On the Value of Negative Reviews

When I first started blogging, I didn’t give much thought to writing negative reviews. I was excited to discuss books that I love and share them with other people. I wanted to gush about Neil Gaiman books, talk about the latest film adaptations of books I love, and get hyped up about new releases.

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32940867And sure, there’s been plenty of that, but lately, I’ve been thinking about the necessary evil of writing… less than glowing reviews. Sometimes these are easy to write; I gleefully tore into Stephenie Meyer’s The Chemist on this blog a while back, and I have no regrets. Stephenie Meyer is enjoying heaps of success and I can be relatively sure her eyes will never cross my little blog. Stephenie Meyer absolutely does not care what I think, and that’s fine by me.

But when the writer in question is an indie author, the situation becomes fraught. If the book only has 5 or 10 reviews up on GoodReads and you’re the first naysayer in the crowd, it becomes difficult not to picture the author’s face when they inevitably read a review that can essentially be summed up with this gif:

I don’t want to take the wind out of anyone’s sails, least of all someone who is just getting started in a writing career. I try to ask myself with each review, “Who would enjoy this book?” But what do I say when the only answer that comes to mind is, “No one?”

Ultimately, I think it comes down to this: there are two inherent agreements in running a book review blog. In accepting review copies of books, we agree to read and review them. Full stop. Bloggers may be used as a marketing tool, but we are not at the beck and call of the author’s marketing team.

The second unspoken agreement is equally important, and that is with our readers. I will never recommend that you spend your time and money on a book that I don’t believe deserves it. In the interest of keeping my reviews balanced, I generally try to find something nice to say about every book; surely every book has done something right. But I will never waste my readers’ time in the interest of sparing an author’s feelings.

I’ve sometimes seen drama over on GoodReads, when negative reviews are met with people lashing out about “haters.” No book will appeal to every reader. Dismissing every naysayer as a “hater” is ultimately missing the point. Are there pointlessly negative reviews which don’t offer any analysis, but simply choose 15 or 20 different ways to say “I hated this?” Sure. But if a reviewer is articulating why book didn’t work for them, they are providing valuable information for other readers, regardless of their personal taste. Maybe they gave it two stars because the whole story revolved a trope they can’t stand, like love triangles, but love triangles are totally up your alley. Then grab that book and have a blast! And appreciate the fact that another reviewer took the time to let you know what was in store.

Happy reading, everyone! Here’s hoping there are many five star books in your future!

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Thanks for reading, friends! I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Do you feel uncomfortable when posting negative reviews? How do you deal with these?

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17 thoughts on “On the Value of Negative Reviews”

  1. Great discussion. I used to feel uncomfortable but now I feel better at posting negative reviews. I always feel bad telling the author but I’ve never had someone mad at me. One author thanked me actually for they found it great to see such opposing thoughts. I think I’ll always feel slightly bad, especially if it’s an ARC, but I’m more inclined to post either way now haha!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It definitely feels more awkward if it’s an ARC. No matter how tactful I try to be, it just feels like, “Thanks for the free book. 🙂 It was trash.” lol. But I try to take consolation in the fact that honest criticism will make them a better writer if they take it to heart.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a really interesting take on this topic. I actually began my blog as a way to share my book reviews (that typically hold a negative opinion of the book in question). This is because I love digging into novels and figuring out why I disliked them and what parts of them were actually good. It’s so fun sharing these ideas with other people, seeing what they thought, sparking discussion and maybe even debate.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I recently received a book from an indie author that was really really bad, so bad that I decided not to review it all because I would have felt awful. I don’t mind writing negative reviews for books that I didn’t receive for review directly from the author because I feel like the author won’t *see* it whereas if they’re anticipating the review and I have to notify them that I’ve reviewed it and it’s negative 😬😬😬

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When I started to actually review the books I read, I was so scared to say anything negative, especially if the book was popular. I’ve recently learned that I blog for myself, and not authors, and if I give what I thought was an awful book 4 or 5 stars then I would be misleading the amazing people that read my blog. Now that I’m not worried about upsetting people with my reviews, blogging has come so easy to me!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m actually *more* comfortable voicing my negative thoughts if the book is super popular. Lol. I feel less like I have any possibility of hurting an author’s feelings, because why would they care about one negative review in a sea of praise? I care less about the fans disagreeing with me because I find it pretty easy to ignore conflict if it’s mean-spirited. And if it’s a well thought out disagreement, I’m glad to hear it.

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  5. I’m appreciative of negative reviews.
    I had another blog that was focused on food an nutrition, it is long gone now.
    I reviewed a couple of books in that genre that received glowing reviews. After I had read the books myself I was flabbergasted. I wrote negative reviews that were fact based, and I explained the problems I had with the books.
    I think some of the reviewers were in love with the idea of the books, but I wasn’t sure they had actually read the books.
    I like to read positive reviews as well, to get an idea for my next read.

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  6. This is definitely a topic I am wrestling with as I start out, for all the reasons you go into! I fear being turned away from publishers after a negative review, but as you say, we are here to give our honest opinion, and we have an equally important obligation to the readers not to mislead them. Great post!

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  7. I struggle with this myself. I started out doing balanced reviews of 3 or 4 things I did like, along with 3 or 4 thing I didn’t, but I started to feel yucky about the negative energy I felt like I was putting out into the world, and I don’t like to yuck anybody else’s yum. Now if I don’t like something, I do a more specific here’s what didn’t work FOR ME, like you said. Because maybe it will work for you!

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  8. “I will never recommend that you spend your time and money on a book that I don’t believe deserves it.” – – – >well said. The reason why I want my reviews to be nothing but honest. Love this post!

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  9. People who spend considerable time hating on people who didn’t like their book of choice need to find a hobby 😀
    I appreciate all kinds of reviews. They really help me decide whether a book is for me or not.

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  10. Love your post!!!

    I used to feel uncomfortable. However, I feel that a negative review gives potential readers a well-rounded view of the book. As a reader, I value negative ones so I know what I’m getting into.

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  11. I hate leaving bad reviews. I usually won’t review a book unless I can give it at least 3 stars and list a bit of the positive attributes that the author got right. However, I did ‘rip’ into a book recently, and the review is still getting more traffic than any of my other reviews. In this case, I think a lot of readers were looking for explanations wherever they could find them.

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  12. I really do like this take on negative reviews because there have been times where I will write out my reasons about why I didn’t like the book and many people attack why I didn’t like it. I will be the first to admit that purple prose is not my thing and I will say sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t but then people attack me for not liking it. It’s a lot different than someone just saying I hate this book because I hate it and not list what it is about it that they hated it.

    I do agree that it would be more awkward if its on an indie but I think that’s why reviews are there.

    In the beginning I was very hesitant to write anything negative about any book but I feel more comfortable these days to say “This is what I didn’t like and this is what I did like.” I try to make a “like/didn’t like” review for everything instead a full on praising or full on negative review.

    Liked by 1 person

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