Authors who review
I’m a published author. I’m also an avid reader. So is it okay for me to talk online about the books I enjoy?
Long before I was published, I was a book blogger. I wasn’t on anyone’s mailing list and I didn’t receive ARCs, I just read widely and wanted to chat about the books I loved.
I started my first blog in 2007, called Great Stories. After a few years of building up a reasonable following of like-minded readers, I realised my reading choices were too eclectic for a single blog, so I created a second one dedicated to fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal and zombie stories, called Other Worlds (mostly YA, but not exclusively).
Even back in those days, I confined my posts to books I enjoyed. Probably because I bought most of what I read and reviewed, and – with my own writing going on in the background – I didn’t have the time to invest in books that didn’t appeal to me.
And then in 2011, after many years of writing and submitting my own work to publishers, I was signed by Text Publishing in Australia (and then later by Indigo/Orion in the UK and Tundra Books in North America). So I started a third blog focused on my own writing (the one you’re reading now).
Within a few months of that first contract, I wound down the other two blogs (due to time commitments). But I still kept track of what I was reading on Goodreads. I had never given starred ratings on my own blogs, but picked up the habit on Goodreads, given it’s a convention of the site.
When Shadows debuted in Australia in 2012, I became a Goodreads author, which gave me a completely different perspective on the site.
Now, with a click of a button, I can see what everyone is saying about my work. Most reviews of my books are thoughtful, encouraging and often grin-inspiring. Others rip my heart out and leave it crushed on the side of the road. The latter are never easy to read, but I respect everyone’s right to express their opinions – after all, I don’t have to read them.
But experiencing Goodreads as an author made me realise that everything I write about other books can be read by their authors. A no-brainer, yes, but I’d never really sat down and thought that through. My reviews were always for my fellow readers: “Here I loved this, you might too”.
I started to wonder what authors thought about having other authors rate and review their books. Granted, my ratings and comments were overwhelmingly positive, but still….So for a while, I didn’t know how to ‘be’ on Goodreads. I still wanted to keep track of what I’d read and what I wanted to read. (My Goodreads TBR collection is always my go-to list when I can’t decide what to pick up next.)
Then I changed tack. I stopped reviewing all together. But I missed it. I actually enjoy writing about books I’ve loved, especially when it leads to conversations with other bloggers/readers about those books.
So I decided to write comments about books I’d read and not give a rating. But that felt like a cop-out. And I know how lovely it is to get a strong star rating on Goodreads.
As of late, I’m back to leaving ratings and (mostly brief) comments because it feels more meaningful to me as a reader. As usual, I only post on Goodreads about books I’ve really enjoyed, so they’ll generally all be novels I feel deserve five stars. And again, this is because I’m only reading books I seriously expect to love. So my Goodreads posts are definitely recommendations. They are not intended to be a critical analysis. (By the way, I also include my ever-growing favourite reads list here on my site.)
I know there are divided opinions about how authors should behave as readers, particularly online. I’m trying to find a comfortable middle ground where I tread lightly in both roles, but still offer something meaningful for my own readers, and readers who share my tastes in books.
I’m interested to hear thoughts from book bloggers (and authors) on the topic.
(Side note: I wrote a post on Life of Pi – particularly focused on the island scene – on Great Stories back in 2008 that, for a long time, had the number one Google ranking for ‘Life of Pi explained’. It still gets hundreds of hits every week and still attracts comments. I’m actually kind of proud of that. You can find it here.)
I really like seeing authors write reviews, especially favourite authors, as I love getting recommendations from people who I’d think have good taste. I also like seeing authors get excited about other people’s books, and not just because of politeness, but because they ACTUALLY like them. They are readers too, after all, and should definitely be able to talk about the books they enjoy online if they so wish. I completely understand not sharing negative thoughts, though (out of courtesy or because of friendly relationships or whatever), and so I don’t think it’s a bad thing for all ratings and comments to be largely positive, as long as they are all honest. Personally, I love the way you use Goodreads. I don’t think you’re doing anything controversial at all, and think it’s so cool to see someone who wrote some of my favourite books also get excited about the works of Melina Marchetta, Laini Taylor, Maggie Stiefvater etc. 🙂 I actually wish more authors would share their thoughts more often!
Thanks Sam. 🙂 Those three authors you mention are my absolute faves, and I DO get excited about new works from them. My biggest challenge is that I feel I should probably have some sort of scale (to differentiate those books I think are great from those I live and breathe for weeks afterwards), but when I mostly give five stars on GR, a four might seem negative! Of course, I could be over-thinking the whole scoring thing (it wouldn’t be the first time for me!). I’d welcome some advice on that one from you, as your rating system seems very logical to me (and I have found some excellent books on your blog – you’re one of my top go-to blogs for spec fic particularly). Thank for the comments!
(Sam’s blog is at: http://realmoffiction.blogspot.co.uk/)
Loved reading this post, Paula.
I know I personally love seeing what my fave authors are reading and loving — those recommendations mean a lot to me. I also find it odd when authors rate books negatively (not that I judge that — I just feel it must be awkward as authors are, in a sense, colleagues)
I am not an author but I find it hard to leave negative reviews (unless it’s for a ridiculously popular book and then I think I am the tiniest blip on the radar — and I find comfort in finding likeminded readers). I am like you, though, and tend to read books I know I will like. And then if I am not liking a book I abandon it.
Your mini book reviews (or book thoughts) are always so beautifully written! You give me reviewers envy, haha! (not that I have been reviewing much lately, but I am intending to get some thoughts down soon).
Hope the writing is going well. I am sure it is 🙂
Reviewer envy – you can talk! You write beautifully insightful and thoughtful reviews. I always enjoy your musings and regularly pick up books based on your posts. 🙂
I appreciated the balance you bring to not only sharing the love, but explaining why a book may or not have worked for you – which is always helpful from a reader’s perspective.
Thanks so much for joining the discussion (you were one of the bloggers I hoped would share thoughts on this topic. 🙂 )
And the writing is going quite well, thanks! Shimmer is now at line edit stage, and I’m chugging along with the first draft of book 4 (Burn).
(Nomes’ reviews can be found at http://www.inkcrush.blogspot.com.au/)
It’s a prickly rose to be sure Paula. One which I understand and appreciate only too well given I do ‘do reviews’ for Kids’ Lit. Fortunately owing to the specific genre I deal with, I can confidently review and like to retain a positive spin on what I say about what I’ve read whilst also being careful to point out any perceived low points, faults or bits that let the overall work down. Note too important words here: ‘perceived’ and ‘overall’. It is not my intention to dismiss and rip out the heart of weaker titles. I am rather Piscean in that I like to see the best in all things. My intention, even as an author is to discover, highlight, share and expand on great books for children to read and or share with the big people in their lives that read with them. It is not to expostulate on the negatives – thus the overall rating reflects my overall view and feeling, which of course are only my personal, professionally influenced takes on the work at that moment in time. My subjective point of view, of course will always influence the way I perceive a book (or anything in life) because reading and what it evokes within the individual is and always will be (in my opinion!) a profoundly intimate and personal experience. So in short! Review away. We are a society trained to share and for the most part readily embrace this, for better or for worse.
Thanks Dimity. An insightful comment. 🙂 I’ve always thought you balance your writer/review roles nicely.
My pleasure Paula. Now if I could just balance those roles, with life, death, gardening and working on my theory that dogs would be good with mobile phones, I’d really have something worth writing about eh?
I’ve seen a lot of authors on Goodreads who will only comment on books that they rate 4 or 5 stars, I guess they don’t want to be negative toward other authors. I had never thought about this until I once read an article (sorry I can’t remember who it was by) that suggested writers shouldn’t give negative reviews of books they don’t like, to not comment on them, because it can be really awkward to meet the author of said book at a writers conference or similar, and you’ve given their book a negative review and they remember! Now If I don’t like a book I don’t comment on it, if it’s not 3 stars or above I don’t say anything, and with 3 star reviews I highlight the positives and don’t say much about what I didn’t like. I’m very picky about what I read, so I haven’t read too many books that I would rate under three stars, most of them are 4 and 5 star thankfully.
For me, it’s also about professional courtesy. I know what it’s like to read a negative review about your work. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it sucked. So I never want to be responsible for making another author feel the way it feels to read one. But I do want to share the love when I really enjoy a book – and I like playing a small part in spreading the word about awesome reading experiences.
Thanks for your thoughts. 🙂 (And yes, it helps to be picky!)
Rochelle’s blog, Inside My Worlds is at: http://rlsharpe.wordpress.com/ (also a great source for reading recs.)
It’s something I struggle with but I’ve figured out a balance now. I call my posts what I’ve been reading and just write what my thoughts are. I don’t try and review. I post them on Goodreads too and rank them. But as you say if I don’t like something I don’t post it. I figure reading is such an important part of my life that I want to talk about, and I also want to help other authors with what little promotion I can do. Every once in a while I have done an reader response, but again I don’t call it a review but rather it’s my thoughts and how it affected me.
Yes, I think that’s the key: being clear it’s not a review but just our thoughts on books we’ve enjoyed. Thanks for your comment. 🙂