Legal and risk considerations in book reviews

Literary criticism, critiques and book reviews

The difference between the two types of writing is that literary criticism can be about a specific books or an aspect of literature in general.

A critique is usually a motivated analysis of a book or collection of books by a specific author. The book is assessed against all the different criteria for writing that particular type of book – from characterization to settings, to writing style. The reviewer gives reasons for their opinion, and may use quotes from the book as proof.

Good critiques and reviews are balanced and mention negative aspects of the book if they are noteworthy, but the reviewer may never attack the author personally.

A book review can be like a critique, but can also be shorter. It can be just a paragraph or a “like”, a “thumbs-up”, or a “star” rating.

A quote from a reader, celebrity, endorser or other author about the wonderfulness of the book, does not count as a critique, but serves as a recommendation and may be a review of sorts.

A blurb, or compact description of the story, is not a review.

The world of the book reviewer

Books are saleable products, and a book review is an important marketing tactic to get the book in the news, bring it to the attention of readers, and create discussions about the author and their work. Without creating talk about the book, and keeping it top of mind with readers, the book will not sell.

Since the income of authors and the people who are part of the process of publishing the book (editors, designers, printers, marketers, etc.) depend on book promotion, book reviews are as critical as hotel and restaurant reviews. A review that says a book is badly written or not enjoyable to read will upset the author and their publishers, and they may take legal action against this defamation. Libel is a form of defamation, and is the written communication of a false statement about another that unjustly harms their reputation (and therefore their income) and usually constitutes a tort or crime. Under common law in most Western countries, to constitute defamation, a claim must generally be false and must have been made to someone other than the person defamed, in other words in public. Cyber defamation, in other words, defamatory statements published on the Internet, is hotly debated because of its implication for freedom of speech worldwide. But actions have been brought against bloggers for negative reviews published on Internet platforms.

Risks for those writing books and book reviews are mostly legal and financial , particularly defamation, copyright and plagiarism, both of the review, which itself is a product, and the book in question.

Laws and social and political circumstances change over time, as does legislation in specific jurisdictions. If in any doubt about legalities, the best thing to do is to get advice from an attorney, and not rely on information published on the Internet.

Articles about risks associated with book reviewing

Note: These articles do not constitute legal advice and may contain information that has become outdated and incorrect since the article was published.

Types of reviews

Negative reviews

Reviews as part of book sales



Licensing and disclaimer

M. Bijman, reviewer, writer and site owner