Nice Guys Finish Last … by Josh Lanyon

 Not a day goes by that my dear former Facebook friend Jamie LeBoink doesn’t send an invitation out asking peopleeveryone, anyone–to “like” her and her writing. I think she was up to about 1500 friends at the point I disengaged. And three of those 1500 folks might actually, eventually buy Jamie’s writing, assuming she ever gets around to doing any.

 My point is not that LeBoink is an idiot and that we should all boycott her. My point is that we all do stupid stuff when we’re starting out in this business. We spam our friends and family. We write reviews for ourselves. We argue with reviewers. Just like a baby sucking his toes, we don’t know any better.

 Nobody is born knowing the ins and outs of publishing and promotion. Having that first book come out is sort of like landing on a planet in outer space. Is there any other life here? Are the natives friendly? Do they eat little boys and girls like you for lunch? You watch, you follow, you learn. And often how you learn is by making mistakes.

 Those of us who have been stranded here a while will watch, struggling to keep a straight face, as you stagger around the dunes and fall into the very same quicksand pit we did. And some of us will offer a helping hand. And some of us won’t. But very few of us will change the sign on the path leading to the quicksand so as to guarantee you fall in.

 While we may not start out knowing that it’s not kosher — no, not even if you go months without a single review on Amazon — to write reviews of our own work (or even tell your mom what to write), we do all know it’s not okay to hurt someone else. We do all know that actions motivated by spite and jealousy and pettiness are not okay. We certainly have the survival smarts to know that if it’s something we’d be embarrassed about having made public, it’s Not Okay.

 That’s the topic of today’s post. The fallacious and ultimately self-destructive idea that you have to play dirty tricks on other authors in order to get ahead in this business. The mistaken notion that Everyone is Doing It.

 Yeah. Right. And nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition.

 Imagine if you will, Robert Crais and Michael Connelly putting their heads together and writing a bunch of one star reviews of all Robert Parker’s books as part of some misguided strategy for success.

 I know. I can hear the snickers from here. Not because we’ve all been there and done that, but because it’s so…lame. That behavior is pathetic and we don’t think of real professionals, and definitely not successful professionals, having to resort to that kind of thing. Successful is not desperate, and trying to blackball the competition is desperate.  

 So when we snicker as we hear of authors in our genre writing bad reviews of other authors (and, yes, we do hear this because it’s a very small fishbowl) whom they believe are too popular for their own good, we’re not laughing with you. We’re laughing at you.

 It’s so…Snidely Whiplash trying to sabotage Dudley Do-Right’s jalopy.

 Part of why we laugh is because we all recognize the feeling. The frustration that others are getting an unfair amount of attention or help, the secret belief that somehow our act of spite will help even the score. Literary types though we are, a lot of us are also ambitious and competitive and it’s hard not to view our publishing success as some kind of race, even though logic tells us this is not so. Someone else’s failure does not equal our success — or vice versa.

 Never mind the fact that it’s bad for your soul when you give into the temptation to act on your jealousy and fear and insecurity, never mind the karmic backlash — maybe you don’t believe in souls or karma or practicing random acts of kindness. The main reason you don’t want to give into practicing Stupid Author Tricks is because they don’t work.

 That’s the other reason most of us laugh at the idea of Messrs. Connelly and Crais ganging up on the competition. It’s a dumb idea. It’s Wile E. Coyote brooding over his new Acme DIY kit.

 And the reason that I keep bringing up cartoon analogies is because if you think, for example, nominating yourself for an award and then voting repeatedly through anonymous hotmail accounts is a great idea, you’ve got the tactical smarts of a ten year old.  

 I’m not going to pretend that success in publishing is all fairness and equality and only the good shall triumph in the end. Yes, the two key ingredients are skill/talent and hard work, but promotion is a big part of success in this game. So is luck. I won’t lie to you. I’ve had a lot of luck. But I’ve also worked my ass off — and I’ve been doing it for many years. You want to know the secret to my success? Two things. Focus and Sustained Effort.

 So let’s talk about the most popular dirty tricks that naughty authors play on their colleagues, and I’ll explain why they don’t work and why you want to steer clear of the authors who practice this crap.

 Now the overarching reason you want to run a mile if someone suggests you engage in things like stuffing ballot boxes is, if you’re going to do something unethical and embarrassing, you don’t want witnesses — and you sure as hell don’t want accomplices.

 People have big mouths in this business — in any business — and friends come and go. You want to be careful who you trust, and I would suggest that you not place a lot of trust in someone who is urging you to do unethical and underhanded things. The true test of character is not how we treat our friends, it’s how we treat our enemies.

Okay? Pretty obvious, right? Let’s move on to the actual charges against the accused.

 1 – Writing reviews for your own books.

 I’m trying to look severe here, but this is really kid stuff. I’ll settle for putting a frowny face on your chart and benching you at recess. Come on. Yes, it is bad news not to have a single review on Amazon — or worse, a sole three-star (or lower) — but faking reviews doesn’t change the fact that no one has read your book and been moved to comment. So you writing a review — even if you try to be honest in your “review” — doesn’t change that.

 You want to treat the disease, not the symptom. You want people to read your book and write reviews. How do you do that? You offer books for review. You stipulate that the reviewer must promise to review, but that you want an honest review. You assure them you will not ask to see the review first, etc.

 I know. You’re thinking…what if someone writes a negative review? That’s still better than no review and everybody won’t write a negative review. Most people write positive reviews. In fact, most people think they’re writing positive reviews even when they’re writing negative reviews. Relax about the whole review thing. You just need enough of them so that other readers can see that pioneers have safely crossed the no man’s land of your pages.

 Again, offer books. If you’re a new author, give away a lot of books — try and give them to people in exchange for fair and honest reviews. Look at the cost of these giveaways as advertising.

 2 – Writing reviews for friends’ books.

 There isn’t a problem with this unless you’re trying to pretend that you’re an objective reviewer — or you haven’t actually read the book. I write reviews for my friends and I don’t hide the fact that they are my friends.

 One friend writing numerous reviews of the same book on the same site? See #1 above. Stacking the deck doesn’t help the fact that no one is sitting in on your card game. If you want to help your friend — really help her — look up review sites for her and help her send copies of her book out.

 Generally when authors write “reviews” for friends, they’re called blurbs. They go on the cover of the book, and the reader can take them with a grain of salt or not. Sometimes friends do interpretative dances for friends, but that’s another post.

 Note to professional reviewers: Friends do not review friends. Why? Because you will either be too harsh in an attempt to appear unbiased or you will be biased by friendship. Or maybe you honestly hate your best friend’s book and you’re dumb enough to say so. A true friend puts her friend’s ego before her own.

3 – Exchanging reviews with other writers.

 This isn’t a problem if the books are really read and if there was not an unspoken (sometimes spoken) understanding that only positive reviews will be exchanged. Is it unethical? Maybe mildly so in some Utopian author universe. I will say it’s a fairly common, if essentially useless, practice.

 Why is it useless? Because it’s always the same circle of people reviewing each other in pretty much the same places, and so if their other promotional efforts are paying off, they’re all recognized to be other writers. Today’s readers are much savvier and they spend a lot more time socializing with us on the net, so they basically recognize the maneuver for what it is.

 Reviewing books you haven’t read? Just say no.

 4 – Amazon tagging more popular authors with your name or your book title.

 This can be a solo operation or a number of authors banding together to target and tag. The theory behind it is a sort of roughneck Readers Who Like This Might Also Like That.

 At one time the Adrien English books had something like 47 tags for a new mystery release by a then-unknown (and still largely unknown) m/m author. My own titles at that time only averaged about 12 tags, so it was obvious something was up. Most readers don’t bother to review, let alone tag, yet here was an author with a new release that more people thought was like the Adrien English books than the other Adrien English books!?

 Although this is an essentially harmless move, the gall of it irritated me enough that I complained to Amazon, and the tags were removed, which I think explains why it’s not a useful tactic. It also had the effect of turning me off this author’s work — and that distaste lingers to this day.

 5 – Writing negative and hostile reviews of other authors as part of your strategic plan. Or playing the ubiquitous Goodreads star system.

 Usually under anonymous or a fake name, right?

 Peek-a-boo! I seeeee you! Where do I start?  Never mind the fact that this is neurotic and negative behavior and you probably want to get that looked at, these reviews always have that…whiff of sour grapes to them. Which means readers automatically, if unconsciously, discount them.

 But the main reason why this is a mistake is because once again you’re treating the symptom and not the disease. The problem is you feel like here’s new author Angelika Mouse getting all this attention and help and she’s dangling her prepositions all over the place while you, YOU, who have been slogging away since the Ice Age, can’t get arrested if you ran naked through the halls of GayRomLit. You address that by taking Ms. Mouse down a couple of stars on Goodreads and maybe writing an anonymous nasty review or two instead of analyzing why she’s getting the response she’s getting.

 What you ought to be asking yourself is not how can I destroy her, but rather, what is she doing that I’m not — and is there anything I can learn from her success?

 Maybe yes, maybe no. One thing for sure, if your attention is focused on another writer’s popularity instead of your own writing, you’re looking in the wrong place. Removing Ms. Mouse from the equation will change nothing for you. Not one single damned thing. Didn’t you read any Grimm’s fairytales when you were growing up? Quit carrying on like the ugly elder step-sister.

 6 – Force-feeding your Goodreads groups and Facebook pages to anyone who’ll bite.

 This is on a par with culling names from discussion lists you belong to and force-subscribing them to your author mailing list. I don’t know if it’s unethical so much as bad manners — the latter’s even worse, to my way of thinking.

 Most of us are using Facebook in a way it was not originally intended. We’re using it as a promotional tool. A reader “friends” me, I “friend” the reader back. It’s reciprocal. A lot of this friending is author-to-author, and that’s great. We’re networking. That’s part of the job — in fact, that interaction is one of the perks of the job — but there’s a fine line in social media and it’s easy for newbies (in particular) to trip over it.

 You invite people to join your mailing list and your Goodreads groups and your Facebook Fan Pages. Now, I don’t know about you, but where I come from an invitation is generally not a fist wrapped in my collar and someone yanking me across the threshold and locking the door behind me. I think of that as more like abduction…or maybe holidays at my Aunt Marie’s, but either way, not something I’m going to put up with from a fellow author.

 I think there is a misconception that being able to show a lot of “friends” on Facebook will make you look popular and so people will pay more attention to your posts. When I see an m/m writer with 2000+ friends gained within a month I see someone who did mass invites. That’s what we all see because we all know how it works.

 There’s no harm in this, but there isn’t a lot of use either. You want your mailing list to be made up of readers and friends who are genuinely interested in you and your work. That way there’s a much better chance that they’ll read your posts and check out your books than if they just automatically friend everyone who friends them.

 You invite people and if they don’t accept the invitation, you let it go. Maybe you wait a few months and invite people again, but you don’t, day after day, keep asking the same people to like your page. Oh, you’ll get 1500 people to “like” your page but they’ll never read the damn thing or comment on any of your posts or buy anything you write. They’re not there for you. They’re there because it’s polite to friend people back.

 That politeness thing? Brush up on it.

 7 – Nominating yourself for awards

 See also Voting for Yourself and Judging Your Own Work under Publishing No-Nos.

 In fairness, there are some awards you have to nominate yourself for. If you’re self-published you’ll have to nominate yourself for stuff like the Eppies and the Lammies. You don’t nominate yourself for reader awards. End of story.

 Yeah, I can hear the whining now. But it’s always the same people getting nominated!  No. It’s not. Sure some of the same people get nominated every year, but the winners are just as often newbies. Why? Because of the very thing you’re crying about.

 Trying to rig reader awards requires the investment of anonymous votes and haranguing friends and strangers on lists you frequent. That’s a lot of work. You’re probably turning off as many people as you are earning votes. Plus, winning by such means doesn’t change the fact that you are not a reader favorite. And trying to convince readers they love you when they don’t, is not only self-defeating, it’s self-destructive.

 Yes. Self-destructive. Because you’re the one and only person who believes that win should mean something. You are destined to be disappointed. Why? Let’s say you rig the Golden Café Speckled Trout award and you win. YAY!!! Now you go around announcing that win everywhere, and maybe a couple of readers decide to give your work a try based on you winning that award. YAY!! And the readers like your book. YAY! And…so what?

 There are now dozens of these little awards and they all work to one end — and it’s the same exact end that all promotion aims for — to get people to try your work. Once they try your work, they either like it or they don’t. That’s the same result you’d have had if one of your banner ads or one of your excerpts had moved a reader to buy your book. And you wouldn’t have had to sell your soul for it. Winning these awards, while lovely for the ego, will not change the course of your publishing career. I know mainstream authors who’ve won major genre awards — and they were still dropped by their publishers. So do you honestly think winning the Golden Café Speckled Trout award is going to put you on the map? Or that it was worth cheating to win?

 Promotion does make a difference, but if you think all publishing success is strictly about promotion, you are both sadly cynical and ridiculously naïve.

 8 – Bullying, brow-beating, or otherwise coercing another author to engage in any of the above behavior.

 If we want this genre to be taken seriously, we need to stop conducting business in the playground. If you’ve been around long enough to pick up some of these tricks, you’ve been around long enough to know better. Trying to force other authors into joining you in your bad behavior doesn’t legitimize the bad behavior. It means you’re a fascist on top of everything else.

 If you want to make bad choices for yourself and your career, go ahead, but don’t drag others down with you. And you young’uns, don’t let yourselves be badgered into doing things that make you uncomfortable. I guarantee you that Everybody is NOT Doing It.

Can you damage your career by being caught engaging in any of this behaviour? Um…honestly? Probably not irretrievably in this particular very young, very brash publishing niche. But if your literary aspirations stretch beyond getting published with Big O Press, yeah. You do not want your prospective editor at HarperCollins reading the five-year-old thread where you get called out for backstabbing other authors. Very few people find cutthroat behavior appealing, and the competition for mainstream publishers is much, much stiffer. You don’t want to get nixed because you look like a whack job.

 When it comes to how you conduct yourself in this genre, always try to behave as though you already were the big name you plan to be.  Don’t give into jealousy, insecurity, frustration.You honestly think Robert Parker nominated himself for awards or sat around checking and re-checking the competition’s Amazon stats or wrote nasty anonymous remarks in the comment sections of online articles about other authors? I don’t think so. Ask anyone who knew him. They’ll tell you he was one hell of a writer and a very nice guy.

 Take the high road. The trip may be a little longer, but the scenery is nicer and the air is a lot fresher.

Josh Lanyon’s Contact Information



  • Loved your column, Josh. I feel pretty naive not realizing all the machinations out there. Whoa!

    I’m definite evidence that a certain promotion by authors really does work.

    Some years ago I mentioned on a reading list the difficulty of wading through the sea of m/m novels, paper and ebook. I’d managed to stumble over some pretty awful stuff and just figured that was the norm. Mark Zubro seemed to be the writer that kept coming up on Amazon as a clever writer. I found him lacking.

    I hadn’t heard of Josh until he kindly sent me an e-copy of his first Adrien English novel. A bell went off in my head. *This* was what I’d been looking for, hoping for – a wonderful plot, endearing, sometimes flawed characters, interesting supporting cast, wit, suspense, clever dialogue.

    Since then I’ve purchased all but one of Josh Lanyon’s novels and short stories. If I hadn’t received that free read, I would be out some pretty wonderful reading experiences. In fact, I found out about Wave’s fabulous website from his Facebook page. And since *then* I’ve read SO many great novels from recommendations and reviews on this website. Domino effect. 🙂

    • Now THAT’S the kind of story I like to read. 😀

      Thank you for that, MaDonna.

      I continue to give away lots and lots of books. I know many authors worry about this, worry about lost sales, but as marketing tools go, that’s been an effective one for me.

  • Great post Josh. I will say most of the books I have now I got them because of word of mouth more than anything. And, if I really like a book I also tell my friends. And, if I don’t like a book…guess what? Word of mouth. I really don’t pay much attention to reviews. If a book is written really well and holds my interest that’s what I’m looking for. Not “how many stars” this book got and what not. I have only ever contacted a few authors to let them know how much I loved their books. All of them except one wrote me back. I don’t expect authors to sit around checking their inbox for fan mail. However, I would like it if you tell people if they like your work to contact them, I would hope they would make the effort to write back. Usually, the only time I write to authors is to let them know how much I love their work, ask about upcoming releases, etc. So, I can honestly say Josh, authors like you are very much appreciated. Keep up the great writing! (By the way….love your books!)

    • Thank you very much, Amanda. It gives me pleasure to hear you’re enjoying the stories. I think most authors in this business appreciate their readers and make every effort to respond.

      The number one selling tool a writer has — the make or break point — is the writing itself.

      Everything we do comes down to that — the moment the reader opens the book and begins to read. At that point everything else becomes moot.


  • But I also see reviews as a good way for people who like similar books to find other good books. And if I enjoy an author enough to follow their reviews (I’m thinking GoodReads here), then I’d like to read their honest opinion. I can see how on Amazon this maybe wouldn’t work the same.

    I should probably reiterate here that I love reviews and I often read them — just not of my own work. Not that I don’t love hearing my work praised. I’m human. Of course I love it! Too much, as a matter of fact.

    I don’t know if it’s an impulse to negatively review, just a desire to be honest, and as Wave said, you don’t always know what you’ll get at the end.

    Yes to all that. Listen, I’m not trying to discourage aspiring authors who love to review from reviewing. What I’m really saying is…a lot of authors use writing reviews as a promotional tool. They don’t write reviews simply because they love analyzing and discussing books, they also hope to build their name recognition and even a potential readership through writing reviews.

    And it can work that way.

    But it’s also possible it can work the other way. We’ve heard from readers today and other authors who’ve discussed negative experiences and feelings about reviewers.

    So if you’re reviewing because you love ot review, go for it. But if you’re reviewing because you’re hoping it’s going to a great way to get your name out there, well maybe yes, maybe no.

    And remember today’s topic was dirty tricks, not authors sincerely and conscientiously reviewing each other. The topic is authors grading other authors down as part of a strategy for success, or authors retaliating at what they believed was an unfair grading down.

    When we talk about the wisdom of writing reviews as a promotional tool, we’re really getting into a different area.

    • So if you’re reviewing because you love to review, go for it.

      Thank you for taking your (valuable) time to word haggle with me. I think we are essentially in agreement. (Though I’m still left disheartened that people feel the need to pull dirty tricks. To me that seems to ruin the point of being published. But I guess everyone goes in for a different reason.)

      • I’ve probably needlessly terrified scores of new writers. I just want to restate for the record that these behaviors are the exception to the rule not the rule.

        I think they stem from unrealistic expectations. But that’s another post.

        Yes, I think we’re basically in agreement!

  • I’ve spent ages reading your post, Josh, and trying to read all the comments, too. I’ve enjoyed seeing everyone’s opinions.

    Don’t have anything to add, other than it’s been a real eye-opener. I had no idea that this sort of thing’s been going on. We live and learn!

  • I’ve read all the comments and I’m more happy than ever that this is the review site I go to when I need to check out a book. Everyone is so civil in their comments. And that’s just the point I want to make. If newly published authors are only familiar with the ways of Amazon, then they probably do think that’s how you promote yourself. Unfortunately, all media is rife with negative behavior and we’re growing up surrounded by messages that that’s business as usual.

    It seems to me that if an author tries to elevate her own status and books by knocking others down and attempting to keep them down, that author never raises the quality of his writing. The bar stays very, very low. It’s hard work to focus negative energy for any length of time and such a waste of time.

    • It seems to me that if an author tries to elevate her own status and books by knocking others down and attempting to keep them down, that author never raises the quality of his writing. The bar stays very, very low. It’s hard work to focus negative energy for any length of time and such a waste of time.

      So very true, Patty.

      I think the recipe for success — and sanity — is to focus on your own writing and not worry about how popular everyone else is. Because the odds are good whoever you’re worried about is just as uneasy and anxious and worried that her career isn’t progressing as fast as it should.

  • Josh,
    Loved your post, humorous and informative.
    Amazon should limit reviews to items bought on Amazon. Think that would cut down on some of the nonsense?

    • I don’t know, to be honest. To some extent you have to take people on trust.

      I have a lot of readers for whom Amazon is just one site they patronize. But it’s the main site for citizen reviews, so I do want them to be able to post even if they didn’t necessarily buy the book there.

      You know most Amazon reviewers are sincere. We’re not talking about the majority of people, we’re talking about a few naughty authors. And when it comes to writing reviews of their own work, they probably would just go ahead and buy a copy on Amazon.

  • This is all very good advice, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend or participate in the practices that you bring up. However. However, if you take a look at mainstream, “bestseller” writing today, you have to ask yourself, how are these people getting contracts? It’s not the writing.

    I’ve been writing and publishing for a little over ten years now. Over and over, I’ve seen the same thing. The writers who can sell their writing by either working the system, or having an inside track, will get published and get the big contracts.

    Writing is a business. It used to be that the only art involved was when the writer sat down to write. About ninety five percent of the time, that is no longer true. If you look at certain big name writers today, you see that, not only do they farm out their name to be plastered over the covers of books they didn’t write, the books themselves are so badly written, they’re laughable.

    Publishing is evolving into a Madison Avenue hype-the-product business where the focus is on which writer’s story can be packaged and sold with the highest market penetration. The writing itself is slowly but surely taking a very sad, very unimportant second, sometimes third place in the publishing process.

    I’m not sure what will happen to the industry, but I can definitely say that the quality of one’s writing matters less and less. The tipping point has almost swung in favor of write fast and sloppy, then sell hard and big.

    I’m hoping that with e-publishing, and the affordability of e-readers, the talent that’s out there will be heard.

    • Actually, it is largely the writing. I know this won’t be a popular opinion, and I’m not saying that NY publishing doesn’t publish some crap books, but those books are flawed in different ways than most of the books are flawed here.

      And I can get into this at another time — and I probably will touch on it in next month’s post which, per Wave’s request, will be on editing. Or what passes for editing here in mlandia.

      The other thing that determines publication in mainstream — leaving out for the moment literary and established small presses — is how commercial a book is. Mainstream has to have a guarantee of a certain amount of sales to justify their print runs. Few m/m publishers are doing print runs. (Nor do they need to.)

      So the books have to meet certain standards of writing which, typos and dumb-books-we-personally-don’t-like aside, they largely do, and they have to be commercial enough to appeal to thousands of people.

      So while I do agree with you that mainstream publishing suffers from the same corporatization idiocy as much of the rest of the country, they are still publishing the kind of thing most readers want to read.

      • So while I do agree with you that mainstream publishing suffers from the same corporatization idiocy as much of the rest of the country, they are still publishing the kind of thing most readers want to read.

        (Sorry, jumping in.) I do agree with Ryssa that mainstream publishing is suffering from heavy commercialism in books, but the writing is not exactly the same as the ones in the m/m genre. I find myself having to divorce the m/m genre completely from mainstream publishing because of the difference in quality.

        Sure, most mainstream books can get boring, but when I buy one, I know for a fact that the book would be cohesively written – solid beginning, plot, conflict, resolution, character development, etc, etc. Everything would be taken into consideration before it’s published – as a reader, I’m only bogged down with 1) do I like the particular writing style of the author, 2) does the story appeal to me, or 3) do the characters grow in the direction I’d like to see. These points are more subjective than objective – as a reader, I know the mainstream published book would be a polished piece of work – I would not have to worry about shifting POV, abrupt tense changes, incomprehensible passages, so on so forth.

        I do not have that luxury with the m/m genre, much as it pains me to say. I love this niche, but it’s extremely rare to find books I don’t want to delete because heck, I just paid 7 bucks for it based on the blurb.

        All this leads to one thing – I crave reviews – goodreads, amazon, m/m blogs like this one, etc. Reviewers give me a sense of what I want to read in a book, and since I always look at what types of books the reviewer rates, I can deduce whether or not his/her tastes mesh with mine. I still maintain that reviewers are not for the authors but for the readers.

        This leads me to another point – I might love an author’s public persona, but I really…that’s not the reason I choose to read an author’s work. You (general you) can be the nicest person, but ultimately it comes down to the books you’re writing. Honestly, I may be a dinosaur, but I don’t really give a fig how anyone interacts with fans as long as you’re not being a raging douchebag. I’m here to read and enjoy books, so it’s weird that I see all the networking that goes on with Facebook and Twitter and whatever else.

        Rambling aside, interesting post. I had no idea all this is happening in the m/m world.

        • I’m in agreement with you on all of that.

          And again, reading a well-written review is a genuine pleasure. When I’m looking for info on an author or a book, I read the reviews on this site and I check out the interviews, etc.

          I use Amazon as a research site quite frequently as well. When I go there to buy a book I’m irritated if there are only a couple of reviews and I can’t figure out if the book is my kind of thing or not. The more reviews, the better. I agree. I don’t even mind spoilers if I’m afraid a beloved character is killed or something like that!

  • Thanks for another interesting article! Though I have to say I feel bad for authors who want to write a negative review because they honestly didn’t like the book. Would people automatically jump on them and accuse them of xy and z mentioned above? How would an author avoid that?

    I suppose if you only review one of their books and give a thorough review then it may be seen as that and not being mean…I just don’t think authors should feel required to write complimentary reviews and just not write a review for books they didn’t enjoy.

    I know this is a bit off topic, but it seems to be a complication (though maybe you can enlighten me).

    • It’s not that you can’t review, Alex. There are lots and lots of books you can review as harshly as you like and no one will mind. They’ll either find your opinions of interest or not.

      Reviewing your peers? I’m curious about the impulse that would make you wish to negatively review someone you might meet face to face one of these days?

      Maybe if you’ve already got a significant following for your reviews? I’ve seen writers fall into this as they try to make the transition from well-known reviewer to bestselling author. OR maybe if you have a particular reviewing mission?

      I know Erastes and her circle of writer friends do most of the reviewing of historical fiction in this genre. Of course that means that a fair bit of reviewing of friends goes on. I don’t know how they all handle that. Maybe there are some injured feelings, maybe not. But they’re on a mission to promote historical fiction, so it seems slightly different. They’re working to expand that particular sub-genre and I think they earnestly want the books in their genre to be more than the dubious stuff that sometimes passes for historical romance.

      See, an author who feels compelled to comment negatively on a peer’s book is a puzzle to me. I wrote a book on writing m/m fiction and I rarely allow myself to review and I actually think my reviews would be pretty useful for new writers. But then the job of the reviewer is not to teach writing. And so I opened an evaluation service instead.

      That said, I don’t think most authors will retailiate if you write a negative review. Few writers have time or energy to write you a retort review — assuming they even see your review. If they do see the review, they’ll think various uncomplimentary things about you and they might not rush to offer advice and help should you need it, but I doubt they’ll stalk you. No, it would be more in the vein of…Judi Charming regularly offers popular guest blog spots to other authors, and you need to get the word out on your new book, but unfortunately you just blasted *her* book.

      It’s hard to hold your tongue when there are so many books that seem an affront to God and literature, but strategically it’s better not to indulge the longing to vent in public.

      Just my opinion.

      • Maybe it’s different because I’m not (yet) an author, but I do enjoy reviewing (even if I’m shouting to the wind). I view reviewing as feedback, whether I’m getting it or giving it, and I would never write a review that I wouldn’t be willing to tell to that person’s face.

        But I also see reviews as a good way for people who like similar books to find other good books. And if I enjoy an author enough to follow their reviews (I’m thinking GoodReads here), then I’d like to read their honest opinion. I can see how on Amazon this maybe wouldn’t work the same.

        I’m curious about the impulse that would make you wish to negatively review someone you might meet face to face one of these days?

        I don’t know if it’s an impulse to negatively review, just a desire to be honest, and as Wave said, you don’t always know what you’ll get at the end. I can understand the hesitation in wanting to not negatively review something by someone you may one day meet, but I feel it’s honest to review each book as you see it. If I’d ever have something published, I’d like my peers to give me honest feedback, even if it makes me wince (or weep). But, as you said, it’s just an opinion.

        • Alex
          If I can give you a bit of advice about reviewing, whenever you write a negative review always try to find something positive to say about the book, and always state explicitly the areas where you found the book wanting. As you probably noticed, our reviews are quite long and there’s a reason for that. We try to be clear about the pros and cons of why a book didn’t appeal.

          I did a post about 18 months about negative book reviews and why we do them, and I am enclosing a link. This post also contains a link to a post Josh did sometime prior about how an author should react (or not) to negative book reviews

          There is a more recent one and if I can find it I’ll add that link later.

          I found the other post (I have this great filing system lol) and here’s the link

          Happy reviewing. 🙂

      • So what’s the protocol for an author reviewing another author’s work? As you know Josh, this site has a few guest reviewers who are authors. Their reviews are just as professional as those by the other guest reviewers who are not authors, but readers. If they write negative reviews, most of the time I agree with their opinion because I’ve read the book(s), so it would appear that they are reviewing simply because they enjoy doing so. It certainly does not appear to me that one of their reasons for reviewing is to spite other authors who may be more successful.

        When Erastes reveiwed for this site she did most of the historical reviews, which made sense since she’s an expert of the genre.

        You never know when you open a book if you’re going to like it, and I trust the guest reviewers to be as unbiased and professional as it’s humanly possible to be, within the context of giving a personal opinion.

        • If an author chooses to review other authors, I’d suggest they be as professional and objective as possible. And err on the side of generosity. I think all your reviewers attempt to be fair and objective and conscientious, Wave.

          The fact that I personally don’t think writing negative reviews of one’s peers is a wise move, doesn’t mean everyone has to agree or we can’t be friends anymore. 😀

          I give a lot of advice on writing and promoting and publishing, and I don’t doubt that many writers disagree with many things I say.

          I think a writer who reviews must sooner or later decide which is more important: the reviewing or the writing.

          Now that’s not necessarily the case in every realm of publishing, but as I think we’ve already established, this is a young, brash genre with some growing up to do.

          • This was a recent topic of discussion on Facebook. My personal suggestion would be to only offer a star rating for a friend’s book, but not to write a full review on Goodreads, for example, unless it was honestly a wholly positive review. I think it’s bad form to criticize a peer in public, unless you are an expert (Erastes can do it because she has the credentials and the writing style to carry it off). I’d prefer to keep any constructive criticism to a private note to an author I know well if I felt something deserved notice or really affected my enjoyment of the book.

          • I think it’s bad form to criticize a peer in public, unless you are an expert

            Right. Bad form.

            Here’s the difficulty–I’m thinking of George’s situation, but I’m guessing we can all relate.

            Author A thinks she knows as much about writing as me and she writes me a mildly critical but mostly positive review.

            Harmless, right? She reviews everybody.

            The problem is, I’ve read Author A’s book and I found it overwrought, melodramatic, and essentially tedious. But I held my tongue because…bad form to criticize a fellow author, even when you’re an expert like (cough) me.

            So now I see Author A’s review and, yes, I cannot help but think HOW VERY DARE SHE? I write freaking RINGS around her!

            Etc. Etc.

            And in the heat of the moment, I offer my unvarnished and undiplomatic opinion at Amazon. Or maybe I merely content myself with dinging her a couple of stars on Goodreads. Or I write a guest review for Wave.

            Assuming Author A even sees my review, she’s liable to think–as George did in his situation–that my review was retalitory while in fact I really do think Author A is severely overrated. I just would have previously kept my opinion to myself.

            The problem with writers is we ALL think we know what we’re doing and that we do what we do pretty damned well and who are *you,* fellow-less-popular-only-a-fraction-of-my-time-in-the-business-can’t-touch-my-sales-colleague to dare judge me in a public forum?

            And if you think this is nutty stuff, try academia. ;-D

  • There’s at least one author who I am only aware of because of his/her vitriolic reviews of fellow writers’ books. How to shoot yourself in the foot: a potential reader lost.

    • And multiply that how many times?

      It’s not that I don’t understand the pleasure of reviewing and the temptation to point out where U R Doin’ it Rong. Reading and analyzing other writers is one way we learn and improve our own craft.

      But how can you be so sure, when it comes to something as subjective as art, that your opinion is the right one and the only one? So sure that you would be vitrolic about it?

      *I* wouldn’t be vitrolic, and as well all know, I am the expert on EVERYTHING. ;-D


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