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.