Book talk: Writing negative reviews

I had every intention of posting up a book review or two this week, but for some reason (and because I'm busy writing a review of a book that, while I enjoyed, could have been a little better), I thought I'd write a post about negative book reviews.

I'm sure most of you must have come across that link that recently went viral on twitter and across the net.

Without linking to it (as I think it has already been given enough air time and because I'm pretty sure the author has by now realised just what a grave, grave mistake she made in the process), the link is a 2-star review of a self-published author's book written in a fair, constructive manner which I thought was well thought out and by no means written with the intent to hurt the author.

Unfortunately, the author took such extreme offence to the review, that she ended up lashing out at the reviewer and proceeded to barrage the reviewer's comment stream (and the people who proceeded to defend the reviewer's right to his opinion) with hate-filled comments.

To say that I (and fellow book reviewers) were shocked and a little more than taken aback would probably be the understatement of the year.

So, it's in the light of the recent events that today's subject is dedicated to navigating the precarious terrain that all of us are highly familiar with: negative reviews.

Honest but fair
I think, I can state on behalf of most book bloggers/ reviewers, that most of us don't like giving negative reviews. 

I know that I certainly don't.

My policy on reviews has always been to make a point of trying to point out both positive and negative aspects of a book and to always try and back up my claim and the reasoning behind why I feel a specific way about something that I didn't like in the book.

Honest, but polite and fair. That's always been and always will be my philosophy and it's not something that I'll change anytime soon.

You see, like the reviewer who had to deal with the negative backlash, the one thing I understand and respect is that writing a book takes a lot of hard work. 

And because of that, I commend every single author for plotting their stories, developing their characters and churning out word after word and page after page in order to form and shape the book that's taken them months (or even years) to write.

I respect that and do not want to take that away from the author. 

Still, I do have to emphasise that for all this, I believe in pointing out aspects in a novel that bothers me. I believe that it gives me insight into what I'm looking for in a novel and I believe that this form of constructive criticism helps the author to refine and hone his or her skill as a writer. 

Also, as a reviewer and a book buyer, I myself would not like to be foiled into buying a book that may or may not be as fabulous as everyone claims it is in reviews.

Not everyone will like the book
This brings me to my second point.

For every honest, constructive and fair review out there, you will find someone who will dislike the book. Books are, have been and always will be a subjective experience. It's reflective of just how many different people with different personalities are out there in the world.

There's a book for every person and just because the one person likes the book, it certainly does not mean the next person who reads it will. This is not just a point that is meant for authors, but for reviewers as well.

I've seen many reviewers get upset with the next blogger simply because they didn't love the book in the same way that they did. Now I don't want to be mean, but let me state the obvious here: there's no book law that states that I, or others are required to love the book that you love.

It's unnecessary and blatantly immature to attack a blogger/reviewer just because he or she didn't like the book that you loved. If you're an author and you're doing this, then it's certainly a sure way to commit career suicide.

And if you're a reviewer who is doing this to other reviewers, then you shouldn't be allowed to review books. It's that simple.

Being mean vs constructive criticism

Of course, there's another aspect to reviewing that one also needs to consider and that is that there is a MAJOR difference between writing an honest and constructive critique in comparison to a review that blatantly slates the author as a writer.

As a reviewer I'm always conscious of making sure that I never, ever attack the author.

Unfortunately, I've seen a lot of bloggers/reviewers who blatantly bash the author and focus on talking about the author's lack of writing skills as opposed to talking about what they didn't like about the book. Calling the author names is definitely not part of the reviewing process.

For me, you discrediting the author in such a boorish and disrespectful manner, actually just shows that you as a reviewer don't have anything constructive to say that will back up your claims as to just why you don't/didn't like the book.

It also shows that you as a reviewer don't understand or respect the writing craft and all the hard work the author has put into getting their novel out.

By all means, if you're going to write a negative review, then go ahead.

But be classy about it.

Don't be bitchy. Don't be mean. And don't hate others just because they loved the book that you didn't like. Most importantly, keep the review about your experience with the book and the book itself, not about how much you hate the author for wasting your time.

Yikes... that was quite a lengthy post wasn't it?
Anyway, what are your thoughts on negative reviews? How do you approach them? Or do you avoid them entirely. I'd be very keen to hear what you have to say.


Awesome post with lots of great thoughts!
Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog
Jenny said…
I absolutely agree Tammy - I think negative reviews should definitely be posted, it would be so boring to only have glowing reviews floating around out there. How would anyone know if a book is for them if no one points out things that bothered them and therefore might bother someone else? I think that being classy is so important though, don't attack the author or go on a tirade about what a miserable excuse for a book it was, there's away to express what you didn't like without ripping the book apart:)
Aisle B said…
Well said and absolutely true.

Constructive feedback can be done in a none abusive manner: this goes without saying for both the reviewer and author.

It's crippling to get a bad review but it's important acknowledge an honest write up of what were the pros & cons of a certain work.

I remember when I read Rushdie's
The Enchantress of Florence and still shiver at its memory. Many loved it while I despaired at his overtaxed use of superlatives. By the same token I'd mentioned his other works that had a huge influence on me but The Enchantress just did not cut it for me.

So if Rushdie can accept my dismay, certainly other writers can do the same. Just take with a grain of salt and chalk it up as a difference of opinion. Nothing more ... nothing less.

Again bravo Pixie girl for expressing what so many dream of doing :)
Chrizette said…
I have been "out of the loop" for a while so I missed the twitter-disaster you spoke about but I can imagine! I hate when I have to write a "negative" review but, like you, try to point out the positives together with the reasons I did not like the book. And I also agree - how boring if everyone liked everything everyone else liked.
I totally missed all that going down on twitter so I have no idea who either party were.

You know, I have never seen a negative post written by anyone I follow bashing an author. Maybe I've been lucky, but the few negative reviews i've read have all been very intelligently and fairly written.

I totally agree with all you've said. There is no need to be rude to anybody. If you can't say something nice or constructive, don't bother saying it at all.

Great post! Really enjoyed reading it.
Great post. I'm always very honest in my reviews, but as you said, nobody likes writing a negative reivew, so I try to always be fair too. Being snarky really isn't in my nature and I'm not here to get personal or put anybody down. I've reviewed books that I've loved on my blog, and that I've pretty much hated, but as yet I haven't had a major backlash.

I read the review you're talking about, and the authors response - insane!!
Jan von Harz said…
For the most part the reviews I read are always very fair. They point out the positive and the negatives. I totally agree that writing a book is a major achievement and one that should not be forgotten when reviewing it. No book is without merit. But I also agree that as a reader first and a reviewer second, there are books that I will absolutely adore that others I will not. Taking offense to my review is forgetting that we all have different tastes. Like my mother use to say and I still hold true to this in my reviews, "if you do not have anything nice to say than don't say anything. When reviewing books this is also my philosophy, if I really dislike a book, I just don't bother reviewing it...that is after all my choice. Great post!
Suzi said…
I would love it if I never had to read a negative review, comment or criticism of my work BUT reality is (as you pointed out) there will always be some people who don't like what you write. I think as long as a review is written in a thoughtful and professionally subjective manner, the author should appreciate the reviewer taking the time to read and review their work. A negative review will almost always disappoint an author but a well-written, honest review should never offend (and should not be written with the intention to). Imagine how boring reviews would be if they were all the same.

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