t* care for the book, and here’s why. I know that I can, I know that it helps other writers, and so, I do.

    1. Beverly hit the nail on the head for me. (Glad I read the comments and got to this one – saved me so much typing. ;))

      This bit in particular: “I think authors can/should review *IF* they can leave the brown-nosing (Every book is wonderful! Every book deserves five stars!) and cattiness at home.”

  42. It’s been proven that the most popular books are not always the most well- written, but if they capture an audience so much that it’s “magic” rises above the others then that alone points to the importance of beta readers. Take some of the reality shows like American Idol – if someone isn’t perfect but has that “thing” that makes them stand out, nitpicking becomes pointless because they have already made that all important connection with their audience.

  43. When I review books on Goodreads or Amazon I just review as a reader too. I deliberately don’t get picky about the sort of things I know are ‘writerly’ – I do not feel that is the purpose of a book review by a reader. However, if, as recently, I read a book by an extremely well known and many times published author and find myself getting irritated by the constant repetition I say so because I think I may not be the only one it annoys and it’s a criticism not specific to writers.
    Like Jeri Walker-Bickett (above) I notice that many reviews are not reviews – but are, instead, a synopsis of the whole story, plot and denouement, including all the twists and turns and I find that annoying.(And must be so for the authors) Why do reviewers think this is necessary- when what is really required is whether they found it a good read or not – and WHY? Then the reader of the review gets the gut feeling AND the whys and wherefores and can decide whether to follow up on reading the book without having it spoiled. (Spoiler alerts are often not attached to these!) This is why blurbs are carefully constructed to give away only what the author has to, to draw the reader to the book without ruining any surprises, rather than just being a synopsis of the whole book.

  44. I’m a big fan of Beta readers, especially when I’m ready to pull my hair out during the editing. My Beta’s always find the stuff that makes me go, HUH! Why didn’t I see that? New perspective, new life in my writing/editing.

  45. While I think it is possible for us to destroy the magic if we’re not careful with how we phrase a review, I think we’re also in a position to give insight into novels that the average reader may not have.

    Some reviewers on Amazon/Goodreads/etc will rate books really poorly because the book just wasn’t to their taste. I hate seeing authors get slammed by readers who didn’t like a book because it conflicted with their religious beliefs (common in fantasy, UF, and PNR my usual genres) or they couldn’t accept a character with a major ethical or moral flaw. Those reviews tell me nothing about the book, only about the reader who posted it. Sure, I can easily figure out which are which, but I almost feel it’s my duty to post a review that challenges theirs. Ok, so maybe the MC was a raging beeyotch or had a drug problem, but did it serve the story? Did the character grow? Was I entertained? Those are the sorts of things we have the opportunity to address. Yeah, I hated that a certain character died (which other readers might spurn an author for), but I feel it’s easier as a writer to understand why the author made that decision and appreciate the emotions the death evoked and its impact on the story.

    Prime example: the Red Wedding in A Song or Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones.

    See what I mean?

    • annerallen on June 21, 2013 at 10:59 am
    • Reply

    Authors have always written book reviews. Otherwise, we’d have no New York Times Book Review, New Yorker, or New York Review of Books. But those are literary writers reviewing literary books. Maybe you’re right that pulp fiction readers who can’t write a sentence might be the best judge of pulp fiction (not genre fiction, but the ‘toss it off in a weekend’ werewolf erotica or whatever.)

    I know that I won’t review a book that has a slithery point of view, cardboard characters and basic structure problems. I realize I’m not the audience for the book and move on.

    But when I read a book by a fellow author that I find moving and transcendent and on every page I come across a sentence and say “I wish I’d written that!” I want to share that with other readers. When Amazon tells me that’s “unethical” I have a problem with it.

  46. I know what you mean. I used to be able to read anything, but now bad writing repulses me. I don’t define good writing by today’s fashion rules for writing, and often notice that some of my favorite books break some of today’s rules.
    We spend a lot of effort learning the rules, and so we find people breaking the rules and getting away with it offensive.
    I was surprised to read the level of vitriol in reviews of The Hunger Games Trilogy. One person said the book was bad writing because there was no foreshadowing; another person said they felt beat over the head by the foreshadowing. Since I felt everything that happened in the third book was a natural outgrowth of the first, I felt the foreshadowing was perfect. One said there was no character arc, another complained that the main character changed. Several said the writing was bad. I had to think about that for a long time and finally decided those reviewers had wanted the book to be literary. I like literary, but it wasn’t necessary for these books. I think these reviewers might have been mad that the books didn’t go the way they wanted them to go, and then looked for reasons for their mad.
    Oh, and thinking of literary excellence: I recently finished Quintessence by David Walton and I SAW JESUS! it was so good. I wonder how many people are going to ding it for have omniscient point of view?

  47. Nothing new to add to the discussion but , heck, that’s never stopped me from talking before. 🙂 I’d just like to throw in my vote for several ideas expressed here:

    1) Yes, being a writer or editor does take some of the magic out of reading 🙁

    2) Yes, writers should review if they want to but should try very hard to do so with their reader hat on, not the writer one.

    3) No, writers shouldn’t write bad reviews. Why suck the life out of some other writer’s soul when you know how bad that feels? AND why make an enemy?

    On that last one, I’ve had something interesting happen twice now. My reviewing policy is that if I can’t give at least 4 stars, I don’t review it. But if I had promised the author I would review, I then send them an e-mail and ask if they want my feedback as to why I felt I couldn’t give the book 4 stars.

    If they say yes, then I go into critique mode. Twice the author has asked me to go ahead and put the review up as a 3-star one. (If it’s not worth 3 stars than I probably didn’t finish it.)

    Which brings me to my last thought. I hate reviews from people who said they didn’t finish the book. If you didn’t finish it how can you know how good or bad it was overall? Perhaps what bothered you at the beginning is explained later. Or perhaps that newbie writer gets into the flow better after the first few chapters? By all means, stop reading if you’re not enjoying a book, but then do NOT review it. You didn’t look at the whole product!

    One of the books I gave a 3-star review on (with the author’s blessing) I almost put down several times. But it had a great ending that went a long way to redeeming it!

  48. I agree with many comments here. I review as a reader. I don’t comment on grammar or punctuation errors. Too many people hop on that band wagon. I review about how much I liked the book. At that point I’m a reader not a writer. I’ve had several authors ask me to read their books and review them.

    Your point the other day about not giving a bad review comes into play here. If there are enough problems that you want to write a bad review contact the author and tell why. They may not agree, but maybe they will accept the points you bring up as valid and learn to write better. That’s what we all strive for hopefully.

  49. Reblogged this on Merry Farmer and commented:
    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?

  50. This one is not as hard for me. What am I expected to do? If I am a reader, I review based on being a reader. If the author has asked me personally to find the mistakes, check the flow, etc., that’s what I do- and those I return privately, as usually, they are asked for, privately.

  51. This is super interesting. I had never thought of it this way, but all this is completely true. I have a couple of friends in different creative professions, and I ask them to either look at something, or critique it. I try to be specific in what I’m looking for. I don’t give my excellent writer friend text, and then expect her to be able to ignore writing errors. I don’t give my spectacular animator.illustrator friend art and expect him not to point out design flaws.
    I usually swap the two, actually. I trust their opinions implicitly, so I try to put both of us in the best position.
    Maybe the trick is in asking for the right feedback from the right people. I think it’s probably the responsibility of both people. The writer should be asking for the correct type of feedback from the correct people, and also the people giving the feedback should be able to recognize if they are not capable of providing the right type of criticism.

  52. I only nitpick at a book while I’m reading if it doesn’t sweep me away. Me? I get swept away by the magic of words ALL THE TIME. I get swept away by plays, movies, music, art, and books. I am the best audience in the world as I get the jokes no one else does, and laugh out loud. And when I review a book, I only review books that I love. Why bring a book that I didn’t love to someone’s attention?

    I’ve never had being a writer take the romance out of reading – I guess I’m lucky. But the real take away for me remains from your post two days ago – don’t flame other authors. Period. And I might add, no matter what they’ve done. Radio silence on what I may consider another author’s bad behavior is simply polite – and besides, some day it might be me that makes a bad judgment call, and I would hate to have strangers weigh in on why I did what I did without knowing any of the history of the decision. (This is all hypothetical, btw!)

    Does this make sense? Or do I need more coffee? lol…

  53. I am definitely cautious when leaving reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I often mention that I am a writer, too, so people reading my review can take that into consideration. I also tend to review books I enjoyed, knowing from experience how much pleasure it gives an author to receive enthusiastic commendation from a fellow writer. But writers are readers — avid readers — long before they become writers. If the people who love books the most, and read more than most other people do, aren’t allowed to leave book reviews, how is THAT fair?

    1. I agree, Diane. I was a reader long before I started writing. But I never wrote reviews because I didn’t get how important they are to the success of the author. Now I do, so I take a few minutes to review a good book and help a fellow author out.

  54. I think it depends on how the reviewer in question goes about the review. I have, for instance, received critiques from people who were SO picky that I wondered I they’d ever truly enjoyed a book in their lives.

    My husband knows a lot about movies. He lives and breathes them. As such he has been known to watch a movie and absolutely pick it apart, pointing out what was wrong here, and what they should have done there. But here’s the thing…he has been know to then turn around and say that he loved the movie. That same movie that he just totally ripped to shreds.

    Because here’s the thing…we can KNOW that things should be a certain way, we can KNOW the rules and the conventions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still be entertained when they’re broken.

    I’ve read books that made me cringe because of poor word choices, poorly researched topics, and poor structure, but I thought the plot was brilliant. Therein lay the trick between critique and review, I think. A critique would be writing the author (or producer, or whatever) and explaining the issues you noticed in their work, while a review should be simply about what you enjoyed. If you didn’t enjoy much, you give a lower review, but there’s no need to go into a scathing blow-by-blow account of every item that bothered you. That, more than anything, makes the reviewer look like they are incapable of any kind of artistic enjoyment.

    But then, that’s just my opinion. 🙂

  55. Good article, Kristen. When it comes to reviews, I ascribe to the philosophy on a sign in my barbershop: “If you like the service, tell someone else. If you don’t, tell me.”

    When my friends want me to review their books, I’m happy to do so in a public setting if I like it. But if they want ideas on how to make it better, I keep that correspondence private.

    Besides, writing and storytelling styles along with book genres are all preference anyway. Review books you truly love and you’ll never go wrong … and you won’t lose the magic for others either.

  56. I’m a self-published author and I feel reluctant posting reviews on my blog or Goodreads. Granted, I’ve only done this twice, and one book was by a mainstream author whose book I had read had hundreds of reviews on Goodreads anyway. But even then, I feel reluctant because as a writer, I know how writing a novel is not as easy as non-writers think it is. I gave three stars to that particular book, and I still wonder if I should’ve said what I said. I did include the parts that I liked about the book, but I also pointed out what I thought what a big flaw. I feel a little guilty I said all that.

    I’ve noticed some authors have their own book review blogs, and I wonder if that’s a good idea for them. For one thing, it may overwhelm them as writers – meaning their reputation would be as book reviewers rather than book writers. And wouldn’t some fan or author consider them hypocrites for giving a book a negative review, when they as authors know the sting of that? I think we as writers need to decide when to be writers and readers, and which is more important for us. It doesn’t look like we can be both – unless we hide our identities very well.

  57. Thank you for this thought provoking article, Kristen. I thought I was writing a coment but it became an article. I’ll publish my article on my blog ( on July 4th.

    • Barbara Kelly on June 21, 2013 at 12:37 pm
    • Reply

    Most of my written work has been of the academic sort with the result that I am more likely to be asked to review academic books, rather than fiction. I have come to believe that this type of book review is a guide for the reader of the review, rather than an evaluation of a literary piece.
    Because I see the reviewer’s job as a scout who finds the way for others,I am more likely to describe a book’s argument, its thrust, resources and perspective as well as where it fits into the received wisdom on the topic or field.
    Sometimes the research is sound, even if the writing is not, and it is useful for others to know what is being done in the particular field..
    I also try to identify a likely audience, However, I try to avoid critiquing its worth as written material, UNLESS it is so badly written that I cannot in conscience pass it off as acceptable, in which case, I don’t review it at all.

  58. Reblogged this on Library of Erana.

  59. I guess it depends, when I review I do so as a reader, if there are typos I say, although I probably notice them more now. I think the question is when a writer reviews are they truly reviewing as a reader. I do agree though that negative reviews are tricky. It could be true that one finds the book just finished a pile of poo but reviewing it negatively especially within one’s own genre is awkward.

  60. An excellent debate. I could ramble on with an answer forever, but I’ll try to boil it down to the key points for me. Yes, writing has definitely erased some of the magic when reading. It has also, however, given me the perspective to articulate when a book REALLY shines. It helps me define where I don’t want to go and where I do want to go.

    I do still give reviews. However, I do so under strict rules: 1) If you can’t say something nice, keep your damned mouth shut. I believe in author karma. 2) When I do write a review, I write it as a reader ONLY. If I mention writer-ish stuff, it’s only if I can do it with a thumbs up.

    Fortunately, for me, there are still some authors who grate at my inner-editor/rule follower YET I STILL DEVOUR THEIR WORK. There’s one author in particular who would unquestionably get flayed by some writer folks I know. I’ve learned to just enjoy her work for what it’s worth and to find ways to incorporate what she does exceptionally well in my own work.

  61. I’m not a great editor. As a critique partner I will see big plot holes or things that just don’t make sense and can help someone find a way to fix the problems. When reading a number of bestsellers I’m grousing “why is my editor all over my case about x, y, & z when the top 25 bestsellers in my genres books are full of that stuff and its super obvious”. When I’m reading mid-list authors I’m like “ok so that’s why my editor is on my case”. With indies I don’t pay attention to that stuff because I see them as individuals not slotted by their editors/marketing dept.

    When I read I tend to take notes which I thought took some of the magic out of the reading… until recently I went and looked over my notes and the more I like a book the more comments I’ve made. I don’t know the right words to use to give a literary critique, when I see those up I pull up a dictionary in another tab so I can figure out what’s being said. I review as a reader “loved the characters, storyline, ending (or oh geez a cliffhanger why oh why, LOL, off to get the next book). I might mention the book had some unexpected twist and turns but never say what they are (although I read spoilers). I will mention things in books that might be triggers for people “warning contains rape, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, child abuse) as I hate not knowing that and being triggered by a book I was enjoying. Nothing like a good piece of fiction suddenly putting you into a suicidal depression especially when many times the book would have been better without it.

    A book review is for readers a critique is private for an author.

    I also comment that to know if my reviews will be useful to you, you probably need to get to know me/read reviews on books we’ve both read to see if our taste in books is similar.

    I rarely include a blurb about the book if reviewing on Amazon/retailer or Goodreads… They can see the book description already. Why repeat it. On my blog obviously I add it.

    In some ways it’s been hard commenting on these posts Kristen because I consider you my guru and publicly disagreeing even politely in a place where I know is ok to have the discussion has me tied in knots worried that somehow I accidentally say something to harm our mentorship relationship.

  62. Reblogged this on vivianneouya's Blog.

    • Harold Thompson on June 21, 2013 at 1:49 pm
    • Reply

    There is not too much that is fair in the world. I would say that sometimes they do ruin the experience because their focus is different than the person is simply wants to read. I tend to favor the reviews of regular people and even then people can be biased. I’m a non fiction type person so my views probably don’t fit in many situations….

    • Michael James Gallagher on June 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm
    • Reply

    There is something good in every book. At times, a great book might be flawed, but reviewing it as garbage reflects an elitist stance. Many of the comments here fall from the pens of established writers. Have you forgotten that moment when you put your first work out there and watched it languish for months without sales? For new writers there are only other writers to review their work. Strong reviews are upsetting but in the long run they grow the talent of the writer being reviewed. You people who have the luxury of the thousands of sales it takes to get a handful of reviews should try writing a book under another name and posting it on Amazon to see how it feels. I am reminded of an experiment by a great African writer who submitted one of her books to her publisher and was rejected because she used another name to test the water. Nadine Gordimer tested the waters and discovered just how much her name meant.

  63. I have reviewed books for many years, entirely for my own reference. Then a friend told me about Goodreads, so I started leaving reviews there. I have never reviewed under my real name, and can no longer remember why I took that decision. But if authors can write under a pseudonym, so can reviewers. In the time I have been reviewing I have only encountered one serious hostile reaction – not from the author, but from a fan who considered the author the best thing since bread.

  64. Coming from a newspaper and magazine background where I wrote book and theatre reviews, I reiterate what I said in my comment the other day on the blog. I think there is a big difference between what a professional reviewer does and what passes for reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and some blogs. Not all, mind you. I have found some terrific reviews that have helped me decide on whether to buy a book. Most of them were written by other authors and I appreciated the insights a writer brings to reviewing a book. That extra sense of story and what it means to bring a story to life is as asset when it comes to recommending a book.

    • Poodlepal on June 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm
    • Reply

    I think this shows why some of the novel-writing “rules” are a bit too rigid. If a book or show has the “magic” it shouldn’t be nitpicked because the “dark moment” came too early or late or a character showed up who wasn’t in the first 50 pages, or there were 6 supporting characters and you can’t have more than three. My favorite movie is “Miracle on 34th St.” and that has a big plot hole. (They should have fired Kris Kringle, he hit somebody! And even back then, the test for dementia was knowing who the president was, nothing else?) But I still love it because it does everything else so well.

    • Poodlepal on June 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm
    • Reply

    A couple of other things I want to add:
    1. It it very rude for a famous person to rip apart a less-famous person’s work. I once wrote a birding column, and I actually dropped it when the wife of a famous birder ripped apart a fluffy article about birding for the elderly. She didn’t like that I compared birding by car to going to the drive-up window of the bank. If I had a book published, I would not want a more famous or acclaimed person ripping me to shreds. However. . .

    2. I think as someone who reviews books quite often, I see it as my role to protect the consumer. If a book goes off on a political tangent (very common in memoirs), is unexpectedly graphic in some way or is truly bad, my loyalty is with the readers, not the author.

  65. I aim to write book reviews for readers. Budgets are tight as is the time to spend reading, and my intention is to let those readers know what I think and why. Whether I think the story is good or bad as well as why I think that. It’s not fair to the readers to praise a book OR IGNORE IT to avoid hurting some author’s feelings.

  66. It could be the overheating of the laptop. I get reviews before it is published and I did not ask for a critique. I cannot wait to be published and paid. I read it in between lines of comments. It is usually generalities given by a trained Psychologist, which would relate to every novel written by any writer in the world.

  67. Even nice comments can be turned against the book. “I didn’t find a single grammatical error in this book. NOT. ONE. SINGLE. ERROR.” Sounds nice, right? WRONG. That just announces to the world that the book was indie-published and might turn off a prospective reader who maybe got a bad indie book once and vowed never to buy another. Because who makes such comments about Harlequin books? Which, btw, are also not always error-free, but I think people are more forgiving if the Big 6 (5) let one slip.

  68. PLEASE TELL ME How to UNSUBSCRIBE from your emails

  69. As a non-fiction writer myself, I love certain themes which have emerged from this great discussion – that respect for the feelings of all concerned is important, and that all successful books somehow need to engage the reader’s imagination, regardless of any technical flaws. The discussion has made me assess my own habits as an occasional book reviewer.

    One issue still troubles me, though. As a reader across a wide spectrum of genres, my dilemma is ‘relativity’ in reviewing the work of other authors. Most books in every genre take a long time to write but how does a 5 star response to the effort and thinking behind a masterpiece, such as Tomasi’s ‘The Leopard’ or Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, compare with a 5-star evaluation of, say, a category romance (many of which contain high-quality writing)?

    Should I point out in my reviews that my thoughts are based on relativity WITHIN the genre? I’ve done that a few times, by saying something like ‘As a romance, this hits the spot’ before I say why I like the book. But could that be construed as a patronising approach? I’ve also given a couple of best-selling novels by well-known authors a two-star response, because I was thoroughly bored by the formulaic predictability or undue length of the story. Am I inviting retribution, the shining of an unwelcome spotlight on my own efforts? What I said won’t make the slightest difference to the sales of a high-profile author, but it said a lot about me.

    The idea that writers should fulsomely review the work of others or say nothing at all has always bothered me. Does a steady stream of top ratings for the books we read make us seem indiscriminate in our judgment? Thanks to this discussion, I now realise that one’s own ‘brand’ as an author is impacted by what one says about others. I’ve concluded that for me, as a writer, the key is to be as kind and thoughtful as possible, but to maintain personal integrity in reviews, because they reveal your own set of values. Thanks for provoking my thoughts on this issue, Kristen.

  70. Good question (don’t know the answer). But as a reader, the “great read, couldn’t put it down,” reviews don’t tell me whether the book is worth plunking down my 2.99. Some readers (bless their hearts) love books that read to me like the babblings of a semi-literate chimp. So I look for indications that the reviewer shares my standard of storytelling. I want to know that a book contains well-defined characters, vivid settings, eldritch tongues etc. A reviewer who can tell me those things signals that I can trust his judgment. So I guess my thought would be that Writers SHOULD review other writers because we have a perspective that the well-intentioned lovediticouldn’tputitdown reviewers can’t offer. As a caveat, being a writer with a MFA in Creative Writing and some college teaching experience, I know I am hyper-conscious of things that most readers (god love ’em) will never notice or care about. So I review only when I can give 4 or 5 stars based on my own biases. Anything less I leave to the reviewers who can speak to readers who share their preferences.

  71. Reblogged at

  72. Reblogged this on sarenastraus.

  73. You’ve already had a million comments and you probably won’t even notice mine, but I just have to write it anyway. It’s funny that you’ve written these blogs about writers reviewing books. I think it depends on the writer. I had been thinking about reviewing a book I read, but the problems I noticed in the book really stood out for me. I didn’t want to hurt the authors feelings, but yet I wanted to be honest, so I sort of made a list of what I found wrong and what I liked, because I did like the story and I finished it in a few days. What I ended up doing was, I wrote the review, pointing out all the things that made me enjoy the book and kept me reading. At the end, I chose one thing that had bothered me the most throughout the story and I commented on that because it was something he could easily fix in his next book. I contemplated three, but I gave it four stars. I then emailed the author. Asked him if he minded that I wrote a review and would he like to read it. He immediately responded with a yes and I sent him the review. He loved it. I told him that if it was okay, I wanted to use it on my blog. I asked if he would like me to include the book cover and a link for the book. Of course he said yes. I’m not trying to sound like a saint or anything. His book was flawed in places. It wasn’t written the way I would have written it, but it deserved the 4 stars. I would have liked to give it 5, but in good conscience, I couldn’t and it deserved more than a 3. It’s my way of helping a struggling writer and I good content for my blog. (I did warn him that my following is rather sparse, but he didn’t mind.)

  74. I’ve been a reader for far longer than I’ve been writing… far, far longer. Maybe that is why I can still see the magic, but it has to be the best magic, the best tricks. Maybe it has to be the magic I can’t make myself. I’m a good cook so when I go to a restaurant I expect the food to be better than what I can produce at home. If it’s just steak and three veg. I won’t review it. -shrug-

  75. When I do reviews I try not to do it as a writer. Simply talking up the good points of the books – often I will ask my kids what they thought (I only do children’s book). To me reviewing is not taking apart someone’s work its giving an opinion about what works.

  76. In this publishing climate where anyone can publish a book, it is vital that authors write and publish reviews even if they are negative, for the very reason that they do know what’s well written and what isn’t. Sure, readers know what they like and may not care about the degeneration of the English language that is going on every time someone publishes a poorly edited book, but those who do know need to give feedback to the author and warn readers if it isn’t up to scratch. Otherwise author can think they’re writing good stuff when they aren’t, and that doesn’t help the author in the long run.

    Yes, you do run the risk of a back lash, but if you always read a sample first and are very picky about what you agree to review, you can mostly avoid having to read anything really bad. Also if you have a very clear review policy that makes it clear that you will publish a thumbs down review if you feel it warranted, and you are careful to write as objectly and kindly as possible, then you should be okay. I see it as a service to readers and writers. My review policy probably puts off anyone who isn’t sure their book will make the grade, anyway, and I won’t publish a bad review if there are no other reviews on a book page. I send it to the author though.

    The reason I began to review was because I kept getting caught out, buying books with lots of five star reviews only to find that the author didn’t know the difference between their and there. I can’t read books like that, and I was very grateful to the rare reviewers that did happen to mention such things. They saved me time, money & frustration.

    The other thing about authors reviewing, is that it helps you to be able to review your own book objectively, and it gives you lots of books to compare your own work too. I have a lot of posts on my blog about how to write fair reviews, so I’ve thought about it a lot, and I have a very clear criteria.

  77. Brilliant post, and a great debate. I have mixed feelings on this one, I don’t leave a review unless I love a book (and it grabbed me to the point that my inner editor switched off). It does niggle me when I read a review (on any book) that is so obviously written by a writer and it comes across as a critique (sometimes with an element of ‘aren’t I clever’ in there), rather than a reflection of how much they enjoyed the story, and whether they’d recommend it to other people. Yes, there is a place for critique (hopefully prior to publication!) but, I personally feel that retailers websites aren’t it.
    There are some books out there that have sold by the bucket load and have mixed reviews, bad reviews regarding editing, research etc., good reviews from people who just couldn’t put them down! I do sometimes wonder if one of the issues with a review from a writer is that it can derive in part from jealousy i.e why are their sales bigger than mine when they haven’t mastered basic structure, pov etc.?

  78. I knew I’d have a lot of comments to read and scroll through before I got to an open spot on this one, Kristen.

    Like you, I hate to (and, do not) write bad reviews. I can barely duct tape my inner editor’s yap during my own writing, let alone when I’m reading a book.

    On the flip side, if a stellar debut novel lands on my “am reading” list, I will give it the review it richly deserves.

    As a writer, I know how much heart and soul (Gosh! That would make a great song title.) a writer puts into each book — the sending-my-baby-off-to-the-zoo-without-me angst when it’s offered up to an agent. I can only imagine the increased angst (exponential!) when the writer’s baby makes it to The Show. Bases loaded, two outs, ninth inning, and your baby gets called to the plate (or, pitcher’s mound). ARGH!

    There are authors I study for pacing, turning points, yadda, yadda. Jennifer Crusie is one of those authors. My problem with using her books for research? After fifty pages, I stop making notes and get lost in the read again.

  79. Amazing discussion. I love the idea of writer’s as illusionists. I spent the morning thinking about my skill as an illusionist. I’m just starting out so I feel like the kindergartener with the plastic “Disappearing Penny” trick found at the bottom of a cereal box. I love when I get a pat on the head for being adorable but I’m desperate to really amaze someone.

    Thanks for another great post. I’m always AMAZED.

    1. Sorry… “writers” not “writer’s.” I’m showing my lack of finesse. 🙂

  80. I’m pretty new at writing, less than two years, but I know I don’t read the same. My family was listening to a book on cd and I kept stopping it to point out when the author head hopped or other minor things. I wasn’t even criticizing. I was just noticing it, and of course noticing my own brilliance at noticing it. They told me to knock it off or they wouldn’t listen anymore with me.

    Right now, I have no business critiquing anyone’s work. I think I know more than I do.

  81. I think the big difference for me is the good ones REALLY stand out. When I find myself letting the text flow over me and just go along for the ride I know it’s working. I am trying to Beta read for a friend of mine, and you are right about having a hard time turning off the editor. It’s such a fine line to walk because you want to let a little bit of the editor through, but not the surgeon. Maybe just the nurse that takes your vitals.

    Great post!

  82. I tend to read book reviews and movie reviews after I read the book or watch the movie but I only do so if I’m intrigued. I like to research afterwards.
    Also, I don’t let bad reviews that I run across stop me from reading/watching a movie. I loved “The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling, even though it had mixed/negative reviews. Same with “The Great Gatsby” movie- I absolutely love that one. But I tend to stray from the beaten path anyway 😉

  83. I review horror books for an online ezine. Most of what I write is from a reader’s point of view, but the writer/editor hat pops on every now and then. Think about it this way; if you have the expertise i.e. you are a writer and you note some excellent choices made by the author, does that not carry even more weight? Of course we can dissect the work in a way that the non-writing reader most likely will not and I don’t think that tearing someone’s work apart is ever helpful, but pointing out good work or something that may distract the reader is what reviews are all about. Several comments have already stated this, but it’s about balance and fairness. I treat others as I want to be treated and if I write 5#!7, then I expect to be called on it. Makes me a better writer, whether it is a reader or peer who makes the call. But then, I only have two feelings and they aren’t going to hurt either one. Thanks, Kristen, for getting our juices flowing. I’ve been reading all your posts lately and you are great. You got honorable mention in my blog this week.

    1. Thanks, Edward. I struggle, too. I think especially these days we need gatekeepers and reviews DO provide that function. But the eternal question is…Is that MY job?

    • Austin Pow on June 22, 2013 at 11:24 am
    • Reply

    Kristen, you’re awesome! Just love your blog and every time you post I compose entertaining responses – in my head. Which totally streamlines your reading time. (You’re welcome.)

    Just want to say today’s blog has totally clarified it for me as I hadn’t realized that I’d turned into an Writer Reviewer rather than a Reader Reviewer. NOW I get why I’ve had such a hard time posting a review of a colleague’s amazing book. I loved it, want others to know that I loved it but was stumbling over exactly how to express this in the best way with the least words so that readers will want to buy it.

    All I have to do is put on my Reader Hat and say is that it was a fun, entertaining book rather than my Writer Hat and compose a university-level assignment that will be critiqued by the rest of my writing class. Duh. *smacks head*


    1. Austin, I am smacking my head too. My gut said, “Hey anything below 4 stars? That should NOT be public.” Now I know why. When it dips below that level, my Editor Hat flies on. That’s unfair to do to an author publicly. I am always open to critique, criticism, but there has to be a discernment. Those people who are kind enough to take that to the private realm are priceless.

    • jolenenavarro on June 22, 2013 at 2:50 pm
    • Reply

    We were just having this discussion on the San Antonio Romance Authors page! Then Joni Hahn posted this link. You are awesome. I do use non writers as my beta readers.

  84. As far as illusionists go, there are many people who enjoy Penn & Teller, who make a living exposing the secrets of other magicians. So there are some of us (voyeurs perhaps?) who enjoy seeing the “man” behind the curtain exposed.
    Personally, I think if you want to offer a critique, do it on your own platform -blog, FB page or whatever. If you want to do a simple review, then Amazon or Goodreads is fine. There is a place for both forms. Just keep them in their proper place.

  85. Traditional; book reviews – as opposed to the instant reader feedback available via Amazon and so forth which we now call a ‘review’ – have almost always been written by writers. I’ve certainly written enough of them myself, professionally, for the newspapers and lit magazines here in New Zealand. It’s always been part of the industry and the trick to it is abstraction. The reviewer should write something that is informative – that the reader will get something from to help them judge the quality of a book they might buy. My usual approach is to look on it as a kind of specialised feature article.

    The problem with the process, certainly in a tiny place like NZ, has been that editors inevitably give books to a rival author to review – and some of those authors are so tiny minded that they feel obligated to indulge in character assassination of their competitor. I actually know of one books editor who does this deliberately – he seems to take a kind of malicious pleasure in being able to stir up trouble. It’s happened to me. This, to me, doesn’t class as review – it’s patch protection, and for me it’s always been at the hands of people whose own ‘patches’ are defined by their income at my expense as taxpayer – against work that I’m writing commercially. And yes, I have had a thing or two to say about it.

    But in the ordinary course of ‘review’, in the expression of a professional and abstract view, authors should be able to review other authors’ work. If they do it properly.

  86. There is a definite difference between a review and a critique.
    As I am working through the editing of my first book, I have found my critique group brutal, but completely necessary! Their red-lining of every sentence, harsh-but-true questioning of plot and structure have been invaluable tools. That said, I found that it was helpful to present my work in progress to a more “friendly” reader group as I completed my first edits. From that group I got the positive reinforcement I craved (and needed in order to go on, after being bloodied and bruised by my critique group). Both are a critical part of my path.

  87. I lean toward readers should give reviews side BUT, I have/do on occasion drop a review on my Goodreads and when I do, it is because I read a book that let me move out of writer/editor mode and just revel in the magic.
    I can’t always do that, and when I can’t…and the editor is grouching about some aspect of the book I wanted so desperately to love… I don’t write a review.

    I also have a couple of beta reader friends who don’t do crits because all they want to do is READ. As you noted, they are priceless!

    Thank you for opening the doors to this discussion. It is so hard, as writers, to NOT have opinions on the books we read…and well worth remembering, why sometimes those opinions should stay ‘invisible’ Thanks Kristen….looking forward to this third part of the discussion.

  88. I’m an author who has reviewed books in the past, but I have stopped doing this because of many of the reasons pointed out in this post. When I first began reviewing, I wasn’t as aware of my own mistakes, and therefore not as aware of other writers’ mistakes. After working with my editor on three books, I’ve learned a lot, and I notice a lot more–sometimes too much. Now every time I read a book, II see the misplaced punctuation marks, the extra words, and the plot holes, which can make an objective review difficult. As an author, I’d prefer my book reviewers to be readers, rather than other authors.

    If I love a book, and found nothing distracting or noticeable, then I’ll talk about it and review it, but otherwise I’m leaving book reviews up to the every day readers.

    This is a great post–thank you!

  89. I’ve reblogged your post on Rachelle’s Window and mentioned your book We Are Not Alone in my blog post.

    And added my opinion. Short answer, yes, I can still write a review if I put on my reader’s hat. I recently enjoyed a book that had a few typos and grammatical mistakes, but I stopped noticing it and didn’t even bother noting it down. I’m not the author’s editor, nor am I the critique partner or even beta reader. I’m just a plain reader who is enjoying the end product.

    Thanks for bringing up these helpful discussions.

  90. Reblogged this on Mort.

  91. I started to leave a comment, but thought better of it. Did my own thing on my blog. Check it out. I know I’ll get feedback.

  92. My personal opinion is that I only rate on Goodreads 3, 4, and 5 stars. I rarely do 5 stars, and they have to be books that blew me away–one that I can’t forget or that moved me deeply. I rarely write an actual review, and if I do it is for the 5-stars. And I do my best to review AS A READER. I want to tell other readers if it is worth their time as an enjoyable experience, not inform them as to the solidity of the 3-act structure. I just finished a series that sucked me in like none has in a long time, and that’s how I rated it. I’m sure if I revisted it as a writer, I could find things to criticize. But as a reader the experience was great, and that’s what I want to convey.

  93. I think it’s a choice you make. As a reader, I choose to turn off my writing brain and engage my reading brain. Reading is still an escape for me because I allow it to be. That’s not to say I can’t think critically about a story and point out flaws but like everything in life, there’s a time and a place for that.If a work has been created by someone else, I settle myself in to enjoy it. Period. No censure, no editing, just enjoyment. It’s their work and I need to respect that. If I feel that it is poorly done, then I need to get off my duff and do something better. Movies are entertainment and a form of art that shouldn’t be judged based on a book. It’s a completely different medium and deserves respect in its own right. Hence why I try not to compare the two. I try to review as a reader and keep my writing to myself unless one of my author friends asks me for my writer review/critique or beta reading.

    1. I can do that as well <

      That's part of why I've taken a break from crit groups, at this stage in my growth, adding critique voices to the deluge was only making the inner editor paralyzingly louder.

      I do think Kristen still has a point though. As writers, we must take care, if for no other reason than our brand being at stake (I'm more worried about hurting feelings unnecessarily), on how we review others. I never thought about it in the magic metaphor (I usually go for music metaphors with writing), but it makes sense. Since online reviews are public (and especially if they're left on the books' pages rather than your blog), critiquing rather than reader reviewing can easily turn into the equivalent of having a heckler in the audience of a magic act. Hecklers are annoying, at best…though at least in this sense they can't interrupt the magic act with it unless you're reading reviews in the middle of reading the book…or reading it before.

      1. I think if we aren’t careful in reviews we can be that digital heckler. Great comparison.

        1. Thanks!

  94. Kristen,

    This is a huge, and great topic. Now, we all have varying opinions, but I have to ask this. If writers review a book and criticise parts of the book because they don’t enjoy it, why isn’t it a fair review?

    At the end of the day, I have met many readers who are not writers, but can write 1000 word reviews that completely annihilate a book. 50 Shades of Grey have quite a popular and insanely funny review on Goodreads, complete wit Animated GIFs.

    As an author, I read every single review of my books, but should it not be about continual improvement? I don’t want only happy people to review my books, and why should that be the case? Should we live in a fantasy world where our writing is perfect and we have no room for improvement?

    I’m very likely more brutal than the average bear, but I am incredibly harsh on my own work. So long as there is truth in what someone is saying, then I am more than happy to hear it and for it to appear in my books’ reviews.

    I have a few haters (apparently you don’t make it until you do), and when I read a “review” that has no basis, I certainly know about it.

    A blog I wrote a while ago talks about how I deal with reviews, good and bad, and I actually approach people who are interested in my books and offer them my books to be reviewed. Now, I ask them to be 100% brutally and totally honest. After all, if we only expect glowing reviews to be written, it won’t change the fact that there’s going to be a lot of readers who will see the problems in the book that are there.

    That doesn’t mean that our books are terrible, but it means that they have flaws. Learning what our and our books weaknesses are, will make us better writers.

    If you check out my books on Goodreads and Amazon, you will only see unsolicited and genuine reviews, good and bad. I want to keep it that way.

    The worst thing is when I am asked to review a book honestly, and I truly do, then the author gets upset. At the end of the day, if you can’t take criticism, then stop now. If you want to be a successful writer, then imagine being on a talk show, and questioned about bad reviews, or how you feel about something that they feel was missing in your book.

    It’s not about you, it’s about your work. Nobody is perfect, not Tolkien or Stephen King, but you should want to continually improve.

    Learn to not only deal with criticism, but to embrace it, and watch how you will improve. Kristen “The Death Star” Lamb will attest to this when I sent her my manuscript for Legends of Marithia 3. I got back a lot of red marks and comments, but she pointed out that I had a great imagination and she loved some sections.

    However, she made me realise the two huge pieces of the puzzle that I was missing to make my books richer and feel more “complete”.

    Since then, I have started a full rewrite from the beginning, going over everything and including character’s thoughts, using my narrative, and strengthening my novel.

    Now, what if I had published Legends 3, sent it to her to review, and she put her thoughts into my review? Okay, sure… I would lose face when people see that review, but who is to blame? Kristen? Hella no!, Only myself, who wrote my books.

    Our skills, delivery, and writing styles should get better with every book that we write. If we focus solely on churning out quantity of books without improving, then that doesn’t make us better writers.

    I could have run off and ignored what she had told me, and then I would be a complete fool. She was handing me gold on a platter. Why you ask? It’s criticism, why is it gold?

    Because someone is trying to help you! And in most cases, critique will do that. What matters is our mindset and how we deal with it.

    What did I do with my worst critic of Legends of Marithia 1? Who gave it the lowest review on a scifi and fantasy website? I offered him to be a proofreader on the second book, and researched how to improve my writing, techniques, etc from his feedback.

    The better our books, the better our reviews will be; writers or not.

    Peter Koevari

    1. Yes, Peter, but as a PEER, I helped you in PRIVATE. It is a courtesy and a way to honor our fellow writers. Regular reviewers can slay us in the reviews, but I think the professional courtesy is to praise in public and criticize in private. By taking time to offer help we ARE helping you grow. I encourage offering critique to a writer who has literary spinach in her teeth. But be cool and do it in private.

      1. Okay, this is true. You definitely helped me in private. So, the answer is to only write positive reviews? Don’t write anything critical in a review at all?

        I am just wondering where we draw the line. If I read a book and think the characters are terrible, storyline is none-existent, and fan fiction turned story just didn’t work here… then I send a private email to E L James?

        Sure, I would love it if all of my reviews were brilliantly positive, and then I only got emails for what was criticised, but people like to share their opinions… whether they are positive or critical all bears down to their experience of the book/movie they are reviewing, doesn’t it?

        That is kind of the point of a review. If reviews no longer existed, and all we had was a like button on every book and movie, would that be better? 😛

        (Playing devils advocate… don’t slap me too hard)

      2. Just to add to this; does it depend on who we are reviewing? Do we just stop reviewing books when we become writers?

        I do see your point though about terrible reviews. Just don’t review the book. But if you’ve invested the time to read the book and want to share your opinion, we can’t do that?

        Ahhh i’m so dizzy, my head is spinning. Like a whirlpool, it’s caving in.

      3. Call me crazy (I know I do), but the penny of common sense just dropped for me and I completely get your point LOL

        Forget my questions, i’m on the same page 🙂

      4. I think this is a great clarification and I love the metaphor of literary spinach.

        I agree that criticism, constructive or otherwise is best done in private from one writer to another. If for no other reason than helping to protect both of your brands.

        Maybe on stories we review we could find a place to close with “If you’re interested in further constructive feedback, you’re welcome to email me at

        I like that better than my usual clumsy way of hinting that something threw me off but not wanting to spoil it for others, especially if they don’t agree (and I still loved the story besides).

  95. I feel the same way you do. As both a writer and an editor, I have a hard time “turning off” my inner critic. Sometimes I hate her, as she gets annoying, but mostly I love her, since she’s pretty smart!

  96. I think reviews from both readers and writers are beneficial. Readers let you know if you have succeeded delivering the magic and writers can tell you why it did or did not work.

  97. Love this conversation. I wrote far too much to fit in a comment here, so I turned it into a blog post. (Linked back and mentioned your books.)

  98. My reviews on Goodreads and Amazon are very generic. I loved this book, the author did a wonderful job of… I’m happy to say I get emails Amazon telling me people have found my reviews helpful. Do I think an author should rip and book apart and dissect it? No. You also don’t find actors doing movie reviews like that. My reviews exist solely to help another author.

    As to beta readers. I have two. One who is an author, she’s fantastic at finding something I’ve missed. The other one is my mother-in-law, who has been reading my genre for 70 years and it spot on. If she likes it, I know my agent and editor will like it as well.

  99. For me, I think I do a mix of review and crit. Maybe I’m fortunate, but even though I write, I read because I love stories. I mean I love stories. So I can still get lost in the magic of it all. If their are writing things I quibble over, I do feel okay mentioning them and usually preface them with BAH! Writer’s Quibble, so that the reader of the review knows where I’m coming from. I don’t think you have to profess ignorance to things that you’re aware of because you’re a writer. I think a mix of reviews/perspectives is helpful to a book. At the same time, if something about the technical aspects of a book is wonderful to me, I’m more than happy to gush. I think a lot about the spirit behind the review, when I write one. If I’m writing the review to support the author and the book, then I feel like I’m writing it for the right reasons. If I can’t write a review that feels supportive of the author and book, I pass.

    • Jennifer Rose on June 24, 2013 at 1:33 pm
    • Reply

    As a writer, I only leave feedback for novels that I thought were absolutely fabulous. If a novel has weaknesses, there are plenty of people who will be more than happy to rant about it – I’ll leave all that negativity to them.

    As writer’s as beta readers – sometimes it makes me more concerned to have a fellow writer read something because I’m afraid they’ll be too nice! I need hard criticism rather than someone telling me it was a good read just because they don’t want me to feel bad (or something).

  100. Another terrific and timely post. Sorry to be so late to comment. I’ve been wandering the wilds of Wisconsin where they have limited internet but unlimited cheese curds:-)

    I’ve always included “readers” as well as “authors” as my early readers. It’s fascinating to see the different viewpoints. I recently discovered they also have entirely different perspectives on cover art. I’ve noticed that it is more and more difficult for me to lose myself in a book, but when I stop editing and read all the way to the end, then I know I’ve read a 5 star novel.

  101. I guess I’m mixed on the topic. I don’t think authors should be restrained from writing reviews of others work. Personally, when I write reviews, I want to address the good and the bad, whether I liked the book or not. I want to figure out -why- I liked or didn’t like the book, and be clear about it so other readers can make their own judgement. If I write only five-star reviews, I feel like I’d be doing a disservice because I might have something good to say about a story I liked– just not that well. However, I try to be clear that my opinions are subjective, and other people may enjoy them for the same reason I didn’t.

    This may change once I have something published with a larger audience, but right now, with a few self-published short stories on Smashwords, I like knowing what people think– good or bad.

    However, I do disagree with writing hateful reviews. Leaving a bad review, sure. Hateful, no.

    Although, the ranking system also comes into play. When on Goodreads, I rate it based on the system they have. 2 being it was okay, 3 I liked it, 4 I really liked it, and 5, I love it. I want to have accurate recommendations, and I’ll rate it based on how I felt. I do tend to lean upwards on the scale if I’m balancing with a .5 in the mix, and I try to leave reviews, not just ratings, especially if the book is new, so readers and authors know –why– I chose the rating I did.

    1. I think writers CAN write reviews, just keep in mind 1) it WILL impact your brand, so be careful and 2) remember there is a human on the other end and 3) make sure it is a REVIEW, not a critique.

    2. I also believe in giving negative reviews, sometimes, though I too tend to round up the half-stars. I do “get” the argument that wanna-be writers should always be super-nice to everyone, because what if you give a book a bad review and someday you’re sitting next to the author or her editor? Awkward! It’s a branding thing.

      But I don’t want my brand to be “flattery for everybody.” I want people to believe me that I mean it when I say “THIS book is terrific,” because I don’t say that of every single book I have reviewed. No, there is no point in using a book review to give a writer a new orifice or display how viciously snarky I can be; that’s just being mean. But if I have invested money and time in a book that I loved, or that I *almost* loved, or that disappointed me, I should be able to share my impression of the experience, just like any other reader.

      1. Fair is a weather condition. All I am saying is we do it at our own risk ;). A regular reader doesn’t have her professional reputation, career and earning potential at stake. We do and we are wise to remember that.

      2. I can agree with that. I’ve read some blogs where every review is five stars, and I don’t feel like I trust them as much as the ones that show that they didn’t like a book. Like you, I don’t want my brand to be “flattery for everybody.”

        But I also agree that it could be awkward, especially when you’re wanting to submit work to the publisher of that book (whether it be a manuscript or book cover design, as both have been the case). Still, I guess I feel like I’d rather be known for being honest.

  102. Hi Kristen,
    Thanks for sharing this. It’s a great blog post.
    I do agree with you. I think the difference between a review and a critique is essential. I personally would say: I was a reader before I was a writer and I know the difference, but then: overestimation is instinctual, and I don’t want to exclude me!
    What if I don’t like a book, fellow writer or “unknown name”. We all know that’s different, and tastes are different as well!
    I would try to pick out some things I liked and mention them, but wouldn’t say more than “this isn’t a book what I’d regularly read”… or similar. I don’t think it’s necessary to stampede someones ego into the ground. I wouldn’t like that either!
    What with reviews for my book once it’s published? I’d lie saying I wouldn’t like to have as many positive reviews as I can get!
    From fellow writers, knowing me (at least by name) would I think they’re really objective as readers? Or as writers? Or: do they only give me a positive review because they expect me to do the same with their book?
    That’s not an easy question to answer. I don’t know any fellow writers I’d think would do this. I more figure, if they don’t like it too much, they’d address me in private.
    (Which doesn’t necessarily mean I’d like the critique any better…)
    Does that make sense?

  103. When I review a book, I do separate reader from writer. The flaws in the book don’t bother me — it’s usually when I spent money because of XYZ and didn’t get what the book promised. An example is if you do a fantasy story, make sure you have world building in the fantasy story. That’s an expectation of the genre, and if I notice there’s a problem (world building lite girl), then it’s too little.

  104. A book review is also written for a certain audience (just like a book). Authors are readers, as you pointed out. Authors do our best to understand the tools of the trade, which truly do not need pointed out in reviews. Critiques, maybe; but not reviews.

    When an author reviews another author it should NOT be as an author, but as a reader. (In most cases the readers of reviews are NOT looking for expertise.) Readers just want to know why they they should read THIS book.

  105. Hmm, this has gotten me thinking … on my own blog I’m practicing disecting stories and finding out what’s wrong and getting better at fixing problems. I post my findings on the blog. Do you think that’s a bad idea? Or is it, as you said, simply wearing two hats: writer and critic?

    1. I don’t think that’s wrong, I think it’s interesting. I’d read some of those articles, so long as they don’t get flamey or take a position of superiority. That’s what I really don’t like, when writers use their station as a writer to engage in the ugly behavior of putting down others and pointing out their faults in an effort to pull attention (theirs or someone else’s) from their own faults and mistakes.

      I wouldn’t recommend leaving such posts as reviews for those books, I think then you run the danger of giving away the illusionists tricks and ruining the show for others. However, so long as you do it respectfully on your blog, it’s more likely to attract the attention of people who already want to follow along with your dissections.

      After reading this article though, I’d probably be careful to label them as dissections rather than reviews though (to avoid spoiling the illusions for fans looking to read another’s opinion rather than a craft dissection). Then again, I’ve never been a professional editor and am unpublished. I would be curious to read others’ feedback on your question.

  106. I’ve been wrestling with this issue myself. Thanks for getting all this out the table. It’s refreshing.

  107. I’m so happy to read someone from editing confirm what I’ve begun suspecting in the various critter groups I’ve taken part in. I’m without a crit group right now. It’s not because I don’t think I need one (we can all, always, improve), it’s because I’ve started seeing the wires and doors in the critiquer world too (thanks to reading others’ constructive critiques of works I liked, and an educational background in psychology).

    I know I don’t have a book ready to pull from critiquer eyes yet (to avoid over-edited book by committee), I don’t even think my writing, in general, is ready for that. However, at this stage in my growth, as a writer, I’m having occasional difficulty telling when someone’s spotted a genuine problem I should work on, or, in their critique-frame-of-mind they’re just trying to be helpful and forced themselves to find something…often merely landing on a part of the story they would have done differently (leading into book by committee territory).

    I think I just decided to be between crit groups for now so I could get a firmer hold on my voice and style (making it easier to spot and resist book-by-committee comments).

    I know something about what goes in, but I still stubbornly read for enjoyment. I’ve found my knowledge of wires and trapdoors can sometimes lead to greater pleasure when I read something brilliant and I can see how they pulled it off…I don’t know, it just makes brilliant illusions that much more brilliant to me. I can see the illusion, see how it was done, and just be impressed as a reader and a writer.

    My biggest problem is that I end up behind in reviews (and critiques too, another reason I put them on hold, I was often resorting to just critiquing and no writing of my own), not because I don’t read a lot of stories I enjoy, but because I procrastinate too long (and have a short-term memory problem).

    I do know I was frequently and highly complimented on my critiques in each group and put a lot of time in each one. Which leads me to my final statement. I love your comment encouragement plan at the end of this post. It reminded me that, while I’ve never been a professional editor, I give pretty stellar critiques (which I’m forced to swallow my normal humility and admit on pain of noogies from the multiple people messaging me with very personal expressions of gratitude…and occasional begging for more) . I might borrow it in some form or other. First, I need to get back on remembering to update my blog on update days. Gotten pretty bad about it.

    Thanks for the interesting thoughts and the contest to help inspire so many interesting comments!

  108. Reblogged this on Saronai's Blog and commented:
    An interesting article with interesting discussions in comments. I am interested in what my non-writer readers think too. Specifically, as a reader who wasn’t taught how to pull off the magic tricks, what do you think when you read reviews/critiques left by other writers on a book you’ve enjoyed or are considering reading?

    Do you feel like they ruin the show?

    I have to admit, when I think of the literary elite reviews of some of my favourite fantasy books, I tend to disagree with them completely. Rules schmules. Fine, she broke some, but did you really read it? It was an awesome story! How can you say it’s unworthy on account of some stuffy old rules? I felt that way when reading elite literary opinions of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, actually. Yeah, I knew she broke some rules, but I enjoyed the story so much I still don’t notice while I’m reading them.

  109. Before I was an (active ) writer, I was a reader. I read, read, read. I read tons. Glaring things stand out to both readers AND writers like giant plot holes, implausibility, spelling/editing errors, continuity. Whether I’m an NYT best selling author or I’m Joe Blow off the street, that’s going to affect how I feel about that book.

    Going deeper, I always wrote about what I liked about how the author wrote the book. Use of imagery, real conversational dialog, a middle that doesn’t sag… I think that’s universal.

    Since I’ve begun writing, I see technical things here and there that maybe your average Joe Blow off the street might not see but frankly…. it’s been professionally edited and published. The author wanted it printed that way. It was written that way for a reason– I have been there– so I am less likely to critique…. that’s what their crit partner/group was for, pre-publishing.

    I do agree that review is not the place for a crit. It’s the place to talk about the overall story and what you though of it and whether or not you’d recommend it to someone else. I feel like writers can do that, since we are readers first. I know I wouldn’t want a writer to sit down to write a review of my book and point out everything wrong with it. Thanks so much, you’ve helped not at all, since the book is already published.

  110. From what I’ve read above, I think we the (aspiring) authors are much of the time in the same boat. Since I edited – with professional aid – and published my debut novel, I’ve looked at other authors’ books differently. Now, I’m going to say something, and I don’t want to sound snobby (’cause I don’t know what you’d think of my book.) I rub elbows with quite a number of indie authors, and twice I’ve been burnt by agreeing to review someone’s book – and it stank. I don’t mean it just wasn’t very good. I mean it was downright terrible. Terribly conceived, terribly written, and terribly edited. I now refuse to review anyone. Anyone. For one, like some others, I can’t read much without tearing into to with the wrench and screwdriver. For two, I’m not going to give a negative review – or lie, and give a positive one. Beta reading is different, of course. I can spot places that don’t flow, or have dead spots, or any of a number of things. But from now on, I’m letting the good readers do the reviewing.

    Thomas Rydder

  111. Lots of great points to think about. I have to admit I’m torn about it myself.

    A somewhat related issue I’ve seen raised elsewhere is whether to review all books we read, positive or negative, or just the ones we really like. So far, I’ve only done positive reviews. For every book I’ve reviewed, I’ve probably read at least three that I didn’t review. It’s partly from time limitations, and partly from not wanting to publicly say negative things about other authors’ books. In a number of cases, I’ve planned to write the authors directly with some feedback, but all too often I don’t get to that either, because my writing time is so limited (I try to carve out an hour a day, but only get that about half the time).

    BTW, on the off chance I win, can I submit a short story for review instead? I do have the first chapter of my novel done, but that’s all so far, and it’s not a very long chapter.

    1. Sure, that isn’t a problem. And we can post bad reviews. I just think it is unwise. My POV. Been around long enough (14 years) in this author realm to know it is a small, small world.

      1. Thanks, Kristen. Yeah, that’s my thought too on bad reviews. Not that I would ever write one of those nasty ones. There are a few times I’ve read a book with just a couple of big problems that ruined the story for me, and could be fixed to make it a good (if not great) book. But as you say, a direct message to the author is better. I’ve been taught in a couple of other contexts to provide praise publicly, criticism privately.

  112. I think it’s perfectly fine to critique a book in a review, because that’s what reviews are about.

    Readers that didn’t like a book might go “there’s something wrong with it that I can’t place my finger on”, whereas authors will understand.

    My reviews, and other reviews that I pay attention to, bring up plot, characters, pacing, etc. Anyone with a reading mind will understand these areas, whether they are authors or not.

    As someone else said very wonderfully, if authors leaving negative reviews is a conflict of interest, then authors leaving only positive reviews is also a conflict of interest.

    1. It is a tricky question which is why it is interesting to discuss. I believe this is a much older post so times have definitely changed and we have better ways of tracking book trolls and stopping them. I know when I wrote this it was not uncommon for authors to get friends to essentially gang up on the ‘competition’ and hand out one-star reviews en masse. A lot of that nonsense has since been dealt with. Thanks for your thoughts.

  1. […] Is it FAIR for Authors to Review Other Authors? Do We Ruin the Magic? | Kristen Lamb’s Blog. […]

  2. […] via Is it FAIR for Authors to Review Other Authors? Do We Ruin the Magic?. […]

  3. […] “Is it FAIR for Authors to Review Other Authors?” is a blog that was posted on Friday, June 21st, by Kristen Lamb. I became friends with Kristen after purchasing and reading her book, We Are Not Alone. And I’m sure she won’t have a problem telling anyone that when I write about something I have read, mostly from a blog, that I don’t have a problem speaking out. […]

  4. […] I sat here, read her blog, “Is it FAIR for authors to review other authors?”, and then proceeded to read all 106 comments. Believe me, there was a lot said about the […]

  5. […] Mary Kole set up a Critique Connection for authors to find critique partners; Kristin Lamb wonders if it’s FAIR to readers for authors to review books; and Rachelle Gardner lays out the pros and cons of blogging your […]

  6. […] These are just some of my feelings on the matter. For more insight on this issue check out Kristen Lamb’s Blog! […]

  7. […] was so much discussion surrounding this topic, she did a THIRD post, Is it FAIR for Authors to Review Other Authors? I should note that the review my blogger buddy emailed me (she gave me the option of asking her […]

  8. […] just so happens I read two blog posts recently about the pros and cons of book reviews. Kristen Lamb says authors shouldn’t do book reviews on other authors. We see the man behind the curtain. We […]

  9. […] read a post on Kristen Lamb’s blog a while ago about authors not writing reviews and it supported why I don’t like leaving reviews unless I loved, loved, loved a book. I do […]

  10. […] have a post that delves deeper into this conflict of interests HERE. Remember, we can be Siskel & Ebert or Steven Spielberg. Tough trick to be […]

  11. […] her post, she refers us to an earlier blog post; ‘Is it FAIR for Authors to Review other Authors? Do we ruin the Magic?’ so I read this […]

  12. […] Lamb explores the topic further in: Is it FAIR for Authors to Review Other Authors? Do We Ruin the Magic? […]

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