If you are a writer, you have likely been asked this question. Perhaps more than once.
Before you answer, recognize the question is loaded like a gun and it could go off and hurt you. These requests from some authors contain two unjustified assumptions: one, you plan to read it, and two, you will write something nice about it. Caveat emptor – Buyer beware.
More than one aspiring author I know has made the mistake of saying yes prematurely. They wanted to be helpful and hoped at some future date the favor would be reciprocated. Danger!
What happens when you read the work and it’s filled with typos, factual inaccuracies, unbelievable characters, or an implausible plotline? Would you want a review of your book from someone who lacks talent and writing craft?
Never say yes to this question. Here’s why. In agreeing to write a review, you commit to a product endorsement before you’ve read the book. If you are inclined to read and evaluate a book on its merits, commit to reading ONLY. And ask for a (free) review copy. After you’ve finished reading, then decide whether or not you want to write a review. If you can’t say anything nice about it, don’t write a review. Instead let the author know in a personal email why you can’t. But don’t post a scathing review filled with negative comments. It reflects poorly on you more than the book you bash.
A book review requires a critical assessment of the book’s strengths and weaknesses. Critical here means analytical, not negativism. Negative reviews hurt you more than they do the author. Primum non nocere – Do no harm. It’s your reputation on the line as much as the author’s. You leave your electronic footprint and you don’t want a trace of your muddy tracks for a publisher or agent to find. Worse than a negative review can be an unwarranted positive one. If others read your glowing review of a mediocre or amateurish work, your judgment is called into question.
Writing book reviews is a great service to authors whose work you admire and respect. Don’t wait to be asked. Offer to do so.
Don’t fall for the quid pro quo. “I’ll review your book if you review mine” is rarely an equal exchange. It’s soft blackmail. “I won’t review your book unless you review mine.”
Let’s be clear on what is a “review.” Most legitimate book review venues do not allow reviewers to write about a book written by someone they know. Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Shelf Awareness, Library Journal, The Horn Book, NPR, NYT, Atlantic, Midwest Book Review, and others have editorial independence. At your public library you can access the Book Review Index which provides a comprehensive source for book reviews in nearly 500 periodical and newspapers. These venues do not publish customer satisfaction reports, or what Amazon and GoodReads call “reviews.”
Even Amazon has changed its “review” policy so anyone who has a personal relationship with the author will be disqualified from posting their review. To write a review on Amazon you must be logged into your Amazon account and remember Amazon makes greater profits on data-mining than on selling books so they DO know who you lives in your household and who your friends are and they do block them from posting promotional “reviews.”
The next time an author asks if you will review their new book before you’ve read it, think twice.
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…