Reviewing How I Review

For a number of reasons, I’m tidying up my online presence. I’m not the same person I was six months ago, let alone several years ago, but I can’t count on random strangers wandering through the internet to know that. At this point, it’s mostly taken the form of deleting very old Twitter posts, archiving some Instagram stuff that’s not quite on-brand, going through this very website to clear out some content, and deleting most of my Goodreads reviews.

I’ve had sort of a weird relationship with Goodreads reviews. I was a member of the site in college, then deleted that account and started over in August 2015. At that point in my life, I’d been married and living in a new city for a few months, was submitting Heroes & Villains and revising Familiaris (both of which would get shelved indefinitely within a year or two), and was about a month away from attending my first writing conference ever. I knew that I needed to connect with other writers and readers online, and Goodreads seemed like the most logical place. I also figured it was a better place for my book feelings than most other platforms: the 140-character limit and inability to make threads on Twitter at the time didn’t suit long, rambling book discussions, and I wanted to spare my Facebook friends who were on my personal page for wedding and cat pictures, so Goodreads it was.

I wrote a couple of extremely long-winded reviews for those books that I had particularly strong and well-formed opinions on before it occurred to me that this was probably weird at best and a faux pas at worst. I was hoping to be an author: was it ok for me to even be reviewing other people’s books, especially if I had critical things to say? Me being me, I did an unhealthy amount of Googling on the topic, but I didn’t find much of anything substantial discussing the etiquette of this particular issue: there was a lot about how authors should interact with readers and reviewers, and a lot about how you should definitely review books because reviews are the greatest gift you could give an author (especially an indie one), but not about whether authors should review books written by other authors. I decided to err on the side of caution and not review everything I touched, and for a while I didn’t even give books stars.

As it happened, I needed to outgrow the style of reviewing I was using, anyway. Thanks to my writing workshop classes in college, I was very prone to long-winded “compliment sandwiches”: a paragraph of introduction and summary, a paragraph of good, a paragraph of criticism, a paragraph with more good, and a short conclusion and recommendation. One, this made reviewing exhausting and time-consuming, which made me unlikely to give reviews; two, at least to me in retrospect, it comes off as at once inauthentic and hyper-critical; and three, I cringed as I was looking at them to delete them because a lot the thoughts and opinions were either mistaken or ones that I had outgrown, laid out in unambiguous detail. I do think the exercises in an academic environment helped me become a better writer and reader (although whether they make me a good critique partner or beta is up to the people that ask me to do those things to decide), but for a social platform it just seemed inappropriate.

I found that I didn’t cringe when I was looking at my shorter reviews. They might not have gone into a ton of detail about what I did and didn’t like about the book, but they were concise, to the point, easier to write, and didn’t have as many chances to be cringe-worthy and regrettable. Besides, for a review to “count” for the purposes of algorithms and buzz, it only really needs to be a sentence or two: posting “I really liked this, and so will you!” will take you maybe a minute and help the author out immensely. Obviously dedicated book reviewers will need to go into a little more detail, but for the foreseeable future I’m going to give the shorter reviews a shot and see how it goes.

I’m also going to try to do more Amazon reviews in general, but in the same style and for the same reasons. There are more than enough criticisms of Amazon, but the fact is that Amazon reviews are just as, if not more, important as Goodreads reviews are for authors. For years I refused to do Amazon reviews unless it was necessary because I didn’t want Jeff Bezos to know anything more about me as a person and consumer. Let’s be real, though: Jeff Bezos has most if not all of us on lock at this point. If you’ve done literally anything online, Amazon already knows who you are and what you like in an uncomfortable amount of detail. Might as well do some good as long as we’re in that situation, right?

So what do you think? Should authors review other authors’ books on Goodreads? How do you approach book reviews, if you write them? Are we friends on Goodreads?