On Reviewing

I’ve been a book reviewer for magazines for several years and a proof-reader for as long as I’ve been writing. I’m well-known for being both widely-read and a grammar pedant, both of which are useful traits in this line of work.

And both of which make me welcome the current publicity over “sock puppet” reviews.

What’s wrong with sock puppets? I hear you cry. Well, the whole problem is that they only say what you want them to say. Sock puppet reviews are written by an author or their friends, praising a book and falsely boosting its ratings in online stores / peer-review forums. I’ve been aware of this trend for years, but only recently has it become clear that some big-name authors are doing it. (See here: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/no-more-sock-puppets_b56987 )

Now, I confess that I have asked people to review my books when they’ve read them – but always insisted that it needs to be their honest opinion. “If you’re giving it 4 or 5 stars, please publish your review. If it’s less – please tell me what I’ve got wrong.” And I no longer assume that the ones who don’t broadcast their opinions are necessarily negative. (If you’ve ever accepted a free book and not reviewed it, then shame on you!)

Maybe it’s time for a few rules on reviewing. Hmm:

  1. Never review your own work. (It’s worse than liking your own posts on Facebook.)
  2. Always be honest. (What’s the point in a review if it’s not true?)
  3. Never give away the plot or ending. (Readers want your opinion, the author is the one who tells the story.)
  4. Find something good and something negative to say. (They will be there if you try hard enough.)
  5. If it’s written by a friend and it sucks, let them know first – but politely. (Especially if it’s mine!)

Not asking much, really.

I recently reviewed a book for an online writing buddy. An honest review, following all of the above rules. After I’d posted it, he contacted me to say, “Why did you give if 4 stars?” I replied, “Because I was feeling generous.”

Next time I might round down the 3 ½ stars I wanted to give.


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