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July 12, 2012

Tips on Thursday: Negative Reviews

negative (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)
We all learned as children if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all. While we should not be malicious, there is value in providing a well constructed negative review. I should note that I decide my Tips topics in advance and it is just serendipitous that this post fell this week given what happened earlier this week. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, then let me just tell you ignorance is bliss).

As book bloggers, we pledge to our readers to provide honest reviews. At the same time, most bloggers I know agonize over not being able to give every book they read a glowing 5 STAR rating. I think negative reviews is one of the most talked about topics among book bloggers (the only topic that comes up more is the pet peeves of review requests). Book bloggers are passionate readers and love nothing more than to promote authors. But not every book is for every person.

Because we are a diverse group of readers, negative reviews can help readers decide if a book is for them or not. Often times, negative reviews are much more informative than positive reviews. Because reviewers are not out to destroy the author's career, they often painstakingly provide details as to what didn't work for them. They also try to highlight the good stuff as well. I know I try to point out positive aspects of every book I review.This effort often leads to a more balanced review since the blogger isn't just gushing about how wonderful the book is.

Readers who regularly follow a blogger learn the blogger's taste and know how it lines up with their own reading taste. A negative review may lead to someone else buying it. Just because I'm not a huge fan of paranormal romance doesn't mean my readers aren't. When I write a review of a book that I didn't really like, I try to keep in mind what might appeal to others.

A few comments for authors: Bloggers aren't writing their review for you, but for the readers. Bloggers feel a responsibility to provide an informative post so that readers can decide for themselves to read the book or not. A review is one person's opinion and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Also few bloggers are influential enough to impact sales significantly. A negative review or two amongst several glowing reviews can lend credibility to your book so embrace the good and the bad. If a negative review leaves you scratching your head and you must have answers, DO NOT attack the reviewer (you'll damage your reputation more so than any negative review could) and do not question their opinion in a public forum (Twitter, Facebook, comment sections). If you sent your book to the blogger then you already have their email address, use it. I've had an author contact me even though I got his book from Netgalley to address my concerns (his book got a great review I just pointed out a couple of problems). When you do contact the blogger, be respectful and polite. Do NOT use inflammatory or confrontational words. You are an author, you can choose your words wisely.

A word for bloggers: If you must give a negative review (and I strongly believe they are an important part of our free market society), be respectful. Do NOT lash out at the author or make the review personal - it is about the book. Give examples, when possible, of the problems you had with the book. At the same time don't belabor the point - support your opinion and then move on. Step back from your emotions, be objective and ask yourself who would enjoy the book, what worked well in the story.

Finally for both authors and book bloggers - remember we are in a public forum and what we say and how we act can reflect on the community as a whole. Book blogging, much like self and indie published authors, is still trying to find its footing in the publishing industry. A lot of positive steps have occurred but if we start fighting amongst ourselves then ground will be lost. Be mature. Be professional.
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  1. I have one word for this great post - Bravo! Oh, I also thought of another one - Amen!

    Thank you,

  2. You made an AWESOME point about the review being for readers NOT the authors.

    To be perfectly honest there are books that I would have given a 1/2 star reviews IF I'd been able to finish them. I don't bother because part of NOT putting my stamp of approval on a story is that I didn't review the book.

    And there are some genres that it takes a lot for me to enjoy it but I definitely wouldn't put off someone else from reading it. Unfortunately, I can't review those books either. And I don't know how to differentiate between the two.

    What bugs me is this attitude that authors must contact other authors in private and not do public reviews if there is a problem. I think they need to realize that if it is poor/no editing, no content editing, in other words something that classifies it as a 'consumer beware' - they are RIPPING OFF readers! They are letting someone get away with charging money for something that they have no business making money off of.

    It's been said before - No one OWES writers a living. They have to EARN it. Like everyone else.

    Burn readers and you can kiss all Indie/self-pubbed progress goodbye! I'm glad there are bloggers that understand who their reviews are for and ignore the crazy authors who feel otherwise.

  3. Excellent and constructive post for both authors and readers. I'm a writer who's had both invaluable and constructive critiques, and some idiotic ones.

  4. Fantastic post, Donna. I don't generally give 1/2* reviews, not because I don't believe it in but because I'm very selective in the books I choose to read and thankfully most are 3+. If something is a 1/2*, I'm afraid I have a 'life's too short' mentality of do-not-read-do-not-review. Life is too short to a) rubbish a book just to be nasty or b) sit with a pad and pen notetaking copious editing/proofing errors. Thankfully I've only encountered one book I couldn't finish in the last few months.

    I'm sure that one day I'll encounter a book that is a 2 star but shows promise and I hope I'll keep all your points in mind when I write my review up!

  5. Awesome post Donna! You've made so many great points. Thank you for tackling this subject - especially in light of the week's events. I think this post is an excellent reminder to both authors and bloggers that professionalism and respect go a long way in our community.

  6. Great post Donna.

    I agree that negative reviews can be useful if they offer constructive feedback.

    Good and bad reviews should be desired by authors. It's not possible to write a book that will please every reader, that's just the way it goes. Reviews that are constructive, whether positive or negative, are always welcome with me.

  7. I love this post because it is well thought out and well written. I've been struggling with writing what I thought was going to be a negative review but a quick email to the author with a question about the editing has assured me that I got an early copy and the typos that I had issues with have now been fixed. Sometimes a little thoughtfulness goes a long way and the wording of a review - positive or negative - should be considered carefully.

  8. As a reader and a writer, I would say the only think I hate about negative reviews is when they are not specific. If you say the book was badly written or full of mistakes, give some examples! If you say you didn't like it, say why not. If you say the plot didn't work for you, say what the problem with it was. That gives readers of the review a chance to know whether or not they are likely to agree with your assessment. I have actually bought books after reading a negative review because I could see the reviewer's taste was 180 degrees away from mine, and the things he/she complained about were not things I objected to. I have also NOT bought books with positive reviews because of the specific things the reviewer9s) liked. So, positive or negative, please show your work! (I sound like my 8th grade math teacher!).

  9. I agree you can't please everyone, but sometimes reviews can be mean for the sake of it. I've even known reviews to be posted where the book hasn't been read.

    However, both good and bad can be useful. Even though I'm busy writing I'm often asked to read/review other people's work (my list is vast) and sometimes it's difficult to say something positive - I always try - because I don't want to crush the dreams of others.

    Some fabulous points made here - and I can only thank the 'bloggers' and serious readers for the time they take in reviewing at all.

  10. Well said. I think it's important for writers to remember, as you pointed out, that book reviews are meant for readers. Good advice for those on both sides of the fence to be on their best behaviour.