A few years ago, I noticed an interesting thing happening amongst author acquaintances of mine — the book review exchange. Author #1 agrees to review Author #2’s book if Author #2 agrees to review his book in return. But when Author #2 gets online and sees Author #1’s review of his book, things aren’t looking so happy. Three stars? It “wasn’t up to par?” But Author #2 gave Author #1 FIVE stars, and a glowing review. Isn’t that what authors are supposed to do for each other? Where’s the support? But Author #1 doesn’t feel bad. Author #1 says, “Hey, you said leave an honest review. Why are you so upset? I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve helped you out.” But did he? If he honestly didn’t care for the book, is he supposed to lie in his review? Find a clever and more professional way to say only nice things about it and give it a higher rating? Pull out of his obligation to write the review in the first place? Should authors agree to only give a review if they loved the book? Do we all just need to grow a backbone? These questions are valid not only for review exchanges, but authors reviewing any books in general. What is professional? Is there a line?
I’ll admit I did the review exchange a few times. Sometimes it worked out great, sometimes it didn’t. I also reviewed books on my own without any exchanges, but I eventually decided that as a published author I was no longer comfortable reviewing books, whether I knew the author or not. I took all books off my Goodreads profile, deleted every review I’ve ever written online, and decided never to say yes to exchanging reviews or review requests (even from friends, and yes, this was a difficult decision). I’m happy to blurb/endorse a book for another author, help out with marketing where I can by spreading the word, and recommend books in certain situations, but to this day, I am not comfortable writing reviews in public under my author name.
I’ve heard authors say, “Well, I read and review books, and I always will. I’m a reader as well as an author. I have every right to review books and share my opinions about them.” I think that may be so, and perhaps some authors can pull it off more gracefully than I can, but I’m far too worried I’ll unintentionally hurt feelings and burn bridges with an honest review, or cause distrust and skepticism with a ridiculously glowing one. Not to mention the hurt feelings I’ve observed when authors take time to review some books, but not others, when there’s clearly not enough time for authors to review everything out there, even from all their author friends.
How do you feel about authors reviewing books? If you’re a published author, do you review books online under your author name? I’m curious as to other viewpoints on this topic, so share how you feel. I’m curious!