This Is Me--2019 A to Z Theme

My A to Z Theme for 2022 is My Vinyl Record Collection. This will be about the music I still have on my shelf. Be sure to check the links for samples of the albums and music I'll be talking about. There will be a lot of interesting music ahead for your listening enjoyment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Is It Better To Be "Nice" Or Honest? : Guest Hijacker Andrew Leon

My Photo          In this guest Hijack This Blog! spot we have a guy who's not afraid to lay things out straight and tell it like it is.  Andrew Leon blogs at Strange Pegs and any of you who know Andrew's blog, know that he does not mince words.  I made a special request for him to address a difficult topic that I've considered writing about, but I think Andrew can do it better.  He's also touched upon this topic on his own blog here and here.   It's something that I think is worth talking about.  Read and let us know what you think.

Is It Better To Be “Nice” Or Honest?

Reviews are necessary for authors. Completely necessary. As such, I feel the best way to support other independent authors is to buy, read, and review their books (or, at least, read and review if I have the option to get the book free). It's great and all to do blog tours and post when your buds release books, but, honestly, it doesn't sway me to buy the book if you haven't read it. I mean, if you haven't taken the time to read your friend's book, why should I? Give me a review, though, and I'll start to think about it.

The question, then, is how to go about reviewing a fellow author's book. Do you do the nice thing and just say the book is good (or avoid the review all together (but, remember, without the review, I won't think about buying it)) or do you be honest without regard to the good or the bad?

Giving the “nice” review (or avoiding bad reviews) is the easy thing to do. It's probably also better in the short term, and it doesn't have the risk of ruining online relationships. Heck, you might even get someone to buy a copy of a book that way (I know I have). Great short term gain, right? But is it the best thing to do?

I don't think so.

Giving an honest, objective review is a hard thing to do, especially if you know the person. You know how people respond to bad reviews (assuming the review is bad); is it worth the risk?

What's The Risk?

There are two main factors to look at here: 1. your own credibility 2. the bigger picture of the independent publishing world.

Let's talk about your own credibility. There are several (many) bloggers whose reviews I completely dismiss at this point. Why? Because they only give good reviews. It's impossible to tell if the review is “real” or not. Is this person saying the book is good because it is good or because s/he was trying to not hurt the author's feelings? I've been fooled by more than a few of these “nice” reviews, so, when I see that an author only gives positive reviews, I can't take his/her recommendations seriously. It's okay to talk about the books you love if you only talk about the books you love, but that's not the same as a review, and I'm still going to ignore any promotion you may do of another author's book unless every book you promote is obviously a book you've read and really loved.

If you only give positive reviews, you may have the short term gain of an author's gratitude, but you lose credibility as a reviewer and as someone who knows anything about writing if you continually plug books just to be nice. Yes, it affects peoples' opinion of your own writing ability if you push bad books just to be nice to your blogger friend. If you can't tell such-and-such a book is bad, that means you also can't tell if your own writing is bad. If you can't tell if your own writing is bad, I'm not going to risk reading a book that you write.

What it really comes down to if you're going to be nice is that you have to refuse promoting books you haven't read or didn't like. You have to develop a reputation of only talking about the books you really love if you want people to believe your posts about other people's books. If I buy the book on your recommendation and don't like it, at that point, at least I know that that is just an issue of taste, not being fooled into buying a bad book. Of course, the truth is, this really is a form of reviewing with the veneer of niceness. What you leave off of your list becomes just as important as the things on it, and, then, you have to have the ability to tell other authors that you can't promote their books, which risks bad feelings, and that's what you were trying to avoid to begin with right?

Think of the Long Term Repercussions

All of this affects the overall independent marketplace, too. One of the reasons people buy books from the traditional, big publishers is that they trust them. They trust that those guys have made some kind of judgment as to the quality of the book. By some standard, it's worth reading. People don't trust the independent market, and they don't trust it because we don't give them anything to trust.

Right now, anyone can publish any piece of trash they decide to throw out there, and there are plenty of people doing just that. And, right now, the independent book publishers (meaning, mostly, the authors themselves) are yelling, “Buy our books! They're great! It's not our fault that traditional publishers couldn't see it.” The problem is that that is just not true. The vast majority of independently published books are garbage. Not that they have to be, but they are missing so many steps in the process, especially editing, that any story that's worth reading is too hard to find. What the reader finds is garbage, and the reader finds garbage because a bunch of the author's author friends gave the book a good review to be “nice.” What the reader takes away from it is “The big publishers are right; this independent stuff is garbage. I'm not buying any more of it.”

That is something that we, as independently published authors, can't live with. We have to change the perception of the larger reading world, and the only way we can do that is by being honest. The only way we can do that is by not promoting books we haven't read. By not giving “nice” reviews to books that don't deserve it. By approaching each work as objectively as we can and having the courage to say to someone, “You need to go back to work on this.”

So what do you think?   Andrew has more to say about this on his own blog today.  Be sure to click on over to Strange Pegs to get more on this topic.  

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  1. Andrew Leon seems like my kind of guy, what he says is very true, sometimes honesty and openness is truly the best policy, this is probably my favourite hijacked post so far Lee, good stuff Andrew.

  2. Really enjoyed todays blog, and will be following him from now on. Although I've never personally written a review for anything ever, this will help me look at reviews more critically, and hopefully if I ever do start reviewing I will do it with honesty.

    This guest hijack thing is great, I'm loving the chance to find other great bloggers, thank you for hosting it!

  3. And then Fifty Shades came along and blew every established 'truth' out of the water.

    This business is a definite head-scratcher at times.

    I have no problem giving an honest critique of a wip. But a friend's book that is on the market? ah, um. Just cant do it if I don't like it. Which makes me a total coward, I know.

  4. Andrew makes some great points and I agree that he's saying the right thing. However, I have learned the hard way that a bad review of anything leaves a very bad taste in my mouth for years, nay decades, to come. I've worked in newspapers all in my life. Thirty years ago, when I was but a young rookie reporter trying to make an impression on the world, I had the gonads to write "real" reviews of local theatre productions, among other things. I hurt SO many people. Here I was thinking I was giving the reading public some honesty but in reality I was just dumping on people who were volunteers, who were having fun, who were trying to bring a little culture to the community. One could argue that they were volunteers and that writers selling books are professionals, by virtue of selling. Those volunteers sold tickets, too, but they were by no means professional actors. I don't know. After that fiasco I have a difficult time hurting anyone's feelings. It may happen inadvertently but I try not to. My honest review of anything isn't worth hurting anyone, especially a fellow writer or blogger or friend, in the process.

  5. See? Even after reading part two first it makes sense.
    Overall, it's fair. But like Cathy said, I don't want to destroy a friendship over it. So if I don't like a book, I don't review it.
    Then again, I don't really review books! I have a couple on Goodreads I've marked with stars and maybe two I actually wrote something for, but that's it. Like I said, I'm not a reviewer.

  6. I would suggest stating up front a disclosure that if you do not like a book you will not post a review about it. Perhaps offer that any book you dislike you will contact the author with a review of "constructive criticism" which details why you don't like it.

    Why? Because you might have been the first one to read "Twilight" or "Harry Potter" or "50 Shades of Grey" and disliked those books. And while this may be a valid opinion to have, it will be one that will make you very unpopular with the book buying population. And while that might have merits in some situations, consider that the book buying population is probably your target audience!

    Another option might be that, for books you dislike, you turn your review into a non-personal book report that simply outlines the basics of what happens. Nothing positive, but also nothing negative. No exclamation points in sight.

    Just my thoughts.

  7. What an interesting question, and a well thought out post.

    Well... I think it depends. I'm not a reviewer, I'm first and foremost an author, so if I don't enjoy a book, I usually keep my mouth shut. Where honesty does matter is when I have beta readers. I don't want to be told everything is fine if it still needs work.

  8. I still have mixed feelings regarding reviews myself. It's a bit of a conflict of interest for author's to review books IMO. I do it, but I know I'm dodging bullets with it. Great post.

  9. Great post. I don't plan to do reviews for this exact reason. I'll spotlight a book or author that I really love. I only interview authors whose work I respect, meaning even if I didn't care for the style of writing, I can see its merits.

    But I won't do book reviews, because frankly there's too much pressure to be nice and buoy fellow self-publishers. I also want to make sure that reviews of the books I publish, positive or negative, are genuine, not attempts to get back at me for a negative review.

  10. My job isn't to review a book on my blog. I'll point to an author's blog if they have a book out but I don't want to be in a position to hype. And all the bad self-pub'd stuff out there will die a natural death, leaving the water clear again for books worth reading.

  11. Whoa, Lee, you weren't kidding when you said it would be a hot issue. I so appreciate both you and Andrew tackling this difficult subject. I have struggled with this on several occasions. I want to be a "nice" blogging buddy and promote the books of my friends. So the part about making announcements that someone has a book out isn't too difficult to do. But when it comes to reviewing, it has been hard at times. Sometimes a book is just not in a genre I enjoy. Sometimes it's not very well written. I would rather not do reviews at all then fall into the things Andrew mentions here. More pondering is needed. Thank you.

  12. I post the odd book review on my blog....I tend to only post a review of a book that is worth reading (in my opinion) so for every six books I read I will post a review on one or two. I don't like posting a negative review.

  13. Hey, Andrew and Lee!

    It is really a great topic, eh? I agree that credibility is HUGE and definitely we should never LIE in a review. I don't review on my blog very often--it just isn't really my flavor. But I DO have a few rules for how I review when I do... I am never MEAN--which means I will just NOT REVIEW if it is poorly done. I DO though, emphasize what was actually strong. I will sandwich if something had a weak point worth noting.. Nice, criticism, nice... (if the bad outweighs the good--no review). I will ALSO point out WHY on stuff I like and don't like as MUCH is a matter of taste... I've been known to say things like 'the writing was beautiful, but too dense after a while for my taste'--because pretty language is great and some people don't MIND if there is too much of it, so long as it's pretty...

    On places like Amazon and Goodreads, I've gotten more generous with stars... I usually to only give 5s for outstanding, superstar reads... now I give it for any book I really enjoyed, even if it isn't that lofty best of the best.

  14. You have to be careful as a writer doing reviews for other writers. I'd like to think we are all mature, but sometimes people lash out on public forums. Sometimes people will even set up fake accounts to give negative star ratings and reviews for books they've never read. How do you suggest authors handle this?

  15. I try to be honest in my reviews, but admittedly sometimes I just won't review the book at all, especially if it's by a new author. I always hope folks will improve.

  16. I think the better reviews should consider both sides of the arguments. It should show the positives of a book but then pin point the negatives of the book. There is no point in giving just one sided reviews as it cannot help the author in the future whether it be one sided good or bad.

  17. This is good advice. As a teacher, I'm often asked to write recommendations for students. It's difficult to say no, but I refuse to be untruthful. My recommendations mean nothing if they're not truthful.
    I don't mind promoting a book for an author if I haven't read it if I've read some of their previous work.

  18. Yeamie: Thanks! I think honesty is best.

    Incalescent: I'm glad you liked it. The whole thing is like walking through a briarpatch.

    Huntress: I think it's better to not give any review or rating rather than give a dishonest one.

    Cathy: I totally understand your point. Reviewing people that are volunteers isn't the same, though, and the ticket cost for something like that is just to support the theater not the actors. In the same way, I'd say that reviews aren't necessary for authors putting up their work for free. It's free, so there's no reason to tell people if it's bad. However, when an author is asking you to support him, personally, by buying his work, he is, in essence, opening himself to being reviewed.

    Alex: I understand the hands off policy. It just makes it difficult for authors seeking out the reviews. :P

  19. I've commented before on Andrew's stance; my own stance is I won't post a negative review of an indie author -- so if I read a book and didn't like it, I don't review it, period.

    On the larger picture, though, reviews are only as helpful as the person writing them. I've read some books (like the "Miss Peregrine's Home" book) that were reviewed positively in mainstream press sources, and the book was AWFUL. What I have to do then is take that with a grain of salt when I read future reviews in that magazine.

    The Onion does movie reviews and lots of times they dislike a movie but they dislike it for reasons I don't think I'd care about, and so I'll go see it anyway.

    On an even larger note, why limit the idea that most books are terrible to Indie books? Thousands, if not more, of books are published by the big publishers every year and most of THEM suck, too -- creating a book that's actually worth reading and memorable is hard to do, and when I think of the number of books I've read or started reading in my lifetime that don't stick in my head or that were garbage --

    "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?" Please: More like "Girl With An Inexplicable Ability to EVER GET TO THE FREAKING POINT OF THE STORY".

    -- it's staggering. So it's not just that indie books are mostly not good; it's that BOOKS are mostly not good.

    Which is true of most any creative art. How many songs are really GREAT? How many MOVIES? As a percentage, I'd say Jerry Seinfeld's proportions of people who are good looking relates to the percentage of creative endeavors that are worth experiencing: About 5%, tops.

  20. I've discussed this with Andrew at length. I see his points, but still respectfully disagree. I don't think writers should review other writer's work. There's an inherent conflict of interest IMHO.

  21. J. Lenni: Well, saying whether you like a book or not is not a review. That's what I'd call a recommendation. A review is more akin to a critique in that it should talk about the structure of the book and technical aspects of the book, not just your response to the book. Your response to the book is fine, too, but it shouldn't -just- be that.

    Talli: Yeah, it's very important to find betas that won't just pat you on the back.

    Rusty: Well, I think it can be a conflict, certainly. Some authors will approach reviews with the idea of making themselves look better, but that's something that those people will do anyway. The key here is approaching each work objectively, which is what we should all hope to do.

    Stephanie: And that's where it gets really hard... knowing that because you were honest about something that someone (not only the author) may seek revenge by bashing you.

    Em: I wish I thought it would die a natural death, but I don't think that's necessarily true. And I certainly don't think that it won't drag a lot of deserving books down with it.

  22. Karen: I think learning to look beyond genre is important to reviewing. That's where you take your personal reaction out of the equation and just look at the merits of the book. For instance, I'm reading (for review) a light romance, right now. Romance is not my genre, and I would never pick it up because I just wanted to. However, the book is well written even if it's not a genre I like.

    mybabyjohn: I don't -like- posting a negative review. In fact, I really dislike it. But, especially when the review is solicited, I feel it's something that has to be done.

    Hart: It is a great topic and a really important one.
    Rating is a little bit different than reviewing and is more a reflection of your own reaction to something. I tend to be pretty generous in my ratings of books, because I have to -really- not like something to give it something under a 3.

    Ciara: I wish I had a good answer to that question. I really do. I actually sort of dread the point where someone decides to get vengeful on me and spam my book with bad ratings and reviews just to get back at me. Amazon does have some sort of process you can go through to protest unwarranted reviews, but I don't know how that works.

    mshatch: It's hard to improve when people back down from telling a person they need to improve. It's a hard thing, though.

  23. Great topic. I'm also of the opinion that I won't leave nasty review for an author who put their time and effort into finishing a book, editing it and then putting it out there. Just doesn't seem right to give them a 1 star, even 2 star. If that's all it deserves, I've written the author and declined to review, and said why. And sure, you get the occasional reaction, but all in all they appreciate the honesty. Just doesn't have to be aired in public.

    I don't review things unless I've read them. Or I'll say I'm part way through and am enjoying it so far. Many times I've written a review for a new author just getting started, and the first few are important. If I know they've worked hard at something they believe in, I'm willing to support them.

    Like Ciara said, there are those terrible reviews that come up under a "new" account and that part of the business I don't understand at all. Makes me think there's a jealous writer out there.

    Playing nice is always best, in my book. Doesn't mean I can't be honest. For the same reason I don't walk around with my weight tattooed on my forehead, either.

  24. One additional thing I wanted to mention. I was asked to review a book by someone I blogged with on a regular basis. The book was okay, but the formatting was waaaaaaay off. I told her I would not review the book because it was almost impossible to get through it.

    She thanked me profusely because she had no idea it was coming across that way. She re-formatted it and put it back up and it's become a best seller.

    Imagine what would have happened if I hadn't told her privately, but posted a scathing review online?

    One of the great things about being Indie is you can fix things. That's better for all of us. I know some authors who have re-submitted their books more than 5 times already. But the review stays forever.

  25. Samuel: As I said in an earlier comment, a review should be more like a critique than a recommendation. It should encompass the work itself not just whether you liked it.

    Susan: In that case, you're promoting the author, though, an author you enjoy, and I can see that.

    Briane: I agree with you entirely that a lot of trash makes it through traditional publishing. Often, it's trash people like, though. The difference, right now, is the "trust" factor in that people do trust traditional publishing whether it's warranted trust or not. Most people just don't read enough to experience anything other than the mega-popular.

    Matthew: Yeah, this is a point where we have to agree to disagree.

  26. Sharon: This is true, we can go back and change things. Some authors are unwilling to do that, though. The first really negative review I did, I spoke with the author about it beforehand, and he was fairly insistent that I review the book the way it was and as completely honestly as I could be despite my firm belief that the book wasn't ready for publication. That was the format he was choosing, so I gave him the review he asked for.

    If you make substantial changes to your book, there is no reason not to re-release as "new," which does take away all the previous reviews.

  27. Part 1 Of 2:

    I enjoyed reading ANDREW's guest blog bit and I am essentially in agreement with him.

    I am no longer pursuing a writing career so that leaves me out of this loop: I'm not asking friends to review my books nor are friends asking me to review theirs.

    If I were in that situation, however, I would adhere to a policy of honesty. Perhaps not BRUTAL honesty, but honesty nonetheless. The credibility factor is extremely important to me and I would not want to lose mine. But I also wouldn't want to lose a friendship.

    I follow a music blog called DiscConnected and the man who operates that blog maintains the policy that if he likes a music album, he will post a positive review for it; if he doesn’t like it, he will post nothing. This keeps his credibility secure, because you know he genuinely likes what he says he does, but he also doesn’t harm the sellers of music that he doesn’t care for. That strikes me as being fair to all.

    Only once, quite a number of years ago at, did a friend ask me to post a review of his book. I had never met him, but he was an up-and-coming writer, being promoted by a mainstream publishing company and receiving good reviews from the likes of the N.Y. Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly. I had never met him but we’d exchanged a number of Emails and become pretty friendly.

    The problem was, I wasn’t crazy about his latest book. It wasn’t the most comfortable position to be in and I told him I liked some aspects of the book but couldn’t fake an over-the-top glowing review. He asked if it would be at least a 3-star review and I told him it would, so he requested I go ahead and write it.

    I felt like I was walking a bit of a tightrope, but did manage to play up the things I particularly appreciated while also mentioning some of the issues I had with the story; and I attempted to make my review as entertaining to read as possible so it would give off a good “vibe.” The author thanked me for posting it, but I got the impression he was disappointed by my review.

    Then a month or so later, after he no longer had any expectations to be met, the author went back and reread my review. He Emailed again to tell me what a wonderful review he thought it was and to say that he actually felt honored to have it appearing on his Amazon product page. So, I guess there are ways to handle a somewhat sticky situation like these, but overall, I side with Andrew and the preserving of a person’s credibility first and foremost.

    Continued Below...

  28. Part 2 Of 2:

    Another very positive result of protecting one’s credibility is that when you later say you really love something, everyone knows you mean it sincerely, because you have established a track record of having set up shop in a “No B.S. Zone”. Nobody has to second-guess you and wonder: Is he only saying that because he’s my friend and doesn’t want to hurt my feelings?

    Best example: In the 1980s, my cousin, Johnny, was the singer/songwriter in various Rock ‘N’ Roll bands. Although I often went to see his live shows to support his efforts, I never lied and offered him false compliments because, truthfully, I did not like the music.

    Then I did not see my cousin for about a year and a half, and one day he showed up at my apartment with a demo tape of his newest band. (Unbeknownst to me, he had been taking voice lessons over that year and a half.) When he played the tape, I was completely knocked out by how good he’d become and I was effusive in my praise. I told Johnny the songs were exceptional and his singing was tremendous. I meant every word of it, and the best part was that I was confident Johnny KNEW I was telling him the truth because I had never lied previously and given him unearned praise. He could trust me NOW because of my honesty in the PAST.

    So, I agree with Andrew. I’d say walk the tightrope when you can, but when in doubt, side with Honesty over Niceness, as I think it pays off better for everyone in the long run.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    ‘Loyal American Underground’

  29. I don't think Nice and Honest are opposites...

  30. I like the three-star review because it gives the reviewer room to highlight the strengths as well as discuss potential areas for improvement. That said, I really appreciate Charlie's comment, above.

  31. i even feel a little bad when i pan a movie i have watched :)

  32. This was an excellent post on a difficult subject. While I agree wholeheartedly with the issue of self-published garbage overwhelming the market, I fear I'm a bit of a coward. I avoid doing any reviews at all because I don't want to be dishonest and I can't bring myself to be mean. If I only do reviews for books I like, at some point I'm going to have to tell someone I won't review their book - translation: I didn't like it - and as yet I just can't do it.

  33. I have started to review books by Indie authors who I meet on line. It's very good practice for a writer because you have to say a lot in a few words. I will only review a book if I got something positive from reading it, therefore my reviews tend to be favorable and I try to emphasize the virtues of a book and de-emphasize the deficiencies. I figure that when you are bestowing stars, you are assigning your own subjective value to a book and not rendering an objective judgment, which, frankly, most of us are not qualified to make. When I review a book and give it four or five stars, all I'm saying is that I, personally, found the book worth reading.

  34. I'm loving the discussion and I knew Andrew was just the man to best handle this topic. Thank you, Andrew, for doing such a fine job of addressing this difficult subject and staying on top of the comments.

    Thank you to all of the commenters so far for the thoughtful input. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from others.


  35. Stephen: It is a tightrope, but it's one I think is worth walking. It's certainly not easy or safe, but I do think there are rewards for it if one is prepared to endure it. At least, I hope there are.

    Charlie: I think you're taking the title out of context.

    Suze: I agree with a 3-star review when it's deserved. 3-star, to me, is readable or average.

    Lynn: I never feel bad about it with movies.

    LD: I think the real work is to transcend the idea that if you are giving an honest, objective review to something that's less than good that you are being "mean." That is not being mean, in actuality. It is being truthful and honest. Being mean is calling something bad or name-calling when it's undeserved or making derogatory comments about the author based on the writing.

    Robin: I think the star bestowing, the rating, is personal. That's how much you liked it. A review is separate and different from a rating, though.

    Lee: Thanks, Lee. I've got say, though, I'm feeling the heat from certain areas.

  36. I have never reviewed a book for anyone so don't know how I'd feel whether to be honest if the book was not that good. I hope I could strike an equal librium.


  37. I have done a few reviews, but not many. And none on my blog. I'm not a reviewer. The few I've done, I've liked the books. I may never do another. If I don't like the book, I keep my mouth shut. I was raised in Texas where the rule in my house was if I couldn't say anything nice, I better keep my mouth shut. Critiques and beta reads, however, are not included in that rule. Neither are they for public consumption - only to help the author improve.

  38. Andrew has a point in what he says about there being a big difference between reviews and authors writing about books that they love. Readers expect an objective approach with the former while the latter allows them to weigh the texts' against their own preferences, likes, dislikes, etc. with regards to books.

    I think that there is a greater responsibility for authors to work toward upholding the credibility of the independent publishing industry at-large versus going for the short-term gain approach of writing "nice" reviews for everything, regardless of whether they read them or not and regardless of whether or not they even liked them at all.

    There is a way to write a bad review without making it a BAD's all about being constructive without being insulting or mean or whatever.

    Since I don't read fiction much anyway, reviews won't sway me in either direction no matter if they are good or bad. It's all about whether the story is of interest to me or not and then it becomes about who wrote it and then maybe I'll check out some reviews. I read three books in the last month or so and none of them were fictional novels, so I guess, what I think about this topic doesn't particularly matter, lol.

    Still, I think that one of the best ways for independent publishers to put themselves and their books in a good position for exposure and sales, etc. is so seek reviews from people who have already established some form of credibility in whatever market the book is being released in. Reviews from a credible source goes a long way, even if it's just one review.

    Some of the best "Bad" reviews cover both good and not-so-good aspects of a work, or at the very least, they explain in detail why the author didn't like it, instead of just bashing it altogether.

  39. Honesty is always best, because you can give a bad review without being an ass. I try to make sure that all my reviews have a bit of both in them. If I really dont like a book, I mention something that the author does well, and vice versa. It helps keep things balanced.

  40. wtmwop: Balance can be difficult, that's for sure.

    Carol: Well, to clarify this somewhat, I'm not favor of searching out books to give bad reviews to. So to speak. It's no search and destroy thing. But, when reviews are being requested by an author, they should be requesting and expecting honest reviews, not "nice" reviews.

    Nicole: I certainly believe in explaining what particular things caused me not to like something. It's fine if you don't like it, but it's more important to say why.

    Jamie: You can give a bad review without being an ass, although I'm not sure if the author on the receiving end ever believes that. I'll just say that I've been called an ass without that ever being my intent.
    On the other hand, I've seen plenty of people that just set out to be an ass.

  41. This was an honest, straight-forward view of a growing problem on indie-publishing. The lack of quality really damages the reputation of all on-line books. Thanks, Andrew, for such a timely piece.
    And, of course, thanks to Arlee as well.

  42. Great/thoughtful post. Tough topic, with quite a bit of passion behind the comments on both sides. Good stuff.

  43. Hi Lee and Andrew!
    Great post, honesty is the best policy. I do think the critique sandwich is best. A compliment, something you liked, then some honesty,(be diplomatic and then the sum up,always end on a positive note~

    I do like your insight on this matter!
    Thank you for saying it, as it should be ;D

  44. I've never 'reviewed' anything for anyone...books, restaurants, movies or music...I can tell if something's poorly written, as opposed to something I just don't care for, this point I pretty much know what I like to read...I think the 'Indie Scene' probably is full of a lot of crap...just like the Indie Scenes in theater and film...'Indie Scene',doesn't automatically mean 'good'...normally it's crap... To tell the honest truth, if I know something is 'Indie', I'm less likely to read it because I assume it won't be that good...but...I will never 'review' it, because...why would I? It's none of my business what someone else wants to read.
    Good topic!

  45. This is always an interesting topic. I especially enjoyed reading all the different comments. I do post reviews on my blog, but I've started to change that to sharing my thoughts on a book, because that is more of what it is for me.

  46. You make some great points! However, I'm one of 'those' reviewers :) I only discuss and review books I've enjoyed. I won't even put a book on my 'currently reading' shelf on Goodreads until I know I'll be able to say good things about it. If I considered myself a book reviewer rather than an aspiring author I might do it differently, but I doubt I'll be making changes anytime soon :)

  47. I disagree, with respect of course, but any review is subjective.

    I review books I like and recommend on my own blogsite, I don't review books I don't like. I review as a feature. Why waste a reader's time telling him about a bad book? I don't frequent the review sites. I don't see the value. If I frequent a scifi site, I'll listen to that author or blogger before any review site.

    The only conflict I have seen in book reviewing is when a group of like writers all review each other's books on a group site. Is anyone in that group likely to say another writer in the group is less than? I've yet to see it.

    Is it difficult to review another writer's book? I try to look for the positives that do exist,as each book I choose has already gone through one winnowing process - the purchase or decision to read it.

    If honesty is your policy, Andrew, then that's fine, but you should also see the value in not giving a bad book any more publicity. In a social media climate, a bad book review can cause swarming and other 'less-than' practices to be displayed.

    Let's not get our shorts in a knot over another writer's dilemma.

  48. The intent of a review is of key importance here. The review shouldn't be directed toward the author as much as the consumer who will ultimately be investing time and probably money in the book.

    The review should be a service to aid the consumer in making a decision about a book. If the review is not honest then the reviewer is perpetrating a fraud about the consumer. Since the review is opinion the reader of that review also has the responsibility of discernment.

    It's like a restaurant, a movie, a store, or whatever. The potential customer should be warned prior to investing in an experience if a reviewer suspects the customer might be disappointed.

    The review should never be used to disparage or maliciously attack, but it should be back up by facts and honest assessment.

    Pre-publication critique should be the author's tool to avoid the discomfort of a negative review, but the author should use every bad review as an educational experience and take them for what they are.


  49. Thanks for the guest post Arlee. Andy, publishing is hard, but at least it keeps the trash off the shelves.

  50. Super well-thought-out, Andrew. (Here's my surprised face: you write better about this issue than almost anyone.) Even though I've weighed in on a few conversations you've hosted on this topic already, I think I've gained some new thoughts here:

    1) I don't think there's a conflict of interest when writers review. As long as the position of the person reviewing is clear, I think authors have a lot of insight into what makes a book work that someone who only works as a critic simply can't have - not to mention they have an appreciation for the WORK that goes into it. That won't always make an author-penned review nicer, but it does mean sometimes being able to see what a writer was trying to do where a critic might miss it. (I think, anyway.)

    2. For me, the point in giving a 1- or 2-star rating to a book is to tell others to stay away and not waste their time and money. Coming across a published book, in any format, that genuinely sucks is a very disappointing experience, and I want to be able to explain thoughtfully why I think others should avoid it until the author makes it better. I DON'T just want to say IT STINKS; I want to say something (especially with a self-pubbed book) that gives the author a chance to come back to it and fix some of whatever it was I found unreadable. That said, I would only do that on a venue like Goodreads or Amazon, where the book is actually in a marketplace already; I would never do it with an ARC copy, or one given to me especially for review (that would result in a private email expressing my opinion). It would only happen with a book I picked up and paid for, where I felt like I had been somehow tricked into reading trash.

    3. Even if somebody LOVES my book, I want to know what didn't work for them - even if it's just a clunky sentence. I won't become a better writer unless I get honest, constructive critique. If I put out a book and get a bunch of 3-star reviews with intelligent, nuanced feedback, my next book is going to be way stronger than if I put out a book that gets lots of 4s and 5s with "yay I loved it!" all over it. I will always stand by the idea that constructively critical reviews help me as an author. Which is why I appreciate Andrew so much.

  51. Wohoo! I love it when people go straight to the point and tell it like it is. great post!

  52. Susan: You're quite welcome. I used to kind of "pooh pooh" the idea that "indie" publishing is a fad, but this is the kind of thing that can make it into one.

    Jess: Thanks!

    Ella: I don't think the critique sandwich is best for a review. That's something that's meant specifically for an author. A review is aimed toward the buying public, and they don't need that kind of treatment. Basically, there is not always a positive note to end on.

    Eve: See, and that's my point: right now, too many people have the attitude that "indie" is equivalent to bad which I think is bolstered by the fact that so many "indies" run around trying to convince people of how good it is without the merit to back it up. In truth, "indie" is no more good or bad than anything else, but there aren't a lot of people willing to be honest about the market, right now.

    Susanne: That's certainly a valid way to do it. I mean, it's all sharing thoughts, but there are certainly different ways to come at it.

    Jemi: As I've said, I can understand that view point. It's a whole different game when you also want to eventually get a book out there.

    D.G.: Well, see, that thing with people in groups giving each others' books good reviews is a huge problem, and I actually see it all the time. It's one of the things that makes it difficult for a consumer to come in and know what to buy. -If- a consumer buys a book like that and finds it bad, the consumer assumes they're all bad. That, in turn, is bad for me, which is why I think honest reviews are important. Good or bad.

    Lee: Exactly, the review isn't about the author at all or, even, intended for the author as such. We need a market place where the consumer can come in and get reliable data with which to make a decision.

    Maurice: I'm assuming you mean traditional publishing, and I'm not sure that it keeps the trash off the shelves. In fact, I know it doesn't. Just last year, I started reading a series by a guy that was one of my favorite authors when I was younger. It was quite clear that the series I started (and didn't finish) got published on the strength of the author's name, not because it should have been on the shelves.

    Jericha: Well, I feel rather strongly about it. The fight to get (legitimate) reviews is ridiculous, and I find it discouraging when I see a work out there with 30 or 40 5-star ratings that I know aren't "real" reviews, so I've put a lot of thought into all of this. If we want "indie" publishing to survive, we have to make it survive, and we can't do that by "cheating" the system or expect people to buy our work just because we "wrote a book."
    And thank you :)

  53. nutschell: Thanks! I do my best.

  54. Great post and very informative and great hijack posting Lee. Going to catch the rest.

  55. Even when you're being honest, you need to remember that your review is yours alone--it's one person's opinion, not a universal truth. You may consider yourself well-read and know the established do's and don't's of fiction writing, and you may point out where an author violated this or that rule, but other readers may love the book as is. Separately, I feel that if a reviewer is specifically approached by an author, the reviewer can either decline outright, or read the book and then make one of two choices: review it honestly and positively, or give the author a "private" negative review, which the author can use as either feedback to work further on the book or allow the reviewer to post anyway, in the interest of objectivity and credibility.

  56. Bill: There are some very objective measurements for writing, such as grammar. It's not an opinion whether someone has made grammar errors or not; they have or they haven't. The only thing that makes that questionable is that not everyone can see those errors, just like not everyone can do algebra. This does not make it subjective. From that standpoint, I'm not talking about the "rules of writing."

    Once a person has put his/her book out for public consumption, it does the potential audience a huge disservice to only send negative reviews privately. Our goal here is for the public to buy our works, not form an insular critique circle. If the author has stepped out and put his/her work up for public consumption, the reviews should also be available for public consumption.

  57. Great post, I am in the group that won't do publish a bad review for someone I have a relationship with. I have no issue doing an honest review for any other book, and if I like the book my friend wrote I am happy to help him out with a review. I agree that reviews need to have integrity, but I am not going to tube my friend's book launch with a bad one, I'll leave that for someone else to do. I know I would feel hurt if someone I considered a friend did that to me. Maybe I would deserve it if I didn't do my due diligence before sending the book out, but I do think that loyalty is worth something too.

  58. Todd: I suppose, then, it really comes down to defining your relationships. And how to deal with refusing to review a book from a friend that has written a bad book, especially if you've favorably reviewed other friends' books. Sure, you're not putting a bad review online, but that refusal is going to damage the relationship just the same.

  59. I did have to give a 3 out of 5 stars review once, and it was a book a blogger friend had written. I think she's a good writer of course, but I had to be honest about the book. Thankfully I really was able to say there was a lot of good stuff about the book, which there was. But it was quite nerve-wracking putting the review up. She has had a lot of 5 star reviews though, so I don't feel as bad now.


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