Monday 23 June 2014

Reviewing Ethics: Should Authors Review?

By Iola Goulton

Over the last two weeks, I've been looking at the ethics of reviewing on Amazon and other websites, and the rules of Amazon reviewing (Amazon call them 'Reviewing Guidelines', but make no mistake: they are rules, and there are consequences for breaking them).

This week I'm addressing a question many authors ask: should authors review? 

Should authors read?

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
- Stephen King, On Writing

Should authors review?


Well-written reviews influence sales, so writing reviews blesses authors you enjoy reading, and influences others to try their work.

Do authors have to review?


Reviewing a book is only one way of blessing the author. There are other ways, tangible and intangible. Pray for them. Buy their books. Recommend their books to friends. Comment on their blog posts. Follow their blog. Sign up for their email list. Like them on Facebook and Amazon. Follow and Fan them on Goodreads. Like their reviews on Goodreads. Tweet their new release. Tweet helpful reviews.

Should authors review everything they read?


You don’t have to review everything you read, and you don’t have to publish your reviews on commercial sites. Most websites have a clear set of reviewing guidelines, and authors need to bear these in mind when deciding what to review—and what not to review. We discussed the Amazon Reviewing Guidelines last week.

I believe that as Christians, we absolutely need to adhere to the rules of each website. In fact, I believe we should hold ourselves to higher standards, not just to abstain from unethical behaviour, but to abstain from the appearance of unethical behaviour.

For example, I’m a book reviewer and a freelance editor. While I have an obligation to review books I obtain from book blogger programmes (e.g. NetGalley, BookLookBloggers, BloggingforBooks, Litfuse Publicity), I can’t review any book by clients on a commercial site such as Amazon.

I can (and do) review books I’ve edited, on both my reviewing blog and my editing website. I will participate in blog tours or conduct author interviews if requested. These are clearly promotional reviews: I have a financial relationship with these authors, and ensure I disclose that. I also promote my clients on my editing website, by including their new releases in my Newsletter (sign up here if you’re interested), and including their books on my Projects page.

I do review books I’ve worked on at (where they are featured), as Koorong don’t (currently) have any issue with authors or publishers reviewing. Goodreads also permit authors and others associated with the book to review. However, just because something is permitted doesn’t make it advisable. I use Goodreads as a record of books I’ve read, as the site is meant to be a way for readers to connect, not a site for authors (or editors) to use as a vehicle for promotion.

The Author Dilemma

The big author dilemma for authors is do you review everything, or do you only review titles you can recommend and endorse? While this is something you will ultimately have to decide for yourself, here are some thoughts which might help:

  • Amazon don't allow authors to review books by authors they have a personal relationship with (although they don't define "personal relationship". A critique partner or beta reader certainly sounds like a personal relationship to me, but what about a Facebook friend or a Twitter follower?)
  • If people recognise you as an author, you are effectively an influencer for that title
  • Many reviewers, both reader/reviewers and author/reviewers, take the position they will only review books they can recommend with a four-star or five-star rating. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as you don’t give every book five stars whether you like it or not (and whether it’s any good or not).
  • Some authors, especially indie authors (although hopefully none in the Christian market), react badly to low-star reviews. If they find you are also an author, they will retaliate by giving you a scathing review.

I suspect that as soon as you become a published author (and possibly before) you move from the ranks of reader/reviewers like me, who can review based on whatever criteria we chose, to an author/reviewer, who will be scrutinised more carefully.

What do you think? What are your personal reviewing 'rules'?

By Iola Goulton. I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website (, or follow me on Facebook (, Twitter (@IolaGoulton) or Pinterest (

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog ( I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2000.


  1. Goodness, there is so much to think on. I reviewed for Paula Vince on Amazon, I know her but I've not been a Beta reader or critique partner - Amazon needs to define personal relationship perhaps?? I don't feel I've broken the rules though. I'm not published and won't be for some time, I liked her book and wanted to share my thoughts in a review.
    You've presented many good points Iola and we should check ourselves when we go to publish a review.

    1. I've reviewed a few of Paula's books as well - but those were all reviewed before I met her (and before I edited Imogen's Chance). I haven't deleted them for that reason, although now it would be inappropriate for me to review her books.

  2. Great post once again Iola. I agree that as Christians we need to hold ourselves to a high standard and to follow ethical practices - which includes conforming to guidelines. As Catherine and you point out, sometimes these can be hard to interpret - what does Amazon understand as 'a personal relationship' (surely not just a twitter follower!) or a 'competing product'. I think the Good Reads policy of declaring one's interest/connection a good one rather than an outright ban. And I'm particularly interested in how one deals with this an aspiring author who may or may not one day be in print. Does one tread warily with the future in mind or not worry about it atm and review as a reader. Personally, I think I'll continue reviewing on Good Reads and my blogs and steer well clear of the Amazons minefield.

    1. You can still declare an interest on Amazon—for example, I have to declare that I received books for free in exchange for a review. Some Amazon customers will discount my review for that reason, and that's fine, but I think I'm within the 'rules' with that.

      I agree that for you, as an aspiring author, it's easier to stick with reviewing on your blog and on Goodreads. Whatever you do, keep reviewing!

  3. Thanks once again, Iola, for a great post. It's almost a relief to realise there are places writers can swap hats back to readers. I really like Goodreads for the simple reason that, as a writer, I love to read in the genre I write in. I always have. Thus, in relation to Amazon, to see that authors I know vaguely via networks may suddenly be classed in the 'personal relationship' category or worse still, in the 'competing product' category is simply too hard a call for me. I think I have two reviews there in total and hundreds on Goodreads where I can simply say what I think is good about a book or not so good. Pointing out what I didn't like is very important to me because people sometimes ask why I didn't mention issues that caused them to decide not to review the book at all (because they weren't willing to give a book 4 or 5 stars.) If I can point out why I marked something down (and that issue happens to be a trivial one to a prospective reader), then they can adjust their views accordingly. I see it as far better and more valuable to have a review (however brief it is) than none at all.

    1. I agree. One of the good things about Goodreads is that users can only 'Like' reviews—they can't downvote reviews. I find my critical reviews get a lot of downvotes on Amazon, sometimes within minutes of posting, which always make me wonder if it's the author …

      The "competing" book thing is hard. A book isn't like a car, where you will only buy one, so make sure you've got the best one for you. Customers won't just buy one book, and they might buy books across lots of different genres, which makes it even harder to say whether your book is "competing".

  4. Thanks so much for your guidance in this often confusing field, Iola. I came late into reviewing books and only because I felt it was expected of me. I'm glad I only reviewed books I actually liked. But after what you've written here, I don't feel pressured about having to write because it's the "done thing".

  5. Iola, great post! I agree, our integrity is very important and should be reflected in our reviewing behaviour.

    My reviewing habits have changed since I've become a published author. I rarely post reviews on Amazon for all the reasons you've mentioned. I only post reviews on Goodreads and Koorong for books I enjoyed and can happily recommend to others. I call the reviews on my blog 'book recommendations' for this reason. I don't write book recommendations (even on my blog) for Love Inspired and Heartsong Presents books from my publisher. I tend to request more childrens and non-fiction books from the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance (ACRBA) because they're not competing products with my contemporary romance books. I always disclose if I've received a free book from the author or publisher.

  6. Great post, Iola.

    I'm not reviewing so much these days but promote authors in other ways, via social media.

    I prefer this for now and it works well with the mission of my blog. It's also more in line with how I like to find material to read. I guess I'm more influenced by promotion of an author by a trusted reader (there's only a few who I rely on) than on reviews. Perhaps this will change someday, but for now, the word of mouth recommendations I receive keep my TBR pile well stocked. :)

  7. It can get tricky for those of us who are authors and also like to receive books from the book blogger programmes such as Net Galley. Although I like to give mostly positive reviews with 4 or 5 stars, occasionally some of those free books I receive can be a challenge. Over the last year or two, I've enjoyed reviewing a lot.


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