You Can’t Review Your Friends. You Just Can’t.

maskOkay, so maybe it’s just me who can’t, but I really don’t think so.

It’s hard to remember these days, but the respect and credibility we now take for granted for this online thing we do didn’t come without a battle. When Laurie Gold started All About Romance, online reviewing was still, with the exception of The Romance Reader, made up of sites producing happy-happy-joy-joy reviews.

But Laurie Gold fought.  And fought.  And sometimes she got knocked back on her face and there were certainly missteps along the way, but, for the most part, there is now general acceptance from authors and publishers that honest reader reviews are good for romance.

It wasn’t easy getting here, but it happened.  Welcome to the new world, romance readers!

With that said, the happy-happy-joy-joy review has its place and its audience and those sites are upfront enough about what they are that readers who want a friendly approach are happy and those looking for honest reviews know to avoid them.  No harm, no foul, so I’m not talking here about the softball sites.

Here’s the thing that’s making me increasingly uncomfortable: With Twitter bringing authors and reviewers closer than ever before, a line that used to be hard is now getting blurry.

Day by day you get friendly.  And then friendlier.  And then all of a sudden more matters than just the words in a novel.  That’s only human nature and it’s completely understandable, but it sure as hell can put a dent in the credibility we now enjoy.

I’ve seen the phenomenon more than a few times over the past two or so years.  Someone either very good at writing or very good at social media (or both) becomes the new It Girl, loudly proclaimed at multiple venues as the Greatest Writer Ever.

From my perspective, in several of those cases the accolades (though they were decidedly over the top) were warranted.  In other instances, I just don’t see it. But, that’s just my opinion, and it should be taken as such.

I’m not holding myself up as perfect because I am about the furthest thing from it, but on this issue at least, my hands are clean. Once I’ve gotten friendly with an author I’m careful not to review her again because, as soon as considerations other than the book enter the picture, anyone would be free to legitimately question whether or not I produced a balanced review.  And, even if I thought I could put everything aside but the book, I still don’t do it because the appearance of impropriety is just as questionable.

That’s the way print journalists do it and why should we be held to any lesser standard?

Human nature is what it is and we should all be careful that when we recommend something that we’re doing so based on the words on the page.  That’s all I’m saying.

We’ve yelled and screamed for romance to be taken seriously, and here in our online world, we’ve succeeded.  Romance deserves serious non-softball reviews – something that a few people worked very hard to make publishers and authors willingly accept and readers trust. Let’s just all be careful out there with the trust we’ve been given.

So, what do you think?

– Sandy AAR

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65 Responses to “You Can’t Review Your Friends. You Just Can’t.”

  1. AAR Sandy says:

    Neeley, I don’t believe I’ve ever agreed every single time with any reviewer online, so that is quite a track record. I don’t blame you for sticking.

  2. MaryK says:

    By “the Big Two review blogs,” I assume you’re talking about DA and SBTB since those are the Big Two to me. I’m not sure why you didn’t just come out and say that instead of making vague blanket statements, but then I don’t know much about journalistic standards.

    I only occasionally read the reviews at SBTB because their tastes don’t mesh well with mine. I do enjoy the discussions there though, and I’m fascinated to discover that some readers find SBTB to be biased toward authors. On the other hand, I practically haunt DA so I’m definitely familiar with their reviews and I’ve never felt like I was reading a softball review. I’m very curious to know which ones are thought to be unbalanced.

    On the whole, I’m pretty surprised to hear that these sites are considered to be overly friendly with authors. In my surfing around the internet, I’ve not come across much love for them from authors. In fact, one of the DA reviewers was kicked out of RWA for expressing anti-author opinions. Yes, I know about the twitter thing. I follow them too. Has their friendliness on twitter affected their reviews? I haven’t seen it. I do sometimes find them pointing out flaws that I, reading non-critically, probably wouldn’t have noticed and would be just as happy not to have pointed out.

    And as far as I’m aware when some of these reviewers have participated in conference panels, they’ve represented the reader’s point of view rather like ambassadors. I certainly don’t consider presenting reader opinions to industry professionals an activity that compromises a reviewer’s integrity.

    I’m a reader who pays attention. I’m a discerning reader. I am not easily led, and I rarely agree with the majority opinion. I rarely visit AAR these days because I don’t connect with most of the reviewers. As my interests and tastes changed, I found the AAR community to be too insular and resistant to new ideas. AAR, DA, and SBTB are different. They each have a different style, a different focus, and as far as I’m concerned a different audience.

  3. Laura K Curtis says:

    So…you shouldn’t review your friends’ work at all? Or you shouldn’t review your friends’ work if you don’t think it’s great and can’t be honest about that? Or you shouldn’t review your friends’ work even if you do think it’s great?

    I have to disagree with this post mostly because when I review I try to find both positive and negative points to discuss. It’s VERY rare that I’ve ever given a completely positive review–the only one that comes to mind was a review of an academic text, not romance at all–and I try to be both critical and kind regardless of whether I am friendly with the person I am reviewing. To me, that’s what makes a review useful. Someone can look at my review and go “oh, those things she doesn’t like are not important to me” or “egads, I’d better steer clear of that.”

    I am not super-close with any of the romance or mystery authors I’ve reviewed over the years, so maybe that makes it easier for me. But I’ve certainly reviewed less-than-positively people I like a great deal.

  4. Emily says:

    I teach, and my students submit essays with numbers instead of names. Why? Not because I’m an unfair grader but because some students are sweeter than others, some are brattier than others, some I expect more from, and some are in difficult circumstances and I might cut them slack when I shouldn’t. So…

    Sandy, you’ve written a gutsy post and I’m with you. In this situation, one in which people’s wallets are affected, objectivity is crucial. And even if some reviewers think they can maintain objectivity, a lot of us are going to be skeptical.

  5. AAR Sandy says:

    MaryK, your remarks deserve a reply and I wanted to think before making it.

    You are probably correct that the Big 3 have different audiences. However, I disagree with your saying AAR is resistant to change since there have been big changes since we took over as publishers. These may not be enough for you and that’s okay. We know we can’t please every reader.

    But I will say this: all of the online communities are insular. I have heard from some who post here who say they don’t feel welcome at the other two. Perhaps it’s perception and it is certainly regrettable, but there it is.

    With that said, it’s clear that we all have different styles and approaches to reviewing, and I truly do wish you the best of luck elsewhere.

    Emily, your comments are very heartening. Thank you.

  6. Julie D says:

    I find it very hard to say something unflattering in public about the work of my friends or even close acquaintances. It either takes a lot of courage or a thick skin to make a truthful review if the book was written by someone you were close to. The internet has changed the way we establish relationships. But I think a writer’s first commitment should be honesty, whether she’s writing a review or whatever. The readers such as myself would really appreciate that.

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