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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Who is Best Placed to Give Reviews?

I have been on the indie author circuit for a good while now, and during this time it has come to my attention that it's largely frowned upon for the author's family and friends to give reviews. This argument may seem logical on the surface but if you start to think about the issue in depth it can become rather blurred.

A review from the author's spouse or best friend may well be biased if it's all praise. Some people are really against this and argue that it's immoral. But what if the book is really good? Does the book really deserve a bad rating just because someone close to the author is writing the review? It seems that no one really questions poor ratings given by the authors friends and family. A family member or friend can give a review just so long as they make it a poor one.

So it seems like complete strangers are the best people to place reviews. Then there's no issue of writing a biased review because you're in love with the author, or have been friends with them since they were aged four. But reviews from complete strangers are extremely hard to come by. I have a few, positive and negative, but most of my reviews have come from people I have networked with over the year. And this again brings up the issue of friendship as I now consider some of my cyber friends closer friends than some of my 'real life' friends.

Can someone slate the author if they have networked with them for over a year? I really don't know but the answer seems unlikely. Requests to swap reviews is also frowned upon, for similar reasons this blog has already mentioned. People don't like to give a bad review to someone if they've already received a glowing review from them. The issue of scratching each other's backs can be rather awkward.

To reach a conclusion I asked other writers this question and I have received a huge response. But the answers really surprised me. The response didn't weigh in favour to any particular side. Instead it was a real mix of thoughts. A lot of writers argued that it doesn't really matter where the review comes from as long as it's well balanced and thought out. And some even said that if the reviewer was a close friend or family member, then they should state that in the review.

So that has helped me reach my final answer. Whoever the reviewer is they should do their very best to write a thoughtful, balanced review.

Please share your thoughts in the comment box.


  1. I think this "no reviews from friends" is BS. I've got 3500 Twitter followers. None of them can review my books?

    Besides, the publishing business is a small world and friends have always reviewed each other. Often with snarky results. Read the archives of the New Yorker. You can't count on a friend to give a good review and you shouldn't. But not reviewing at all? We need more reviews, not fewer.

    Counting on strangers on Amazon who pick up a book as a freebie to give an unbiased review is as silly as expecting your grandma to give an unbiased review. Sillier. There are plenty of idiots who go on Amazon and write the identical one-star review for every self-published book. You see the reviews all the time.

    I think the people who make up these rules are probably the same ones who are leaving the pointless one star reviews: probably blocked writers who are seriously underemployed and/or living in their mother's basements.

    My mother isn't as nice as theirs. She once reviewed one of my books saying "I prefer a heroine I can identify with, not pity." Don't tell me family and friends can't be unbiased.

    The point of a review is to inform the reader. If the review is thoughtful and says something about the book, I don't care if it was written by the author's dog.

  2. I have just posted a review of Jessica Bell’s second poetry collection which you can read here. I have a soft spot for Jessica and have reviewed her first novel (which I really was not taken by) and her first book of poetry (which I was). I have mixed feeling about this second collection which I liken to the “difficult second album.” All the reviews I’ve read elsewhere—on the likes of Goodreads and Amazon—have been glowing, gushing even and there wasn’t one less than 5-stars which the book does not deserve. Jessica isn’t daft. In her comment she said to me: “I totally agree with you about the star-rating things. Though it's flattering, I can't really be sure whether they really liked it that much or are catering to karma!” You cannot do that. It is wrong. It is unfair to the writer and it is unfair to readers who buy a book based on your recommendation. Nowadays if I saw a book with ten or twenty 5-star reviews anywhere I would probably not buy it because of the glowing reviews; I wouldn’t trust them. All you have to do is look at the truly great works of literature that are out there and none of them I bet have nothing bar 5-star reviews. A 4-star review is not a bad review. I gave my own novel a 4-star review on Goodreads because that is what I thought it deserved; it is not a perfect novel; I’m not even sure it’s a flawed masterpiece.

    To answer your question, “Can someone slate the author if they have networked with them for over a year?” I would have to say, “Yes, because I treat every book equally.” There are ways to ‘slate’ and you don’t have to be cruel. Growing up I was taught to always look for the positive in something and mention that first before offering any criticism. I think it’s sound advice. The writing community online isn’t anywhere near as big as we’d like to think it is. Yes there are thousands of writers out there but once we start looking for those we have an affinity with those numbers tumble rapidly. And that we become friends is inevitable. So am I going to avoid all my friends and only look for strangers to review my books? That would be stupid. All the people who reviewed Milligan and Murphy so far had read my first two novels and liked them—that was how we became friends—and so I wouldn’t expect a bad review but I still expected an honest review. Jessica, for example, asked for a review copy of Milligan and Murphy which I sent her and which she will review and although I hope she likes it I would worry if she didn’t have any reservations because it is not a perfect book. There is no such thing. A novel is not complete until it has been read. And each reader completes the novel in a different way.

  3. Hi Anne,

    Thanks very much for your comment, you talk a lot of sense! You can't stop someone from posting a review if they want to, nor should you try to. If they they have taken the time and trouble to read it I think they are entitled to post their thoughts.

    And Jim,

    Totally agree with you on constructive criticism. Criticism is great so long as it's helpful. To give a vicious review is not only nasty but it's also totally pointless if no valuable insight can be gained.

  4. Hi Laura

    I was on a Twitter ramble ... it's more entertaining than hiking through the brambles, but probably less healthy! ... and found my way here. I only write good reviews, and that is because, rightly or wrongly, I tell fellow authors that I will only write a review for them if I like their book. That way I can be honest, without ever getting to the point where I am (or feel I am) "stabbing people in the back". Is it honest to the readers? Maybe not, but to quote that well known philosopher, Thumper, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all"

  5. Hi Dominic,

    Thanks very much for posting your thoughts. Actually I know a few people like that so you aren't on your own. I, too, often feel if it's a really terrible book full of punctuation errors and other things, I'll tell the author their book needs more work and I won't place a review if I cannot say something constructive about it. Then I feel in all fairness I have told the author what I feel without going public. That way they have the chance to fix things if they want to. After all, they might not realise there are certain things wrong with it.

  6. Great advice and thank you. Finding an editor is not easy. At least for me. Editing is the meat of my fiction and the most frustrating. This is where I lose faith in my ability to create the fiction that I want. There are just too many ways to go in editing and it is a confusing issue for me. I would much rather put my trust in an editor while I hack out the wordslop of my stories.

  7. Hi T.D.

    Thanks for commenting - I agree with what you say. Editors are there to help you put your best work out there, and for me it is comforting to hear their feedback.