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Sunday, May 26, 2013

On Writing and Responding to Negative Reviews

I really, really dislike writing negative reviews. One of the main reasons I write The Hiding Spot is to connect readers to books and to encourage reading, so writing a negative review always feels like I'm doing the opposite. As a book blogger, one of the greatest feelings ever is the rush of happiness when a reader leaves a comment saying that, after reading my review, they bought or read the book themselves. These comments make me feel like I'm actually achieving my goal, which is fantastic! On the other hand, one of the worst things to see, on my blog, someone else's blog, or on GoodReads is a comment saying "Thanks for your review, I'll definitely be avoiding this book now!" I've been thinking a lot about whether I should write reviews for books I didn't enjoy or couldn't bring myself to finish and how frustrating it can be to see a negative review of a book I personally loved (and the comments that follow) and I realized a few things:

On Writing Negative Reviews
Luckily, I don't often come across books that I strongly dislike. To me, this isn't because I'm not discerning or picky about what I read, it's more that I've become better at selecting books that fit my reading personality, but more on that later. Ultimately, I've decided that if I dislike a book, even if I wasn't able to finish it completely, I'll still review it. 
Here's why: negative reviews have value too. I'm not talking about the reviews that bash a book or attack the author or don't give constructive and meaningful reasons as to why the reviewer didn't like the book - I find little value in these reviews - but a well written review, whether it is positive or negative, is always worth it. 
When I write a negative review, I'm careful to explain why it didn't work for me. I hope, that by being clear about why I didn't personally enjoy the book, those who read my reviews will gain something from it. For example, maybe the issues I had with the book wouldn't bother you as a reader and, therefore, you might still want to read it. In contrast, maybe the things that bothered me are also things that will make or break a book for you as well, so you'll pick up something else to read for the time being.  
The thing is, reviews are opinions. I don't ever want someone to read a negative review and  just blindly assume that they won't like the book either. Be an informed reader - do some research and read a couple reviews. If you took the time to read a negative review I'm sure you have time to read a few positive reviews as well. I hate the idea that someone might miss out on a book that they might have loved just because of a negative review. 
Another, perhaps overlooked consequence of negative reviews, is, as I mentioned earlier, reading and reviewing more books you actually enjoy. Part of the reason that I end up picking so many books I do enjoy is because I read so many reviews, both good and bad. If I picked up every book based on how good the jacket description sounds, I'd probably end up reading many more books that don't fit my reading personality, but reading reviews helps me narrow down my reading list. If I didn't do this and ended up reading more of these ill-fitting books I would, of course, feel somewhat obligated to write a review, which would be negative. I write so many positive reviews because I so rarely end up reading books I don't like. 
On Responding to Negative Reviews
I cannot tell you how many times I've read a negative review of a book I love or the comments that follow and ended up disappointed and defensive of said book. I've found that the best way (and really the only way) to respond to negative reviews of a book you love is to write a positive review. It is completely pointless to get upset, comment that the review/er is wrong, etc. The review is out there and there will always be people who don't think your favorite books is all that great, plus they're as entitled to their negative opinion as you are to your positive one. 
If there's a point in the negative review that you particularly disagree with or felt differently about, use it to your advantage. Addressing that aspect of the story (and explaining why you loved it) is a great way to differentiate and add detail to your review. I'm not at all telling you to reference or call this negative review, just remember to incorporate that you liked that aspect of the novel in your own review. I've done this many times and it's these reviews that seem to garner the most comments and readers... a win/win! 
I know that negative reviews can be scary, make reviewers feel guilty, or upset authors, but there will never not be negative reviews or opinions about even the best books. Instead of dwelling on the upsetting things surrounding these reviews, I'm trying to focus on the positive consequences... and, though I'm obviously biased, I think you should too!
As a blogger and/or author, what's your opinion regarding negative reviews?


  1. This was really well-put...and I like what you said about responding to a negative review of your favorite book by writing a positive review.

    I became a writer because I love reading good books and the amount of good books I've read since I started reading reviews on them has increased drastically. I don't fall prey to "pretty cover but bad book" impulse buys nearly as much (acknowledging of course that the word "bad" means a poor choice for me.)

    I'm probably not so thick-skinned that I'll ever enjoy receiving negative reviews, but there's a place for them--especially well-thought-out reviews, and I appreciate them.

    Writers are...strongly encouraged not to write negative reviews by the publishing world. Some do. Most don't. It just comes across weird and wrong--even though many of us are avid readers, so I'm grateful to reviewers who take the time to review books on a critical level whether positively or negatively.

    *shrugs* Plus, books deserve this kind of passion. They should be discussed and live outside of their pages.

    I can't remember who said it, but someone once said that when an author publishes a story they lose the right for it to be exclusively theirs. It belongs to the readers...who will fill in blanks and make up images and take the characters a bit beyond the page and outside the story. It's hard to accept that as a writer...even as it feels like magic--the sort of magic you dreamed of when you became a writer. And, as a reader, there is nothing better than a story that you experience outside the confines of pages. I'm always on the look for a book that makes me forget I'm reading.

    I really enjoyed tweeting with you about this, Sara. Thanks. : )

  2. Wow. Very well put! I always feel so bad when I read a book I just didn't like and am writing a review on it! Even worse when the publisher sent me the copy....
    Thanks for sharing

  3. YES. This post=perfect. I also don't write very many negative reviews, not because I hide from them, but because I know the types of books I like and stay away from books I think I won't like. Negative reviews definitely do have value and it's nice to be able to read reviews from multiple perspectives, because they all matter.

  4. I definitely think they're necessary. What's the point of having no negative reviews? Then NO one could decide what to read based off reviewers' opinions. I especially think they're necessary when they include themes that I think are damaging to readers. I've personally only read one book since I started blogging that I really disagreed with, but I've seen a lot of good reviews for it, so it is all opinion in the end.

  5. Writing negative reviews makes me depressed because it reminds me of all the time I've spent on a bad book! BUT I do think they're important. They give variety/spice/whatever in a sea of positive reviews-- and sometimes they're good to vent whatever frustrations you have with a bad book, haha!

    I really like your idea about responding to a negative review of a beloved book by writing a positive one. Balance is good!

    - Anastasia @ Here There Be Books

  6. Well said. It's no fun to write a negative review but I believe it's important to be honest. Thank you for trying to publicize authors!

  7. I really liked the conclusion you came to. As I was reading, I thought about how sometimes positive reviews make me not what to pick up a book. You wrote about how you know what you like to read and have a pretty good sense of what appeals to you in a book or doesn't. The same for me. If a reviewer is raving about the vampire love story they just read, even though the review is positive, I may skip that one because its not my thing. I think what I'm trying to say I'd both well-constructed and meaningful positive and negative reviews have a place in the blogging world, and as you indicated, readers may still be move by a negative review to pick up a book if the things that bothered you don't bother them or vice versa. I've heard a lot of positive and negative criticism for The Great Gatsby movie, but I still want to see it to make a judgement for myself. I don't tend to shy away from negative reviews, but I don't give stars on my blog (I do on Goodreads, but because I have to). Instead, my blog title and my personal reviewing policy came from the idea that some books work for some people and not for others. Some books resonate more at particular times in particular places than others. So I attempt to "match" books with readers or situations. What I mean to say in this long-winded comment is great post!


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