On Writing Reviews

On Writing ReviewsRecently I was sent a message asking about writing reviews, and if an author had ever contacted me after a review. It prompted a very long reply, which I’m adapting a bit into this, in the guess that if one person asked, others might be wondering.

In a perfect world, every book I’d read would be wonderful, and I could gush away about it. I’d never have anything bad to say, other than perhaps a suggestion that a book would only be appreciated by fans of that genre or style.

It’s not a perfect world. There are books I dislike: books I think just aren’t a good fit for me, and books I think just aren’t good.

recognizing that an author may read my reviews

And yet, there is an author (or authors) behind even the worst book, and they presumably worked really hard on it, and sent it out into the world with high hopes. When I write a review, I do want to remember that the authors are people with feelings, and certainly I don’t want to trash them, but at the same time, I’m not going to rave over a book that I don’t like. I’m not even going to be neutral towards a book I dislike – if I don’t like a book, I’m going to say so.

I try very hard to keep it focused on the book, not the author (the plot was disjointed, the writing was uneven or cliched, vs. the author is a bad writer) Even though I may be in effect saying the author is a bad writer in THIS book, it’s different (in my mind anyway) to say what’s bad about the writing so it doesn’t seem like such a blanket statement, or something that will always be the case.

While I do try to remember that an author may read my comments, I still don’t worry too much about hurting an author’s feelings. I’m writing about my thoughts on their book (not them as a person), and at some point, I feel like authors have to have or develop a degree of thick skin. If they’re putting their writing out to be read (at whatever level), someone is going to dislike it. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, just that it’s not a fit for that reader.

Why I Will Write Negative Reviews

As a reader, of course I like positive reviews – they can get me excited to read a book – but I also read and appreciate the not-so-positive reviews. Negative reviews are often the best ones for me to make a final decision as to read a book or not – why someone disliked a book can often tell me if I’ll like it. I have a friend who detests epistolary fiction, while I adore it. A negative review from her of a book because it’s that format would make me bump the title to the top of my list. That’s why I always try to say why I like or dislike something, not just an unspecific “didn’t like it.”

(The main time I may be vague as to some of my reasons for disliking a book is when those reasons veer into spoiler territory. For example, sometimes an unreliable narrator doesn’t work for me, but if I say that then I’m giving away that there’s an unreliable narrator. Maybe there are plot problems that should only be discussed with those who have finished the book. That’s why I will occasionally use spoiler warnings and hide some details in my reviews so if someone wants to read them, they can highlight and see what I’ve hidden.)

My own credibility is at stake as well – I want blog readers to know that I’m saying what I thought about a book, because maybe they’ve read enough of the same books I have to know if my tastes and theirs overlap. Or maybe our tastes conflict completely, but that can work too as a means to add or remove books from a TBR list. 🙂 If every book is great, then there is no way to differentiate between books I lovelovelove and books that are just solid and enjoyable.

My reviews may skew towards seeming as if I like most of the books I read, but that’s not because I’m only saying good things. I try to only pick books I think I’ll enjoy, and give up on books I don’t like, and those likely aren’t going to get a review at all (they may get a brief mention as a “did not finish”). When I self-select favorite authors or genres, and quit reading books I’m not enjoying, of course I tend to end up with higher averages.

In short, while I recognize that an author may read what I’m saying about their books – I’m still going to say what I think.

Comments

  1. I think you do a good job of this, and I really appreciate it. For the most part, our tastes do align very well, but I know for instance that I can take a higher degree of hardness in my scifi, so if I know that’s why you didn’t like a book, I’ll keep it on my list even though often I’ll drop books that you didn’t enjoy. It works out really well.

    I think that since I’ve started following you and one other book review blog (Catherine at A Spirited Mind), I’ve been reading more, and better, books than I had been in a long time! And knowing that I can trust your reviews to point out potential flaws is one reason why I follow you both. 🙂

  2. I think you’re right. Negative reviews can sometimes be the most useful, and including negative reviews on your site assures the reader that you’re being honest in your posts. In fact, it got me thinking about a potential post idea for my own blog. Since I do menus rather than reviews, I made a promise to myself that I would never make a menu for a book I didn’t like (or hadn’t read). I focus on the classics, which are generally popular, so it may be refreshing for my readers to see a post about which classics I DON’T like.

  3. I think you make some great points. Just because you didn’t enjoy a book doesn’t mean that no one will like it. Since you are specific about what you don’t like in a book, I find your reviews really helpful so I can evaluate whether that aspect of the book is going to bother me or not.

  4. This was excellent, and I agree! If you’re not going to write an honest review, then, really, what’s the point? The key, which you’ve perfectly stated above, is the WHY you didn’t like it. Reading is subjective, and just because I don’t like a book for X reason, may be the very reason you are drawn to it! There’s a difference between being critical, and being mean, and I think most of us do a pretty good job of that in our not so glowing reviews. Great discussion, I loved reading this!
    https://bookishtendencieskatie.wordpress.com/

  5. yes yes yes! I loved your explanation. While I’m sure it would sting to read a bad review of something I wrote, understanding exactly WHY would help me gain some perspective and either brush it off, or think about ways to improve next time.

    I also liked that you brought up how reading negative reviews can actually fuel your decision to read a book. I was reading all of these positive Girl on the Train reviews and feeling indifferent about it. When I read a negative one, I was actually inspired to request the book from the library because I was truly curious to know if I would like the book or not.

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