Why negative book reviews are bad for the reviewer.
*** FYI – this post is about reviews that are BRUTAL – 1 and 2 stars that are just riddled with scorn for the book. That said, here we go! ***
It is no secret that I love to review books I have adored. If you kick around on this blog, you will find them. And yes – they are raves, because I loved the books and the authors deserve the praise I have given them. Because ultimately a review IS about the ability of the author, and that is what is often forgotten. Which is why I don’t write bad reviews, choosing instead to simply NOT review the book at all.
Because a bad review (and I mean THE BRUTAL ONES), in the grand scheme of things, does nothing for the other potential audience members. I mean – what I may hate (a certain series about 50 gray window coverings comes to mind), they may love and vice versa, right? So, while a great review applauds the work of the author, a scathing review serves only to slap them.
And it is a slap.
The surest way I know a reviewer is not a writer, is when they pen a brutal review and then add “this is not about the author.” *SNORT*
Let me tell ya – IT IS ALWAYS about the author TO THE AUTHOR. I have seen writers be destroyed by a bad review and I tell them, “the person who wrote this is obviously not a writer.” Somehow that makes them feel better . . . briefly. But then they go and write down the reviewer’s name, making sure to find their book IF he / she ever writes one. Sigh . . .
But I do get it, because a brutal review is to kick the tar out of someone’s baby – tell them their kid is scum and ugly to boot. Because a novel is a literary child, raised from infancy, in the eyes of the person who gave it birth. Someone who slaved over it, adored it, and finally gave it life. Sure, their “baby” COULD be the ugliest thing on the planet, BUT I AM NOT TELLING THEM. And quite frankly, I would never slam anyone’s book (okay – well maybe Mein Kampf, which I haven’t read and my review would be ENTIRELY about the author . . . bad me).
First of all, who says I am so brilliant to know what the heck I am talking about? Secondly, if I wrote a bad review, it reflects poorly on me as a person because I am choosing to ignore the fact that someone, somewhere in this universe, WROTE it. There is a real human being behind those pages. And a scathing review reads as excessive grandstanding for attention. Most potential buyers see such reviews as bs and the reviewer’s credibility falls through the floor. And while the book itself is rarely hurt by such reviews, the author is – and so is the reviewer.
So, while I do not write bad reviews, I also do not write many reviews AT ALL because I simply didn’t like the book. If I am backed into a corner by a writer begging me to read their novel (FYI – bad idea in the first place), and I don’t like it, I simply let them know the story wasn’t for me and I was going to pass on reviewing it. I’ve done this on NetGalley, but I sent it as a note to the publisher (always with praise, followed by a “but” line).
Oh – and one other thing. If you write a bad review of someone’s book, and you yourself are trying to become a novelist / author / journalist / etc remember: author’s are like elephants – what you say about their book, they will never forget.
This is really interesting timing that you wrote this post this week. Though I with some of your points, such as not reviewing a book if you don’t like (I follow this rule, too), there can sometimes be a plus to a bad review. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself lately. :-) Just this Monday I wrote a post called “Why People Hating My Book Can Be A Good Thing”. If you’d like to read it, you can find it here: http://thealliterativeallomorph.blogspot.gr/2013/11/why-people-hating-my-book-can-be-good.html
Bad reviews do help balance the authenticity of a book, I agree. But vicious reviews (1 and 2 stars with “This was so horrible I wanted to stab my eyes out”) serve no purpose except to draw attention.
LOved what you wrote on your blog Jessica – and here :)
Terrific post. I can honestly say the only bad review I ever gave was to an “author” who had stolen another author’s work. But as a general rule of thumb, I don’t post reviews that are less than three stars, and three stars are usually because of technicalities I can’t get over while reading (punctuation, grammar, structure, etc.) even though I’ll finish the book.
Agreed – a good rule of thumb for reviews is nothing under 3 stars or nothing at all.
STEALERS! Bad . . . . Thanks Miriam!
I have to say that I completely disagree with this one.
“who says I am so brilliant to know what the heck I am talking about” I assume that your readers value your opinion on books since otherwise why would they read any of your reviews. I write negative and positive reviews specifically for my readers so that they can get a better idea if they would like the book or not.
“Most potential buyers see such reviews as bs and the reviewer’s credibility falls through the floor.” As a potential buyer, I disagree. I also have never heard this from anyone I’ve talked to about negative reviews. I specifically look at negative reviews to get an idea of what the weaknesses of the book are. I tend to distrust excessively positive reviews by reviewers I don’t know, because they could easily be biased by an association with the author. I really see no motivation for a person to write a fake negative review (beyond the obvious trolling problems). Especially if there are a number of negative reviews that criticize similar problems, I am likely to trust those reviews.
The whole argument about hurting authors feelings rankles me, but if that is something that is important to you, then it is good you recognize that. I always tamper my reviews with positive and negative aspects and never target the author, only the book, in order to avoid personal attacks while still being honest about the quality of the book and my experience reading it. When authors publish their book, I hope that they generally understand that a lot of people might not like it and they need to be prepared to be okay with that. It’s just a fact of the publishing world. I write my reviews for my readers, not to make authors feel good about themselves. I don’t deliberately attack an author even if I disliked their book, but I will be honest if I detested some element of said book, and I look for reviewers with a similar viewpoint.
Fortunately, I’m never planning to try to publish, so I don’t have to worry about authors holding grudges. I also have less interest in an author if they hold a negative review against a person, since that is rather close to attacking the writer instead of the writing.
The point of the above post was that reviewers, who are not writers, tend to forget that a real person wrote what they are reading. A real person, with real feelings who worked hard on something they probably loved. Most writers publish a story not for fame or fortune, but simply because they loved their story and wanted to share it with the world. Basically it is easy to throw stones when you are not the target. And this blog post was not about 3 star reviews that are balanced (ie. “I liked this, not to keen on this”). Those reviews are usually taken well by a writer. This is about those 1 and 2 star reviews that just SLAM the book. If it is truly that bad, cut the author a break and don’t even post a review. Because if it is really that bad, it is destined to fail anyway – there is no need to further beat down the author. Which is why WRITERS rarely, if ever, write a brutal review. Because we writers see not just the book, but the person behind the story. I am not about to burn someone’s dream with a brutal 1 or 2 star review just to prove I hated their story and let the world know. The world will figure out the book is poor without me adding my two cents. Trust me.
I would prefer both as a reader and reviewer to find out that a book is terrible before investing money and/or time into it, hence I appreciate reading and writing 1 and 2 star reviews (even DNF reviews).
As a reader and reviewer, but what as a writer? I think the Internet has opened a world to us, but I can honestly say that I would never write something in a review that I wasn’t willing to say to the writer face-to-face. A good example of this is Veronica Roth’s recent release, Allegiant (FYI – I have not read the book). Many people are kicking the hell out of it and I believe it finally got to her. As she says, “Responding to readers’ comments about the Divergent books has always felt the same way to me, like it would just be me shouting other people down when I should be letting them speak freely, and as badly as some criticism hurts (and it does, because I’m only human, after all), I never, ever want that.” She replied on her blog here: http://veronicarothbooks.blogspot.com/2013/10/about-end-of-allegiant-spoilers.html
My point is, bad reviews are okay when they are balanced and done tastefully. Unfortunately, I see very VERY few 1 and 2 star reviews that are tasteful in the least. One of Veronica’s reviewers actually “shelved” her book under “preachy-author, dystopian, never-reading-again.” Seriously? That’s just rude. Manners people, even if you don’t like it.
It may be the Internet, but we are all human. Your blog actually does good job of balancing bad reviews (Waterfell comes to mind). This post was about reviewers who rant without a single positive word. In every book, people can find SOMETHING positive.
But as a writer? Nope – can’t give a bad review. And if I didn’t like it, I don’t review it. I sleep better at night that way ;)
This is an interesting post. I, too, tend to follow Thumper’s mom’s rule and not review books if I can’t say anything nice (or substantive) about them (with a few exceptions, of course. I’m not perfect.).
I worry, however, that the concept “negative review” is too broad. Really what we’re talking about are the hyperbolic negative reviews, the hate reviews, the ones that are dripping with scorn and derision. There are other kinds of negative reviews, and I think those reviews have real worth and value. I also think they’re a hell of a lot harder to write.
I’ll go back to my second sentence. My rule of thumb is that if I have something substantive to say about a book I didn’t like — if I can explain it clearly and back my points up with solid criticism — then there’s a value in my saying those things to my admittedly limited audience (because usually, when I strongly dislike a book, it’s because it’s chock full of misogyny or other lurking awfulness, and I want to have a conversation about those things, about why those things are perpetuated in our literature and culture, and about how we sometimes don’t even recognize them). I try to be substantive about my positive reviews, too, because it seems to me that “I like it” isn’t a valid justification for me to recommend a book to someone else. (Who cares if I like it?)
I love what you’ve said about reviewers sometimes not considering that they’re trashing books that are written by other human beings who put effort and energy into their creations. I’d like to think that I never write anything that I’d be ashamed to say to an author in a face-to-face setting; I’d like to think that I couch my criticisms in constructive terms and that I include just as much positive feedback as negative, but I don’t know for sure. I’m not an author. That’s something to think about…
I completely agree about “constructive” negative reviews – they are usually well-received by the author. The above post (which I will need to amend to reflect this) is about BRUTAL reviews that are 1 or 2 stars and just slay the book. But what you said here, is brilliant: “I’d like to think that I never write anything that I’d be ashamed to say to an author in a face-to-face setting”
Life lessons from my mom on how to navigate the social miasma of junior high: never say anything about someone else that you wouldn’t want repeated to that person… because it will be… and be careful what you put in writing. The Internet is basically like a great big junior high, no?
As an author, I particularly appreciate substantive reviews that address the themes of my work. Often those show thoughtful engagement that is, in itself, a positive response even if a reviewer doesn’t care for the point. But snarky, sarcastic or mean reviews that trash someone’s work? I agree with the post.
I appreciate getting your perspective as an author on reading negative reviews. As a reviewer, if I agree to read an author’s book per a request, and if the book falls below the okay range for me, I send the feedback to the author privately instead of posting a review.
With that said, when I do write a review for a book that just didn’t work for me, I always try to write a balanced, constructive review pointing out what I did like as well as what I, personally, found troublesome and why. I also add that just because I didn’t connect with the book, this doesn’t mean others will not like it because we all have different standards of what we may like. I wholeheartedly agree that harshly critical negative reviews reflect poorly on the reviewer and I especially dislike reviews where the reviewer criticizes an aspect of the book without providing any evidence for support.
I wish I could omit ratings altogether. I have created a blog where I can express my reactions to the books I read, really to generate a discussion with other readers who have similar interests to mine. I don’t actually want to have to rate a book. Instead, I just want to leave feedback that explains what I liked and what, if anything, didn’t work for me, and just leave it to readers to check out the book for themselves. However, review sites and others related to the book industry require ratings in order for you to share your reviews.
Thought-provoking discussion about this topic which is always at the back of my mind every time I sit down to write a review.
Many thanks for your thoughtful reply. And you’re right – it would be great if one could leave a review and not a rating.
I love this response! Where can I find your blog? Your observation about the rating system is so well made. It can ultimately distort the impact of a sensitive and balanced review because it’s often the final take-away.
Her blog is http://sunmountainreviews.wordpress.com
I’m enjoying your work on this site. Thanks very much for the info on sunmountainreviews! I’m going to subscribe to it also.
Hi Lynne, thank you for your response and I’d love for you to stop by and check out my blog, Sun Mountain Reviews! (http://sunmountainreviews.wordpress.com) Thank you Kate for passing along my blog info!