Red Flags for Reviewers

I’ve been thinking of writing a duology of blog posts for a while now, one where I talk about the red flags associated with the reviewer/author relationship. It feels appropriate to split it into two posts: one that gives reviewers what to watch out for, and one that gives authors what to watch out for. In general, the relationship between potential reviewers and authors is amazing and healthy. But, in the years that I’ve been doing this I’ve unfortunately found a bunch of red flags. I’m sharing this to HELP you — whatever side of the relationship you may be on. Ask questions if you have them but know that I absolutely won’t name and shame anyone. 

First up, red flags for reviewers

So you want to be (or maybe you are) a book reviewer. You’ve decided to open up your email box, webpage, or social media for authors or publishers to reach out to you with review requests.

But once those requests start flooding in, what do you need to watch out for?

It’s a genre you don’t review. 

  • Maybe you have a list on your website of what you do review. Maybe you’ve just never reviewed a book in this genre before. Whatever the reason, this one is something you don’t read. Most of the time, it’s best to pass on those. You’re not the intended audience for that book. 

The author responds to reviews in a way you’re not comfortable with.

  • This is a HUGE red flag and one worth checking into before you move on with accepting the review. Take the time to check out an author on social media or review sites. Do they comment on reviews of their work? Are you ok with the way they respond? If not, the pressure to give them a review that won’t earn their negative reactions will cloud your honest review. It’s best to pass on these ones. 

It’s not available on the platforms you review on. 

  • This happens sometimes with independent books, specifically. They’re not set up on Goodreads, Likewise, or other sites where you might normally review. Sure, you could take the time to get them set up with a page, but consider if that is something you really want to undertake on behalf of this book. Speaking from experience, if you offer this once you’ll find yourself offering it again and again and again. I’m not saying pass on these, but definitely take that into consideration. 

They sent you all their books at once. 

  • Not a good idea at all. What happens if you really don’t like the writing style in the first one? Are you still expected to read all of them? When I first started, I took on one at a time. I explained that I was taking on the first one and would move on with our professional relationship if I was comfortable taking on another one and we were both happy with the process. Now, honestly, I will pass altogether. I’ve never had an instance where an author wanted to send me their entire collection that didn’t end with hurt feelings and someone being blocked. 

They want to do a review exchange. 

  • Oh this one is going to make people angry. Of course, it’s also a pretty specific niche. This one applies to reviewers who are also authors. We get approached (ahem: a lot) by authors who want to do a review exchange. Basically this means they want you to review their book and they, in turn, will review yours. I’ll be honest, I’ve agreed to this a few times over the years. Once an author posted a star rating for my book and then changed it to match what I gave their book when I posted mine. Once an author’s review for my book was word for word copied from another reviewer who had previously read my book. Once a star review was posted for a book the author hadn’t downloaded yet (according to my tracking software). In short, it’s a huge red flag. It seems too good to be true because it is! Run away from this one unless you know the author. 

They use a multitude of pen names. 

  • This one is tricky because it can be hard to find all the pen names associated with an author. I’m not talking about two or three names. There are authors out there who will write under six names and publish twelve to twenty books in a year under a variety of names. In my experience, these are typically books that are ghost written by others and published fast. The authors are looking for quick reviews and can often get nasty when you take too long to post something. I’ve also found that if I do enjoy one of these books I’m opening myself up to taking on twelve to twenty books a year in various genres by various pen names. Let’s say that’s a commitment you don’t want to fall into by accident. A little research into the Amazon or Goodreads page might help you figure it out. 

Something in the way they reached out made you a little uncomfy. 

  • Sometimes I can’t even explain what it was that made me feel weird. It’s the tone of the email, the little digs into your process (once it was “You know if you stopped feeding the traditional publishing machine by reading Stephen King and James Patterson you’d have more time to read great indie books like mine”). Sometimes it’s because you have review policies in place and they skirt those, opting to try their own method of contacting you instead (dropping a comment on one of my own personal posts about my new book release was probably the most annoying red flag). Whatever the reason, if you are uncomfortable with how they chose to contact you, say no. It’s not going to get better from there. 

They want you to pay for the book. 

  • If YOU decide you’d like to pay for the book, that’s one thing. But the author in question shouldn’t be assuming that. Industry standard is to offer the book in exchange for an honest review. If you want a particular format, I can see having to pay for that (for example: hardcover or audiobook may be an extra cost if they were your preferred format) especially if that wasn’t discussed ahead of time. But, in general, a copy should be provided for you. 

Quick Tips for Finding/Avoiding Red Flags:

  • Have a place where you post your preferred genres, where you plan to put your reviews, and how you want to be contacted (check out the Book Review section of my webpage for my example). 
  • Check out the title before agreeing to anything. 
  • Dig a little into the author before agreeing to anything. This doesn’t need to be a deep dive, a simple check of social media to make sure they’re not attacking reviewers should work. 
  • If things are checking out but you have questions, ask!
  • If you’re ever uncomfortable, pass!

One last thing: even after taking precautions it is possible to have an encounter that doesn’t work for you, for whatever reason. Do NOT be afraid of using that block button on social media and ignoring emails. If you feel like harassment has gone beyond social media and is in any way jeopardizing your safety, contact your local police department about next steps. I don’t mean to scare you. I’ve been reviewing for a long time and have never had to go beyond the block button … but I want you to know that you’re allowed to call backup if it comes to that. 

Are you a book reviewer? Did I miss any red flags? Let me know in the comments!

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