Going Negative In Reviews: A Wise Decision?

Day 14 of the A-Z challenge.

N is for Negative Reviews

It’s time to talk about a dilemma occupying the minds of book bloggers around the world.

Should you review books you didn’t enjoy or appreciate?

If you read extensively then its inevitable there will be some you didn’t enjoy. The issue is whether you go public and publish an unfavourable review. Or do you just keep mum?

Thank you to bloggers HaeBooks and Francesca Backer of andsoshethinks and HaeBooks for raising this thorny question in response to my Twitter question about blogging challenges.

There is no clear cut answer to the situation described by HaeBooks. Every blogger finds their own path through based on personal preference and the purpose of their blog.

In my case I review books I loved reading, books that were enjoyable but not special, and books I didn’t like.

Maybe I didn’t much care for the book because I didn’t understand it, or I missed a critical element. Or simply that I was experimenting with a genre that’s outside my normal reading environment. Or I just wasn’t in the mood for that particular book at that particular moment.

Whatever the reason, what I write is my personal response to a book. By sharing both positive and not so positive reactions, I feel I’m giving my readers a very rounded insight into me as a reader.

This is just one point of view.

A fellow blogger from Wales, Kath Eastman of NutPress blog, takes a slightly different angle on this question:

I don’t generally post negative reviews on my blog because it’s my place for recommending books I’ve read and enjoyed. And I don’t have enough time to cover all of those, let alone the ones that weren’t my cup of tea.

But Kath also went on to say:

A review doesn’t HAVE to be only positive; you are allowed to say what doesn’t work for you, or what you didn’t enjoy but when others might find otherwise, it’s also worth acknowledging that.

Kath makes a fundamental point about the need for balance in a review.

I don’t believe any book blogger deliberately sets out to write a review that is completely and utterly negative. We are not monsters intent on causing hurt to the authors who have put their heart and soul into their book. Never have the few lines from W B Yeats been more appropriate than when we review a book:

I have spread my dreams under your feet; 
Tread softly for you tread on my dreams

When an author sends their book out into the world, they are laying their dreams under the feet (or rather eyes) of their readers. An honest but balanced critical response is the least they deserve.

Francesca is clearly sensitive to this point. It’s even more tricky when the book you strongly disliked isn’t a personal copy, but one you’ve been sent for review.

Here’s how Kath deals with this scenario:

If I’m due to review a book that I didn’t enjoy, I always try and contact the publicist first to let them know that it wasn’t for me and give them the option of not posting in this instance. I’m loathe to take part in a blog tour when this happens because these usually take place around publication dates and that should be a time when the book and its author are celebrated.

That’s similar to the approach I have adopted. The slight difference is that I contact the publicist only if I have a very strong aversion to the book AND it’s one that I had requested. If the book comes to me on spec then I don’t feel any compunction to contact the publicist/publisher but I still ensure the review contains some positive comments.

It’s fortunately not a situation that arises often – maybe just half a dozen times in the eight years I’ve blogged at BookerTalk. But I’m comfortable with my approach. I think it strikes the right balance between being true to myself as a reader and reviewer yet being honest with my readers.

Let Me Ask You A Question

Do you have a ‘policy’ on whether your blog should include reviews of books you didn’t enjoy? How would you suggest Francesca deals with her tricky situation about a review book? Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.

BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

32 thoughts on “Going Negative In Reviews: A Wise Decision?

  • Pingback: Should You Review Only The Books You Enjoy? : BookerTalk

  • May 4, 2020 at 12:46 pm
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    The perennial question! The only time I wouldn’t do it is if I thought it would be only one (or one of a handful) online and the author was alive. No point in putting something crushing out there if that’s all they’ll see. But, like Sheree, most of the authors I review are dead – and I LOVE reading a really bitchy negative review if it’s of a famous, dead author – c.f. when I went to town on Mary Webb!

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    • May 4, 2020 at 6:03 pm
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      Having a passion for dead authors does help hugely when you want to share your honest reaction to a book 🙂 I’m going to have to look at your site Simon for a really bitchy negative review now that you’ve told me there is at least one.

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  • April 21, 2020 at 3:02 pm
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    Yeah I think it gives a more well rounded (and honest) view of my reading experience if I share both positive and negative views of books. I definitely view my reviews as my personal reaction and not the definitive take on whether something is good or bad (and try to make that clear) so I hope that people understand that if I say I didn’t like an aspect, then it doesn’t mean the book is necessarily bad per se. I think it’s good to have a balanced approach and most people understand that reviews are opinions.

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    • April 21, 2020 at 9:11 pm
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      This is so true. A book may not work for you for several reasons and yet the things you didn’t enjoy are not an issue for other readers. Hence why its helpful sometimes to read more than one review on a book. If I read a review that says the person didn’t like.a book and I did, it pushes me to think more about my views.

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      • April 21, 2020 at 10:06 pm
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        Absolutely! I sometimes see reviews where someone has critiqued flowery writing, which, as someone that likes that, often makes me intrigued- so it can work the same way for other readers. And that’s true as well- it’s better to get a well rounded look of a book. Same!

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        • April 22, 2020 at 9:49 pm
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          I had a discussion going with one blogger about the use of descriptive passages in books.He didn’t care for them, I’m not a massive fan but don’t have a strong aversion whereas my husband loves them

        • April 22, 2020 at 10:06 pm
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          Yeah there’s usually a huge variety of opinions there! Which is why it doesn’t really matter if someone has a negative impression of something like that- it could easily work for someone else!

  • April 19, 2020 at 4:32 pm
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    I try to include some positives and negatives in most reviews. If I hate a book I’m unlikely to finish it, and I don’t review something I didn’t finish. If an author personally sent me something I will try to be more constructive, as opposed to a NetGalley book where I’m not in direct contact with the author. Then I would still be respectful but I don’t feel I have to try too hard to find positive elements.

    I really appreciate when bloggers post negative reviews – to me it’s just as interesting to hear what didn’t work as what did, knowing of course that we all react to books differently and sometimes you’re just not in the right mood for something. I didnIft care for a book but I only see rave reviews, I wonder what I was missing – it’s nice to see my negative reactions confirmed by other reviewers.

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    • April 20, 2020 at 4:46 pm
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      Good insight into the different ways of treating review copies depending on how you obtained them. Glad to know we are on the same wavelength about reviewing books we didn’t particularly enjoy. I tend not to review DNFs either – just put them into a round up piece so there are there as a record only

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  • April 18, 2020 at 7:54 pm
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    Thanks for asking me to contribute to this post, Karen, and for the fascinating discussion it sparked. I’m in awe of bloggers who review every book they read and what a great record to look back over at the end of a month, let alone a year! It’s interesting too to see how we each view our blogs and the purpose they serve; I liked that Emma sees hers as her reading journal, for example, which is much more of a personal record.

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  • April 18, 2020 at 4:48 pm
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    I write negative reviews, mostly because my blog is my reading journal. Not all my reading experiences are wonderful.

    If the writer is still alive, I avoid saying that the book isn’t good and settle for a “it didn’t work for me”.
    If the writer’s dead, no need to be so cautious, right?

    I also found out that sometimes I disliked a book and was happy to end it and would have eagerly put it away if I didn’t have to write a post about it. And then, when writing my billet, I find good things about the book. I still didn’t like it but at least, I found it some redeeming qualities.

    I also write about books I abandoned, mostly to understand why I couldn’t finish them.

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  • April 18, 2020 at 11:58 am
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    I write some harsh reviews, mostly of books that are being widely discussed but where I disagree with the majority opinion. Jane Harper’s The Dry was a notable example. In a day or so I will publish a negative review of a book by an author I admire, long deceased, and I will attempt to explain why she wrote a book which no one else will ever read.

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  • April 18, 2020 at 5:18 am
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    I too try to review everything I read and try to share both what I liked and did not like about each book.

    I also agree that it is much easier to write reviews about books I did not like than books I did like.

    I have given up on reviewing one of my favourite books, that I read once I started blogging, because I just can’t do justice to how much I liked it without repeating most of the book!

    Normally, I don’t have a problem with being negative in a review. As long as I am being honest and have tried to articulate why I feel as I do, I feel on safe ground. I don’t usually worry that readers won’t take it well.

    All that being said, I am currently reading a book (The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan) and I have A LOT of criticism for it! The volume of what I have to say makes me worry my review will sound more like a rant. Plus, since it is, shall we say, a hot button topic, I worry my review will not be appreciated!

    It’s going to test my ability to articulate!

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  • April 18, 2020 at 3:28 am
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    I regularly review books that I don’t like because I feel that if I’m going to be taken seriously as a reviewer, I need to post the bad with the good. That being said, I always try to pick out things I like about the bad books to the review seems balanced, and not unnecessarily snarky.

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  • April 17, 2020 at 5:49 pm
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    It can be a problem, and one I have thought about myself in the past. I review everything I read (finish, anyway). I always try to be balanced and point out that I am talking about my personal approach and experiences. I do my best to find something positive to say too. Thankfully, while some books fall a little short of my expectations, it is rare I finish anything I absolutely hate.

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  • April 17, 2020 at 4:31 pm
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    It’s a knotty one because, like Lisa, I review everything I read. I actively try to choose books I think I’ll love or enjoy or get something out of, but I will say if there’s something I don’t like. I agree it’s balance, but the difficulty comes if you’ve asked for a copy and then don’t like it. I don’t think I’ve ever completely trashed anything, because I would hate to upset someone who’s spent ages writing a book. But I do need to be honest because I don’t want to mislead my blog readers.

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    • April 17, 2020 at 5:00 pm
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      I’m very much in the same camp as you and Lisa. I think the only ones I don’t review are those about which I can’t say very (usually crime fiction) or I read so little of the book it would not be fair to do a review. So I just do a paragraph or so in a round up, mostly just to record that I read, or tried to read a book.

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  • April 17, 2020 at 4:09 pm
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    An interesting topic. I try to write honest, balanced reviews. If I don’t enjoy a book, Ill say so, but I try to keep the comments impersonal. Fortunately I don’t have to deal with ARCs and I can choose which genres I read. You just can’t win ’em all. There’s bound to be one or two hugely hyped books that simply don’t appeal to you. Such is life. My blog and reviews probably don’t appeal to hordes of people; again – such is life.

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    • April 17, 2020 at 5:01 pm
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      Love that phrase – you can’t win ’em all. It’s so true Alison. I might absolutely love a particular book and others thought it was barely ok. And vice versa.

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  • April 17, 2020 at 9:47 am
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    I make clear on my About page that I only review books I’ve enjoyed under the heading ‘Publishers’. It’s one of the reasons I don’t take part in blog tours.

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    • April 17, 2020 at 5:05 pm
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      Being upfront is a good idea, then everyone knows where you stand. But even then you do say if there was something in a book that niggled you so its not as if you are giving the equivalent of 5 stars to every book.

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  • April 17, 2020 at 9:01 am
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    I am known, I know, to be a positive reviewer – and I think it irritates some people, actually. However, Daughter Gums says she can tell which books I loved and which I didn’t! So there, I say to those who think I’m always sunshine and light! Haha. Know me like my daughter does, and you will see!!

    Seriously though, I don’t review books I don’t like because I don’t read them. If I read a book, it means I’m finding something worthwhile in it. I have written reviews where I’ve commented that something hasn’t worked, or the author hasn’t achieved something another author has, or where I can’t work out the book’s intent. But every book I read to the end, I do so because I am getting something out of it and that’s what I focus my review on. My reading time is really, really precious – I have a lot going on in my life – so I try very very hard to avoid even starting books I won’t like.

    The other point is that I’m pretty easy going – I love some works more than others, but I’m interested in what authors are doing, why they are doing it and/or how they are doing it. I’m less interested in judging them for whether they are writing something that appeals to me. For me, that’s not the point – the point is what are they writing and how have they written it. My only two big no-nos are boring plots and prosaic writing – which is partly why I avoid genre books. I know they can be fun escapism, and I completely understand people liking – needing – that, but I get irritated if the book is obvious/predictable whereas for others, I know, it is reassuring! Is any of this making sense?

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  • April 17, 2020 at 4:30 am
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    Like you (and Lisa), I review everything and try to be honest. Often when I haven’t enjoyed something, others have and I try to include the reasons why a book is admired (and why it didn’t appeal to me).

    Oddly, I often find it ‘easier’ to write a one star review than a five star – usually when I have enjoyed a book to the level of five stars, I get so caught up in it that it’s difficult to distinguish what parts of the reading ‘experience’ that I enjoyed.

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    • April 17, 2020 at 5:07 pm
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      Oh yes the equivalent of 1 stars are much easier to write than the 5 star ones. Hence why I have not (yet) attempted to review Narrow Road to the Deep North which I absolutely loved….

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      • April 17, 2020 at 11:32 pm
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        I loved Narrow Road as well. Added review difficulty when a book has already been reviewed thousands of times (that’s when I break out the literary mixtape or something else instead of a straight review).

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  • April 17, 2020 at 3:15 am
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    Ooooh I am LOVING the topics that this series is bringing up! I guess my answer is, infuriatingly, “it depends”. A lot of the books I’ve reviewed on my blog are 50+ years old, in which case they are absolutely fair game and I have no hesitation in putting them on blast. I perhaps try to be a little gentler if the author is still living, but I honestly don’t care if F Scott Fitzgerald is offended reading my negative review of Gatsby from the beyond.

    For more recent titles, it depends on a few different things. If I chose/purchased the book myself, I feel pretty free to say whatever the heck I want about it (though I wouldn’t tag the author in any social media posts). If it’s a big-blockbuster-bestseller-Oprah-pick type title, I also feel pretty free to offer a counterpoint to all the hype if it’s warranted. But otherwise, in the case of a smaller release sent to me by an author or publisher, I try to at least frame my criticism in a positive way (e.g., this book wasn’t for me, but it would be great for readers who enjoy X or Y). I try to strike a balance of being honest with my readers, but also respectful and kind to the author and the publishing team.

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    • April 17, 2020 at 5:11 pm
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      Interesting perspective on the difference in treatment between older books and those where the author is still alive. That sounds fair. Hemingway (my strongly disliked author) is hardly going to rise up from his grave and complain is he? But I still suspect that you include some elements you thought worked well. I had an interesting experience in my infancy years as a blogger where a book I had received for review was awful. I thought my review was very fair – I could easily have said it was trash which it was. I clearly went too far in the other direction because the author asked if I wanted to review his next book….Guess my answer!

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  • April 17, 2020 at 12:27 am
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    You’ve opened a can of worms! After much deliberation over the years, here’s my current stance. I really want to reserve my blog for the best! I want my followers to leave with a recommendation, so if I can’t enthusiastically recommend it I usually won’t put the review on my blog. There have been exceptions when I do review a book that’s been greatly hyped and I think my followers might want to read my review of it. But still I won’t review it unless I can give it at least 3 stars. I put ALL my reviews on goodreads….positive or negative. It’s definitely easier to write a negative review for Goodreads than the blog. I’m also reluctant to post negative reviews to Instagram. I work really really hard crafting my negative reviews and make them as kind as possible. I don’t believe in trashing an Author or a book…I always find something positive I can say.I don’t enjoy sensationalizing the negative reviews or drawing attention to them. I think the most negative review I ever wrote was for Bridge of Clay…..although maybe the last No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency installment is tied for that honor! If I I rate a book 1 or 2 stars sometimes I give the star rating on goodreads and never write the review. I always submit my reviews to netgalley when I’ve committed to an ARC….but I vet my requests carefully so I feel confident that I might be able to give a 3. I’ve only had to contact one author…it was not via netgalley…she contacted me personally. I agreed to read it and actually wrote the review…but with a major trigger warning and some reservations. I contacted her and said that I would publish my review on amazon and goodreads but that I didn’t feel comfortable putting the review on my blog or Instagram because my followers expect different content from me. I told her it was a 3 star review. She said no thank you because she really wanted 4 or 5 star reviews and didn’t want my 3 star review out there. We agreed to no review. It was a pleasant exchange but not one I want to repeat! If I really do not like the book and don’t want to write a negative review, I’ll shelve it on goodreads as DNF. I’m curious to read all the comments on this post!!!

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    • April 17, 2020 at 12:26 pm
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      Even though our approaches are different Carol, what I like about your comment is that it’s clear you have a very considered and balanced stance. When I started blogging I think my reviews were maybe less balanced than they are now….. I seldom put reviews on Goodreads these days – just keep forgetting to do it.

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  • April 16, 2020 at 11:56 pm
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    I made the decision early on that I would review *everything* I read, by which I mean finish. So dross that doesn’t get past the 50 pages I allow it to engage me doesn’t get reviewed (and the author should be sighing with relief that I haven’t said what i thought…except that they don’t know!)
    Everything else? You’ve said it yourself. A review should be honest.
    That said, I try, sometimes very hard, to include a favourable review, to balance mine.

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    • April 17, 2020 at 12:14 pm
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      Including a link to another review that might balance out yours is a good tip.

      Reply

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