Discussion: Writing Negative Reviews

Writing negative reviews is something that every reviewer is going to have to do at some point or another. No matter how easy to please we are and no matter how good we are at picking out books (or movies, TV shows, etc.), we will inevitably end up picking something up that we don’t like. For those of us who write reviews for every book we read, this means we will eventually have to write a negative review.

I’ll be honest: I hate writing negative reviews. I feel bad saying negative things about a book, no matter how much I hated it. I’m worried that people who would enjoy it will see my review and not want to read it. I’m worried that people will think I was too harsh. I’m worried that the author will somehow stumble across it and be hurt that I didn’t like their work (this is a big one for me). Basically, I’m worried about how my negative review will affect other people.

But at the same time, I feel that as a blogger and reviewer, I have an obligation to be honest about how I feel about the books I read. After all, isn’t the whole point of being a reviewer to share your thoughts about books? I feel that if I were to exclude these reviews I’d be being dishonest which is not at all the type of blogger I want to be. I also feel like if people are coming to my blog to see what I think about things, I shouldn’t feel bad about not liking a book here and there. The people who read my blog posts and reviews presumably trust my opinion and want to hear what I think, whether it be positive or negative.

I still feel guilty though. I recently reviewed Truthwitch by Susan Dennard which was a 2.5 star read for me which I think is the lowest rating I’ve given a book so far on this blog. I hated writing that review. Knowing that a lot of people loved that book made it even worse for me because I was kind of worried that people would be hurt that I didn’t like a book that they loved (I fully admit that I sometimes get a little upset? disappointed? when someone dislikes a book that I really liked).

More than anything, I’m afraid that the author – who has put so many hours and so much effort into coming up with this idea and writing it all out into a book – is going to see my review and be discouraged or think they’re a bad author. Honestly, this was only a mild problem for me in the past, but once I started following a lot of authors (especially new or relatively unknown authors) on Twitter, it became more of a problem. I see a lot of authors on Twitter talking about how they don’t feel like they’re a “real” author or a good enough author and how one negative review can really affect their confidence, even if it’s only one negative review to one thousand positive reviews. I never want to be someone who makes someone else feel bad or discourage them from doing something they love and so the thought that my negative reviews could do that really worries me.

So how do I get over this and get myself to write negative reviews? Mostly I just tell myself that I’m not responsible for how other people respond to my opinions. As long as I’m not being overly mean or disrespectful, I can’t do anything to change how someone feels about what I’ve said. I ALWAYS make sure that anything negative I say about a book is about the book and not the author. Because I’ll be honest: I’ve seen some negative reviews that get me downright angry because the reviewer says things like “this author should never get published again” or “why did this author even try” and I just feel like that’s cruel. So I make sure I avoid saying things like that and instead say something like “the book’s pacing was off” or “X confused me” – things that point out what I disliked, but that can be used by the author to improve should they actually come across my review. And most of the time I include at the end of the review to keep in mind that just because I didn’t like a book doesn’t mean that no one else will. By doing these things, I can stop myself from feeling too bad about writing a negative review.

For those of you who also review books (or anything else for that matter), how do you feel about writing negative reviews? If writing them makes you feel bad, is there anything you do to make yourself feel better about it?

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13 thoughts on “Discussion: Writing Negative Reviews

  1. I think your approach is spot on: as long as any negative comments are entirely about the book and not about the author, I think the review is fair.

    If I’m going to give a less than glowing review, I always try to be constructive and give credit for the good things or at least the good things I think the author is trying to do (and perhaps failing at) rather than just rambling about the bad.

    I never understand the really unkind reviews. The ones where people just write “hated it” without saying why. If an author does read a not-so-positive review from me, I’d want them at least to understand what it was about their book that disappointed/failed to connect with me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As an author, I’d like to point out that being on the receiving end of a negative review isn’t necessarily all that bad. When I received my first one star review I thought I’d finally made it as an author! All books, no matter how well written, will inspire a broad range of opinions from readers. Books that only have five star reviews are either very new, not very popular or perhaps have bought/fake reviews that cannot be trusted.

    Negative reviews that get personal are not taken seriously by most authors anyway. But, negative reviews that give thoughtful critique can sometimes give the author useful feedback, and inform other readers who may even be inspired to pick up a book because of something said in a negative review (this has happened to me before when I decided to read a book purely because of a point made in a negative review that made me think, ‘sounds good to me’).

    I understand the concern about hurting someone’s feelings with a negative review, but, as you point out, this can be avoided if the reviewer sticks to the issues with the book rather than the author. My opinion as a reader, reviewer and author – honesty is the best policy. Be honest about what you enjoyed AND what you didn’t.

    Great article Kourtni!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for commenting on this – it’s great to hear an author’s view. I’m glad to hear that authors do find negative reviews to be helpful. When I do write negative reviews (or even when the review is positive overall but I mention a couple of things I didn’t like), I always try to be as constructive as possible so it’s good to know that authors (or at least some of them) find negative reviews to provide useful feedback. Thanks again for commenting!

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  3. This is a great discussion! For me, the point of reviewing books is to give your honest opinion…and if you didn’t like a book for whatever reason, then your review is needed. If I’m at the bookstore and I check Goodreads for ratings and reviews to see if I should buy a book, I’d rather see everyone’s honest opinions—both the pros and the cons—than only the people who liked it. Because then I’d get a skewed perspective, you know?

    But when I write a negative review, I try to always include something positive about it…because there’s usually at least one or two things that I liked, even if I hated everything else. And honestly, sometimes writing negative reviews is kind of liberating. I’ve only written one review where I hated everything about it, and I got pretty snarky in my post…but it was kind of fun. It’s my opinion, and as long as I don’t bash on the author, then I think it’s okay.

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    • I completely agree with you! Writing negative reviews is important because without them, public opinions of books (like on Goodreads) would be very biased. I also try and include at least one thing that I liked just to point out that it wasn’t ALL terrible.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

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  4. I definitely get worried about writing negative reviews for the same reasons you mentioned. I think when done fairly though they can be really helpful. If I don’t like something I always try to voice it in a way where I’m like “I may not like this but people who like [whatever] might” and I try to find something positive to talk about.

    I think as long as people aren’t unfairly abusing the author then negative reviews are okay and we shouldn’t try to worry too much about them!

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  5. Since I haven’t been blogging very long I’ve never had to review a book I didn’t like. But I am scared that it’s going to happen, and honestly, I completely understand what you mean by not wanting to hurt the author. That is something I think about a lot.

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  6. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: #7 – wonderless reviews

  7. If I can come up with even two or three things I liked about it, it’s generally enough to get a 3-star-middle-of-the-road rating for me. It takes a LOT for me to hate a book enough to give it a truly negative review. At that point, I’m so pissed at the time I’ve wasted reading the book that I don’t really care.

    With that being said, I’ll admit it – I’m more inclined to rip into a ‘big name’ author than I am an indie author. But that’s two different levels of negative. A ‘big name’ author gets me with full on sarcasm and snark on overload. Why? Because their money outweighs my bad review, so I really couldn’t care if they ever saw it or not.

    Whereas an Indie Author? They’re struggling, so even if I absolutely hated it, I will do my best to at least be constructive about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I definitely worry less about negative reviews when they’re on books by big name authors, simply because I don’t expect them to see them and because they’re already so popular that they’re making a decent amount of money and my negative review is unlikely to have much of an effect on their number of readers.

      Liked by 1 person

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