Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I Write Negative Book Reviews and You Can't Stop Me.

I write reviews on Goodreads. I write glowing five-star reviews, I write "meh" three-star reviews, and I write negative one-star reviews.


I do. I write negative reviews. I always have, I always will, and here are the reasons why: 

1. Reviews are not for writers. Repeat that as many times as you need to in order to understand it: Reviews are not for writers. The content of a review is not intended as constructive criticism for a writer. They have someone who offers constructive criticism: their editor. Also, their critique partners. Not random strangers on the internet. I'm also going to go way out on a limb here and say any person who takes the internet's "advice" to heart is in for a world of heartbreak, just in general. 

2. Reviews are for readers. It sounds like a repeat of #1, and it is closely related, but it is absolutely different. Readers use reviews to determine if they might want to read (or buy!) a book. That's it. That's the purpose of a review: to convince someone to either read a book or not read it. Period. It is not meant to give advice on how to improve the next book in the series, it is not meant to discuss the author's personal life, and it is not intended as a soapbox for the reviews (that's what blogging is for, hey-yo!)

3. I use reviews to make decisions about books and I expect them to do their job. Here's a story for you: Back in early 2011, there was a book coming out. Everyone on the internet was psyched for it. Early reviews were glowing, raving, bowing-down-and-worshipping. I read it, eagerly... 

And it sucked. 

Bad. So bad. So so so so bad. Continuity problems, stupid science in a science fiction book (seriously... my second-grader could have debunked this "science"), paper-doll characters, a flimsy plot that was poorly explained, etc. Just really, grade-A awful. I contacted some of my reviewer friends and talked to them about this book. Their response? 

"Oh. Yeah. I noticed those things. But I just wanted to love it, so ... whatever." 

Now, don't get me wrong. I am known to fangirl-flail and forgive a lot of errors if something is awesome (Harry Potter, anybody?), but this was a brand new author, so nobody could be a "fan" yet. They had just bought into the hype and then lied in their reviews. 

I bought a book because a couple reviewers lied. It made me so angry. I have a hard time not hating the author by extension (it's not her fault - she just wrote a book... she didn't lie to me!) and I absolutely stopped trusting those reviewers. Which brings me to the next point -  

4. I want people to trust my opinion. If you're looking for romance recommendations, I am not your girl. If you're looking for sweet middle-grade stuff, again, I am not your girl. But you want high fantasy? Or science fantasy? Or steam punk? I am your girl. And you know you can trust my opinion on those subjects because I will not gush indiscriminately, nor will I coyly say I loved the secondary characters when I really hated the whole thing. 

If I say it's good, I really mean it, and I want people to know that. Because when I love a book? I want everyone to love it. I become an evangelist for that book. And I want people to think, "Hey. Gina doesn't do this for every book, so this stamp of approval must really mean something!" 

And the very last reason that I will write negative reviews... 

5. There's no such thing as bad publicity. When I write a negative review, it can actually help the author. Mike Mullin, author of the ASHFALL series, said a negative review drove six times as much traffic as a positive one, and then boosted his sales. Studies by Harvard Business Review and Stanford University both conducted studies that said negative reviews, even scathing reviews, can boost sales for newbie authors as much as 50%. Several author friends have attested to the same thing - when a big-name blogger gives them a negative review, it actually helped their sales. 

Think about it this way, if I write the following in a review: 

"I hated this book. Too much kissing, not enough swordfighting!" 

There are likely to be several people who see that and think, 

"Wow. I love kissing and hate swordfighting. This book sounds awesome!" 

And thus a "bad" review turns out to actually help someone find a book they're probably going to love. 
Everybody has different tastes. 

Now, I want to be very clear. 

Just because I write negative reviews does not mean I write mean reviews. I did, unfortunately, write a few mean ones when I first started. I am ashamed to say I did, and I have deleted the substance of those reviews from my profile. 

While those mean reviews were up, however, they drove the most traffic, collected the most likes and comments. 

The internet really likes mean stuff, you guys. 

But when I say "negative book reviews" I do NOT mean: 

- Attacking an author for his/her personal life
- Attacking an entire genre just for existing
- Attacking an entire category just for existing
- Being deliberately insulting to the author
- Being deliberately insulting to people who enjoyed the book 

That's not "negative" ... okay... it is. But it's also mean and totally unnecessary.

Here's a negative criticism: 

"The whole climax of the story felt lackluster and as a result I felt cheated by the end of the story."

Here's the same thing, but mean and unnecessary: 

"This book sucked and I hated it. The author should quit writing because he is worse than anything." 

I won't write mean reviews. But I do write negative reviews, and I stand by that decision. Do you write reviews? What's your policy? 


  1. Samantha SaboviecMarch 25, 2014 at 8:41 AM


    I have nothing more to say than that. I agree with everything herein, and this is the philosophy with which I write reviews. You keep writing negative reviews!

  2. I can't write negative reviews mostly because I just have far too much guilt, but I still agree with everything you said. I will point out things that don't work for me, but I probably do shine it up a bit...hmmm.

  3. mrschristinetylerMarch 25, 2014 at 4:40 PM

    Nope, because I want to be a writer.
    1) Writers know other writers. Writers do read their own reviews, and they're usually complete babies about them (even if they're not babies it's certainly not going to make them LIKE you). Not only do they get offended, but it DOES come back to you, because the writing world is very very small. Getting published makes it even smaller. Your chances of meeting people you burned, or people who represent who you burned, get higher right about the time you start needing their help. I have NEVER seen an agent or editor recommend that an aspiring author write negative reviews. I see them warn against it quite frequently.

    2) Readers make the best reviewers, because they review as readers. A writer can't help but review as a writer. We're way more critical and way more technical. On top of that, there is no lack of reviews, positive or negative, for any book. ALSO, writers aren't the only ones who get offended when someone doesn't love their page-baby. Readers do too. There is a good chance that one of your readers, who loves your work, is also going to love work that you hate. Let them have both and let them feel good about it.

    3) Find reviewers you trust if you want to trust the reviews you read. I really like Wendy Darling. Talk to friends with similar taste. This has nothing to do with whether or not YOU should write reviews as an aspiring author.

    4) If you want people to trust your opinion, recommend books you love. If you don't love something there's no reason to lie about it anyway.

    5) You're right. There's no such thing as bad publicity. So why would you review a book you hated and help it get attention? I hope those nasty things wither and die from lack of attention.

    +6) You will receive the same criticism you dish out. If you point out the lack of character development or clunky descriptions in someone else's book, chances are people are going to look and see if you have those things in your book (when it comes out). Because they're already hounding it out with a skeptical eye, they're probably going to see it. You don't want to give readers a motivation to search out and announce your flaws.

    +7) It makes authors look jealous. You're probably not, in the sense that you would rather die than have your name on the cover of such a horrific book. But maybe you are in the sense that it makes you feel passionately angry that something you hate so much can get so much attention while you are working your butt off trying to perfect your craft and get it any attention at all. Maybe you don't feel that way, but it's going to look like it. The same goes for a published author reviewing/criticizing anyone's work when it's more successful than their own.

    I really think that you have to give whatever you do all you have. You can be an excellent writer or an excellent reviewer, but I don't believe you can be both. They're both careers. They're both clubs. It's hard for a writer to not criticize books because we're so passionate about them and we actually know how they SHOULD be written. But a lot can go wrong, especially for someone not yet published, and it's not worth it.

  4. You bring up some very good points, Gina, as does mrschristinetyler in her comment. I take a halfway approach- if I really don’t like a book I will make my reviews honest enough so that I don’t feel like I’m being completely fake, but I will sandwich the negative in between positive. That way I’m not burning any bridges I might need to cross later on...

  5. What a great post!
    I completely and utterly agree with you - the whole point of a review is for other readers to decide whether they might be interested in reading the same book! And if you lie about its qualities or lack thereof, the whole purpose is defeated.

    I also agree that there is an enourmous difference between writing a negative review and a mean review - there is never in my opinion any reason to attack the author personally, but it's perfectly fair to announce that you disliked the book.
    The fact of the matter is that it is just YOUR opinion and since there is no such thing as an objective opinion, there can be no realistic discussion of it being right or wrong.

    I have just written my first negative review on my new blog - though not published it yet - and it was much more difficult to write in a lot of ways than a review of a book I loved. But if you don't also let people know when you read something you dislike, the glowing reviews somehow are lessened, because you apparently love EVERYTHING!

    So, as you say, the point is to find some people (bloggers or personally) whose opinion/tastes you trust/like and then hope that they will be honest.

    Camilla @ http://thegirlwholovedtoread.com

  6. I used to write one-star reviews of books. Not anymore. I don't want to waste my time. Time spent writing a review of a book I hate is time I'm not writing. Better to recommend the things I love.

    Also, I agree with a lot of the points mrschristinetyler brought up, but it's mostly about feeling like I'm wasting my time.

  7. This is the most thoughtful explanation I've seen about writing versus reviewing...and although I didn't know how I felt about this topic before, I do now. This. :)



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