By Melissa Amster
I was recently asked if it was a conflict of interest for someone to review a book written by someone they had established a friendship with. I thought it was an interesting question that I hadn't given much thought to in a while. A few years back, I would have answered with a resounding "yes." However, the lines have become blurred over recent years, as authors and bloggers are connecting with each other through online forums and social media. Also, when we are working with an author directly, we end up forming a connection with them, and sometimes it leads into a friendship. So where do we draw the line and when does it actually become a conflict of interest? This is something I've asked on two different groups I participate in on social media and I received varying answers bordering on both the pros and cons. I will share some of these viewpoints later in the post. I first want to share my personal thoughts on the matter and also list some of the possible pros and cons.
When I started this blog, it was a balanced playing ground. I met authors and reviewed their books, but it wasn't like I had a relationship with any of these authors. That happened over time though. I had a rule that I wouldn't personally review a book written by anyone involved with the blog (there are two people in this group who have had books published and someone else reviewed or guest reviewed those books). That was definitely a conflict of interest for me.
A couple of years later, an author reached out about having her book featured, and suddenly we're talking about motherhood, pop culture, etc. It got to a point where I would feel biased in reviewing her book, so I had a guest reviewer do it. This guest reviewer connected with the author after she had read and reviewed the book. She just liked her book so much that she wanted to get to know her better. I eventually decided I had to read the book and reviewed it for Goodreads, since it had already been reviewed at the blog. Even if I hadn't known this author, I would still love it and recommend it all over the place. It was just that good! With another author, we had been e-mailing about some of our favorite shows and I ended up reading her latest book for review in the past year or so and loved that one too. It was such a fun and refreshing story, perfect for chick lit fans.
I've been fortunate that all the books I've read by authors with whom I have formed friendships have been well-written and enjoyable. I dread the day I have to tell an author I'm friendly with that I didn't like their book. I have told authors this when I have a professional relationship with them. Sometimes a book just isn't a good fit for me, even if I've liked all their others. The writing world is a tough jungle to navigate and I will never be cruel to an author if I don't like their book. I don't believe in hurting an author's sales, regardless of how well I know the author outside of the blogging world. There are enough reviewers who are glad to give an author one star after only reading one page and making their decision based on that. It will be interesting to see what happens, as time goes on, if I read a book from an author with whom I am friendly and it just doesn't work for me. I suppose I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.
Before I share some other readers' thoughts, here are some pros and cons that go along with reading a book by an author with whom you have formed a friendship:
*You are helping a friend out with your balanced review. Constructive feedback can only be helpful for the future. Otherwise you're going to make them run into the same walls over and over.
*You might be friends with someone who has the potential to become a bestselling novelist and you can say you knew them when.
*Good chance of being mentioned in the acknowledgements section.
*It gives you more insight into the author's mind. And they may end up surprising you.
*Authors are people too and they're friendly and down-to-earth. With all the access available to connect with authors in this day and age, it would be silly to not try to get to know them better.
*The experience of forming this connection with authors and getting to know them better, or even meeting them in person and feeling like they're both a celebrity and your friend at the same time.
*If you love the book, you're extra excited about endorsing it. Shout it from the rooftops!
*If you are an author or plan to be one in the future, you're bringing good karma upon yourself.
*Being seen as biased if you love the book. (Which is why I don't advertise which authors I am friends with.)
*The "Big Brother" known as Amazon will remove your reviews if they see you are friends with certain authors on social media, even if it's an acquaintanceship.
*You could potentially lose the friendship if your constructive feedback is not well-received, even if the review is mostly positive.
*The dilemma that goes along with potentially having to give a bad review if you don't like the book.
*Being seen as biased if you love the book. (Which is why I don't advertise which authors I am friends with.)
*The expectations that are put out there without anything having to be said. (Such as you automatically reading their next book.)
Here is what other bloggers and readers (and even an author) have to say on this topic:
"No, I do not feel that it’s a conflict of interest to review a book by an author that you’re friends with. The same way that I write an honest review for an author that I don’t have a personal relationship with, I do the same with authors that I am friendly with. It’s true that reviews can make or break the sale of a book, but the point in writing a review is for those considering purchasing the book to get an idea if it’s something they would be interested in.
Amazon has been removing reviews by people who they feel have personal relationships with authors. Maybe they think it’s an unfair advantage to the author or that the reviewers are giving a bias opinion, but I don’t agree with this. There seem to be more people putting out negative reviews for books they haven’t read, but are trying to bring the ratings down, than there are positive reviews based on friendships with an author. In the end, it all balances out. We can’t control who writes what, but should be fair to all who take the time to post a review."
~Marlene Engel, Book Mama Blog
"For me blogging is about making connections with readers & authors. I love connecting with an author through their books. Does it make me go easy on them when I review? Not at all... in fact I feel like it's my job to make sure they know what a real reader thinks of the book. I'll always be honest with an author and that is likely why we became friends."
~Aimee @ Hello...Chick Lit
"Several years ago, I decided to get brave and start writing book reviews. I have always been so grateful to authors for the time they put into writing a book that has brought me pleasure. So, I began writing just a few sentences about the book and what I liked most. Over the years, I have started writing more in a review and preparing it in my own style. During this time, I have friended many authors on Facebook and have even joined a few street teams. Perusing Goodreads, NetGalley, and Edelweiss has been like candy stores to me. There have been, and still are numerous times when authors have asked me to read and review their books, many of which are ARCs. They are so kind when they send the book file and just ask for an honest review. I am honest. I do not believe in sugar-coating a review just to make any author feel good. But neither do I believe in trashing a book either. Many of us have different tastes in what we read which is what this whole book thing is all about. I am a huge advocate for readers leaving a review. Even if you take the time to write a few lines, that is all that’s necessary. This lets the author know how you felt about the story they wrote. If they find many people do not care for a book, they then know that perhaps some changes need to be made to their writing style. However, if they get lots of good comments, they know to continue to do what they’re doing. Whether you are writing a review for a book you’ve read or for an item you purchased, honesty is always the best policy."
~Connie Fischer, guest reviewer
"I believe that as long as you are honest in your review there is no conflict of interest in reviewing a book of an author you are friends with. The only time that a conflict of interest arises is when you let your personal relationship with the author get in the way of leaving an honest review. I have reviewed books written by friends before. There have been a few that were not so great. I have a rule that if anything I read is below a three star rating (in my own opinion) then I don’t review it. However, if a friend has asked me to write a review, and I cannot leave them a 4 or 5 star rating, then I make sure to send them a message letting them know what my thoughts are before I post. I am always upfront and honest. I tell them exactly why I didn’t like the book, give them a draft of the review I would write, and then let them decide if they still would like me to post it or not. I have never had someone tell me not to post it. I have come to realize that, for the most part, authors are pretty open to any reviews that they receive. I have learned that, in order to review a friends book, I have to set aside all bias and treat that review the same way I would any other. The key is being honest."
"When asked by a friend to review their book, I will do so gladly, however, honesty has to win out. If I do not care for their book, then I will let them know, but still write the review. Listing the pros and cons of the book helps with laying out why I either liked or disliked it. While authors are always looking for positive reviews, they understand that not everyone will enjoy what they write. Friend or not, an honest review is the best way to go. I do enjoy chatting with the authors about their books. I have had several visits with one over parts of his books that I simply did not care for, while I loved the rest of the book. He understood where I was coming from, and I understood his point of view."
"The process of reviewing a book for an author that you “know” can be difficult. I know I want to like the book going in, but have found myself not caring for books written by people that I have an online connection with. Knowing the author doesn’t prevent me from forming an unbiased opinion—either I like it or I don’t. Either it’s well-written and speaks to me, or it doesn’t. As an author, I have more difficulty with posting reviews for books that I didn’t care for. Before I had published my books, I would have written a tactfully-phrased low review (one or two stars). Now, I’m in a position where I’m vulnerable, since I’m also dependent upon reviews. As a result, I don’t read for review purposes anymore—I won’t participate in blog tours or accept advance review copies. I don’t want to be in a position where I don’t like the book and have to post a negative review. For that same reason, I don’t tell my author acquaintances that I’m reading their books until I’m well into them and have already formed my opinion. If I read and enjoy a book, I will leave a positive review, regardless of whether I know the author."
~Kathryn Biel, author
What are your thoughts on this topic?
One final thought that author Brenda Janowitz posted today: