November 19th, 2011

This post comes after a discussion on this topic on google+ some months back. I came a little late to the party, so there was already a long list of comments, and pretty much they all agreed that authors should not review friends’ books (making me instantly wonder, well, should they be reviewing enemies’ books, then?). In fact, one poster even wrote that people reading the reviews could tell whether comments were made by authors or by “real people.”

OK, of course I’m going to bristle at being called an unreal person, but I do get the point being made — it’s the belief that a review being written by a friend is not just going to be positive, but going to be falsely positive. Therefore, since the review is inflated and insincere, it is in some sense dishonest, and does a disservice to potential readers trying to decide whether to purchase a certain book.

I don’t think it’s any secret that I review friends’ books, but just in case someone didn’t know that, I’ll clarify: I certainly have, and will continue to, review friends’ books. It didn’t start out that way, because when I started reviewing erotica, I didn’t know any erotic authors. In fact, some of my erotica author friends are people I met after I reviewed their books. I found things in their writing that spoke to me, so I connected on Facebook or FetLife or wherever, and we started emailing, and became friends. At that point, did my book reviews become invalid? 😉 (OK, I know that’s not what the original discussion was implying.)

But let’s take now. I have a few books in my review queue, and some of them were written by friends. Real friends, not just casual email acquaintances, but people I’ve spent time with, who’ve stayed at my house, whom I’ve shared meals with. In fact, one reason I wanted to review their books is because we’re friends, and through that friendship, I’ve come to know their values and beliefs as well as their writing, which lead me to think I’d like their future books.

Of course, no one was saying you shouldn’t read your friends books — only that you shouldn’t review them. But I still disagree. If I read a book, and I like it, I should be allowed to say so, whether I know the author or not. I know that I’ve read things by friends that I didn’t particularly care for, so it’s not true that I’ll like something just because a friend wrote it. That’s assuming I’m a lot more shallow than I am, thank you very much. Nor would my friends want me to write insincere praise. I don’t, for example, enjoy paranormal erotica. My friends who write in that genre aren’t offended by views, but they’re not surprised if I don’t ask for those titles to review.

Can a reader tell, though? If a review is insincere. You know, I’m not sure it matters — because I don’t think the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down is what influences readers anyway. Nor is the glowing praise or the scathing insults. What matters is a) the plot summary, and b) the reasons and descriptions a reviewer gives. If a review doesn’t tell me why the reader liked or didn’t like a certain book, then it doesn’t sway me one way or the other. And if the review does give me reasons, then I sometimes decide I wouldn’t like a book the reader loved, or that I would like a book the reviewer hated. I’ve experienced that in both directions. When The Kite Runner came out, for example, I can’t count how many friends recommended it to me, telling me how well-written it was. So I asked what it was about. Ah… really not my kind of book. (I’d confess here some books that got terrible reviews that I loved anyway, but I’m too shy.)

If you’ve ever read my book review policies on this site, you know I don’t write negative reviews — not because I never dislike anything, but because writing a review is hard work and takes time, and I don’t want to spend that on something I didn’t enjoy. I don’t necessarily even want to finish the book. I also review erotica for Oysters & Chocolate, and there (since I’m paid) I take what I’m given and I give my reaction, whether positive, negative, or a mix. However, even when leaving a negative or mixed review, I’m careful to give my reasons — and a thoughtful reader could read those reasons and still decide that he/she would enjoy the work in question and buy it anyway.

I don’t agree that opinions are like assholes, but I do think that opinions are … oh, no analogy. They’re just opinions! Not to say that an opinion can never be inaccurate (I swear to god, my local video store used to have A Clockwork Orange shelved in the “comedy” section), but if there are enough reviews of a book, one review that’s way off the others is going to stand out.

The reviews I do object to? Those by people who have not read the book (and yes, that happens!) and those that are only a sentence or two and say something like “I hated this book it was dumb” or “This was the best book ever, so you have to buy it.”

However, I don’t think those sway anyone’s behavior.

I’d love to hear from people whether they’ve ever bought or decided not to buy a book based on a review, and if so, what the deciding factors were. I’d also like to know, of course, what people think of authors reviewing the works of people they know. And finally, do you think you’ve ever read a review that was insincerely positive, and if so, how could you tell?

Thanks to dan for permission to use the photo of the rose on the book. Please see his portfolio of images here.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, November 19th, 2011 at 9:08 pm and is filed under • Should Authors Review Their Friends' Books?. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Should Authors Review Their Friends’ Books?”

hales Says:

I’ve reviewed friends books and have had friends review mine. I always say if it’s a genre I like and I have time sure. They know me and I make it clear I won’t just simply love a book because my friend wrote it and not to ask me unless they want an honest review. I see nothing wrong with it unless you violate your own ethics. Smiling and loving a book everywhere when on the inside I found the read unremarkable would be violating my personal ethics.

Shar Says:

Perhaps it comes down to having ethical friends, and being an ethical friend. If a friend of mine didn’t particularly like a story or book of mine, I’d trust them to say so. It would be a pretty fragile friendship that couldn’t survive that.

Maybe the “friend” aspect of it is, I wouldn’t expect a friend to write a formal review about not liking a book of mine. I’d expect them simply not to review it in the first place.

Erobintica Says:

This was a great post, Shar. I’ve been struggling with the whole “review” thing, not just of erotica, but poetry and other stuff. I’ve not felt comfortable with it, and I think some of the issues you brought up here have helped me start to figure out why. Am going to ponder this some more.

Olivia Starke Says:

I’m happy to critique my friends work, and I’ve reviewed their work as well. I guess I’m lucky that I have friends who are strong authors. If I started a review and it was horrible, I’d find a way to let them know in a positive supportive way, I definitely wouldn’t bash their work publicly.

Jolie du Pre Says:

I review friends’ books, and I try to give an honest review. I won’t post a review at Amazon or at my blog or at some other source if my review would be negative. I don’t believe in giving negative reviews. If I can’t give a book at least three stars or the equivalent, I won’t give the review and I’ll explain to the author why.

Gregory Allen Says:

There’s two things involved in a review, these days, you have to review it and you have to rate it. Ratings are useless, unless you have an extremely large sample, which you almost never do for the types of books we’re talking about. People have different rating systems and since you don’t know what someone’s rating system is, their rating gives you almost no information. Some people always rate in extremes, some people always rate in the middle. If I had my way, my rating policy would be to not give a rating and only give a review, but for instance, on amazon, you have to rate to review. If I review a book, it’s because I like it enough to feel comfortable giving it five stars, otherwise I won’t review it. Now, does that mean it stands among the greatest books I’ve ever read in my life? Probably not, but it’s a somewhat relative scale. I do the same thing with other genres, like a thriller. If it’s thrilling, I’ll give it five stars because it did what it was intended to do.

The review is the important part, because that’s where you get a little more information about the book. A review might say a book is loaded with hot sex scenes. Someone might not like books loaded with sex, so they would know to pass on reading. But in the end, doesn’t an interesting review just to get someone to check out the sample? That’s how I am with finding books to read. If I hear good things about it, I’ll read some of it, so the book itself is what sells me.

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