Thursday, February 22, 2024

From the Archives - Dear O'Abby: Can I writer reviews if I'm an aspiring author?

 Dear O’Abby, 

I’ve been getting conflicting advice about whether or not to review books as an aspiring author. Some people tell me I shouldn’t do it because if I give a bad review to a book represented by a publisher or agent I might wish to query, they may have already put a black mark by my name. Others say I should write reviews because it helps to identify things wrong with stories and writing that I can then apply to my own work. 

Do you have an opinion on this? 



Dear Confused, 

I’ve heard that story about why writers shouldn’t write reviews too, but I’ve never taken it too seriously. Agents and publishers should be mature enough to understand that not every book is going to appeal to every reader and that well-written reviews can be valuable to the author even if they aren’t 100% positive. 

As a writer, it’s important to read critically and reviewing books is one way to force yourself to do so. If you like a book, reviewing it will help you figure out why you enjoyed it. Was it the story? The characters? The way the words are strung together? 

And if you didn’t like the book, what was it you didn’t like? Did you feel the characters acted inconsistently? Was the writing pedestrian? Did the plot fall flat? 

By identifying what you do and don’t like about the books you read, you will find yourself growing more critical of your own writing and you may save yourself a lot of grief by fixing issues long before you send the manuscript off to agents or publishers. 

If being blacklisted by agents or publishers for writing negative reviews is a real concern, there are a number of ways you can get around it. 

Firstly, only publish reviews of things you like. Write the negative ones because they’re often more helpful to you as a writer than the positive ones, but don’t publish them. I did this for a while, calling the review section on my blog ‘books I’ve loved’ and only reviewing things I really liked. I ended up stopping this though, because there just weren’t enough books I loved to write a positive review every week. 

Another way to get around it is to review under a pseudonym or write under a pen name so your reviews aren’t linked to your author name. 

The key thing to remember when writing reviews is to be constructive. Don’t just pile on with a negative rant. Nothing is 100% bad, so even a negative review can mention a few positives to balance out the negativity. Personally, I like to start with something I liked and finish with another thing I liked with all the critique in the middle. Always read what you have written before you publish and think about how it would make you feel if this review was for your own book. 

I would also suggest you don’t tag the author when you publish the review. Not all writers like to read their reviews and if they accidentally click onto a link in a tweet or something and find themselves confronted with a negative review, it could be very upsetting for them. 

So that’s my opinion on whether writers should write reviews. I know other people have different opinions, but if you want to write reviews and if you find the process helps your own writing, why not? 

If you want more information about this topic, Operation Awesome's J Lenni  Dorner has written a very helpful book, Writing Book Reviews As An Author which gives much more in-depth guidance about how to effectively review books as an author. Some of the advice in there may contradict my own, but it's still a valuable resource, even if you are not a writer and want to write reviews.

Happy reviewing!

X O’Abby

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