Whether to review or not to review – When you’re an author

“One cannot write a bad review without showing off.”

W. H. Auden

On the day I hit the publish button for my first indie book, my thoughts immediately turned to book reviews (specifically, how to get good ones) My very next thought was—now I’m an author, should I continue to review other author’s books? Is there some kind of unwritten law that states I can only give 5 star reviews? If I give a bad review will other authors retaliate, or shun me? Does it hurt my author brand if I leave reviews (good or bad)? Lots of questions I didn’t really have an answer for. I’m pretty sure celebrity authors like Nora Roberts or Sandra Brown don’t do reviews, so I wonder where that leaves the less-established and/or indie authors.

I thought I’d have a quick look into some of the dos and don’ts of giving reviews as an author. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about bloggers or book reviewers (or authors who do book reviews on their blogs) I’m talking about the five star review systems on Amazon and Goodreads and the like.

Amazon has some quite strict rules about reviews. Some of them are obvious and some of them not so much.

The first Amazon rule is:

You can’t review your own book. This is pretty much common sense. Who in their right mind would give their own book anything less than a five star review?

But what about reviewing for other authors?

Amazon rules also state:

“Authors are welcome to submit Customer Reviews, unless the reviewing author has a personal relationship with the author of the book being reviewed, or was involved in the book’s creation process (i.e. as a co-author, editor, illustrator, etc.).


Which takes us into more of a grey area. How close do they consider to be a personal relationship? Husband, mother, sister or just plain friend. Surely, at the very least your friends should be able to leave a review? But Amazon is trying to stop any kind of overt collusion, or fake reviews.

And this is where it all starts to get a little tricky. Amazon has all kinds of hidden algorithms and ways of checking on who’s leaving reviews. If they think that you’re collaborating with other authors, ie leaving intentionally good reviews for each other, they have the power to remove any reviews they don’t like. I’m not saying this happens every time. But if you get caught, things could get nasty, perhaps even coming down to being accused of buying fake reviews.

This doesn’t seem fair; after all, what’s wrong with a few honest reviews between authors, but Amazon cannot always tell the difference.

A few more tips on the ethics of peer reviews can be found at The Self Publishing Centre:


There are also rules about paid reviews being a strict no-no on Amazon, but book reviews are a bit different, authors are allowed to send out free copies of books and then ask (politely) if the recipient might like to leave a review.

So it seems there are a few concrete rules about reviewing, but that’s about where it ends.

I’ve read, through author blogs, that there are some in the indie community who try to blackmail other indies into giving them reviews.

They’ll contact an author saying, “I just gave you a nice review, so you owe me.”

This is not true, you don’t owe anyone a review, and also not nice. Stay well clear of these kinds of scams.

There is nothing to stop you, as an author, from posting a bad review (as long as a book deserves it) but you might do so at your own peril. A bad review is painful enough, but a bad review from an equal, well that probably feels more like a betrayal. After all, if an author (especially an indie author) is brave enough to put their work out there, (and we all know how that feels) then do they deserve to be trashed in public? Perhaps a personal (constructive) email might be better than letting a bad review hang out there for everyone to see.

I’ve heard of other authors who will only leave a review of 3 stars or above. After all, if an author has gone to through the pain and hard work (and sometimes sheer torture) of publishing a book, then they deserve at least that much credit.

I think from now on I’ll be a little more circumspect about who and what I review. If I read a really wonderful book and want to leave a five star review, because it deserves it, then I can’t see a problem with that. But perhaps I might follow the advice or other authors, and if I think a book deserves a bad review, I might just bite my tongue and stay quiet. We’re all only human, after all.

What are your views on authors reviewing other authors? I’d love to hear what you think.

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