I love reading and I love writing book reviews. I’ve shared book reviews on Amazon since 2001! What?! That is an eternity in internet years. I also have a reader profile on Goodreads and have shared book reviews there since 2008.
Most of my reviews are positive, but occasionally, I do enjoy a good rant about a book that was truly awful. I go back and check my reviews all the time. Sometimes a book I only kind of liked sits well in my brain space and I end up thinking much more fondly of it than I remembered at first. I’ll update my rating to reflect that. I also look up my reviews when I’m recommending a book to someone who might not like adult themes or a lot of swearing, because I’ll make a note as to whether the book had that kind of content when I rate it.
To me, my reviews are living, breathing things. They are a way to record what I read each year (usually between 40 – 80 books), and check what genres I’m digging over time (lots of YA, lots of MG, lots of fantasy, with a sprinkling of classics, and non-fiction books on writing craft).
If I give a negative review, I try to be very fair, and very positive. I try to be helpful and not hateful.
But now that I’m exploring the idea of becoming a published author myself, suddenly my backlog of reviews becomes sticky.
The problems with authors reviewing books
Sadly, there are published authors who will negatively review a book and openly recommend theirs instead! Tacky, and I hope any reader reading that review would be turned off by such shameless promotion.
Some authors might retaliate to a bad review and leave an author who left them a critical review, one in return. Seems childish, doesn’t it?
There are also authors who trade reviews with other author friends, something that doesn’t seem unfair to me, but it’s something Amazon is cracking down on.
There are other problems too, paying for reviews, or even paying for people to leave bad reviews on books that seem to ‘compete’ with your own.
I don’t have any books published yet, and I would never turn to unethical practices, but now I’m wondering how I should handle over a decade of reviews. Should I delete all my bad reviews? When authors connect my reviewer profile to my author profile, will they retaliate on reviews left years ago? How should I proceed going forward?
Some tactics to consider
One of my favorite authors, Cinda Williams Chima will only (generally) rate books 4 stars or higher on Goodreads. Books she doesn’t like, she leaves blank. It seems polite, but a) is it fair to consumers? and b) is a blank rating just as damning as a low star review? Would authors prefer to have no rating over a low rating? Probably.
Another of my favorite authors, Sherwood Smith doesn’t rate books at all on Goodreads. She leaves all the star ratings blank because she feels book ratings are so subjective. She does, however, write out her thoughts in a review, and it’s not always glowing. This is helpful to consumers, but does it still anger authors? Or are authors just happy to avoid lowering their overall rating with a low star count?
The idea of deleting my 3 star and below reviews is a little painful. I really am concerned that it isn’t fair to consumers, but perhaps once you become a published author yourself, you cannot give a rating that feels unbiased. I’ll have to save the reviews I delete and keep them privately in case I want to remember specifically, how I felt about a book. You do forget, you know!
Moving forward, I’ll have to decide whether to take the Chima approach of the Smith approach.
Should authors respond to critical reviews?
No! I don’t think authors should EVER respond to negative reviews. I’ve had that happen to me once or twice, and it’s such a yucky feeling. Consumers should be able to communicate their feelings about your work without fear of retribution. An author who defends themselves will always come off sounding defensive and desperate, and it does not help their case at all. Where as I am usually willing to give authors multiple chances (I might feel lukewarm on a book, but love another!), if they reply to a critical review (mine, or anyone’s), I’m not going to touch another book. By speaking out, they make the review process feel unsafe, and that hurts their reputation and their ability to sell more books.