Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reviewing a Friend’s Book (And other dangerous sports)

I self-published my first novel about a month ago, an eBook, now for sale on Amazon and Smashwords. My first buyers have been, of course, my friends and relatives.

Then the big hurdle arose—how to market it to the rest of the world. All of you authors out there will sympathize when I say, “It ain’t easy!”

Desperate, I even sunk low enough to do an exchange with another frantic author. That at least got me my first review. And in doing the exchange, I had to read and review a book entirely out of my usual genre. Me, a suspense reader had to tackle a vampire book. Having long ago become a maven of suspense, I haven’t read that kind of thing since Stephen King’s early novels, that I used to devour. No pun intended.

In the interest of fairness, and I expected my exchangee to do the same, I reviewed her book for her market audience—the vampire readers. I gave it a great review, honestly believing it was unique and readable in its genre. She did the same for me, and we both got an early, very good review. Please don’t ask what I would have done, had her book been poorly written. Luckily, it was not!

Then a few days later, I noticed I had two reviews on Goodreads. From friends who’d read my book. I was so excited! Do I need to tell you my dismay when I saw that one of my very good friends (and a fellow writer to boot) gave me a lowly three star review?

Now in the grand scheme of book publishing, I have no doubt we’ll all get a crummy review or two. Or more, because you cannot pique everyone’s interest with your story. But to get a three star in the early days is huge—what does that say to other potential readers?

When I reamed out my friend for his review, he said he believed in being honest and my book just wasn’t his thing. Then, I asked, why bother writing a review? I pointed out how difficult it made things for me on Goodreads when the second freaking review was so lukewarm. We never did resolve the issue. He defended his betrayal to the end!

Moral of this story is; If you can’t leave a good review for a friend, don’t leave one. And to go one step further I’d ask why leave a review for a book that’s outside of your genre, written by a friend or not?

So dear readers, tell me what you think. Do you agree that avoidance is the right strategy?


  1. No author is going to please every reader; that's just the business. But if you can't count on a friend to support you in something you've poured your heart and soul into, who can you count on?

    Sounds like maybe jealousy played a part in that review. As someone who has read your work AND the other person's, I know first-hand how much better your writing is. And I know you've learned from past writing mistakes and have created a better novel for that experience.

    Good for you for standing up for yourself. And boo to poor sports who don't support their friends.

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  3. From Marla,
    Another friend of mine who is an avid reader told me she almost always gives three-star reviews on Goodreads, saving the others for reads that are exceptional. While I don't disagree with that, I still have an issue with two things, the friendship thing and reviewing out of one's genre.

  4. I think the timing is extremely important too. In the very initial days of a book launch there are so many emotions riding high and the feeling that so much is at stake that a 3-star review--which really isn't bad at all--can feel like a road block. It's not, of course. It usually means a very solidly written book, good characters, and a decent plot line. However, if it would have come a little further down the publishing path it wouldn't have felt so hurtful. It really is the friendship aspect that makes it an issue. We expect friends to rally around us and give us their best as we give our best to them, especially during very stressful times. That's the point of it all, isn't it? And publishing your first book independently is TONS of stress.

  5. On the one hand, I can imagine how hurtful a less than stellar review can be coming from a friend; on the other, I'm not sure fluffy 5-star reviews would be all that helpful either. So far, though a few friends promised to write reviews, none have yet. :-(

    As for reviewing outside one's genre, I think it can be done. It just means the reviewer has to work a little harder at taking notice of what makes a good book, not just what they like. I write reviews sometimes of books that aren't my genre, so rather than focusing on what I loved, I try to focus on whether the characters are well-developed, if the plot is well-played, if the prose is artistic, skilled, (or grammatically correct!). Fellow authors, at least, should be able to do that. If your friend is primarily a reader, then maybe it's not the best idea.

  6. Thanks Angela, I appreciate your thoughts and agree that reviewing outside of one's genre is a lot harder. You have to be able to imagine how it reads from the point of view of those who do love the genre.

  7. Hi Marla

    I would mostly echo your previous commenter, Angela's thoughts.

    Just because an author or publisher has asked a blogger to review their work, it doesn't mean that they should automatically expect to get top star rating for that book, whether it is inside or outside of the blogger's normal reading genre.

    I have always tried to give a fair and true assessment of a book, based on the quality of the writing, storyline and characterisation, and that is what my ultimate 'scoring' (if we have to use such a crass system), is based on.

    However, as most bloggers go to great lengths to point out in our 'about' pages, we are not typically professional reviewers, so we do use the forums to share our own personal feelings about a book, our dislikes as well as our likes.

    Although, in my own personal case, this does not generally reflect in my rating of a book, I will also include my own thoughts about a story, as it is just that, my own personal blog.


  8. Thanks for your thoughts, Yvonne. I agree one needs to be honest, although if the shoe were on the other foot (I love cliches, sorry)and I were reviewing for a friend, I would opt out of leaving a review that would disappoint them.
    But that's what gets me trouble - expecting others to act as I would in a certain situation.
    A man I was dating (and madly in love with) once told me that my problem was not how he treated me, it was my own expectations! True, but oh, so hurtful.

  9. Marla, a three star review on Goodreads isn't crummy! It's pretty good. Honestly, I think you may have been a little too hard on your friend. You asked him why the three-star-review and he told you. It seems like you were hurt by his answer.

    As a writer, you know that some people will like your work and some won’t. It’s that thick-skin thing writers always talk about having. I’m not going to lie, it's tough sometimes, but that's how it is. Suck it up, keep writing, and look for more readers outside of your inner circle.

    Keep in mind that all kinds of readers leave all kinds of reviews. Not every review has to be a glorious five star review, nor should it be. How awful would it be to check out book reviews only to find that every book had five stars? I cringe at the thought.

    Figure out some other ways to expand your readership. I'm sure you'll find plenty of readers who will love your book. Keep on keeping on. :)


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