Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On Writing Negative Reviews

This is a post I've been thinking about writing for months now but I haven't been quite sure if it was a good idea to explain why it is that I sometimes write up a negative review of any given book. Obviously, if you are reading this it is because I found a way to try to express why I do what I do (when I sometimes do it).

In order to explain why I occasionally write up a "negative review" of a book I feel like I have to rehearse the reasons why such reviews bother some people.

1. Money is the obvious first answer. Publishers want to make it; so do authors. Authors who are still alive and having books published by publishers do not always take so kindly to you interfering with possible sales of their books. There is always the hope that when you write a book it will bring you some notice and some handy pocket change. If you say this is not true, I would merely point you to the countless live authors who have popped around to different blog posts to defend themselves and argue that you don't have a right to your opinion. Happens all of the time.

2. Negativity. Some people just feel like a negative review is filled with nothing but, um, negativity and they do not like anything negative touching their person at anytime. Some people dislike it so much that they will go to incredible lengths to pretend that nothing is wrong when things are absolutely falling apart. If an alligator were in the process of taking off their leg, they would sniff and swear that it felt like a mosquito bite. (I might over exaggerate. A little.) If there was a campaign against sending bad vibes out over the internet over the idea of writing a negative review of a book, these people would be behind it. "Just think of a wonderful thought! Any happy little thought?" (Reference anyone? Anyone?)

3. Ambivalence. We live in a society which says that "anything goes." If something feels right or looks right to you, go ahead and do it. There is a driving philosophy which pervades the land which just says we ought to "live and let live." If you don't like a book (or a behavior or attitude or whatever) just walk away. No need to point to it and examine it. Heavens to betsy, don't spend time thinking about it! To do so would make people uncomfortable. Let's just not "go there" with those naughty bad vibes, ok?

There are no doubt plenty of other reasons against the idea of writing up a negative review, but I'll stick with those three because I think they are the main arguments. Obviously I don't think that any of those reasons are valid because I'm writing this post.

I actually think that negative reviews are in the best interest of everyone. How so?

1. A memory is a beautiful thing to care for. I appreciate being warned against "dirty" reads. If there are sexually explicit scenes or a lot of foul language involved in the reading, I would really appreciate knowing about it before diving into the book! In the interest of developing and maintaining positive, happy thoughts I would rather not clutter my mind with bad words when so many good ones are readily available. I would rather not spend my valuable reading time with what could literally be a pile of trash and one which I will likely have a difficult time forgetting. It is my responsibility to protect my thoughts and my memories and to that end I would rather avoid books with sex scenes and foul language.

2. Money. Money is scarce and not to be taken for granted. When I do spend money on books I want to know that they are going to be reads that I will enjoy, but that my children might also enjoy. I want to purchase wonderful books which will be read over and over again! It's always a disappointment to have spent money on what turns out to be a dud of a book. Any tips that will point me in the direction of books I will love are very much appreciated.

3. Time. Reading time is so very valuable. (I cannot fathom that anyone out there would disagree with such a statement.) I want to spend what little reading time I have with fabulous books that I will love. There might be a lot of decent reads out there but I'm interested in the best for me and so a truly honest and "negative" review helps me to weed out books which might not necessarily be the greatest fit but helps me to use my time wisely and well.

4. Truth. This is the biggest one. In the past I have had the opportunity to review numerous books from a variety of publishers. These opportunities are still available to me but I tend to avail myself of such opportunities less and less. There are various reasons for this, one of which is that I know what the publisher hopes for is a positive review that will send others off rushing to purchase the same book. In the past I have written moderate reviews of books I really didn't care for all that much only to discover that a friend purchased the book based on my recommendation. There were two particular occasions when I discovered this was so. I will always remember and repent of those wishy-washy reviews. As a result of those two instances, I vowed never to write a review that is anything less than completely honest so as to avoid someone else going out on a limb based on a half hearted recommendation on my part. If I read a book and don't like it, I consider it a personal responsibility to state the reasons why as clearly as I can manage. If the publisher/author doesn't care for my honest thoughts then that needs to be their problem but not mine. Telling the truth is very important, even in a book review.

There are more reasons, of course, why I think that being willing to write up a negative review is important but these are the main reasons (for me).

That explained, please understand that I'm not actively seeking out books which will I know will likely result in negative review. (Although truthfully I find it very tempting to do so periodically.) As I've already explained, I'd rather spend quality time with books I enjoy, rather than ones I know I won't. This post is more just to explain why I would and will go on writing negative reviews if the situation demands it. It's not to meant to cause controversy or hurt feelings. It is just meant to keep me as truthful and honest as possible in all areas of life.


Stephanie Kay said...

I appreciate the honesty of your negative reviews. Like you I don't want to waste my time and money on books I don't enjoy. Knowing ahead of time some of the ideas in a book that I may not appreciate helps me to make a better decision when it comes to buying a book!

Annette Whipple said...

What you do so well that I don't is put your finger on why you don't like a book. I'm reading one right now that isn't a great fit for me...but was a gift. It's okay...good even. Though it interests me, I think it's a bit off on my tastes though from the summary, it does seem to be a great fit for me.

Great post.

Susanne said...

I appreciate honest reviews. I do keep in mind that tastes in story and style may vary between readers and I may still go ahead with reading the book but then I at least I have been forewarned and know there might be something in there that I don't want to be confronted with in my reading material. Nothing I hate worse than getting into a story and then being blindsided with graphic content or foul language.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Boy howdy, I sure do like this post. :-)

guiltlessreader said...

What a great post summing up why we really need to be honest in our reviews! I appreciate "negative" reviews especially in the current climate where rave reviews are the "norm."

Mark Baker said...

I do the same thing for much of the same reasons you state. I just wouldn't have expressed it as well as you did.

Annette said...

Excellent post. Very well expressed. I wish you had a way for me to share this on Google or Twitter or Facebook.
Only a few times I year I have to write a negative review. I'm pretty good at picking books to read that I'll end up giving a 4 or 5 star review. Earlier this year I had 2 books close together that were awful. In one book I'd liked it all the way until the end when the author decided to give shock value by adding a homo-erotic scene. I was angered, upset. I wanted my life back that I'd invested thus far in this book only to be...I felt taken advantage of.

Shonya said...

Excellent post! I agree with you 100%.

I also tend to thoroughly enjoy your negative reviews. :)

Cassandra said...

I love this post. I appreciate negative reviews because it helps me decide if I want to read a book. I find negative reviews are actually more honest than the glowing ones. When I'm looking for a book review on Amazon or Goodreads, I go straight for the 2 star reviews. They are much more interesting to read than "this is another book by my favorite author and I loved it!"

Barbara H. said...

I agree with every point. I've had that happen as well, when a reader tells me they bought something due to my review. Scares me a little! But I think honesty is #1. If all I read are glowing reviews on a site, all I can conclude is that the blogger either isn't being honest or she's very easy to please. Or she'd being compensated.

I was sorely disappointed and disturbed once to try a new author that several authors I already read recommended, and I found it to be one of the most poorly written things I ever read. It really made me question those author's recommendations. Were they just helping a friend promote a book? Being authors themselves, how could they recommend something like that? Didn't they give any helpful editing tips? Not only do I avoid that author now, I also ignore those authors' recommendations.

Though of course authors want positive feedback, and some reviewers on Amazon and such are just nasty, I hope they take into account an honest criticism and use it to improve.

A Dusty Frame said...

I recently had to post 2 pretty negative reviews of authors I like. The books were just not good and I had some problems with quite a bit of both of them.
I hated to do it but if I read another blogger's review I want to know what they really thought about it.
Like you, I want my reading time to be used up with excellent books not "eh" books :)

Susan said...

Enjoyed this, and agree totally. I do feel uncomfortable writing negative reviews, and have even had authors do a snarky blog post on my negative review ... sigh ... but, like you, I feel like it's my obligation to write the truth (as I see it, of course -- it *is* my review). Others' opinions obviously may vary.

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