“Why I Sometimes Write Negative Reviews & Why You Should Consider Doing the Same…”

Very thought-provoking article from Novel Publicity here.

Although I don’t rate books using the star system, Chand explains her own personal system quite well. What caught my attention most were the books she rates as one-star… because she couldn’t finish them.

A couple of weeks ago, I started reading a self-published novel (and I have no intention of telling you the title or the author, since it would be unfair of me to publicly denigrate a book I – strictly speaking – haven’t actually read.)

I very, very rarely ever ditch a book – it’s sort of a principle with me. And from years of working closely with teenage writers, I’ve learned the art of finding things to genuinely praise, even if the book is overall a misfire.

This book? It was a doozy.

I’d initially picked it up because the title and premise sounded promising and the E-book itself was free, and I was planning on reviewing it here after finishing. But by chapter four, I had to face it: I hadn’t one positive thing to say about this book (except that the title and cover were, and are, still cool).

As well as being a reader, blogger, reviewer and wannabe editor, I’m an (unpublished) writer, too. I get it. I really do. If I found a review of my work that did nothing but detail how shit the reviewer thought it was, I’d cry for days. And possibly not write again for months.

Oh, yes. We writers should have thick skins. I should also have a million dollars, but let’s face it: if it were that easy, we’d all be millionaires and much better writers, revelling in the sharpest concrit imaginable.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

My dilemma of whether to give this book a negative review or none at all was made a little easier on me for two reasons: first, I’d chosen to read the book myself, and the author had no idea I’d even read their work, let alone thought so little of it. Secondly, the E-book was free.

Since I also review on request, it’s already occurred to me: What if someone asks me to review their book, and it’s a bad, bad, bad, bad book? And what if they’re charging people for the privilege of reading it?

My mother sometimes tells the story of seeing her neighbour’s newborn daughter for the first time – and physically recoiling before she could help herself. All babies are cute, she told me later, but that one was not beautiful.

If a writer trusts me with their hard work, and I can’t bring anything positive to the table, that’s what I’ll feel like. I’ll feel like I just told a proud new mother that her baby is ugly.

Luckily, I don’t think there’s much danger of that happening. I’ve read over 100 books in the past six months, and abandoned only one of them. I like those odds.


8 thoughts on ““Why I Sometimes Write Negative Reviews & Why You Should Consider Doing the Same…”

  1. I’ve also come across books/stories I couldn’t finish for one reason or another, and not just from people who think they can write but really (if we were brutally honest) can’t.

    For instance, I’ve never read all the plays penned by the Bard. Why? I love snippets of Shakespeare but it takes just too damned much effort (for me) to commit to going cover to cover (as it were).

    Or how about Gormenghast – I really do appreciate the skill of the writing and understand why so many people are enthralled. I’ve tried on numerous occasions but the effort required to understand the style is just too much (and again, that’s just for me).

    But so far as contemporary writers go, it is definitely the case that what is poor writing to one person will turn out to be perfect prose to someone else, you know? Let me give an example of two critiques I received, neither of which are the best or worst reviews I’ve ever had.

    This first is the Negative (and please note, the spelling and grammar are not mine):
    “i was dissapointed in this tale.the story builds you up, keep you guessing and drops you like a ton of bricks at the end. it is a good thing this is a free book.
    it tells of a young girl working for a woman and her son in a big house.the woman and her son are not what we call “human”. some of the story line is ridiculous.”

    (I don’t know about you, but when I received critique from somebody who doesn’t appear to have grasped the basic mechanics of the language I tend not to take it to heart.)

    And now the Positive:
    “A short tale that sets the stage for creepiness quite well. The plot has a satisfying twist and, given the burst of paranormal romance that abounds, an ending I didn’t expect. Very tasty treat for a fan of horror, especially if you find all of the Twilight twinkie wannabes just a bit too saccharine.”

    Same story, different perspectives from two different readers. Go figure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! And I’d way sooner someone admit they couldn’t read something than pretend they did because they want some sort of weird reading street-cred. I have never made it through a Jane Austen novel in my life. And Shakespeare was always meant to be watched, not read 🙂

      Oh, ouch on that first review. As a reader, I can say that if I read a review where the reviewer doesn’t appear to have grasped the basic mechanics of the language, I don’t let their opinion influence whether I’ll read the book or not!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, embarrassingly, in the above where I’ve moaned about other people’s spelling and grammar, I must offer an apology for my own errors!

    Where it says:
    “…but when I received critique…”

    it should say:
    “…but when I receive critique…”

    But then, spolling and grimmer were never my long suits!


  3. It’s a hard one. Sometimes, though, I get fed up with seeing all these five star reviews from friends for books that are just badly written; there’s a certain amount of ’emperor’s new clothes’ syndrome going around in the indie publishing world generally. No-one ever dares actually say ‘but this person has no writing talent’ – ‘I didn’t enjoy it because of its structure/my personal taste’ is a hell of a lot different from ‘I abandoned this early because it’s a heap of crap’.

    I review books only when I’ve finished them, which means that they’re never going to be less than 3* because I abandon books that I don’t like (and unlike you I abandon about 20% of those I start). I’ve recently started reviewing for another book blog, though, and am thus obliged to finish and review the books I choose, which means that sometimes I will do so negatively. It’s not easy to do and I feel a bit shitty about it afterwards but my opinion is this: if you put your book up for sale/review, then you have to take the opinions as they come. I will try my best to give a balanced view, but I won’t lie, as reviews are primarily for the reader, not feedback for the writer. If you bought, for instance, an electrical item and it didn’t work, you wouldn’t pretend it did, so as not to hurt the manufacturer’s feelings!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Very true! Especially the emphasis on doing right by the potential reader (I admire your resolve in not putting yourself through the pain of reading something you aren’t thrilled about…!)

      I have seen reviews that actually say things like, “I hated this book because it’s a heap of crap”, or “Blah-di-blah shouldn’t give up their day job, they can’t write at all”, etc. I’m not a fan of “this book is crap” evaluations not because they’re necessarily mean, but because they often lack elaboration on what exactly “crap” is.

      If someone thinks a book I’m about to read (or a book I’ve written) is crap, I’d like to know why. Goodreads is full of reviews that seem to have little to do with the actual book being reviewed. (“The author of this book gave my friend a negative reviews, so I’m taking revenge”, or, as you said, “The author of this book is my bestie/father/mother/son/daughter/sister/brother, so I’m giving the book five stars for that.”)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly! It’s why I always ignore the 6 two line 5 star reviews posted as soon as the book comes out, by people who haven’t reviewed anything else…! If a review is really glowing, I always look to see if they review lots of other stuff too. Though one shouldn’t be too harsh; it’s sometimes because they’re a genuine fan of the writer!

        Sometimes a book really is so awful that ‘a load of crap’ is sufficient (!!!) but yes, it’s not often that a book has no good points at all. In case you’re interested, here is the link to my 3 star reviews on my blog, though to be honest I gave the first one 2 stars on Goodreads, as I would have abandoned it if I hadn’t been obliged to review.



  4. Pingback: A Different Kind of Book Review | The Reader In the Tower

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