February 27 – March 5: “Do you review books in your genre?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Some authors refuse to blurb or review books in their genre, because as one put it, she did not want to be accused of borrowing ideas. This week we ask ITW Members David Alexander, Adrian Magson, Jon Land, A. J. Kerns, J. H. Bográn, Wendy Byrne and Frank Zafiro, do you review books in your genre?


Jon Land is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of 41 novels, including eight titles in the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series, the most recent of which is Strong Cold Dead. Most recently, he’s teamed with ThrillerMaster Heather Graham to pen The Rising, the first in a series that features two high school seniors who are that stands between the world and total annihilation. The next Caitlin Strong book, Strong to the Bone, publishes next December, followed by Blood Moon, a sequel to The Rising, in January.


David Alexander began writing early in life and began writing uncoaxed and spontaneously. His fledgling appearance in print dates to a sonnet published in a New York City daily newspaper when David was in elementary school in Brooklyn. Between then and today, he has written and published in virtually every literary category, including novels, novelettes, short fiction, poetry, essays and film scripts. He received his early education via the New York City public school system. He later attended Columbia University in New York City and Sorbonne University in Paris, France.


Wendy Byrne, a former social worker, is a USA TODAY Bestselling Author of suspense novels and cozy mysteries. Most days you can find her pounding away at her laptop spinning tales and inflicting mayhem on her hero and heroine until they beg for mercy. She lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband. Her latest mystery, Nearly Dead in Iowa was released in October, 2016.


Hailed by the Daily Mail as “a classic crime star in the making”, Adrian Magson is the author of 21 books, the latest of which is The Bid (Midnight Ink), published on January 8, 2017. This the second book in a new series featuring investigators Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vaslik, after The Locker—Jan 2016—”Magson takes the suburban thriller overseas and gives it a good twist. Readers ……will happily get lost in the nightmare presented here.” (Booklist Reviews)


J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. His debut novel TREASURE HUNT, which The Celebrity Café hails as an intriguing novel that provides interesting insight of architecture and the life of a fictional thief, has also been selected as the Top Ten in Preditors & Editor’s Reader Poll. FIREFALL, his second novel, was released in 2013 by Rebel ePublishers. Coffee Time Romance calls it “a taut, compelling mystery with a complex, well-drawn main character.” He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild, Crime Writer’s Association, and the International Thriller Writers. He lives in Honduras with his family and one “Lucky” dog.


Frank Zafiro is a retired police officer, and an author. He writes primarily crime fiction of the realistic, gritty variety, ranging from ensemble procedurals to private investigator mysteries. In addition to writing, he is a fan of good film and television, an avid hockey fan, and a tortured guitarist. And yes, a voracious reader. He lives in Redmond, Oregon with his wife, Kristi.


yemenArthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent and past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Diversion Books, Inc. NY, NY published his espionage thriller, The Riviera Contract, and the sequel, The African Contract. The third in the series, The Yemen Contract, was released in June 2016.


  1. I’ll review books in this genre, sure. Readership isn’t a zero sum game, and I think we should support each other as much as possible. Your success doesn’t preclude my success, and it may even enhance it. So I’m more than willing to help out a fellow writer, or to review a book I simply loved. But I understand why people don’t, though. It can be awkward if someone asks for a review and the truth of the matter is that your review wouldn’t be a positive one. What do you do? Fib? Then your name is associated with something you don’t believe in, and that’s bad. So there has to be a tough conversation, or you can do what some have opted for — a strict no-review policy.

    I don’t think the ‘stolen idea’ concern is really very realistic, but maybe I’m being naive. Besides, it’s usually not the idea that is the most compelling thing, but the characters that deal with the idea.

    Of course, the other factor that plays in for everyone is time. It takes time to read (or even skim) a book and craft a blurb. That’s time you could be writing. So I understand why authors just say no on that count alone.

    But I find it hard to say no, unless the problem is the quality of the book. People have helped (and continue to help) me in my writing journey, and in ways I can likely never pay back. Paying it forward is the currency for repayment, and I feel like my account is probably still in the red, so I should do the review.

    In the end, though, it becomes a case-by-case basis, and I do what I can do, and what seems right.

    How’s that for a schizophrenic reply?

  2. I rarely blurb other authors’ books, not because I’m a curmudgeon, but because I’m very rarely asked – which is a good thing. I find it really tough to put in a few words anything I believe browsers will find useful, and there are serial blurbers out there who carry far more weight than me.
    I do review regularly, however (for Shots Magazine – http://www.shotsmag.co.uk), which is great because I get to read books I might not normally pick up or even find. Many are contemporary thrillers, which is my own genre, so it’s great to find a new one and, like Frank Zafiro says, it’s always good to support a fellow author.
    Am I scared of accusations of borrowing ideas? No, because the idea has never occurred to me. Titles, though – sure that’s a minefield. How often have I thought of the most zingy title, only to find several doing the rounds already!)
    When I’m in full writing flow, though, there are one or two authors I avoid because their styles are very strong and if I’m not careful I can find myself slipping into the same clipped – or otherwise – way of writing. It doesn’t last much beyond the first edit trawl, mind you, but I prefer to avoid it in the first place.
    Oddly enough, I’ve had some comments saying that my 1960s French detective series – ‘Death on the Marais’, etc – is reminiscent of Simenon’s ‘Maigret’ series. I’ve never yet read a Maigret, simply to avoid being influenced, so I take it as a compliment. Any perceived similarities I have to put down to the commonality of the subject – a French cop in France, back when cars had style and grace, everybody smoked, there were no computers or internet and phones hung on the wall of every café rather than in everyone’s top pocket.

  3. Yes. On occasion, the folks at the Washington Independent Review of Books will ask me to review a novel, saying that it’s a book similar to my genres or interests. I jump at the chance, especially if I haven’t read anything by the author. Because of that, I’ve been introduced to among others, John Sanford, Alex Berenson, Robert Littell, and Philip Sington. I never consciously borrowed idea from these authors, but certainly I’ve tried to bring my writing up to their level.
    In the writing groups I belong to, we critique each other’s works. You could say that a form of “review.” All genres are represented and I can’t say I’ve borrowed any of my fellow writers ideas. However, it’s a standing joke among us, that when we come across a particularly exceptional phrase or a distinct situation, we’ll announce to all, “Mind if I borrow that for my next story?”

  4. I do review books in my genre. However, I am also of the mindset that if I did not like a book or didn’t finish reading it, I will not post a negative review. I follow the adage: if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say it. I see no reason to post harsh reviews of any book. Everyone’s taste in reading is different. There were books that others loved that I thought were so/so and vice versa.

    As to the concept of borrowing ideas, every book or movie follows a certain rhythm and every author has a different twist on the same topic. Even if a dead body found in a bathtub is the starting point, each author could come up with a million different ideas of where to go from there. Is it a suicide? Murder? Accident? Serial Killer? No one will tell the same story in the same way so borrowing ideas from other authors is not something I worry about. Like most authors, I read a lot. And like everyone else, I want to get lost in the storytelling.

  5. I like Wendy’s final comment about getting lost in the storytelling. Absolutely true. Personally, the moment I do this, even if I’ve just read someone else, I feel all outside influences fade and disappear because the story or scene will take over and unfold how I see it, not the other guy.

  6. Some great points here! I write a twice-monthly column for the Providence Sunday Journal where I cover thrillers almost exclusively. Like Wendy, I do not write negative reviews because I think part of my job is recommending titles, not slamming books and authors. I also look my column as a way to promote the thriller genre in general, helping to further establish it as a genre distinct onto itself and separate from mysteries. I cover 4 books in each column and strive to cover at least one lesser known author, perhaps from a smaller press, in each column. Personal relationships are important in determining which books I cover and you’ll notice that the bulk of the authors I cover are indeed ITW members!

  7. As for blurbs, I always refer to myself as the guy you come to when you can’t get who you really want! I never turn down a request for a blurb, because I know from personal experience how hard it is to ask for one, how important they are, and how great it feels like when I get a “Yes!” in return. I always keep that in mind when I’m asked for a quote and I always find something to like in whatever I’m given to read. To me, helping others as others have helped me is one of the great things about being an author in general and member of ITW in particular.

  8. I have a question for my fellow digital panelists, as well as anyone else who wants to weigh in: what do you do when you really don’t like a book you’ve been asked to blurb?

    1. Tough one, Jon. I mean, it’s not like you can just ignore the problem and it will go away. You can write a lukewarm blurb that the writer won’t use, but I think that’s a cop out. You can search for something positive as Wendy says, and hopefully find something no matter how deep you have to dig to do it. Or you can have a difficult, honest conversation with the requesting author.

      I don’t think you can do the blurb dishonestly, obviously. Your own integrity is at stake.

      I really don’t think there’s a for sure, every time answer. What if it is your friend or a family member? Might that change which option is the best fit?

      Good question. Hard answer.

  9. Such great points, Jon! I so agree about helping others who are just entering this crazy business of writing. As for your question, even though I might not like a book, I can always find something positive that I can put into a blurb–and yes sometimes that means digging deep. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often.

  10. I couldn’t agree more, Wendy! But it does at times seem to be a double-edged sword. When writing a blurb, we have to balance our own credibility against the obligation, even moral responsibility, we bear to give back. I tend to come down almost all the time on the side of that obligation, just as you lay out. And sometimes I craft a blurb as much on an author’s mere attempt at doing something ambitious in their work and try not to pay as much attention to the level to which they succeeded at it. I also am driven by the prevailing ITW mission statement of the haves supporting the not-yet-haves. And how I can turn down a request for a blur, when the efforts of so many other authors have served me so well?

  11. Speaking personally, I’ve never had any qualms whatever about reviewing anything. If a writer values my opinion enough to solicit a review, comment, blurb or whatever, I’m usually always too flattered to refuse. Possibly this is because I don’t believe I actually have a genre; moreover I often deliberately try to break away from and cross genres.

    I came across an aphorism from La Rochefoucauld during some bedtime reading (no milk and cookies, in case you wondered) that I thought might apply, if obliquely: “It is only those who are despicable who fear being despised.”

    I fear no risks for myself in reviewing a fellow author’s work, but the other author will almost always risk not receiving the weal and behoof of my total objectivity, since I find it under most circumstances virtually impossible not to extol the work of an author given to me to review.

  12. Agree with Jon Land on how hard it is to ask for a blurb. I’ve been there. Asking blurbs is tough and in my experience, it took a bunch of declines and ignored emails before I finally got the precious “Yes, I’ll do it!” Those emails are almost as exciting as the ones from publishers offering a contract.

    I asked Jon Land for a blurb of my new novel Poisoned Tears not as a last resort, but more of taking him at his word when he said if I ever need favor I just had to ask.

    I’ve been rarely asked to write blurbs, but as others pointed out, I take it as an opportunity to pay it forward and never decline. As a contributing editor to the Big Thrill, I’ve been thrilled to discover new favorite authors so I loved those assignments.

  13. The interesting thing for me, sometimes, is when I review a book that I’ve already blurbed. Some might see this as a conflict of interest, but I don’t. My blurbs carry an attribution to me, while my reviews carry “The Providence Journal” as an attribution. Again, I want to do as much as I can to serve our genre and my fellow thriller authors.

  14. Is there a pecking order to this process? I mean, there’s certainly strata of authors in terms of popularity and exposure. Do you see authors tending to blurb and/or review those other authors at or around their same “level”?

    I suppose it could be the by-product of professional association. You associate with those similar to you to a degree, and most blurbs come by way of association…

    I dunno, what do you folks think?

    1. I don’t know about strata. I know both Douglas Preston and Jon Land who blurbed my new novel, enjoy more success than I do at this point…but my criteria for asking is not popularity but admiration. The truth is I only ask blurbs to authors whose work I’ve read and like.

        1. Speaking of Stephen King..here’s a funny story. A couple of years ago I finally read his book “On Writing.” There he leaves a homework for authors and offers to read them over…Well, I did my homework but when I went looking for a place to send it I discovered he stopped receiving them like ten years before! Talk about not doing my research before writing, right?

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