Monday, January 19, 2015

Ethical Reviewing for Authors

When we read a great book, we want to tell the world. Subsequently, when we read a really bad book, we want to warn the world. What is the proper balance though?

Our perspective changes when we become authors. We understand the value of a good review and the sting of a bad one. We are now in the public eye and have to think about our reputation. There is a balance between honesty and tact. Go too far with negative reviews and we open ourselves up to receive similar treatment, but go too far with positive reviews and we discredit our word completely. Some authors stop reviewing books altogether.

Sometimes the best way to learn how to do something is to know what NOT to do. Below are some examples of unethical reviewing using both positive and negative reviews.

  • Giving 5 stars to everyone’s book to entice them to return the favor. When an author gives all 5 star ratings and reviews, it’s suspect, and seeking a return of the favor is often the reason. This becomes a discredit to that person’s opinion, as sub-par books receive the same treatment as great books. 

  • Excessive gushing, either for a friend or for a return review. Some books do deserve high praise. But excessive gushing is embarrassing and can feel really shallow. A review can be really good without appearing to be over-the-top or a suck-up.

  • Poor ratings for others to make yourself look good. This is a trick some try to lower the ratings of other books in their genre.

  • Reviewing books you haven’t read or didn’t finish. This one should be really obvious. If you didn’t read it to the end, you shouldn’t review it, because you didn’t give it a fair shake.

  • Finishing books just so you can leave a bad review. This one isn’t so much unethical as just confusing. Life is short. Go read a good book instead.

  • Bashing the author personally. A review should always be about the book. Personal attacks on the author should never appear in a review. Mocking or making fun of the author is shallow and unprofessional.

  • The one-line review of “This book sucks.” You’re a writer - that’s the best you can do?

Bottom line - write reviews that are honest but fair and tactful.

What are some other unethical book review practices?

49 comments:

Christine Rains said...

Great post. I follow all those rules. I always remind myself I'm writing the review for potential readers not the author, so I point out what I like best and what didn't work for me. (Even though I know authors appreciate reviews!)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't understand people who review books they haven't read. Or people who continue reading a bad book. Great tips!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

These are great guidelines....sort of the golden rules of author reviewing. I think I'd also say that we should always review as ourselves online...no sock puppetry.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Elizabeth, no fake reviews!

Pat Hatt said...

Hard thing is though when you get others to review and ask for honest, you never really know if it is honest or if they are just kissing arse so you will give them more free books to review. Or so they can get more to review and up their amazon reviewer ranking. The sock puppet crap is really what annoys me, some get people with 40K amazon accounts to buy and review 1000 times over and then buy competitors and post negative reviews. In the end if you want to win, you have to play the game a little thanks to all the sock puppet crap.

Bish Denham said...

I'm pleased to learn that I've been following these guidelines without realizing it. I'm very stingy with 5 stars. I give mostly 4. Occasionally a 3. If I really don't like a book I don't usually finish it and thus don't give a review. Only dead authors get "bad" reviews.

Sarah Foster said...

Great tips! Maybe I'm weird, but I like to finish any book I start, even if it's bad. But I guess I also haven't read a book that was so awful it made me want to stop reading. I actually gasped at the third point--giving bad reviews to books in your genre just to make yourself look good is just awful!

Hart Johnson said...

I have a couple additional rules I impose... I try to be honest, but give enough detail that a person with different tastes can see where TASTE is the real issue... I am stingy with 5s, but also will skip posting a review rather than giving a less established author anything lower than a 3. I gave a 2 to Dean Koontz recently (he published half a book and it made me mad), but he is a millionaire and can take it. People I KNOW (even early authors I don't know) I only want to post a review if it is at least somewhat helpful. [during ABNA I am more blunt--those authors often haven't published yet, or if they have, they've self-pubbed and can easily edit some. Plus the reviews are only visible as long as they stay in the contest, so I try to be constructive, but people sometimes take offense]

Karen Lange said...

This is excellent advice, Diane! It can be a challenge, for you never want to hurt a fellow author's feelings. But at the same time, you must be honest. Thanks for the tips.

Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

If you can't finish a book, I think it's okay to write a review as long as you state why you couldn't finish. But you should have made a fair effort - more than a chapter at least half of the book (though probably not rate it). If you can't, just can't get past the first chapter, and have to have to warn the world review it, but do not rate it.

Okay, this is general reviewing guides. As authors, I agree that we need to preserve through a book if we plan to review it. Be open and honest about what worked and what didn't. Authors read differently - because it's almost always like research in our given field - and they're review should reflect that.

Patricia Lynne said...

I don't review often. I'm not good at writing my thoughts. Mostly, I'm a total gusher. When I love a book, I LOVE it and fangirl over it. Lately, I just try to write a few sentences saying why I liked it and if there was anything that bugged me that would bring it down a star or two.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Pat, that is so dishonest. Create any system and someone will find a way to cheat it.

Sarah, it happens though.

Hart, that sounds reasonable.

Holly, unfortunately those reviews still require a rating on Goodreads. And that's not right if someone only read 2-3 chapters.

Loni Townsend said...

I feel guilty about leaving bad reviews, but I won't falsely post a high review if I don't think it warrants it. I'm just now getting up the courage to leave a review if I feel the book is less than 5 stars. Before, if it wasn't 5 in my opinion, I wouldn't leave a review at all (I would mark it read though). I see now that probably makes me look bad. *sigh* I will work to amend that though.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I received a bad review from someone because my science fiction romance had romance in it. The purchaser obviously didn't read the book description. He made a mistake and gave me a bad review because of it. If I don't finish a book, I don't review it but I know some people do.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Really excellent tips all around, Diane. Thanks for a very thorough analysis of reviewing for authors. I think I'm okay in how I review. Most of my reviews end up being fairly positive since if I can't stand a book I don't keep reading and therefore don't review it.

Fundy Blue said...

Fascinating post, Diane! I have only done two reviews on Amazon, one in 1999 and one recently. When I wrote them I was thinking about the customer who's paying for the book, the author who wrote it, and my credibility as a reviewer. I try to include enough information so that a person reading my review can decide if the book is one he or she would enjoy reading. I would only give a five for tops in the field, like the Hyperion series for SciFi or Tolkien/Martin for fantasy. I wouldn't take the time to write a review for a book I didn't like. Sometimes on my blog I give a small review on books I am reading, but they are not formal reviews. I did review one of Alex Cavanaugh's books on my blog, but I did so without him knowing in advance, and only because a) I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and b) out of gratitude for all he does on-line to support writers and bloggers. I've read lots of reviews on Amazon, and I find some of those reviews are poorly written, filled with mistakes in spelling and grammar. That discredits the reviewer for me, and I'm not apt to take what he or she says seriously. I have no clue what "sock puppets" are, so I'll have to google and find out. If someone specifically asked me to do a review, I would probably decline. I don't want to feel any hint of obligation. I'll gush about the IWSG though! I'm so glad that I found this group. I learn every time I read a post, and I am grateful for all the support and encouragement people have given me.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

A post that is way overdue. I really needed to read this one. I've let myself become one of those authors who no longer gives reviews for the reason you mentioned above. And then when I do it's only for ones I loved. No happy medium there. Very sound advice that I'm taking to heart. Thank you, Diane!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Meant to add that I follow the 3-point-review. I find something I really enjoyed about the book, make a small note of what I think the author could improve on, then close with why I think you might enjoy this book. My mother always said, if you have nothing nice to say, keep your mouth shut. I won't do a review for a book I didn't like. Like 50 Shades ... for instance. Heehee.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Since I do not finish books I do not like, and I do not review books I haven't fully read, I do no negative reviews. That line goes around the block. If I do not like a book, it is, after all, a personal preference.

Most books on Amazon have "Look Inside". If readers read a sample of a book and then like it enough to buy it, who am I to say that they should not? If I like a book, then I feel writing a plus review is like sending a compliment to the chef. If I dislike a meal, I do not stand up in the middle of the restaurant, shouting the chef uses too much pepper.

Writing a positive review encourages others to write one, helping the author. Spotlighting what I particularly liked gives the author a hint of what is working. If enough write similar things, then she/he knows what to continue. Readers know what to look forward to.

Life is too short for me to consume limited time in being negative. Great post!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Susan, that's really not fair to you or the readers.

Fundy Blue, we are glad you found it. Those reviews with mistakes do indeed discredit the reviewer.

Joylene, that is excellent. That's sandwiching.

Roland, you said it very well.

meganmorganauthor.com said...

Excellent advice all around. As an author you always have to watch your step when reviewing and make sure, above all else, you remain professional and polite. You don't want a reader throwing in your face that you were nasty to another author!

Clarissa Draper said...

I don't give bad reviews. If I don't like a book, I don't review it. But these are good points. I can't believe some people review to bash an author. How terrible.

Anne R. Allen said...

I agree, Elizabeth! I think honesty should extend to using our names. Writing a thoughtful review takes time and we should be proud of our work. If you're not proud of a review, why post it?

Medeia Sharif said...

I stop reading books I find tedious--life's too short--so I usually stick with the winners that are 4 or 5 stars. I give a few 3 star ratings, usually to classics that I feel like I had to read or NetGalley ARCs that I felt obligated to finish.

Anne R. Allen said...

Great post, Diane! I hope a lot of authors (and readers) will take it to heart.

Andrew Leon said...

I will finish a bad book in order to leave a review for an indie author (because I don't believe in reviewing if I didn't read the whole thing), because a negative review is better than no review.

Arlee Bird said...

If I review a book I try to be as honest as I can while being as constructive as I can be. I attempt to put an emphasis on the strengths of the work and avoid bashing the weakness. Essentially I'm an "E" for effort grader and add bonus points for all the good things. Rarely have I given less than 3 stars to a book (though I can be much harsher on films) since I know writing a book is putting one's heart and soul out there for public consumption.

If someone asks me to review their book and I can't bring myself to give it a glowing review, I'll contact the author to let them know what I thought and ask if they'd like me to proceed with the review. I've never had anyone say not to as I think they'd rather have a review rather than no review. Besides, when I see only fantastic reviews about a book I get a bit suspect. I much prefer to see a range of likes and dislikes that give the work credibility.

I would never attack an author's person (unless they were really rotten and I've yet to encounter that situation) because though a work may be a reflection of that person, the person is not the work. I judge a book in and of itself and not by the person who wrote it.

The way I see it, my review ultimately says more about me than what I'm reviewing and I don't want my review to tell people that I'm insincere, dishonest, or a complete indiscriminate idiot.

Lee
Tossing It Out

speculationsimpressed said...

I used to let my emotions about the author get in the way of my review -- usually saying too much good. Then I joined Writing.Com. I found that people there were giving me reviews that were helpful, not just gushes. I read those reviews, learning how to be tactful but honest.

Debra McKellan said...

I'll admit I've done a review on a book I didn't finish because of the bad writing. I had a feeling it wouldn't change, especially based on the reviews.

Another unethical practice is giving good reviews for friends who wrote bad books. That's not helpful.

Michelle Wallace said...

First off, I believe that the nicest thing you can do for an author, is write them a review.
I review 90+% of the books I read - the good, the bad and the ugly...
I don't give 5 stars lightly... but I always aim at an honest, yet tactful review.
I've never given less than 3 stars. Hope I don't ever have to...

Toinette Thomas said...

One thing authors seem to forget is that they don't have to review every book they get a request for. If a book is in a genre I know I don't enjoy, there's no point in reviewing it just to have to give it a low rating. I follow all these rules except for one. I have reviewed books I didn't finish, but I always explain why and leave a disclaimer.

J.L. Campbell said...

Honesty is the best policy and if I can't say anything good about a book, then I say nothing at all. I usually like the stuff I buy though because I am one of those people who download a sample of 99% of the books I buy.

E.J. Wesley said...

Loved this post so much. :) Since I hit the publish button on my first book, I got out of the business of reviewing other books. Partially because I know, no matter how much a book might not be my 'thing' or if it's poorly put together, it took a crazy amount of effort for that author. And I can't say anything without coming off as either an author who won't say bad things about other authors (or is only helping his friends) or someone who is trying to discredit his "competition". So I usually abstain and try to support the authors in other ways if I enjoyed their book. (Spreading the word, etc.) In any event, we (as a writing, reading, and publishing community) need to take a strong look at our reviewing behavior. Too much negativity and spitefulness going on out there.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Megan, that is true.

Andrew, that can still come back and bite you in the butt.

Lee, you said it best.

Toinette, if you don't like the genre, why read and review?

Joy, and that's just it. One can sample a book first and know if it will be enjoyable or not.

EJ, there is way too much negativity. I like your attitude.

Andrew Leon said...

Any negative review can bite you in the butt. You have to make a choice to not review, only do positive reviews, or do honest reviews. If you are committed to doing honest reviews, and honest reviews are what will help indie authors most in an overall sense, then you have to risk the honest reviews.

Toinette Thomas said...

The point I was making is that I don't review books in genres I don't like. It's pointless. I also don't review books I haven't paid for or downloaded on my own, even if it was a review request. If I pay for a book, I've supported that author and have right to review it.

As I said before, I follow the rules mentioned here. I don't bash and I don't needlessly praise either. Any rating I give a book, good or bad, is always clearly explained. Plus, I remind readers that everyone has their own opinions.

I've read books in my prefered genre that I simply could not finish for whatever reason, but felt that a review was warranted. I believe it's my duty as a reader to review books and wish more people would feel that way. The only problem is that more people aren't trying to be clear, concise, and kind about their reviews.

Toinette Thomas said...

That seems fair to me. I've only ever given out one 2 star rating, but the review itself wasn't bad at all.

SuperLux said...

Good to know. I'm one of those who search for reviews first before buying the book so honest reviews is really important to me. I know we have different views and opinions and even taste on books but it helps to know another person's view. You get to weigh if it's worth the buy or not based on the reviews. So it's frustrating if people give a review just to feel good about themselves or just to promote. It beats the purpose, don't you think?

Thanks for highlighting these important points. :)

G. B. Miller said...

All excellent pieces of advice. Personally, I took about a seven month break from book reviewing (mostly non-fiction with the occasional novel thrown in for ha-ha's), mostly because I felt I was getting burned out from trying to come up with fresh new ways to describe why I liked, or didn't like, a particular book.

On the negative review side, the lowest rating I will give any book is a three, and that is usually reserved for any literary fiction/non-fiction. I keep trying to find something good about that genre but I'm forever striking out. So I usually give a three for the tightness/crispness of the prose, and nothing else.

I have on one occasion, not given a review to a book. It was a self-published book of poetry/prose, and even though I approached with an open mind, I simply didn't get it, and I sent a polite letter to the author and told him as much. He never got back to me, but I take comfort in the knowledge that I chose not to slam someone's writing publicly, simply because I didn't get it.

Father Nature's Corner

G. B. Miller said...

Oh, I forgot to add that most of the books that I do review I get from the public library. With money being super tight, I can't afford to purchase a book, either print or e-book, outright.

Nick Wilford said...

I think it's all about tact and offering something constructive. In addition to the excellent points you made, I don't like reviews that take the opportunity to bash what they don't like about the genre concerned. Focus on the book at hand!

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cleemckenzie said...

Like many here, if I can't finish a book I don't review it. Now, that can mean the book is poorly written or it can mean the book is just not for me. I often wish I could just "tell" the author why I couldn't finish their book and open a dialog.

I'm never sure about how much "constructive" criticism is appropriate in a review. It's not a critique where that kind of "help" should have taken place. However, I do sometimes write what I would have liked more of or less of or different in a story when appropriate.

I love this topic. It needs more discussion. Thanks for opening it up again and setting out the guidelines.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

GB, you did the right thing.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Lee, true, because at that point, the author often can't change the book. They can make the next one better though. And reviewing a book you didn't finish is like reviewing a movie you only sat through an hour of - you don't even know how it ends.

M Pax said...

I only review books I liked. So most of my reviews are hi marks.

Mina Burrows said...

Re: Bad Reviews. I can't even understand the how people can even think/act like what you mentioned. It's just weird (and not in a good-way weird). I'm with M Pax. I really only review the books I like. Great post!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Judging from the comments, there are some who do.

Nas said...

Great points! I only review books I enjoy reading and know fellow like minded readers would enjoy.