reversal on reviews

April 8, 2014

If we’re friends on goodreads you may have noticed I don’t review books. I don’t even really star them unless they’re 4 or 5 stars.

This isn’t just laziness, it’s a calculated decision. See, I used to review books. I had so much fun breaking a book down and figuring out what I liked and didn’t like and most importantly why. I always tried to find something positive in every book (which was tough sometimes but a good exercise) and make sure any criticisms were about the writing or my personal preference and not a judgment on the author. It was an important part of growing as a writer (and I had a lot of growing to do) but it was also a whole other way to engage with a book other than just reading it.

And then… there was this one review. Where clearly the flaws of the book were a result of an ineffectual editor. Which got me thinking. I’d worked in Hollywood long enough to know that no matter how removed you think you are from somebody there is every chance in the world your paths can cross either professionally or personally. If I was going to be a published author some day it was entirely likely I’d meet or work with this editor (whose name I honestly didn’t even know). Before I posted the review I had to ask – Did I really want this critical review to be out there?

The quick answer was to just not say anything about that aspect of the book. You know, if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all. But if I started eliminating anything critical from my reviews am I then being less than honest? With myself even more than any authors or book friends – because really no one read my reviews but me and a few friends and family. And if I’m only ever positive, if I don’t say anything at all am I being negative by omission? (clearly I over think things.)

Harry Potter Nevillebook
Harry Potter Neville book

But then, there’s also the aspect of just being a professional author. Stephen Spielberg once told Shia Labouf there’s a time to be a human being and a time to sell cars. And I get that. An author is a reader and should be able to have their honest opinion but there’s also times when it’s appropriate to keep that honest opinion to yourself for the sake of professional courtesy.

It was a bit of a quandary and the answer I came up with was to just not review books. Not star them. Just shelve them and comment on friends reviews. So, before I transitioned my goodreads profile to an author profile I deleted all my reviews.

It seemed like it was working fine for a while.

Until Kelly at Oh, the books! mentioned in a comment that we might have similar tastes in books and she was going to check out my reviews. Suddenly, I thought, “She’s not going to find anything…” And I had to start asking the question all over again.

The thing I hadn’t considered before is that by not reviewing books I’m eliminating a pretty crucial aspect of the social engagement. I LOVE talking about books! I love hearing when people see things I missed and I like understanding why people disagree with me about a book and seeing it from their perspective. I still had that visibility into what everyone else thought but I was withholding my own perspective.

I wasn’t giving anyone the chance to get to know me through my reactions to certain books.

And by extension, if I give people the chance to discover if we have similar tastes in the books we read, maybe they’ll also like the book I wrote.

So, I’ve decided to take a page out of Erin Bowman‘s playbook. I’m going to start reviewing books again. And keep my comments positive or about my personal tastes. And I’m going to continue to leave comments all over the blogosphere when I find reviews for books I’ve read. Because it really is a lot of fun πŸ™‚

What do you think? Should authors handle their review policy differently than other readers? Is there a time to sell cars or should we all just be human beings? Do you like when authors post reviews of other books? discuss…

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13 responses to “a reversal on reviews

  1. Wow, what an interesting set of events here. I have to say, I completely understand why you decided to stop reviewing books, and even why you deleted all of yours from Goodreads before transitioning over to an author profile. I’ve seen it said so many times that authors shouldn’t review books in their own genre (basically, shouldn’t review their competition, lest they be //seen as// biased!), but I also know several authors who do it anyway.
    There are a lot of different ways to do it, too. I love to check Goodreads to see what my GR friends thought of a particular book, and even a rating is better than nothing! I know Maggie Stiefvater only posts her 5-star books on Goodreads, which I think is a cool policy too. Whatever you end up doing, though, I’ll be excited to see! πŸ™‚

    • Annie

      Maggie is such a great example! I love her books. I totally get why she only talks books when it’s one she absolutely loved. But she also does such a good job engaging with her readers in other ways. She’s great on tumblr and my favorite twitterer and talks freely about music.
      I have less than interesting taste in music so that’s not an option for me πŸ™‚

  2. Fantastic post. I am not the best at reviewing. I don’t like criticizing books either so I just omit that from reviews usually. I don’t post my reviews on goodreads much anymore. I just star the reviews on there and just review on my blog. I also barely accept any friends on goodreads either. I have like 700 waiting in my friends list. I just don’t connect to people on there really. Do what you feel is good. I think that Marie V Snyder is a good author to look at on goodreads too for an example.

    • Annie

      I like reading reviews on goodreads because I like the ease of seeing everyone’s thoughts in one place. But commenting is more fun on the person’s blog, I think because somehow it seems like I’m connecting more personally to them and it’s more of a conversation than a little comment on goodreads. So, I’ll have to keep an eye out for your reviews in my reader feed πŸ™‚
      I’ve read several of Snyder’s books (and by several I mean I went on a binge in 2012 and read the whole Poison Study series, including novellas, and as much of the Healer series as I could and started the Glass series). I haven’t looked at how she does goodreads though so I’ll have to go check it out. thanks!

  3. Lori

    If you’re going to star though you’d better write something because your star system is harsh! πŸ˜‰

    • Annie

      haha – your right my star system is harsh. The plan is to have comments but no stars πŸ™‚ Because not everyone understands why my star system is hard, and even those who do – don’t agree half the time πŸ™‚

  4. What a dilemma! Honestly, when I look through an author’s profile, I only expect to see reviews of books they liked. I wouldn’t expect them to express negative opinions of other books they’ve read – works by their colleagues. No way.

    • Annie

      thank you. that’s reassuring to know that there are other people who don’t expect negative opinions about books from authors.

  5. Kelly

    What an interesting dilemma to find yourself in! I honestly don’t know what I would do in your situation, which isn’t helpful at all, I know! Haha
    As a reader, I don’t know that I ever expect to see an author with a lot of varied reviews on Goodreads. The authors I do follow on Goodreads tend to only write reviews if they’re glowing, which I don’t have a problem with at all. Like you said, there is a time for professional courtesy, after all.

    • Annie

      It is helpful to know that other readers understand professional courtesy and don’t think you’re being dishonest by focusing on the positive. Assuming of course you’re being honest about those thoughts and not inflating it for whatever reason.
      It’s definitely been an odd transition to make to take these sort of things into consideration. Getting feedback from the blogosphere really had been helpful πŸ˜‰

  6. This is something I’ve been thinking about lately. When I started blogging, I was just sharing my love of stories. I planned to post reviews from the start, but I don’t know if I originally thought I would post reviews for stories I wasn’t as wild about. But as I expanded what I read I inevitably ran across books I didn’t love and I just wanted to explain why something didn’t work for me in a review. I try to always be fair, but even so, I can see how something could come back to haunt me if I was published. I definitely plan to change the way I blog in the future and will one day cease most of my reviews, but I haven’t quite figured out what I will do with my older stuff at that time. I mean, even if I delete it, “the Internet is forever.” I’m trying to be more aware now.

    • Annie

      Yes, it’s definitely an odd transition to make. I archived my old reviews offline, because I didn’t want to lose my thoughts on all those books I’d read. I kind of figure (hope) no one would care enough to go looking for old reviews on the off chance I said something worth bringing back to light. And even then, I’m like you – I tried to be honest and fair and so can’t imagine they’d find anything really scandalous.