The Truth About Giving Negative Reviews

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I received an email the other day asking me how I handle bad reviews, and it's not the first email I've received that question. I actually like hearing it because I think that it shows readers aren't simply giving trigger-pull responses to the books they read, but rather taking the time to accurately assess what is and isn't working for them in the novels they read. 

I absolutely never take pleasure in giving bad reviews. As an aspiring author, it pulls at my heartstrings to tell a writer that their book simply didn't work for me, but it happens. For example, back in 2010, I was on tour for Bumped by Megan McCafferty - a favourite author of mine. This book was so hyped in the world of dystopians that I was certain I'd love it, but I ended up barely making it through. Since I was going to feature an author interview, I spoke with Ms. McCafferty ahead of time, and we ended up focusing the interview around those issues I had with the book. It was probably the most insightful interview I've ever featured, and it convinced me that someday I should read the book the book again.

^^^ Just a few of the books I've given negative reviews in the past 4 years.

Some of the most major drama and conflict in the book blogosphere the past couple years has revolved around reviews, Goodreads and how we, as bloggers, actually impact the sale of books - if at all. Here's the thing though, I think that we do, and we need to take the time to truly watch our words and post reviews that are thoughtful, insightful and honest - even if that means a negative review. Here are the five things I focus on when writing a negative review.

1. Why didn't the book work for you?  By sitting back and taking the time to identify the exact elements of the story that didn't work for me, I'm able to give a comprehensive and thorough overview of what didn't work for me in the novel. In doing so, I'm able to show other readers what might and might not work for them.

2. Do I have any sort of bias that is affecting my review? Let's be honest here. This does happen, whether we want to admit it or not. Writing a clear, honest and insightful negative review means putting aside all biases and taking the high road.

3. What is your ratio of opinion to fact in your review? I've found over time that it needs to be a delicate balance of the two, or your negative review is skewed in the general direction of pettiness. When writing a negative review, only after assessing the elements that were flawed to I feel the right to insert my opinion.

4. Are your assertions backed by elements of the story? If I were to write a negative review but provide no context for it, it would seem like an awfully one-sided review. To make sure that my negative review makes sense and offers truth, I make certain to provide examples and reasoning for each assertion that I make.

5. Are you being fair with your review? I truly believe there is merit to a good negative review. It provides balance and insight, and it also helps readers differentiate between what does and doesn't work for them. Writing a negative review, however, requires a delicate touch of honesty and fairness. Never do I want to cross a line of sarcasm and pettiness in a negative review, or I only serve to compromise my own reviewing integrity.

I am absolutely no expert on book reviewing, but I do believe there is something to be said for writing the negative reviews and calling out the difference between the good, bad and great novels out there. At the end of the day, it's our opinion, but I'd rather my opinion be taken serious than as something petty and malicious.

Do you write negative reviews? What is your take on writing them, or how do you go about writing a good negative review?


  1. I write negative reviews sometimes. I mean, sometimes I just won't bother writing a review if it was just a lacklustre book or if it was REALLY bad and instead I'll just give it a star rating on goodreads.

    But if it's a book that I've got a really strong opinion on or if it's the last book in a series or if it's a book that I really do want to review, then I'll write one up whether it's negative or not.
    I'll always try to be constructive and put both good and bad points, but I'm also going to be honest and say what I didn't like.

    I think the key is to still be respectful to the author and not attack them personally. Also reviews that swear a lot and say it's the worst book they've ever read - I think those reviews are ridiculous. I'd never say or do something like that, because it's unnecessary and doesn't benefit anyone.

    There also need to be examples - you can't just say 'OMG I hated this it was so crap, don't buy it'. There needs to be reasons why you didn't like it, in order to make it a fair review and reiterate that this is just YOUR opinion, and someone else may think differently. Some negative reviews that outright just state they hated the book, it was awful and don't even give reasons . . . it's just pointless.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head there, Allie. When I read a negative review, I want to know WHY it left a sour taste in your mouth, you know? Without that, I feel a little bit slighted. Thanks for sharing!

  2. You know, it's really funny Melissa, but I don't often find a book that REALLY doesn't work for me. I guess I'm very selective. I am usually really great at identifying the things that worked AND didn't work in the books that are kind of so-so, and I have no problem mentioning those things. But this is how I feel: I'm doing this thing as a hobby and I'm not in the business of destroying people. At the same time, I do feel like honesty is important. AND again, at the same time, I feel like there is a way to be honest without bashing and being scathing. I feel like (personally) I am able to give a good balance of honest without hurting anyone. These authors put so much time and effort and THEMSELVES into their own stories, and if the book didn't work for me, there may be a slew of people that it did work for. I just don't believe in hurting people or slamming people for the sake of doing that. I can be honest, but I can be so in a thoughtful way. I've heard other people say things like "I don't owe the author anything." -- but I feel that we all owe one another respect.

    That being said, I agree that when I read a negative review, I want to know why and I want know it from a reason that is credible, not just "Oh well the author didn't make the female main character choose the guy I liked!" which I've seen quite a bit lately. I don't mind reading negative reviews but I cannot stand bashing and dwelling on the negative feelings surrounding books that do not work for you (you being the reviewer). Don't get on social media and bash the book/author and cause a ripple effect. Stay professional! We all can have less-than-stellar feelings about a story - that's okay - the next one will be better! But we should be thoughtful in our approach and remember that respect is key and so, so important. Or that's my take on it, I guess.

    The way you mentioned handling the issue with Bumped up above - see, that is respectful, thoughtful, and honest. It can be done. (:

  3. I'm with Asheley above, it's been a rarity for me that I've found a book that just didn't work for me at all. In the beginning when I was less selective about the books I reviewed I think I ran into this problem more often, but now I know what does and does not work for me and I tend to stick to books that I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy.

    Also, I have the benefit of amazing friends like you who have come to learn some of my preferences and warn me off books that have something like cheating or the death of a main character (ahem) that they know will be a huge issue for me. I think you're so right to mention biases as well, I definitely have them (like the aforementioned cheating, I just can't deal with it even if the story is absolutely amazing), so I definitely try and take that into account and mention it in my review so people know it might not bother them as it did me:)

    I think negative reviews, the kind you're describing that fully explain why a story didn't work rather than ripping it apart with animated gifs, are a good thing because there is absolutely no way everyone is going to like the same things. And if we all had the same opinion, book blogging would be downright dull and wholly unnecessary:)

  4. I feel like I write more negative reviews than positive ones. Even when I enjoy a book, I always note aspects that didn't work for me so for a completely negative review, it's not very different. I do agree, though, that you need elements of the tale to back up your feelings on the novel. Sometimes it's just a case of the prose not working out for me or my mood not being right for that genre, in which case I try not to write a full review since I'm not equipped to explain all the finer points of the story without my bias for the writing getting in the way. But negative reviews are always more helpful, I think, so I make a conscious effort to write and post them. Whenever I'm about to read a book, I try to read both positive and negative reviews so I know a little of what to expect from both fronts. Wonderful discussion post, Melissa!(:

  5. I write less negative reviews than I used to. Not because I have anything in theory against writing them, but because I have less patience for books that I'm not into. I have so many books to read, that I'll give up on just about any book that isn't working. I actually find writing okay reviews much harder than writing negative reviews - books that were good enough to finish but not good enough that I actually care about them.

  6. I agree that we need to be very careful with our negative reviews, but they really do have a place. If something specific didn't work for me, I need to remember to explain that clearly so that other readers will know not to pick up that book if they will have issue with the same item. I've read some negative reviews that actually caused me to read the book because I thought the review while negative really made the book sound interesting. So they do have a place and a purpose but need to be done in a mature and professional manner.

  7. Yes. Yes and yes. As long as the review is an actual review not just a rant against the author, as long as it addresses the reasons why the reader didn't like it and doesn't rip the book to shreds with no backing. To me, negative reviews are necessary. Sometimes, they even make me want to read the book so I can find out if I feel the same way. Not every book works for every person. It's naive to think that they would and that every review should be a positive one. If people can't handle negative reviews (again, as long as they're supported, not just rants or someone being an ass), they shouldn't be in the business. Yep. I said it.

  8. Negative reviews are a must. I wish authors would understand that. I would never buy a book with only 5s, I would think it was fake

  9. I've only written a few negative reviews and I feel awful doing it. But I am not attacking the author, using profanity or animated gifs. I'm simply stating the fact that the book didn't or in one case wasn't working for me and why. I don't like to do it, and I used to just skip negative reviews, but now I figure I owe it to authors and readers to know when I don't like a book and why.

    If you don't finish a book do you review it?

  10. This is super helpful! Thanks so much!

  11. I do tend to review books--positive and negative but i will never personally go out of my way to start trashing the author and such. But wonderful post, Melissa! <33

  12. I'm definitely not a fan of writing negative reviews - but they happen! I always try to point out some positive aspect of a book I'm giving a not-so-great review to. Let's face it, everyone can't love the same books! I've seen a lot of nastiness in negative reviews on Goodreads where people actually do seem to take pleasure in getting very personal in their (negative) reviews. And that's what I really don't agree with. We can't love all the books, but there's absolutely no need to get nasty with it!

  13. Great discussion post….definitely makes me think. I haven't had to write too many negative reviews lately, because usually if it book doesn't work for me to the point where I can't read it anymore, I will put it in my DNF post and just briefly explain why it wasn't for me, but could be for someone else, etc. I have been more selective about my review books, so I think that has helped with negative reviews. (By the way, I wasn't the biggest fan of Bumped either!!)

  14. I don't like to write negative reviews, but I try to be as nice as I can when I do write, trying to note some positive aspects.
    I have seen some negative reviews that are so harsh that I cringe at the amount of snarkiness and rudeness, but I will never go about and insult and trash an author.
    Great post, Melissa!

  15. I hate writing negative reviews so much, but I never trash the book or the author and I always try to be as nice as I can when I explain why the book didn't work for me. I've seen some reviews where the reviewers are extremely harsh but that's just never been my style.

    Tantalize! I couldn't finish that book either, I haven't read the other two.

  16. Yes I write both negative and positive reviews because I might end reading the book and like it. Some books work for me and some don't , and If a book is bad I want to let others know not to read it or not.

  17. Honestly, I do post the occasional negative/meh review. I do try to be fair and simply share what I liked versus what I didn't, and explain why it didn't work for me. I'm always encouraging others who might be interested to try it out as they might end up liking it more than I did! Great tips in your post :)


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