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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.

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