The Ethics of Book Reviews

Violeta Nedkova
Violeta Nedkova
7 Min Read

Whether you’re a reader or an author, you might not know something about book reviews:

They are an extremely hot-button topic.

Did you know that?

I’m not just talking about the question of whether or not to read your reviews. Many well-seasoned authors advise new authors not to read their reviews. When you start publishing your books, all you want is to know what people think about them right? Then you get a few horrifyingly mean reviews and you realize that maybe that’s not good for your mental health. No shame about that!

Many authors actually ask friends to read the reviews and only show them the good ones. Whatever works for you.

At the end of the day, book reviews are not for the authors, they’re for the readers.

This is exactly where the ethics of book reviews comes in, and maybe something you don’t realize you should be paying attention to, as an author. The truth is, most reviewers don’t want you to respond to their reviews in any way, they don’t even want your thanks, or your social media tags. Some don’t even want you to read them! (I’m talking about normal people reviewing your book, not actual book bloggers. Watch this video from Reads with Rachel about authors in reader spaces.)

Did you know that? I didn’t know that when I started!

I was happily thanking people and sharing reviews on social media, until I realized – that’s mostly unwanted because the review was not meant for you, it was meant for potential readers. Book reviewers have their own methods and their own rules, and one of them is this – whatever you do, never respond to a book review in a negative way or tag someone on social media and display their name and their negative review. That’s how you get 1-star bombed on Goodreads.

Did you know about 1-star bombing? I didn’t when I started!

Basically, if you respond in a negative way anywhere, people see you as a sore loser, as an unprofessional author, and they feel vindicated and justified in ‘punishing’ you by lowering the star rating of your book. This mostly only works on Goodreads because it’s a more persnickety place, but not so much on Amazon, who generally delete these troll reviews.

Personally, I believe that any review and any rating is OK – the reviewer decides on that and the author has to be OK with it. However, I do not think it is fair to rate or review something without having read the book, which is exactly what happens in 1-star bombing.

I have seen this happen to popular authors and new authors alike, time and again. When I started self-publishing, someone came into my DMs and warned me about this kindly. This is a well know secret in the book community, and it’s good that us authors are looking after one another. And while this secret can be very damaging to new authors and their books, the thing to understand here is – if you put something out there, you’re opening yourself up to criticism, and that’s OK.

I have gotten awfully mean reviews. I didn’t say anything or react in any way because that was the reviewer’s choice and I respect it. I have a ton of 5-star reviews, so why would I bother about one 2-star one, right? I know it hurts because the book is your baby, but you have to remember that us authors, we have to have thick skin. Otherwise we’re just not made for this industry.

As a creative person, you will put yourself out there again and again, and people will feel free to eviscerate you, just because they can. Just because they felt like it. Just because they thought you’d never read it, or maybe they didn’t care. That’s their choice, not yours. In fact, it’s their right, as the consumer of your book. And while I personally am not a fan of the ‘just to be mean’ reviews that lack any constructive criticism, we have to remember that even they are justified, as we are humans and we react in different ways, and it’s the reader’s right to react any way they want to your book.

To preserve your mental health in the long run, I would advise you:

  1. Not to read all the reviews (or any of them)
  2. Focus on the many positive reviews, not the few negative ones
  3. Remember the reviews are not for you, but for readers

And when you start applying this to your career, trust me, you will feel much better as an author. Just focus on writing and ignore the reviews, even though I know it’s hard. It’s better to do this than to have sleepless nights and cry in your pillow and wonder why people hate you.

Spoiler alert: They don’t hate you or your book. They just have an opinion. That’s it. No opinion is right or wrong, so focusing on them is a mistake for sure.

I hope this article offered you some perspective and that it will help you go forward more confidently. Remember that the indie author community is tightly knit and that we always help one another. If you ever need any help with promoting your book, just let us know. At Read2write, we take indie books very seriously. We want the whole world to hear about your book baby.

If you want to partner up, just contact us.

So that’s all for today! Let us know if you have had any strange experiences with reviews!

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Posted by Violeta Nedkova
Multipassionate book cover designer. Can be found reading and writing romance books, as well as helping indie authors get their stories out in the world.