How to Post a Negative Review

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Posting a negative review is not the same as trashing a book. Sometimes you really are doing a service to let prospective readers know the book in question may not be right for them. Here are a few tips:

Be sure you rarely post a negative review. If you make a habit of posting bad reviews, you’ll be known as a grump who hates everything and your words will lose their power.

Approach from a position of authority. Why should prospective readers value your opinion? Examples might be that you are the president of an historical society, a professor, or hold some other position that shows readers when you say a book contains inaccuracies, you probably know what you are talking about.

Address problems with the book itself, not your perceptions of the author’s shortcomings as a person. The author may be dead wrong, but approaching the book dispassionately will gain you more respect in the reading community than simply blasting the author.

If the review is based primarily on a difference of opinion, say so. The best negative reviews I’ve seen are those that say something such as, “Liberals will find much to appreciate in this book, though those coming from an Orthodox viewpoint will find much with which to disagree.”

Check emotions at the door. Don’t write a review because you are angry with the author or the book’s viewpoint. If you are unable to write a balanced review, it’s best to remain quiet. If the book really does deserve bad reviews, plenty of others will be happy to say so. The fate of this one book does rest on your shoulders alone.

Your turn:

Have you ever written a bad review? Did you regret doing so?

Do you think most one-star reviews are well deserved, or not?

23 Responses to How to Post a Negative Review

  1. Anne Love September 5, 2013 at 3:56 am #

    Thanks Tamela, good points. I’ve never written a bad review, but there are times I’ve wished the author might have gone a little deeper, times when I felt disappointed by a predictable plot, or times when the characters fell a little flat for me. But those things didn’t negate the moral of the story, so I try to pull out the positives others might enjoy about the book. But I have to admit, I might be more inclined to move onto a new author with my next purchase.

  2. Lily September 5, 2013 at 4:29 am #

    Very good points.

    One does not need be in a position of authority in order to point out inaccuracies, or for the author to value a proper negative review. Of course if someone is a historical scholar, it would carry weight, but I think that the best “experts” are the author’s longtime readers.

    A longtime reader of the author’s work may have no professional credentials, but they know the author’s work well, and may provide valuable constructive criticism better than someone who has only read one of the author’s books.

    When I read reviews, the ones that interest me are from the people who have read many of the author’s books and have a feel for the author’s style, etc. If they write a negative review, I read it with interest.

    When I see that a book has all 5 star reviews, I am suspicious that the reviews are not honest. I’d rather read a book with mixed reviews. Literary taste is subjective enough for any book, no matter how wonderful, to have a few 2 and 3 star reviews.

    An example off the top of my head is author James Lee Burke. IMO, he’s a literary treasure in the crime genre, and his writing is always compelling. Some of his novels are better than others. He has many loyal readers. His longtime readers post honest reviews. Some of the reviews are not positive, but his loyal fans never bash him. They pick apart the stories themselves. My guess is that many of his readers understand good writing and good stories. That isn’t always the case with people who review books.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 5, 2013 at 7:01 am #

      Lily, you are correct in that it’s not always possible to write a review from a position of authority. I read theology books all the time, but I am not an ordained minister so I couldn’t write a review from that position of authority. That is why I would want to present my arguments either for or against a theology book with especially heavy doses of logic and insight, and also point out where I am on the theological spectrum. That said, I’d be prepared for much disagreement because the spectrum is large and everyone who cares about religion is passionate about where she is on the spectrum.

      I’d say if you are pointing out inaccuracies, consider backing them up with a source. For example, instead of saying, “I know for a fact that the town of BlahVille didn’t rip up the train tracks until 1987,” instead, say, “Though the author claims that BlahVille’s train tracks were ripped up in 1984, I have read a number of books on BlahVille, including for example, ‘BlahVille Really Is Blah, by J.D. Blah’ that confirm that the tracks were ripped up in 1987 after a unanimous vote by the town council.”

      I also agree that a reviewer who’s already a fan can state whether an author’s current book continues his fine tradition of excellent storytelling.

      As for too many five-star reviews, I am also in agreement that the most-read books tend to garner reviews in all five star categories. I’ll often see a book that only rates from 5-3 with no 1 or 2 stars, but the three-star reviews suggest a relatively broad readership of that book.

  3. Jeanne Takenaka September 5, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    You bring up some good points, Tamela. Checking emotions at the door, and reviewing from a point of authority make a lot of sense. I haven’t posted a negative review yet, but the suggestions you make help me understand when it might be appropriate to do so.

  4. Nancy B. Kennedy September 5, 2013 at 6:26 am #

    I write reviews because it improves my own writing. Rather than just say “I hated this book” or “I loved this book,” reviewing makes me delve deeper. What did I like about it? What didn’t work for me? Do I see that deficiency in my own writing? Reviewing is a great way to start your day, too. It gets you into the writing mode and works out the morning kinks.

    I do write negative reviews if I think I have something to say that hasn’t already been said, but I refrain from making personal remarks about an author unless it’s relevant to the book (e.g., a memoir). I rely on reviews to help me make purchasing decisions, so I feel there is value in adding to the communal body of knowledge. And keep in mind that you can edit reviews (on Amazon and goodreads, at least), in case you later regret saying something or wish to revise or delete your review.

  5. Erin September 5, 2013 at 6:53 am #

    I’ve written a tepid review in order to bring balance to what I saw as far too many five-star reviews for a book that was good plot-wise but had underdeveloped writing. It’s great for an author to have cheerleaders, but for new authors especially, constructive criticism (if they ever read the review) is helpful and for readers who value good prose, there should be a voice out there telling them what they will get in that department. Of course, it’s all a matter of taste.

  6. Georgianne Moisan September 5, 2013 at 7:15 am #

    I’ve never written a negative review for several reasons. One reason is that it’s hard work to write a book! How sad for an author to put in all that time, effort and soul into a project and have someone say, “That stunk!”. It’s personal, and a bad review hurts your feelings. Another reason is, a book that I find enchanting, someone else might find boring. It’s so subjective. Happens to me all the time, either with books I’ve read and recommended or ones that have been recommended to me. I have written constructive criticism alongside something I like about the book. I just want to be careful to treat others the way I would like to be treated.

  7. Jenny Leo September 5, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    This is sound advice. I might also add in something positive, when true (i.e., the writing is beautiful even if I don’t agree with the premise, etc.) to balance the negative.

    “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” (Dorothy Parker)

  8. Janet Ann Collins September 5, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    I often review books for kids on my blog , but if I don’t like a book I don’t review it there. However I have posted a few negative reviews on Amazon. Since I’m an author myself I don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings, but some books are simply inaccurate or likely to offend people and potential readers need to know that.

  9. Esther Thompson September 5, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    Your advice is greatly appreciated. The wonderful experience of reading and writing is the wide selection of genres. What appeals to one, doesn’t appeal to another. I’ve read highly acclaimed books that don’t appeal to me and difficult to find books that are excellent. Therefore, I’m very cautious to express negative comments.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 5, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

      Esther, caution about sharing negative feelings is a good idea in all aspects of life!

  10. Peter DeHaan September 5, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    Sometimes, wanting to be nice, reviewers post a positive review on a book (or movie) that doesn’t deserve it. Then, based in part on their recommendation, I waste my time and money.

    Reviewers who do this too often are quickly disregarded. I don’t want to be that reviewer any more than I want to have a reputation of being overly critical.

    Balance and fairness are key!

  11. Carrie Daws September 5, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    I really struggle with this entire issue. Ultimately, I want to be fair and honest about what I think about books — tactfully, of course. But I know too many strike out at honesty when it doesn’t agree with their own thoughts. Which often makes me hesitate when I do any review.

    I have done one somewhat critical review, although I ended up giving the book 4-stars overall. I really felt it was more of a 3-1/2 but that wasn’t allowed on the review site I was on, so I gave the author the benefit of the doubt. The story was great, as were the characters, and I mentioned both of those in my review. But the book was full of punctuation problems which bothered me at times, plus a couple of other things that I acknowledged were style preferences. The author was not appreciative of my comments, even though the star rating was high.

    Yet, as a reader, I want to know what people who own (or borrow) the books really thought. I want to know if they are a fan or first time reader, if they differed in opinion or saw multiple grammatical errors.

    Ultimately, if a book is simply not my preferences, whether style, genre, topic, etc., then I tend not to write a review at all. If I saw major problems with any part of it, then I also tend to not leave any review. Otherwise, I try to focus on the positive, perhaps mention as briefly as possible what I didn’t like, and let the star-rating speak for itself.

  12. Raquel September 5, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    I have written some negative reviews, but I hate to do it. It is hard to write a book and so much of the author goes into it, I hate to be negative. But sometimes I’m just so stunned by the poor writing, I feel I have to say something. I try to just point out the things that didn’t work for me–the dialogue made me squirm and roll my eyes, for instance. It would be really poor taste to trash the writer personally or call names, etc.

  13. tam francis September 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    WOW! Great blog. Got any advice how to post a mediocre review. What to do with friends who want you to review their novels and you have a lukewarm reaction to them? Going to check out more of your blogs. Thanks!

  14. Iola September 6, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    Writing critical reviews is hard – much harder than writing a positive review.

    But I will write them. I review for NetGalley and other blogger programmes, and if I request a book for review, I feel I’m obligated to write an honest review. Even if I didn’t like the book.

    Review-wise, this has been the worst week in the last two years – I’ve had to publish three critical reviews. One was for a blog tour (so it had to be this week). One was for a group blog (so it had to be this week as well). The third was just bad timing, but the book released on 15 August and I try and review as close to release date as possible.

    I’d much rather write positive reviews. But I believe it’s important to be honest. I try to find something good to say even about a novel I didn’t enjoy, but I can’t lie. I can’t say I liked it if I didn’t.

    I agree with most of your points, but I’m in two minds about the final point. I absolutely agree it’s inappropriate to write a scathing review because I’m angry about a book.

    But the key to good fiction is inciting emotion in the reader. Otherwise it’s boring. The key, as you say, is to keep the review balanced.

    P.S. – Are you missing a word in that last point? No reviewer is so powerful that the fate of a book rests on their shoulders.

  15. Ron Estrada September 6, 2013 at 3:03 am #

    Great advice, Tamela. I think society is suffering from the Simon Cowel Syndrome. It’s somehow become fashionable to be venemous when criticizing a book, movie, even dinner in a restaurant. We all know how difficult this game is. We need to look for ways to offer suggestions and help the writer improve, not destroy her hopes. I like to look up reviews for classics like Moby Dick. That poor guy couldn’t write, either. I had no idea.

  16. Judy B September 7, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    I have NEVER written a bad review and I never will. While I might not have liked the book, others may have. I don’t believe in trashing an author’s hard work. I will and have written an author about their book and told the author why I will not leave a review.

    In my opinion, I do not believe one-star reviews are well deserved. I just read one such review on a book that I gave 5 stars to. This review was rude, crude, and unprofessional. I wanted so badly to reply to this person and say how dare you and did you read the same book as I did? I hate reading these reviews…my heart always goes out to the author.

  17. Susan Stitch September 7, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    I rarely write negative reviews because I tend to review only books that I expect I’d like (genre-wise). However, I agree with those above that say if all your reviews are glowing, people won’t respect your opinion. There have definitely been books I was less than fond of, and even some I couldn’t force myself to finish. I try to be careful to write only things I’d say to the author’s face if he or she personally asked my opinion.

  18. Holly (2 Kids and Tired) September 8, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    I think that honesty is very important. I, for one, want to know what someone really thinks about a book. I don’t want a sanitized version of the jacket synopsis. I’ve tried to be honest in all my reviewing and because of that I’ve posted some negative reviews. I’ve learned some things along the way. Do I relish writing negative reviews? No. But, I can’t say that I liked a book when I didn’t. I will never criticize an author personally and very often, I will include links to other, more positive reviews.

    It can’t be easy, as an author, to see negative reviews of something you’ve put your heart and soul into. Every writer has an idea in their mind of what they want their books to say and how they want them received. Every reader has expectations about books, whether from what is clearly printed on the back of the book, their own experiences or other reviews. To have every reader love and adore the book like they do is incredibly unrealistic for any author.

    It’s often an honest, not so positive review that will convince me to read a particular book. If a book only has 5 stars, I immediately tend to disregard it and figure that all those positive reviews must have come from the author’s friends!

    I have a disclaimer on my blog that says, “If you have a thin skin and can’t handle negative reviews, don’t ask me to review your book. I try very hard to be fair and kind in my reviews, but if I don’t like your book, for whatever reason, I will say so. I will not, however, criticize you as a person. Please don’t try and persuade me in the comments section or send your friends over to promote your book and tell me why I’m wrong in not liking it. It’s very unprofessional.” I have had that very thing happen.

  19. ReadingRenee September 9, 2013 at 12:57 am #

    I am so glad you did this! I hate it when I read things like “I want to pay for her to go to writers school, or I wanted to shake the author “http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/676098910 I was shocked and thought this is what is wrong with these young infantile girls who write reviews. “That awkward moment where you don’t know if you should offer the author money to pay for writing classes… or to ask for your money back.”

    Think “Do I review that, like that, if my sister wrote the book? My Mother? OR … Better yet if your child wrote the book and you saw that review what would you do?” NOW do you want to write that?

    I applaud your article and I for one am re-blogging it!

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