Here’s a little problem I found myself mulling over this week. How does one writer review the work of another?
Writers are delicate creatures, easily crushed by bad reviews. Giving a bad review is like saying, “Your baby is really ugly”. On the other hand, you aren’t doing the author any favours if you shower them with praise, when their book is flawed and inadequate. Yes, you have spared them a bruised ego but they have learnt nothing and will carry on producing mediocre work. However, giving an excellent review, even when deserved, can appear suspicious, especially if you know the author personally.
You have to tread a fine line between being kind and being honest. Look for things you can genuinely praise—the writing, characters, or setting, for example—and if you have to criticise something, do it in a way that is both kind and constructive and doesn’t make the author feel as though they are being personally attacked.
An author reviewing another author has far more responsibility to get it right than they would if they were simply a reader. Every author knows how much hard work is involved in writing a book. It can take years to get it right and the time and energy spent on that one project must be taken into account when we do a review.
There will be authors who give fellow authors bad reviews on purpose. Whatever their hidden agenda might be, let’s hope we don’t encounter this sort of thing too often! Deliberately giving a bad review is not a victimless crime.
How do I go about reviewing other authors? So far I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t read anything I didn’t like. Even if there were elements of said books that didn’t grab me, I have been able to appreciate all their strong points. (Using all your powers of discrimination is particularly important when reviewing a book in a genre you wouldn’t normally consider reading.)
I find that Amazon’s five-star review system isn’t up to the job either. There are far more steps needed between * (a piece of crap) and ***** (blessed by the gods). But we have to do the best we can within the existing structure. An author friend recently said to me that by helping each other, we all improve. A good piece of advice to remember next time you have to write a review.