My friends here at C&D asked me to come and talk about authors reviewing other authors' books. My first temptation was to duck and cover, because that question can generate a lot of heat. But Taylor asked me nicely and the reason I got into this in the first place was a love of writing about everything and anything. So here goes...
When I first got online and found communities of readers and reviewers, my book Life Lessons had just come out. I had written one book, (well, two if you count the Smashwords freebie) but I had read thousands. So I fell into the wonderful world of Goodreads and ARe and LibraryThing primarily as a reader. I rated hundreds of books and reviewed dozens, good, bad and indifferent. I responded to discussions, said exactly what I thought, and fell in love with the whole community of readers.
But at some point after the falling-in-love, reality began intruding on my little rainbow bubble.
One of the things I didn't take into account at first was that, as an author, I would be considered on a different standing from non-author readers. Part of my blindness to the issue was that I didn't feel any different. I'm in my fifties and have a satisfying biomedical career. Publishing a book felt like a bizarre achievement, something I'd attempted mainly to placate my husband for all the hours I spent typing away in my own world. Exciting as it was, it took time to wrap my head around the idea that I was an author. And as a newbie I didn't have a lot of fans and followers. So I didn't realize that my reviews of other writers' work suddenly carried new weight. I also didn't realize that even someone I saw as a firmly established author, with dozens of excellent books in print, could still be sensitive to every review, and every nuance.
Those facts were brought home to me with a crash when a wonderful established author took objection to an ill-timed and misplaced criticism of mine. They told me, in part, “It *is* different coming from a fellow writer -- and if you honestly don't understand why, you've got a learning curve ahead...It's basic writer's etiquette.”
That made me step back and take a look at the issue of rating and reviewing when done by a published author. Is it different from the same thing done by readers? Do we as writers owe other writers more support or at least less criticism? Is there a downside to publishing honest reviews of every book I read?
My conclusion was that there is in fact some validity to this. As an author, when I critique a book I may be seen as an expert in the field, which would give my words more weight. My review may also get more widespread exposure, since I have fans who follow my posts. And I could be considered a competitor, at least for authors who write in the same genre as I do. Negative comments might make it sound as though I think I could write their book better than they did. On a more personal level, the more time I spend in the genre, the more other authors I actually meet. There would be a definite social awkwardness to meeting someone whose book you just gave two stars and a mediocre review.
So what's an author to do?
One of the reading groups on Goodreads posed this question and the responses varied widely. Some authors simply never post ratings or reviews in their field. Some write reviews but don't attach stars. Some feel that they have the right to review exactly as they would if they were only a reader and continue to do so. They say that modifying their reviews would not be doing their readers or other writers any service. Some writers use a private persona so they can freely rate and review books, separate from their author-name.
Quite a few do as I do. I still rate and review books, but only if I like them. If I can give a book between four and five stars, I want to share that with prospective readers. These are the books I want my friends to find and try. If the book didn't reach four stars for me, if the author is someone who has been sensitive to criticism or someone I'm not objective about, or if I feel that a fair review would require me to make a painful point, I don't rate or review. I mark those books as 'read' and shelve them away. Some of the books I shelve are in fact four or five stars, some are not. I've managed to control the OCD that makes me want to comment on every story that passes through my hands.
Is this the ideal solution? No. I'm not sure there is an ideal solution. As time goes by I find myself making even more effort to be diplomatic in my four-star reviews as I point out weaknesses as well as strengths. But this solution at least lets me share my wonderful book finds with my online friends while not appearing harsh, unfair or egotistical. It's the best answer I could come up with.
What about you? Authors, what's your approach? And how do you feel about being reviewed by other authors? Readers, how do you think authors should approach this? Do you feel differently about a review if it was written by another author and does it matter to you whether that author is highly successful or a newbie? Do you avoid reviewing author “friends”? Even without the occasional drama that blows up, the small size of the M/M field and the growing interaction of readers and authors on the net pose some new challenges in figuring out just what “writer's etiquette” should be.