I think it goes without saying that most people don’t like being negative (unless they are just angry, cranky, not-hugged-enough-as-children people). This can make it extremely hard when you have to review a book, but you just really deeply disliked it. So the question is, how can you write a review for a book you really disliked without coming across as an angry, crank, not-hugged-enough-as-a-child person? I asked myself this same question yesterday night as I panicked over how I could pull it off tactfully. Because I am so incredibly lucky, I am surrounded by amazing book bloggers like @kathareads (Katharine), @booknerdnative (Hannah), @literberry (Mallory), @katyslibrary (Katy), and @ouija.doodle.reads (Audra) (GO FOLLOW THEM ON INSTAGRAM!!!!). I reached out to all of them and asked for advice on what I should do. Through their infinite wisdom, I was able to create a positive negative review that I was proud of. Thank you ladies!
Now it is my turn to pass some of that wisdom from my bookish pals on to you with a few bits of what I learned on my own along the way. Keep in mind that this is just how I approached the review and that this does not have to be the way you approach it. And as always, please remember that it is totally okay if you do not like a book for any reason at all. Books are art (subject to interpretation) and no two people ever read a book and come apart with the same exact thoughts and opinions about it. Don’t guilt yourself about it!
Here are the five steps I recommend for writing a (positive) negative review:
Step One (and quite honestly one of the most important steps):
Take a step back, take a deep breath, and really take some time to acknowledge and respect that what you are about to critique is a piece of work that someone put their heart and soul into. No matter how sloppy the plot, no matter how shallow the characters, an author put years of work into that book along with their best effort and that alone deserves respect. The time it took them to make their book happen versus the time it takes you to read it are entirely disproportionate. Once you are in that frame on mind, you are ready to write your review.
Do not use abusive language in your review. I have seen one too many reviews where people have just torn an author and a book to shreds over a character not doing what they would have liked them to do or killing off a character that was their favorite (I can’t even imagine what George R.R. Martin must put up with, come to think of it…). There are tactful ways of expressing exactly why you disliked a novel without making it personal. Was it that the plot was hard to follow? Were the characters unlikable? Did you feel that it was total bogus that Dumbledore died because he was supposed to be the symbol of good (I would say “spoiler alert”, but that movie came out in 2009 and the book in 2005, so you have had plenty of time and I don’t want to hear your whining)? Express that. Don’t just say “oh this book is terrible and the author is terrible and everything is horrible and boooo!!” If you can’t express your distaste tactfully, don’t do it because otherwise you’re just not being very nice!
Be ready to provide examples from the text as to why you did not like the book. What I have learned from posting negative reviews is that people ask more questions about why you DIDN’T like a book than they do if you say you DID like it. Be ready for that! It’s not only important so that you remain credible as a reviewer, but people appreciate in-depth analyses so they can decide whether or not they should read the book or never pick it up at all. You could also try and find a reviewer who had a similar opinion of a book as you and ask them for their input if you need help backing your opinion up with examples they found in the book as well.
If you did not finish a book (DNF), be sure to mention that in your review. It’s important to let people know that, while you didn’t like it so you put it down, that you can only speak for the portion of the book that you personally read. You can’t give a full review of a book that you didn’t finish. It may also give people a reason to pick up the book after all in hopes that there is a redeeming scene or action toward the end that you may have missed otherwise.
Because I have seen this request from numerous authors, I am going to pass this information on to you. If you are going to get down and dirty and drag someone’s work through the mud, please refrain from tagging them in it on social media. This step seems pretty “no duh” but I have seen it happen enough times (on Twitter especially) and it hurts my heart for the author every single time. Just don’t do it. If you have any further questions as to why this is wrong, please refer to Step One above. Now, if you are going to be tactful, provide extremely constructive criticism, correct a mistake they made in a book (i.e. misrepresentation of a person/place/thing/community) and you truly feel that bringing the topic to their attention is important, PLEASE do that. Offer them the chance to learn from a mistake they have made. For example, I once witnessed a reader tell an author that the way he portrayed a gay character in his book was offensive and prejudiced to the gay community. He explained why it was hurtful, tagged the author on Goodreads, and asked that the author try to do better with representation in the future. If you have an issue like this that should be brought up with an author, please do that. I highly encourage it. But please know the difference between this and “Hey, you really suck and I hate you. Here is a death threat.” because it seems like some people don’t and I have seen it numerous times. Yikes.
I hope that these steps and pieces of advice help you if and when you decide to post a review that is not that stellar. Let me know if you would do anything differently or if you have any other pieces of advice for reviewers.
Thanks for reading!