Saturday, April 02, 2011

Writing Negative Reviews

Photo compliments of KristyKay, some rights reserved.

Anyone who has been writing a book blog for any amount of time has had to consider whether or not she should write a negative review of a book.  It isn't necessarily a matter of choosing to lie, or not, but rather, a matter of choosing whether to bother reading enough of a book one is not enjoying so as to be able to write a review, or a matter of choosing to spend time writing about a book one did not enjoy.  I recently wrote a negative review of Inconceivable (click to read) and the author emailed me and asked why I didn't just DNF it and move on--in other words, why did I go to the effort of writing a bad review, particularly when my review policy (you can see the link at the top of the page) says that if I dislike a product I may just run promotional material in lieu of a review.  When I finish this post, the next one to be written will be a review that is at least somewhat negative.  Why am I bothering?  There are plenty of books I've chosen not to review since instituting this policy (I used to read everything sent to me for review, and then after plowing through the horrible books, write critical reviews, but I decided I wasn't going to do that anymore); why these?

For me, part of the answer is the "persona" if you will that I've tried to project as my on-line image.  I am a Catholic, a mom, middle aged, conservative and a bookworm.  I try to reflect those elements in my writing, even if, as usual, I'm not writing about subjects directly related to those qualities.  While I review books for a couple of Catholic bookstores, the fact that I'm a Catholic affects the way I look at most books.  If I am unhappy with the way an author (whether writing a religious book or not) portrays Catholicism, I'm going to write about it.  If I read non-fiction and disagree with the author's conclusions, you'll read my opinion here.  If I enjoy the book and hate the end,  you'll know it.  If I think I have some prejudice that is coloring my vision, I try to mention it, but hey, this is my blog, and if you are reading it, you want to know what someone like me thinks, right?

Part of the answer has to do with how much of the book I read, and why I quit.  If I read most or all of the book, I'm much more likely to write a review than if I gave it fifty pages before giving up.  If I recognized that it was just one of those books that wasn't for me, but will probably have readers that enjoy it, I'll likely just move on.  If it is a book garnering a lot of positive reviews, and I have specific reasons for disliking it, you are a lot more likely to see a negative review from me than than you would be if it is a little-known tome that just doesn't grab me.  I guess I think my readers are like me; and while something initially attracted me to the negatively reviewed book, ultimately I decided I didn't like it, and I'd like my readers to understand why.   If someone sends me a review book and specifically asks for a review, whether good or bad, I'll write the negative review.  

What about you?   Do you ever write negative reviews?  If so, why do you choose to write a negative review rather than just moving on?


  1. Luckily, I've never had to write a negative review for a book I've been given (though some books impressed me less than others).

    I did write a negative review for Jodi Picoult's House Rules but that wasn't a requested review. It was a purchase.

    I hope I never get a book where I can't see any merit but then I know that I could always refuse to review something.

    On reading your negative review, I'm surprised. It's not about the story or the writing style but simply the fact that you disagreed with the material.

    I don't think that's fair to the author.

    If someone handed me a book on Islam and Aspergers, (because I only do on-topic reviews - ie: Aspergers). I wouldn't automatically diss the book simply because it wasn't something I believe in.

    That simply wouldn't be fair.

  2. What if the thesis of the book was that Aspergers was a made up condition and that all those folks who say they have it need to do is grow up and be responsible?

    Honestly, I put the disclosure in the review because I do think my beliefs about IVF may have colored my view about the book, but much as I disagree with Islam, I think I could enjoy a book about a women who converts to Islam, if it is written more about the positives of Islam than about the negatives of Christianity.

    I enjoyed the first part of Inconceivable; my main complaint with the book (as opposed to the behavior that led to the book) was that it was self-absorbed--what was ok at the beginning of the book (after all, it's a memoir)just got to be too much me, me, me by the end.

  3. Thanks, that reply actually helped a lot. Sometimes it's hard to see things unless someone puts them into perspective.

    Now I understand your point.

    It would be difficult but I guess I'd have to not write the review. I wouldn't be able to trust myself to be unbiased.

  4. You guys have a different perspective on this, as "professional" book reviewers. As far as I'm concerned (as a reader, but also as an author), before I buy a book I want to know what I'm going to find. I don't want to waste time & money on something that's going to rub me the wrong way. So the negative reviews are important, too. If there are only positive reviews out there, how would we ever believe something actually *was* worth reading, and it wasn't all PR garbage? That's why I subscribe to Ruth's blog, b/c she doesn't pull her punches. And yes, Ruth, I think your readers *do* think much like you.

  5. I think that honesty in reviewing is important. Being honest means that occasionally, even often, a reviewer will not like a particular book. I don't absolutely love every book I read. Some I like more than others, several I've absolutely hated, and some I don't finish. I'm not the only person who does this. I also think it's important to not be mean in our effort to be honest. Simply not liking an author's book isn't being mean, and a negative review can certainly be tempered with positive aspects.

    I think it's completely unrealistic for an author to think that every single reader will love and adore their book they way they do. Readers respond differently to each book because all of our perspectives are different. My response to Inconceivable was different than yours. Our reviews are different and I think they just make for a richer perspective for someone else who is looking into the book.

    I've had people tell me that it was my negative review that finally got them to actually read a book. I know that I appreciate honest, negative reviews because I think it gives a more realistic, accurate view of a book, rather than only seeing raving reviews and 4 and 5 stars.

    Great post, Ruth!

  6. I agree with Kathleen and Holly. It's unrealistic for authors to expect all positive reviews and honest reviews are important. As a reader, I want a balanced perspective of book reviews before buying or reading a book.

    One of the reasons I like reading your reviews is because of your Catholic perspective. Keep up the good work!

  7. I agree with Kathleen. If I'm going to spend time and money on a book I want to know that what I'm getting is worth it. I think it's important to be honest when reviewing. I have read blogs that never have a negative thing to say about a book and I think c'mon, not all books are fantastic. It makes me not trust their reviews as much because I don't know whether the book was good or they just don't want to offend the author.


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