Authors Reviewing Books in Their Genre

Should authors do it? What are the pitfalls?

Today’s question: How do you feel about other authors in your genre(s) reviewing books?

Ooo, this is something a lot of authors ponder.

I’m going to split this up into a few different perspectives. Because I think my personal feelings on it are actually different from the overarching advice I’d give on this.

How do I, personally, feel about other authors reviewing my books?

I love it. No matter what the review says (because the secret for me is that I generally don’t read my reviews). But I often see how many reviews I have and who’s left them — or people will tell me they’ve reviewed me — and I always feel magnificently supported by that. I don’t care how many stars they gave me and I live in happy assumption that the review is excellently written!

The more mercenary, industry-relevant reason to be happy with any review is that, from my own experiences — particularly in self-publishing, but in traditional publishing too — I’m pretty certain the number of reviews on a consumer site like Amazon or Goodreads matters a lot more than the star ranking. Amazon is notoriously black-box about their algorithms, but it’s an oft-repeated suspicion that having at least 50 Amazon reviews helps discoverability.

So, yeah, I LOVE when another author reviews me and I always appreciate it, because I feel it’s a form of support. And I think reviewing other authors in general is a way of supporting the industry and community, because it really can be pretty dang helpful to a book. One of the most helpful things you can do for any author you like is to review them!

How do I, personally, feel when I see other authors reviewing other people’s books?

Since I don’t read my reviews, I am unconditionally happy with any review someone leaves me. But what about when I see one of my colleagues reviewing another colleague’s book, and I read the substance of the review? Is there anything that could cause bad feelings here? Anything that could make me think less of the reviewing author?

Unfortunately, here the answer is yes. For instance, if the review feels unnecessarily personal, or takes pot shots at the author or people who like that sort of fiction, then yeah, I’m going to start side-eyeing that person in general. There are several cases I can recall of reviews that got shared around for being racist, sexist, or homophobic, and those would definitely make me think less of the reviewer.

On the other hand, there are people in my genre who are well-known reviewers, and whose reviews are consistently smart and valuable, and it’s done nothing but improve my good opinion of them.

The problem is… some authors don’t only object to problematic or personal content in a review. Some authors, for instance, see any review that gives less than 5 stars as unnecessarily “mean,” and will say so. They’re certainly in the minority, but it makes things a lot more complicated when considering the following…

Should authors review other books in their genre?

This is a hard question. A lot of authors either like reviewing or want to support their communities, but there can be a real hesitation in leaving anything less than a glowing review for someone who’s a colleague. And it’s certainly not without reason — author/reviewer tussles have happened with unhappy frequency. A reviewer can do everything right and still get grief from an author who takes umbrage.

Besides, even if authors all had model behavior, it can feel… cruel… to say something potentially hurtful about the book of someone you know, even if it’s not phrased personally. Or it can just feel like a bad political idea to be critical of either an author or publisher that you have a potential or existing professional relationship with.

Here are the strategies I’ve seen authors take:

  • Reviewing honestly under a pseudonym. This is generally what I do, although I’m still careful not to say anything I wouldn’t want to own if someone connected the name I do consumer reviews under to my name as an author. (And I guess I’d argue that it’s never good to write something you wouldn’t want to own anyway!)

  • Reviewing honestly, but only leaving reviews when the review would be a positive one, and deciding not to leave a review at all otherwise. Some authors who do this draw the line at 4/5 stars, some at 5 stars, and then if they like a book less than that they simply don’t review it. (And some authors who review decline to leave star ratings at all.)

  • Reviewing honestly across the board, including critical reviews that could possible draw an author’s ire. Though there’s room for some differentiation here, too — some authors who do this take a generally positive tone and some a generally critical one, and everything in between, and that tonal difference can make a huge difference in how reviews are received.

  • Not reviewing at all.

Any of these choices is legitimate, and I think it’s important for every author to find their own comfort level and what works for them. And though I think it’s great for everybody in the industry when authors support the books they love by reviewing — after all, we’re readers, too! — I don’t fault any author who feels too uncomfortable or like it’s too much of a conflict of interest.