You’ve read the book, and now you wish you hadn’t. You begrudge the time or money you’ve given to words of little worth. You hated it and don’t care who knows it. Which you are entirely at liberty to do. But before you give vent, do give a little thought to how to go about it. Read on for the who, how, what, why, where and when from someone who’s been both author and recipient of negative reviews.
Do you review to put your thoughts in order? Do you write to warn or inform other potential readers? Are you hoping to help the author write a better book next time? Your reason for reviewing in general, as well as your reason for choosing to give a bit more time to a book you haven’t liked, will shape your review. But bear in mind that a review written to vent your spleen or to show off your own superior skills as a writer could reflect badly on you.
Who wrote the book
Although reviews are written for an audience of readers rather than the writer, you might still want to take the author’s sensitivities into account. However, if the writer of those unworthy words is a Literary Great who ought to know better, feel free to let rip – although you might want to be careful in your phrasing not to evoke the ire of their myriad fans.
If the author is a novice without a Publishing Giant behind them, you might want to bear in mind the emotional risk they’ve taken in opening up the inner workings of their minds to public scrutiny. Consider being a little gentler than you might be with a writer with a stronger track record who might be more robust.
What to include
Tempering your criticism doesn’t mean you have to lie. A review has to be your honest opinion and, if you hated the book, it’s perfectly acceptable to say so. But must you include everything you disliked about it? If you do, your review risks being dismissed as over the top. A balance of positives and negatives is generally more persuasive but, if you really can’t find anything within the book that’s praiseworthy, a character sketch or short synopsis of the plot will add ballast to your views.
How to write it
A totally negative review is often easier to write than a positive or balanced one. Mockery, jest or a parody of the story or style can be fun to write as well as to read – except for the author who bled to write it. In composing your piece, do consider whether or not the author is likely to read your review.
Bear in mind also that opinions are subjective. Own your perspective and, if relevant, put it in context. Consider phrasing in the form I felt that … rather than This book is … For example, I’m known to be critical of inaccurate portrayals of fictional therapists, but try to acknowledge that readers without my background would not be so readily put off.
Where to place it
If you’re a reviewer for one of the quality papers, you’re not going to learn the craft from me. I’m thinking of the amateur reviewer and book blogger who regularly posts their opinions online. I’m assuming you’d post your negative review in the same places you’d post the positive ones, although you might want to hold back from some sites, or repeated tweeting of your less than enthusiastic reviews.
Some book bloggers have a policy of reviewing only the books they’ve enjoyed. Others feel it more honest to review everything they read. Some, if they’ve received a review copy directly from the author will let them know the negative review is coming; I appreciated this when it happened to me, but I think authors need to accept that, as with stocks and shares, we’re taking a risk that our reputation can go down as well as up.
If I’m sent an advanced reader copy of a novel, I generally try to publish my review on publication day. Unless I haven’t enjoyed it, in which case I’ll post a (hopefully balanced) review a little later, when the time for celebration has passed. After discovering a one-star review of one of my own novels on the eve of publication, I’m even more committed to this practice.
Have you read, received or written a negative review? What are your thoughts on how reviewers should proceed with a book they strongly disliked?
For more on writing reviews, see my post READIN for HER reviews.
America, and particularly her president, is currently in receipt of a lot of negative reviews. For that reason, while not denying the grounds for criticism, all-American rancher Charli Mills, invites us this week to compose 99-word healing stories. Here’s my contribution:
Dear Voters of America,
We, The Association of Former First Ladies, feel your pain. We too have forced a smile when all we hold dear is demolished around us. And not, we might add, beneath a hood and shapeless shift, but in a designer dress destined to be picked apart by the tabloids the following day with greater gusto than they devote to our minds. We too have stood aside, abandoned careers to champion those of lesser individuals (in our case, our husbands’). We offered you Hillary; sadly, you declined. Just asking, but would you consider Michelle next time?