How do you review a friend’s book?

Following on from last week’s post about self-publishing, another question arose – how do you review a book by a friend or acquaintance without facing some sort of ethical dilemma?

You want to help your friends by spreading the word with a good review, but you don’t want to appear biased, and on the flip side, what if you promote a friend’s book that’s clearly not as good as you say it is? People won’t trust you.

Last week, I commented on three books from authors I don’t know – but I’ve got books in my collection from authors I do know. Lots of them.

Do I review their babies and give an honest opinion? What if I don’t like what I read? What if I do?

Should I just comment on the aspects I like and pretend the stuff I don’t like isn’t there?

What if I only post about the ones I like? That’s an opinion too, and one even more likely to hurt people.

I suspect the best option might be to avoid reviewing books written by people I know, but that’s not helping either.

What’s your take on this problem? Do you review books by friends? Should you? How do you go about it?

If you missed it, you might like to check out last week’s post: Is self publishing a good thing?

18 thoughts on “How do you review a friend’s book?

  1. Ah, this is a sticky one, isn’t it?

    Some people say avoid reviewing at all costs. You never know who you’ll bump into at a convention and if you gave someone a bad review then… awkward!

    I’ve struggled with this dilemma for a while now. I once made the mistake of giving an honest review of a book written by a writer I knew. I didn’t attack the author or anything. I thought I was being careful with my word choices, but i didn’t give her five stars and I think she took it personally. Again… awkward!

    Now I don’t review a book if I don’t like it. I’m happy to help promote a friend’s book, even if I don’t like it. I just won’t say whether I like it or not.

    The thing is, it’s all subjective. What one person likes, another will hate. Who’s to say if a book is actually ‘good’ or not?

  2. I recently reviewed a friends book which I had helped edit. I concentrated on telling people what it was about, not that the editing could have been better. I think with a friend, you have to help them promote it. It did help that the book told a great story. Go for the positives in the book you are reviewing.

  3. I think the better you know someone, the wiser it is to refrain from reviewing their work.
    My father-in-law gave all his family members a copy of his manuscript to read, and was chuffed that everyone only gave him positive feedback…
    I’ve had a few instances where I’ve given a pretty good review (say 4/5) then later got to know the author, and I’ve always felt really bad that I didn’t give them 5/5. I just don’t have a thick enough skin, I guess!

  4. I’m new to the review scene but here’s my two sense. I do indie/small press reviews almost exclusively. If I come across something that I cannot give it at least three stars, I will not post a review. If a review was requested, I send the author a private email with my thoughts and comments on the subject.

    However, if the author is BIG FISH (read not indie/small press), I will give my very honest opinion.

  5. Oh wow, going through this right now… I’m very frustrated, because I am part of a group that is almost entirely made of ‘self-published’ authors. One does the extra work to find betas, editors and checks all of his work six times over (though his themes are a bit hard to handle). I can leave him a positive review, because even though I don’t agree with a lot of it, or a story doesn’t work for me, I can focus on the positives of how tight the story is.

    The other author slapped their story up on Amazon without doing any edits, or even, from what I can tell, a second draft. Multiple spelling errors, missing punctuation, mixed up words (famine when she means feminine), etc. The problem is, I’m feeling obligated to review it because she knows I bought it. However, when I PMed her privately about the first few errors I saw, she callously said though I’d done my job as a writer, I’d stolen her moment of accomplishment… she never fixed those edits though. 🙁 Now I have to figure out how I can review something that deserves no review, because if I don’t review it, she’ll be upset!

      • Welp, someone else left a review pointing out the errors (kindly gave her three, but said it would have gotten two if she’d rated based on format/grammar). She got really, really upset, but we ended up all supporting her through it and sees the value of an editor now….

        ….I became her editor, lol.

  6. I review a lot of books and am not hesitant in being critical if, in my opinion, the book doesn’t cut it. That’s what a reviewer does. When friends approach me about reading and commenting on their book, I explain very carefully (closely watching their reaction) that if I can’t give the book a good rating, I’ll let them know up front and won’t post it. I’m willing to suffer through their pain, but don’t want to hurt their marketing efforts. If I see disappointment in their eyes that I’m not going to automatically rave about their effort, I might spend a little more time being verbally supportive but my original opinion of the book still stands and no review will be written. Part of explaining this stance is to let them know how difficult the situation is, asking them to reverse roles, and, if all else fails, gently handing them back their book and telling them that perhaps it would be better to not read it in the interest of keeping them as a friend. I’ve never had anyone take their book back and, to the best of my knowledge, haven’t lost any friends. What’s being said behind my back? Too old and cocky to care.

    • That’s a fantastic way to go about dealing with a very awkward situation Schuyler. I’m guessing you’ve been there more than a few times. Thanks for letting us know how you approach it..

  7. I did a review on a fellow author’s book who I know quite well. I left a rating on Goodreads and a short written review. When the author found out, she grilled me for an hour, asking questions like, “I thought you liked it? I thought you said you couldn’t put it down?” Yes, was the answer to both, but there were fundamental flaws as well. Needless to say, I don’t do reviews on books I read from authors I know fairly well. Except maybe you, Chris.

    • I remember a reviewer I know casually who offered to review my book after letting me know, up front, that she wanted no further conversation about her review. I was okay with that. Her review was kind, if a bit snippy, but I was happy to honor her demand for no contact. What do you say anyway? She read it, had her opinion, and that was it.

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