Chip MacGregor

July 16, 2012

What if I’m asked to endorse a book I don’t like?


Andrea wrote to say, “An author recently gave me a copy of her book to review. I wasn’t very impressed with the writing or the story, but I felt indebted to write a fairly positive review, since she gave me a complimentary copy. What is my obligation in this situation?”

Eeek. I hate that situation. Been there many times myself, and I always felt like a weenie when I didn’t tell the truth. Besides, none of us like reading a glowing endorsement of a book, only to buy the book and feel ripped off by a reviewer who clearly either (a) lied, or (b) didn’t read the book, or (c) can’t read. It’s frustrating. So my advice is lifted entirely from my Grandmother: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

There’s a limit to this advice, of course. If you’re hired to do a review, just close your eyes and tell the truth. But in a case like you’re describing, where you’ve been given a copy by someone who probably thinks of you as a friend, it is sometimes best to write back and politely say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do a review on this book after all. I wish you the best.”

What advice do you all have in this situation?

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  • Ruth A. Douthitt says:

    I gave my book to a professional book reviewer…held my breath…and waited for the review. 

    He was very honest about the writing. I cringed at what he wrote in the first couple of paragraphs about the errors in word choice and sentence structure. But then he went on to write that he really enjoyed the story, compared it to LOTR and Harry Potter…and ended up writing a positive review for me because he thought it was a good book. 


    So, when reviewing a book, find what works and point out what didn’t work in the book. You will only be helping the author in the long run by telling him/her the TRUTH. 

  • Sigal Tzoore says:

    I write reviews on my blog, and I try to choose only books I loved. But last week I wanted to write about a book I didn’t like because it taught me a lot as a writer. I struggled with that review for two days before posting it, and I’m still not happy with it. It did not feel one hundred percent honest, and I’m not sure I passed my point across.

    I think what made it so difficult for me to say something negative is the fear of karma. I know it’s silly, but I’m a writer too, and I feel it’s wrong for me to write something bad about a fellow writer.

    Usually, when I write a review on my blog, I try to find something in the novel that I admired or a theme that made me think, and I concentrate on that. Perhaps avoiding reviewing a novel I did not like would be a better choice for me in the future.

    • Chip says:

      Thanks for being honest, Sigal. That’s a fear a lot of writers have — “If I say something negative about her book, will she come back to torch MY book?” 

  • Inspired2ignite says:

    I’ve never been in this position, but am wondering if it is appropriate to suggest the author continue working on it and bring it back to you later??

    As an author I would want genuine feedback and would hope anyone I asked for a review would be honest with me.

    • Chip says:

      I’ve done this with manuscripts, though not with completed books. By that point, it’s too late. I simply say, “You know, I don’t think I can endorse this. Sorry.” 

  • SoulSupply says:

    hmm .. I suspect as when asked to write a personal reference for someone who thinks ‘the sun shines out of you’ and they want the same beam to emanate through them, and it is so difficult/confronting to decline – what is left unsaid in a personal reference is as indicative and instructive to the reader as what is said – so too a review???

    • Chip says:

      So too a review, in many cases. So here’s a handy Rejection Guide: I can’t write at the moment. I’m just too busy right now. I don’t feel confident writing about this genre. I’ve already reviewed a couple other, similar titles. Um… my hand hurts? I forgot how to write? 

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    The first time I was given a book and asked to review it, I went overboard putting a positive spin on it. I recently reread that review and realized I should have dialed down the hype and not skipped the book’s shortcomings.

  • Serena Chase says:

    It is much more difficult to decline a review when dealing directly with the author than with the “middlemen” pushing the books. I deal (mainly) with publicists and don’t have as much trouble being honest with them. (But since we’re talking about honesty, I have to admit that I may sugar coat it sometimes, even with them.) There are too many good books out there that deserve recognition to waste time on the ones that are sub-par or simply won’t resonate with you or your readership — even if written by a friend, fellow member of an organization, etc. We discussed this (albeit a little tongue-in-cheek) last week over at Edgy Inspirational Romance:

  • Karen says:

    For a review, I would take Aimee’s suggestion and say how it would be an interesting read for what ever audience it was obviously intended for. “interesting” is the code word my hubby and I use when we know something is not great or we don’t like it–particularly with food. Drat! Now you’ll know if you read any of my Books For The Road reviews on my blog.

    Endorsements would be a whole other ball game. It would be printed on every copy of the book and is meant to sell the book in hand. I’d have a hard time finding the right words for something that wasn’t a great read. 

  • April Henry says:

    I’m often asked to blurb books before they are published so they can put it on the jacket. Don’t ever say a time crunch has come up, because the time by which they need the blurb will magically expand.  

    • Chip says:

      Thanks, April. That’s right — asking for an endorsement on short notice is never a good idea. 

    • April Henry says:

      What I meant was you can’t weasel out of it by saying you are time crunched – often they have given you an artificial deadline.  You need to find another way to decline.  I’m talking about books where they are looking for another author to blurb it.  

  • Ane Mulligan says:

    As senior editor of Novel Rocket, I’m sent or asked to endorse or review books a lot. Depending on the time factor, I can honestly say I may not get to it. If I do get to it and I don’t care for the book, I let the author or publicist know I won’t be reviewing or endorsing it. At the same time, I mention the subjectivity of fiction and offer another reviewer from our sister site Novel Reviews. 

    Since I don’t get paid for reviews, I never feel obligated, and like your grandmother, I won’t say anything bad. The only time I’ve ever broken that rule was a children’s book sent unsolicited to me that touted being bad as fun. I had to give it a bad review. 

  • Iola Goulton says:

    I recently did just this: wrote the (fair but critical) review, then emailed the author to say the review wasn’t positive. Two weeks, and I’ve yet to hear back. I might still post the review, seeing as I read the book and wrote it, but perhaps just on my blog and Goodreads, not on Amazon (where she wanted it). I don’t want to call into question my reputation as a reviewer by giving lot of stars to something that just doesn’t measure up.

    Note that this is an author who contacted me directly. If it’s a NetGalley or other blogger copy, or something I’ve purchased, I’ll usually review anyway.

    I’ve also recently done the ‘would work for fans of…’. But the fans comment and and try and tell me my opinion is wrong. Hmm. It’s fiction. It’s subjective.

    I’m of the view that even when an author asks me to review, the review is for readers – people who will potentially be looking to purchase the book. So I want to tell them, as best I can, what I liked and disliked, so they can make an informed decision as to whether it will suit them or not.

    But I’d much rather only read and review good books!

  • Aimee L. Salter says:

    Have you read other books of a similar quality level? Could do a “Would work for the fans of….” and name those…?

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