Should friends review each others’ books?

If a friend or acquaintance who has published a book offers to give you a free copy in exchange for writing a review, should you accept?

It’s a compliment to be asked, and the arrangement can work out to mutual benefit if you enjoy reading the book and can honestly give it unqualified praise and a 5-star review. Most authors will also be happy with 4-stars, though others will be disappointed.

But what if you think the book is mediocre, or worse? I would never insult the author by posting a negative review (I still find it hard to forgive the person who posted a damning verdict on the book I had gifted her via a Goodreads Giveaway). Nor would I feel comfortable with “forgetting” to review it, pretending not to have time, or posting an untruthful positive review. Sending a private message to the author, explaining your reservations, can be the best option. They may appreciate your comments and even go on to revise their book, but may feel hurt or offended.

To avoid such potentially awkward situations, I suggest asking to read an excerpt from your friend’s book before agreeing to accept a review copy. This gives you the option of declining in a way that saves face on both sides, for example on the grounds that you are not sufficiently familiar with the genre or subject-matter to make a fair assessment.

I understand that Amazon can block reviews if they discover that author and reader know each other. If there has only been a distant email acquaintanceship this would seem unduly harsh, but in other cases reasonable enough to avoid the problems outlined above, and to discourage the practice of “I’ll review your book if you’ll review mine”.

Except in special circumstances I don’t give free copies of my own books to friends, for fear of putting them under an obligation to say they like them even if they don’t. I do tell them when I’ve published a new one, and am very pleased if they choose to buy it and, better still, write a good review of their own accord.