Once again I’m going to take the time to speak my mind to my four readers (yes, I gained one. Hello! I’m sure this will be a short stay). But today my topic is the ever so popular one of authors as reviewers. I can hear the outrage already but this is something that I see mentioned around but no one seems to address. I find it surprising how well accepted it is within this genre that authors are also reviewers. Furthermore, that they review within the same genre they write and do so anonymously.
Am I the only one that sees the deep, glaring, and inherent problems with this?
I know of some authors that don’t even read within their genre, let alone review. Some simply aren’t interested and others don’t want the hint of impropriety or ever be accused of being influenced by another book. Whatever the reason, it would seem to be common sense not to involve yourself as a money making author in a field of reviewing your contemporaries’ work.
Unfortunately this is not the common lore and many authors do indeed review works within the same genre that they are trying to make money in as well. This would seem to be an inherent problem. The book the author is reviewing is its competition. With only so much money to go around in book sales, every book published is in fact competition to existing books. Now, there are various factors going deeper into this but on the surface that fact would seem to be true. So, why isn’t it unethical that an author reviews their competition?
I would charge that an author simply can’t be impartial when reviewing within the genre they write. If a romance author reviewed mystery then actually I think that’s great. They know the structure, pacing, and elements better than readers to know if it’s well put together versus the enjoyment factor of readers. But within their genre there MUST be a conflict of interest. If an author praises a book is it because the book is actually good or the author a friend of theirs? If an author trashes a book, is the book really bad or does the author have ulterior motives?
These questions can be asked of even the most sterling of characters. I do understand that the knowledge base of say writing historicals is such that the author/researcher is better equipped to comment on accurate versus false aspects. I do understand that yet the same questions still apply. Is the author being nitpicky for a reason? Is it a level of standards? Writing? Or something deeper?
Furthermore if there is an argument that an author can be impartial, which I do understand but don’t feel possible, authors often review under anonymous pseudonyms. So not only are there are inherent questions to the viability of those reviews and the ethics of the reviewer, but the further anonymous name allows any of those problems to be even more obvious. By reviewing under the name Mary Jane and reviewing anything from competition to books published by your own publisher, this negates the veracity of reviews in general. And it does more to hurt the field of reviewing than even those mindless, throwaway reviews that squeal and say nothing.
If an author is going to actually review others’ work in their same field, which I feel is highly unethical, and then at least they should do so under their own name and the readers can determine the validity for themselves. I’m not a fan of anonymity in general beyond the online pseudonyms chosen. That should be enough protection and added layers of then reviewing under yet another name and keeping these connections hidden shows a lack of integrity in my opinion. If the author is writing something they can’t put their known name on, then that in and of itself is a problem. And if the author doesn’t want people knowing they also review, that is also a glaring problem.
Bottom line is that I don’t feel authors can be impartial reviewers of work in their own genre or sub-genre. They can certainly be reviewers but they must go out of their own sandbox to do so and otherwise it casts doubt on their actions. If they furthermore must do so under an anonymous name they have lost their credibility as authors and reviewers, ultimately hurting both fields.
27 thoughts on “Authors as Reviewers”
Wow. I’m not sure I agree with you at all, and this is why. (Before I go further, I am a reviewer for Publisher’s Weekly, reviewing SF/F/Horror, which requires anonymity from its reviewers. I’m also an author, although admittedly not a particularly well-known one.)
All fiction is not created equal. There are expectations and tropes within each genre, and if you, as a reviewer are not informed about and cognizant of them, you absolutely can not do a good job reviewing in the field. The best way (IMO) to know the expectations, tropes, norms, trends, etc. of any genre is to work in that genre, either as a hard-core devoted reader or scholar, or to write in the genre. To pull an example directly out of my ass, for I don’t read nor review category romance, I’d place more value on a review done by Nora Roberts, who has worked the genre successfully for decades, than one by Stephen King. Both are certainly capable of judging the story as story — but does a given story work as a category romance? Roberts is qualified to answer that question, King is not.
With genre fiction in particular, readers want stories that ‘fit’ If the purpose of a review is to help readers identify stories that are going to please them and sidestep ones that fail, you need reviewers who know what fitting the genre means, what hitting the mark means, what writing a good mystery means vs. a good romance vs. a good literary fiction piece. I don’t think there’s a reviewer out there who can do all of these things well. I enjoy literary fiction tremendously, but I’m no where near qualified to review it. I’m not sure what the purpose would be of having reviewers set aside their expertise and review outside of a genre: opinions you’re less qualified to give aren’t necessarily your best opinions. I wonder what value you see being supplied by a less-informed reviewer?
Publishing is not a zero sum game. If Chris Owen’s books sell well, it does not eliminate the market for mine. There’s a common misconception that there is a finite pool of readers, and we, as authors, must dance around this pool with tridents, trying to spear out our share. That’s ridiculous at best. I don’t read only one author – do you? I don’t know anyone who does. It’s patronizing at best to state that we’d give negative reviews to colleagues and peers because we’re afraid of the competition. Identifying the best in our genre helps all of us.
I think it’s rather silly to assume that all of an author/reviewers friends write in the same genre they do. Friendship’s a nifty thing: you can be buddies with someone who wouldn’t write m/m romance or speculative fiction. The larger question is should you be reviewing your friend’s books?
I would say it depends entirely on the setting. Would I review a friend’s book for PW? Absolutely not. I’d explain to my editor that I couldn’t take this one, and ask for a different book. That’s what professionals do. Would I review it on my personal blog, website, etc? Absolutely. Because that is what professionals who are friends do.
If the author is writing something they can’t put their known name on, then that in and of itself is a problem.
is a beautiful example of reader entitlement. Pseudonyms exist for a reason, many of which are nobody’s business but the authors.
Finally, on anonymity in reviews. You’re completely avoiding the issue that perhaps some well-regarded authors may not want their names used as an endorsement of the books they’re reviewing. It’s one thing to say, “This is a good book, a fantastic read, yadda, yadda, yadda” and another to tie my brand to that author’s brand when all I did was review it. Frankly, if China Mieville positively reviews/mentions a book, I buy it. His name alone is an endorsement. Every individual should have the ability to pick and choose when they are used as a sales tool by another.
Hello and thank you! I loved your commentary and though I may not agree with all of it, I appreciated the points you made greatly. One thing is that I clearly did not make my argument as articulately as I’d like since I was referring to the rather small world of e-Books and even more specifically this world of m/m and reviews pertaining to them. The published world versus the e-published world seems to be radically different in every category, including reviews. My views were based on reading a wide variety of different commentary, reviews, thoughts, and so on specifically for the e-published community. So please understand that my comments are almost entirely directed at that versus the larger print only community. In fact for the more traditionally published works, I am in agreement with a lot of your comments. It’s only when discussing the still new world of e-publishing where I think the standards are not similar.
Now, having said that I want to start with your commentary on those qualified to review the books are writers in the genre. Yes and no. Just because someone writes in the field does not necessarily mean they are qualified to know what will work for readers in general. Just as because I read does not in any way make me qualified as a reviewer, I’d like to make that VERY clear. In the case of Nora Roberts, considering her massive success her name alone does usually mean her fans will take her recommendations and she’s considerably more qualified and experienced to offer an opinion than I or any of her readers. The same would be said of horror and Stephen King.
Lots of readers, and I daresay a major even put very little stock in individual reader reviews. Just because everyone and their mother can put stars on Amazon is no prediction if people will buy and/or enjoy the book. Versus if a well known author was to put their stamp on the book, the quality and authority of the review is increased. This is absolutely true and I don’t question that whatsoever in the traditional print world. I actually don’t question what or who has been established as knowledgeable authors. I do question that within the electronic publishing that simply publishing makes anyone more qualified to review than say I (to use an example).
Nor, I wasn’t trying to intimate that readers only read one author. Of course readers are voracious and even those that are patently loyal to their authors have an incredibly large stable of authors they read. An author made the perfect comment “it takes a reader one day to read my book but takes me almost a year to give it to them.” Thus, of course simply because one book is successful does not mean another book can not be. I would, however, charge that there is a highly competitive atmosphere within e-publishing that perpetrates the impression that it’s this book or that book. False or not that is an impression that is expressed which I’ve found baffling. Now if accepting that as fact, which may or may not be true, the fact that authors do consider other authors as competition is not something I made up out of ignorance. This mentality among authors is visible. I’m not trying to patronize authors with the statement they may give bad reviews because of competition. I’m stating that the question, which you may find offensive, is one that readers do consider.
Identifying the best in our genre helps all of us. This is absolutely true and definitely applies to some author reviewers. I admit I haven’t read your reviews (sorry! I would if I knew where to look) but there is an author/reviewer I have in mind specifically within the e-publishing arena who is incredibly knowledgeable and can speak accurately on the subject. However, even then readers have questioned the reviews if such and such author is a friend. I personally don’t always assume everyone is friends within the same genre, but speaking of the e-published world, there is a large impression (false or not) of friendship between authors. Now, you hit the nail on the head which I was attempting to question – not friendship itself, but should you review your friend’s books. You answered that perfectly well. That’s the exact response I’d expect from a professional reviewer. However, within the e-Book world numerous authors review their friends’ work on various review sites. Now PW is not the same as the various review sites within the mm world so there is another argument there but the basics is still the same if you can understand where I’m coming from.
Finally, phew, I’m not actually avoiding that issue of author anonymity because again I feel we’re talking two different arguments. What I question and continue to question is the need for anonymity when reviewing books within the same genre they write. It’s not about not wanting to connect their brand name to a particular piece of work nor am I questioning anyone’s right to use a pseudonym. But I do question within the e-publishing world the choice to use a pseudonym when critiquing within the small insular world that appears to circulate around e-publishing for now. As it grows, this will inherently work itself out as the community grows. For now, I think it’s a problem.
[yea I went on.. sorry!]
I want to reply to all of this, for it’s a great conversation!! I agree with the age of e-publishing being part of the issue, and would love to talk about this further. But I am also on the phone: Ok for me to come back a little later on?
Yes please 🙂 take your time and reply whenever you have the time, it doesn’t even have to be today. I find it a great discussion so I’d love to hear further comments from you.
There is competition before you’re published and, to a degree, competition after you’re published. For a reader who only has ten bucks in his pocket for books that month and wants to choose between your book and another author’s in your genre, he’s probably going to go with the best-reviewed (or at least I would assume that, in my limited experience). For POD maybe it’s not as bad as for the print in the bookstore that will be pulled off the shelf in a matter of weeks if it doesn’t sell well.
There is also the *perception* of competition nowadays, when you can more closely follow not only your own successes and failures but those of your colleagues just by getting online. Amazon’s evil hour-by-hour updates of bestsellers is definitely part of that competition perception. It becomes difficult to avoid the temptation to go online to see how you’re faring against other books and I’ve found that detrimental to the point where I’ve started avoiding certain sites for long stretches. I’ve had few time sinks in the past that got in the way of things I needed or wanted to get done (at least since I got tired of redecorating houses for Sims*g*), but the nagging worry to promote and check up on my work online has been a distraction.
It’s fascinating to me because twenty years ago all I had was a little typewriter and a little library down the street and the occasional very-snail-mail rejection for some dreadful little stories I tried to write. Now the writing/publishing world is so different and, it seems, more demanding of your involvement (sorry to get a little off subject, there).
I never really thought about the points you bring up about reviewing. I don’t review in a serious reviewer kind of way, but I have, when there’s been a book I’ve really enjoyed, posted a more emotion-based than analytical review of the book on Amazon. I have to be fairly enthusiastic about a book to review it. I haven’t reviewed as much since last year and being published, myself–mostly due to lack of time. I think my primary problem with reviews by authors in the m/m field is that we’re all so generally supportive of each other against a world that tends to raise a dubious eyebrow over what we’re writing, that we tend to review generously–and that leads unfortunately to reader doubt that they can take the reviews at face value.
And it’s not just m/m–there are many review sites now that offer reviews that rarely bring up anything negative about a book. The online venue has changed reviewing. Twenty years ago you could send a cranky letter objecting to a review in a magazine and never hear a word about it. Now you poor reviewers are deluged with emails. And reviewers like you and Ann Somerville and Utopia Mom and the rest who are sincere and direct in your reviews (instead of the mostly promotional type reviews done by so many now) seem to have to endure a lot of abuse for being so honest. But when I do want to read within my genre, the reviews of the tough reviewers are the ones I turn to, in order to help me choose how to spend my ten dollars.
Hi Ms. Allen! Please feel free to tangent all you like. My mind loves them. Intimately. Thank you for the comment and you bring up a whole slew of ideas that make me want to talk about all of them and some are lengthy. I’ll *try* to be brief. Feel free to skim if I’m going on too long. (btw..Sims, had to uninstall. Literally)
I think the perception of competition is just as important as actual competition, if not more so. As Ms. Potts pointed out, readers are not pinned to one particular author but at the same time there is a limited amount of money to go around. There has to be within any genre. Even the massive machine that is category romance (which I’d love to know if any other genre even comes close to its selling power), has competition amongst its ranks. Whether this has a direct affect on the author is debatable. Perhaps it’s more of an effect for publishing house or even trickle down to the reader. But there is an effect somewhere. The fact that this exists is part of the questionable ethics of author reviews. How do you, as an author, remain objective towards another? There are some who excel for sure and I’d argue within the small world of e-publishing, more that do not.
I think my primary problem with reviews by authors in the m/m field is that we’re all so generally supportive of each other against a world that tends to raise a dubious eyebrow over what we’re writing, that we tend to review generously–and that leads unfortunately to reader doubt that they can take the reviews at face value. Exactly! This is part of the problem exactly. As the genre grows, this won’t be such a problem. But for the promotion of the books, authors, readers, publishers and so on the positivity helps those sales.
I’m with you where if I want to buy a book (and this STILL happens for me whenever I buy my books in any genre). I look to the reviewers who will be honest and who don’t love everything. Because as a reader, I don’t love everything. I think books are exactly like a bell curve with the majority at the C level and a few ranging higher to the real gems at the top. It’s important to point those out and really, not have any question those few gems for the quality they are.
:How do you, as an author, remain objective towards another?:
I guess I can’t really answer that fairly, because I don’t review books I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed (although I’ve read a few lately I’ve quite enjoyed, I just haven’t found enough time to review them). I can understand why some writers would rather review anonymously; it’s difficult to critically review the work of a friend (at least, I find it so). Writers can be such a sensitive bunch and I’ve seen writers who’ve considered themselves friends break apart after even a gentle but honest review. I guess that’s another reason why I review less often now. As I get to know more people who write in my genre, I don’t feel comfortable rigorously reviewing their work. I don’t even feel comfortable with the idea of doing it anonymously. I’d rather leave it to the pro reviewers who aren’t afraid to slice and dice.*g*
One thing you brought up that I was wondering about–that you don’t write stories, yourself, and don’t intend to. I always wonder about book reviewers who say that. Loving stories enough to want to review them, you must sometimes be tempted to try your hand at writing them. I’m just curious about that. *g*
And awed that you uninstalled the Sims.:D Mine’s still on my computer, mainly because it is such a pain to install and uninstall–but also in case I want to rearrange furniture and everyone in the house is too cranky to let me do it in real life.
Well I think your feelings and discomfort are likely what I was getting at, partly. It has to be uncomfortable faced with others in the same genre and more so since this new genre is still small and growing. So you’ve helped confirm and shape my argument more articulately, thank you so much!
I have written short stories but I have no desire to write romance. That’s always funny since I love reading romance more than most other genres. I think literary fiction is next than sci-fi. But I prefer sci-fi if I was going to write. I’ve thought about writing, I’ll admit, but I don’t have that drive to write or nothing else. It’s more “oh that’s a fun idea if I remember to write it down” and then go off and play Halo. *laughs* So that writer gene is definitely missing from me. I’m apparently a say’er and not a do’er. The horror.
Sims was too addictive. I like my addictions manageable! Besides, too many games too little time. I had to prioritize!
Have you published your short stories? I can see how reviewing might appeal to some people more than writing. I think that it makes for a more sensitive reviewer, to have tried your hand at writing, too. You know the process and know how it’s much more difficult than it looks. *g*
Halo’s a fighting game, isn’t it? I mostly just play the docile little games–although I guess there’s fighting in Sims, too.:D
I can appreciate what authors go through and thus the reason I attempt to be civil and neutral while reviewing. I wish hard work meant a fabulous product all the time. I do definitely give more credit to those who can write a very clean book and clearly spent time learning aspects of grammar they might not otherwise know.
Yes it is hehe. I play a bunch of different games and eventually Sims had too many details to keep up. But it sits on my shelf and taunts me.
Heh, don’t murder me, love but I’ve done the author-reviewer thing. And I did it under an anonymous name. Mostly because the sites I reviewed for required it and because, I admit it, I didn’t want anyone to know.
For one reason: I wanted free books. There. I admitted it. I found authors I loved and reviewed their stuff. This doesn’t mean I was always positive. There’s some stuff that was simply horrible. Horrible. And some that was not.
In the end, I left that field because it does, admittedly, get difficult to stop editing someone else’s work. Because you’re right, I’m a writer. I know the structure, I know how to use a sentence to get what I want to say across without using too many commas [tips hat to Jaye].
And because I prefer writing. I didn’t have a problem separating my reviewing from my writing or even from acting as a partial observer at first. But after while, I did. I wanted to edit a story because I was appalled at what passes for the written word these days.
So I left. A little wiser and a little more horrified but I left. That said, I do have one objection to your post: the use of another name in reviewing.
Let’s face it, love, the reviewing world is not always a polite one. And frankly, the last thing I want to get in an email is someone bitching me out for knocking down their book. I don’t want to even begin to navigate that minefield because the first thing someone will jump to is the same conclusion you drew.
This is not to say you randomly jumped onto that, I know you too well for that type of silliness. But there are others that would. They would grind down on me for being another author who’s gunning for the competition. Just because I know that I’m not doesn’t mean jackshit in Bloglandia.
Can you see how fast that would spread? “Zoe Nichols is a reviewer for such-and-such and you best be careful lest that bitch decides she doesn’t like the way you write sex either, yada yada.”
Even if I’ve never given anyone the indication that I am that much of a jackass, people would wonder. And the wondering means they’ll look at me through slightly less trustful eyes…and that might affect my royalties.
This is, of course, my reasoning behind using a reviewer name. Well, that and each site I reviewed for required it. Perhaps the whole mess I mentioned would be prevented if I wasn’t an author reviewing but fact is, I’m still a reader. I may see the actual structure better than your average reader but I still am one.
Having someone cry foul on me the author for simply reading and not liking their book as me the reader just takes the joy right out. And maybe this was my real reason for leaving reviewing.
Good post, Kas. It makes me think as you can see 🙂
Zoe, you totally crack me up. I love how you confess to free books but I think it’s a confession almost every single reader/reviewer will make. Who doesn’t want a free book for a mere paragraph (or less) of reaction? Hell, I like free books too :).
I do want to thank you especially for adding your impressions and thoughts from an author perspective. I’m not one nor will I ever be an author so I can only give a reader impression that is admittedly biased. It’s so very easy for me to stand on a soapbox and rant about what authors should or should not do, but really what do I know? So I very much want to hear from authors reviewing.
The reasons you listed from free books to pseudonyms are reasons I respect and I won’t dream of putting you down for any of them. The main requirement to be a reviewer is that you read. End stop. Authors are still readers. Authors still read the genre they write in.
I don’t question the use of a pseudonym to protect your privacy or your royalties, your right. What I’m trying to say is that if you can’t be honest under your name, then perhaps it’s best not to do it. I don’t know, I could be wrong and I don’t pretend to be the voice of all knowing here. Its an opinion (like an asshole).
What mostly concerns me is that if (to use an example) you Zoe review James Buchanan’s book under the name Lotus Wet Petals, are you being honest and objective? If you put the plug on your LJ and talk about how you loved the book and so on, then is it more honest or less honest when readers can weigh your opinion openly. If you use the name Lotus Wet Petals to trash the book, again are you being honest and objective? *I* am not questioning your motives. I am simply saying that doing so OPENS you to such questioning.
Furthermore doing so to promote or denigrate people you know on a personal level but able to do so anonymously, bothers me. The appearance of some (and you know there are those who do so) is also bothersome.
I’m not casting aspirations on authors as reviewers. I know it sounds like it, and on a level I disagree with it while the mm/e-publishing world is still too small and circular to allow for it. I’m really asking if authors can be objective and honest within this close community about others’ work. Doubly so anonymously.
Lotus Wet Petals? I mean…Lotus Wet Petals? I admit to having a visceral reaction to James but omg, WET PETALS?
I can’t…I…honey, you’d make millions as a Harlequin Historical author. Just sayin’.
And you do have a point. But this is also one of those moments that has individual reactions. By endorsing a book on my blog, am I being open? Sure. By endorsing the book under another name (I will not use your example, you nasty girl), am I being open? To my mind, I am. It’s still me but not everyone knows its me. So perhaps in the strictest sense of the word, I am not.
I think I just confused myself. Snicker.
What I mean is, if I, as Zoe, scream to the heavens that ZAM’s St. Nacho’s was the most aweseomest book ever, I am giving my honest opinion. If I happen to do that under Number 1 Fan, it might not carry as much clout (like I have clout, snort) but I’m still being honest.
I will concede that in the m/m world, it does seem a double-edged sword because of how close-knit our genre is. I walked that sword. I met a lot of the people I reviewed – online and off – or know their name in passing. I’ll even admit that I reviewed James’ work. It’s no secret that I adore James as a person but I put that aside to write those words. So yes, there is a level of “I know him/her/them” that might color what I say. You are right in that aspect as well but this situation is a little unique in that James is both friend and competition.
There is also a choice though. I can choose how much of that prior knowledge goes into my thought process. I guess what it comes down to, at least on my side as an author, is a level of auto-integrity. I may love James and ZAM to death but if I were to review them, I tuck that love and affection away and write the review, good or bad. The same if I happened to have a Rick R. Reed book or a JM Snyder book.
They may be my competition and I may know them but as their reviewer, I owe them my honest opinion as a reader, not a critique as a fellow author. And I serve that purpose better under another name because as Zoe, someone is guaranteed to see my words as a critique.
But again, that is me. I believe I can do it but I eventually quit because, hey, they are my competition. Can others act as selflessly? I wouldn’t know. I just know what I did to deliver an honest review as a reviewer, not a writer.
(Man, what a ramble!)
I always love your thought-provoking questions!
My response isn’t as deep as some of the others. I began to lose my faith in reviews when one reviewer praised the historical accuracy and atmosphere of a story, while another (for the same story) said there was no atmosphere and a lot of historical errors (although they didn’t offer any examples, which would have been helpful!) It’s great if someone likes a book, and individual reviewers have fanbases that rely on their judgment, but I don’t think writers should see reviews as the ultimate marketing tool.
What I worry about more is a general lack of professionalism in the e-publishing world. I don’t know whether it’s because a lot of people come from the more casual world of fandom (especially in romance writing), but I do see a lot of things that make me uncomfortable. Editors (usually first-timers) making cracks about the quality of specific submissions on their blogs or Twitter accounts. Writers deriding their publishers in public spaces. Writers openly mocking other writers or books, even from within their own publisher. I’ve never come across anyone doing that under the guise of a serious review, but I believe you that it happens.
A lot of people, including some in the publishing industry, see e-publishing as unprofessional. I’m sure some writers are capable of maintaining a professional demeanour in their intra-genre reviews (to name a name, I respect Hayden Thorne tremendously as a consummate professional reviewer/writer of historicals), but a lot of them can’t, and maybe that’s where we should be more concerned. (If that makes sense.)
Hi Ms. Wiley! Thanks for stopping by and you bring up an excellent point that always has me curious – quotes or no quotes in a review. This apparently is very widely argued with some liking and some disliking. But that’s another topic.
I understand where you’re coming from and you hit the nail on one of my biggest pet peeves. That e-publishing is not taken seriously and part of that is the rampant playground like atmosphere from reviewers to authors to editors to publishers. It’s entirely different from traditional print publishing (to my opinion, could be wrong) so that is where I call some ethics into question. The lack of respect and standards on all sides is what causes the further gems and good quality books to be lost in a sea of back-patting each other on the recent poorly written book by a friendly name. It’s almost as if the author can maintain enough of a friendly presence so readers and reviewers forgive bad books. I understand this and don’t actually say it’s wrong but if it’s a bad book – it should be pointed out as such, forgiveness or not.
You named a great author/reviewer and I do know of some. I just try not to use names ‘lest someone take offense I used their name without their ok. But you’re right on Hayden Thorne.
Authors-as-critics have been around for a long, long time, so it really isn’t anything new.
I wouldn’t feel comfortable in that dual role, for all kinds of reasons, but that’s just me. Anonymity wouldn’t be an option, either. I’d pretty much have to cast ethics to the wind to review under a pseudonym — something I find cowardly and more than a little suspect. I wouldn’t give any credence whatsoever to a reviewer who’s allegedly an author yet refuses to reveal his/her identity.
Writers who review under their actual authorial identities do try, I think, to be fair–most of the time. But I have seen some pretty obvious instances of both favoritism and animosity. When a known sycophant or rival of Author X reviews a book by Author X, I see the review as biased claptrap that deserves to be ignored.
Bottom line for me? Either own your “product” or don’t put it out there at all.
Well I can’t claim what I post is original but it’s merely meant to be my opinions and thoughts I have at the time. I think the concept of anonymity bothers me more than authors as critics, as well everyone’s a critic right? I think authors like reviewers should stand by their name. Whatever name they choose. It’s just full disclosure in my opinion when the genre isn’t big enough to support massive pseudonyms at present.
When a known sycophant or rival of Author X reviews a book by Author X, I see the review as biased claptrap that deserves to be ignored. This. Exactly.
I should’ve clarified. I was talking primarily about intragenre reviews of e-pubbed and small-press books.
In case anyone thought differently – KZ’s clarification is the main thrust of my post. E-publishing and small press. Thanks Ms. Snow!
Authors as reviewers in the m/m field
Wow, Kassa, you’ve outdone yourself with this one! Talk about a fascinating, thought-provoking question. I’m not a published author in the m/m field, but I’d like to be. I’m reviewing under my name. I also try to be as honest as possible.
I’m never tempted to bash a book to sink the competition. My problem is the opposite. I really find it hard to force myself to point out all the flaws that I recognize objectively as a reader. The more I think of myself as a writer, the harder it gets to do this. I can’t stop thinking about all the work that went into writing the book. It’s exactly like what Tamara is saying here:
“I think my primary problem with reviews by authors in the m/m field is that we’re all so generally supportive of each other against a world that tends to raise a dubious eyebrow over what we’re writing, that we tend to review generously–and that leads unfortunately to reader doubt that they can take the reviews at face value.” Very perceptive!
I try to back this inhibition down by telling myself that I as a writer would want to know my flaws so I could improve. (No question about that!) Also I do a few things to help the writer out: I state the flaws as objectively and neutrally as possible (no snark – and it took me at least a year of reviewing to develop the right reviewing tone that I’m comfortable with now).
Also, I state the flaws first and then end with the good points so the readers leave with a generally positive impression. I never review something that I either (1) just can’t stand for whatever reason, or (2) have no affinity for such as violent horror fiction.
If I find more flaws than good stuff in a review, I try to balance this by linking at the end of the review to better books that I’ve reviewed from the author’s backlist. If the author doesn’t have a backlist, we’re sort of at a worst-case scenario for both me and the author, but I do the best I can.
Nowadays I’ll write a review, even if it’s mostly negative, and then ask myself if I’d consider it to be fair and useful if someone else had written it about MY fiction. If I can live with it judged to that criterion, then I print it.
Uh, wow, this is getting too long! I agree with K.Z. Snow about going anonymous as a reviewer; that’s why I never review anonymously. I understand about the lure of free books, but for me the lure of website content is even greater. I need something to blog about as I’m raising my online profile so that hopefully someday I can sell my fiction. I’m enough of a book nerd (always have been) that I can’t NOT analyze books, so it was a natural path towards being a reviewer first on the road to getting published.
On the subject of finite pools of readers: I know you weren’t pushing this misconception, Kassa, but I hear it around from others and it always makes me nervous. I love what C.B. Potts has to say here: ” There’s a common misconception that there is a finite pool of readers, and we, as authors, must dance around this pool with tridents, trying to spear out our share.” That’s awesome! I’m going to remember that.
Re: Authors as reviewers in the m/m field
Hey Val, thanks for joining in!
Your reviews are positive and you’re right in respecting the work that went into it. I am often guilty of this and have questioned posting clearly negative reviews but as is pointed out to me, it’s important to balance the bad books with the good books and even bad reviews sell books. I’m not trying to bash authors or negate their hard work if I didn’t like the review (just like I’m sure they’ll dismiss it and their prerogative). I just think it’s important to give a well-rounded offering from positive to negative. Books are largely decent with only a few making wonderful and awful in most genres. Ok total tangent. You do that to my brain Val.
I’m looking forward to reading your fiction one day, I’ll admit.
Isn’t that an awesome line? I need to find a picture of tridents in a pool for that line.
Furthermore, that they review within the same genre they write and do so anonymously.
Am I the only one that sees the deep, glaring, and inherent problems with this? No.
I specifically read book reviews on blogs that are by readers for readers. I don’t read fancy magazines or newspapers for reviews, but who the heck does besides other industry insiders? I don’t know a singer reader who is not also an author that has a subscription to, say, PW (sorry, Cindy).
I’m just not comfortable with authors having a free-for-all, particularly in the genre they’re writing in, and all under a pseud. What’s to stop them from giving glowing reviews of their own books?
Bottom line is that I don’t feel authors can be impartial reviewers of work in their own genre or sub-genre.
Well clearly we agree on this Emmy and you hit on the head for me. If reviewing under a pseudo, you’re expecting the author to put aside their own bias and friendships for an impartial review which is usually not possible. They can only begin to attempt that under an anonymous name and even then I just don’t think its going to happen for 99.99% of reviewers.
While readers may not be the most informed and knowledgable about the genre per se, until this e-publishing world grows bigger to accommodate more quality, I just think readers are more honest.
I wonder when’s the last time a reader saw a plug on an author’s blog from a friend of that author and thought to buy the book?
“Am I the only one that sees the deep, glaring, and inherent problems with this? No.”
I don’t have problems with pseuds being used by authors or by reviewers, but I have major issues when it comes to the same person using different pseuds to do both. I’m not sure I would feel comfortable ‘trusting’ this kind of review because I would never know where their partiality really lies.
In contrast, I’m on the fence when it comes to authors who review under ‘their’ names and the same genre.
Whilst I think there is an inherent conflict of interest, I’m prepared to take a review by an author with a pinch of salt – as I do all reviews – IF – and this is a big IF – the author is honest from the outset about any subjectivity they have when it comes to the author or book they are reviewing. If they don’t do that, well, I’ll give the review a miss.
See there Kris is the crux of the situation. If you review under your author name, at least the readers can understand and take into consideration the author’s background, bias, etc. But as Zoe said that may lead to harmful effects in sales, which likely means just don’t review. Aren’t authors always told not to involve themselves in drama that may affect sales, so why would they jump into potential reviews they can’t attach their name to? I understand the need for anonymity, but I don’t think it’s used appropriately in e-publishing and reviews. I think too often it’s used to hide and express an opinion the author is not proud of or doesn’t want known to be from them. This is really my problem.
To add further stuff that proves your point
Kassa, to add, I think I’m proving your point that it’s impossible for authors of m/m fiction to be objective reviewers in the field, especially if we’re reviewing under our real names. (And also if we’re anonymous, but you and the others have summarized that situation better than I could.)
I mean, who wants to make enemies among our peers? Plus, the further I go through the universal pitfalls of trying to get published, the more sympathy I feel for the writer in general, which is incompatible with objective reviewing of a book. I’d think for merciless objectivity you’d have to cut the writer completely out of the equation and focus on the book.
So I’d definitely be lacking as a consumer-reports type of reviewer, which is another way of saying a reviewer who reviews for the readers, judging the fiction itself with merciless objectivity and assigning value. I’m afraid that I review for myself first because I really enjoy figuring out the fiction book-to-book. So my reviews might be nothing more than me analyzing things aloud to myself.
Of course it also generates content for my blog. I’m hoping my relationship isn’t too parasitic with the writers of the fiction I’m reviewing because I know I’m offering value back. Whether they want to consider it valuable is another story, ha, ha! I’ve been reading for so many years now that I’ve developed a set of criteria for what I consider to be fiction that works. The writers probably won’t completely agree with me unless we match up closely in likes-and-dislikes. But they should usually find something useful in the overall critique.
Lastly, so the readers get something out of it, and also to stand as some insurance against getting accused of sycophantism (or even toady-ism – how’s that for a term?), I try to support my reviews with as much evidence from the fiction as possible, complete with quotes. So that way I’m not just saying, “Ooooh, my friend’s book was really, really awesome!” or “Meh!” I’m backing it up with a lot of evidence I couldn’t fake, and the reader can decide for herself.
And my fiction? If I can ever get it published, I’ve got you, Kassa, at the top of my reviewer list. Meaning that I’ll make sure to get copies into your hands first. That’s because I know you’ll tell me my faults in detail, ha, ha! I can’t begin to emphasize how valuable that is. You and I may even see things so differently that I won’t take all the suggestions, but I can already anticipate that I’d get a lot of value from one of your reviews. By contrast, if another reviewer reviewed me and just said, “It was really hot and awesome!”, I would consider that such a missed opportunity!