The subject of reviews was suddenly popping up this morning. There’s a discussion going on in the comments to this post on The Passive Voice about reviews and honesty and writers trading good reviews with one another. Some are saying they don’t leave reviews, period, because they are writers and that makes it a conflict of interest of sorts. Marcia is talking about how she doesn’t like to leave negative reviews for anyone, whether she knows them or not.
The subject made me feel uncomfortable in ways I needed to examine, because I definitely think and say good things about the work of friends. Don’t get me wrong, I have never once said to someone, “I’ll leave you a gushing review if you do the same for me,” and I hope it goes without saying that I never would. But if it’s a friend’s book, I’m going to be inclined to like it, and to want to support it. I will absolutely say nice things about it. Does that make me dishonest?
What I came up with is: no, because I don’t lie. (Of course my friends’ books are good, people!) I only say nice things that are also true things. And if I can’t come up with any nice true things, I keep my trap shut.
I don’t do Amazon reviews with my full name, either. These stories about retaliatory reviews, etc. make me feel like I don’t want to make it super easy to click from Jen-the-reader to Jen-the-writer. What about that? Dishonest? I don’t know, but I’m sleeping fine on that one.
As for negative reviews, I’m with Marcia insofar as I don’t bother talking about books I hate. I will criticize, of course, but that’s different.
Oh! And star ratings. Here is where I must make a shameful confession: I am wildly inconsistent. That has nothing to do with whether I know the writer personally or not, but it does have to do with whether I’m familiar with the writer’s other work or not. I can’t seem to help being influenced by my expectations, which means I’m not grading everyone on the same system. If it strikes me as a phoned-in, lazy effort from a writer who can and has done better, especially if it’s a writer I know gets big advances, which makes it feel like a cash grab, that affects my rating. Even if it would be a good, say, debut novel from someone else. So yeah, that is something I’m bad at. What can I say. People are bad at stuff.
They’re reviews. By definition, they’re subjective. Are we influenced in one way or another by our feelings about the author, if we have any? I’m sure I am. But I do my best to be honest. As far as review policies go, I guess that’s mine. What about you? Do you have a personal policy or code for reviews? Is it tough ground for you to navigate at times?