If life is perfect, all the books I read become new favourites–I’ll recommend it to everyone I know, I’ll reassure those who are thinking about reading it, I can’t stop bringing it up. Unfortunately, life isn’t perfect and more often that I’d like, books fail to meet my expectations and disappoint me. Here are some things I’ve learned about writing negative book reviews. 🙂
1) It can be hard to trust your own opinion.
Maybe I’m the only one here, but I often feel insecure about my reviews, especially when the overwhelming majority loves a book and I think it’s blah. This has happened in various scenarios, most notably Throne of Glass since my review of that book has not been sterling.
I’m not sure why I feel this way. When I read other people’s negative reviews on books I like, I never think, “They’re wrong! This book is the best!”; I actually usually end up thinking, “Oh hey, they’ve got a point, that part could have been better.”
Even with negative reviews I don’t agree with, I also never feel the need to prove that they’re wrong. But it can be hard to trust your own voice, and if anyone else struggles with this: hey, just know that you’re not the only one. 🙂
2) Negative reviews can be anxiety-inducing.
Once I posted a book look for a particular title and tweeted about it. The author saw my tweet, liked it, re-tweeted it, and then followed me. At this point, I’ve read the book in question and have decided that I actually don’t like it all that much, although I haven’t yet reviewed it.
Her following me just made me sweat in my pajamas. What if she saw my negative review and feel hurt? What if she got offended? Should I block her so she can’t see my tweets? And yes, I’m aware I sound ridiculous.
I decided against it because hey, my opinions are valid, and posted my review. When she ended up unfollowing me after that, I sighed in relief. It’s all over, and we both escaped unscathed! 😛
It’s ridiculous how much anxiety I feel when posting a negative review, especially when I have had contact with the author before or is in contact with them. But point is, I shouldn’t have worried over it. I feel more confident now, thankfully.
3) Don’t tag the author on social media.
This is more of a question of etiquette, but when you’re promoting your negative review, have the decency not to tag the author on social media.
Twitter might make it easier for you to communicate with authors, but there is honestly no real need to mention the author (@) and tell them how much you dislike their books–unless they specifically ask for it, which I’ve never seen happen before (although I’m sure it does).
I tag the author when my review is positive, but not when they’re negative. I don’t feel like there’s any need to tell the author hey, I think your book sucks. Think about how you’d feel if someone goes out of their way to mention you on social media and tell you: “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that your blog sucks and you should never write again.” Pretty terrible, I imagine.
You wouldn’t walk up to an author whose work you didn’t enjoy and tell them what sucks about their book, would you? Same with social media. Don’t tag the author, it’s just polite.
4) It’s about the book, not the author.
It’s easy to say that authors should build a thicker skin because negative reviews will happen, but that’s not our call to make. What we can control, however, is what we say and do.
When you’re reviewing a book–positively or negatively–remember that it’s the work you’re making a commentary on, not the person behind it.
If you hate a character, hate the character, but be aware that how the character thinks does not necessarily reflect how the author think. In some cases it could happen, sure, but then think of it this way: what do you gain by attacking or hating on an author? Not much, most likely.
5) Be honest, but be fair.
Positive reviews are easy to do because they’re, well, positive. You compliment the author, you fawn over the characters, you express how shocked you were at that plot twist, you gush over the book in general. But negative reviews can be tricky. What can you say that doesn’t offend, but still stays true to your personal thoughts and feelings?
One thing I try to do when writing a review is to analyse both the good and the bad. This means that when my review is positive, I try to think of how the book could be improved, and when my review is negative, I try to think of what the book has done well.
But what if you really, really can’t think of anything good about a particular book? Then that’s okay too. Just remember to, well, not be rude. 😛
6) Get your facts right.
Recently I read a review of a book that accuses the author of plagiarising the story from another more popular, big-name author, John Green. The books in question happen to have similar themes, and the reviewer is incensed that she’s wasted her time reading the lesser known book.
Understandable? Maybe. But does it make it right for the reviewer to accuse the author of plagiarism? I say not.
Other reviewers of the book–and people who know the author–have jumped in and asked the reviewer to remove the accusation, claiming that the author has actually thought of the story from way before John Green’s book is published.
There’s probably no realistic way to tell who’s right, but I’d say that even in reviewing, it’s good to be diplomatic. If you feel like a story is too similar to what’s been done before, say so–but get your facts right. Don’t accuse, don’t slander, don’t defame.
7) Give evidence.
This is definitely more of a personal preference and not a hard-and-fast rule, but I have more trust in reviews that are backed up with evidence, say in the form of quotes, negative or otherwise.
I don’t personally believe that all opinions need to be justified, but it sure doesn’t hurt to understand where your thoughts and feelings come from (in general). It shows that you’ve given it careful consideration and could rationalise it or explain yourself if you had to. It also ensures that you have an answer when someone asks you why you like or dislike something. 🙂
8) Your opinion, however different, is valid.
Directly related to the first point, maybe, but I think this deserves a little talking about as well: I feel a little guilty sometimes when someone decides they’re not going to pick up a book after reading my review. Basically, I feel guilty when people agree with me.
I know not all bloggers feel this way. Some seem to feel comfortable in saying, “That book sucks! Don’t pick it up, you’ll hate it!”, but I find it ridiculously hard. When everyone else likes a book I dislike, I have trouble believing that my opinion is valid. Sometimes I worry that there might be something I’m missing. Other times, I worry that my tastes are just kind of out of the blue.
(Spoiler: honestly, they’re really not, and I’m really quite mainstream. :P)
So what has helped? Two things, mostly: telling myself over and over that my opinion is just as valid as others’… and reading other negative reviews in Goodreads. There is strength in numbers, after all, and I do believe we all need an echo chamber occasionally.
Does any of this apply to you? Do you have any tips for reviewing a book you REALLY don’t like? Let me know in the comments, or link me to your favourite negative review. 🙂