Fellow book reviewers, let’s take a moment to talk about a somewhat controversial subject – negative reviews. We all love reading an *amazing* book and fangirling about it across the internet; but when we read a bad book, we don’t tend to spread our opinions as much.
Today I’m talking about Writing a Negative Review.
I consider myself a very honest person. I’m not brutally honest or deliberately cruel, but I have my opinions and I generally like to share them with others – sometimes, because I want to identify if we share similar beliefs, and at other times because I’m simply curious to know your opinion on something. If we both start fangirling about Illuminae or A Thousand Pieces of You, it’s safe to say we’ll be very good friends.
Part of that honesty is admitting when I don’t like something. This year, I haven’t had the best luck with books. Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, and The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead all fell way below my expectations. My disappointment with Glass Sword spawned my article on The Dangers of Hype, but as I’ve continued to write negative reviews this year, I’ve started asking myself whether I’m doing the right thing.
There’s an unspoken rule among bloggers: Don’t tag authors in your negative reviews.
Authors themselves talk about it on Twitter, and sometimes they’re even the victim of cruel direct-messages on Goodreads, which deliberately insult them (see below). I’m a writer, and have published a book, and I admit that reading reviews can sometimes hurt – even well-meaning ones can sometimes be a little too honest. After investing hundreds of hours into something, it becomes a part of you, and those criticisms hurt.
Just FYI: somebody on Goodreads messaged me with their negative review. Just to ensure I saw how much they hated my book.
— James Smythe (@jpsmythe) May 5, 2016
Of course, reviewers are not all writers, and specifically, they didn’t write that book. Every author is allowed a mistake, but they don’t deserve to be slandered or insulted in reviews – point out what you didn’t like, but don’t make it personal.
Bloggers have a responsibility to their readers. Recommendations and reviews are more powerful than you might think, especially with a social media service like Goodreads collating reviews. Before I buy a book, I usually check the review score, and I might not buy it if I see trusted friends didn’t like it. Everybody has their own social network, and every reader will have a blogger they trust because you share similar opinions (see my opening comments).
So, when you’re reviewing, you have the power to influence potential buyers and either encourage them to buy a novel, or in the case of a negative review, steer them away. Sure, we might end our negative reviews with a disclaimer – “These are my opinions” – but the reality is, a 1-star review is far from an encouraging sign.
Your reviews also have another power – they ease the guilt on other reviewers. Did I feel bad handing out such terrible reviews to the three books I mentioned earlier? Absolutely. In fact, I spent days deliberating over the scores, discussing with close friends and trusted bloggers; when I saw other reviewers offering similar opinions and low scores, I felt more confident in expressing my negative review. Negative reviews can form a consensus.
This isn’t to say you should join a hate train. Always form your own opinions, but sometimes, going out on a limb might not generate a lot of sympathy from readers, unless you’re deliberately trying to stir the pot.
I think negative reviews are an important part of the reviewing and blogging business. We might be readers, but we’re also market players – our spheres of influence control what our viewers, readers, and friends will do; and in turn, that flows into their spheres of influence. Negative reviews impact book sales, and this in turn gives feedback to publishers and authors that the new idea didn’t work. It might also save readers from spending extra dollars on a new release, which (given the usual expense of shiny new books) can be crucial for many readers.
Remember that reviewing is all about honesty, and that honesty does not mean cruelty. Express your opinions in a constructive manner that highlight what you didn’t like, and always give authors another chance to redeem themselves with other projects!
What do you think about negative reviews? Do you avoid reviewing books you didn’t like? Do you always try to sugar-coat your negative opinions? Discuss below!