Good afternoon, lovely Arrowheads! If you frequently review books, you more than likely have come across a few reads that you weren’t fond of. Whether you found their plot to be weak, the characterization poor, or what have you, you’re planning on writing a negative review of the work. Now, the devil and the angel are sitting on your shoulders, debating whether you should completely bash the work and point out all its flaws, or take the the polite route and mention why you didn’t like the book and offer constructive criticism for the author. Which should you choose?
(Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. My intention in posting this is not to offend or judge anyone who may write heated book reviews. I have in the past. This is just an encouragement to reconsider and think of the author before saying things that are unwarranted.)
Consider the Author
As an author who has been on both sides of the argument, I would suggest taking the polite route. “But why?” you may ask. “I didn’t like the book, it was horrible!” One reason: Authors are people, too. Authors see the reviews. Authors see your reading updates on Goodreads. Some authors, myself included, already have insecurities outside of the writing world. Oftentimes, writing is the one outlet where they feel their contributions matter. Offering unwarranted, unexplained hateful comments because it’s entertaining for you is rude, plain and simple.
Consider How You Would Feel
As a reviewer, I know it’s easy to let your negative take on the book set your fingers aflame on the keyboard with a colorful rant about how terrible the book was. I’ve been there in the past. But, keep in mind that the person who wrote the book may see your review and give up writing. Now, you may be thinking, “Well, tough luck! They’re a published author! They should grow a thick skin!” Okay, let’s turn the table around: how would you feel if your new book, which you worked extremely hard on for months or even years was met with the following review:
This book has less value than the empty Dr. Pepper can I just threw away. The plot was cheesy and made me want to plunge my head into the sand like an ostrich, it was that annoying! The author has no talent whatsoever and needs to go back to grammar school to learn a thing or two. By far, this is the worst excuse for a book I’ve ever read!
This type of review points out that the book is a stinker in the reader’s opinion, yet doesn’t offer any specific reason as to why they think that! Does my point sink in yet? Now, I have yet to receive a review that hateful and unwarranted, but if I did, I’d honestly cry myself to sleep–or worse–not be able to sleep knowing my credibility has been tarnished. And the sad thing is that there are loads of hateful reviews like this being posted on a daily basis! Why?! Does it make some readers feel superior to tear authors down? I don’t know. But now that I’ve seen both sides of the story, whenever I write reviews now, I keep this old familiar phrase in mind, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” So, how can we write a polite negative review without discarding our promise to be honest?
Writing a Polite, Negative Review
The most polite thing I know to do when writing a negative book review is to offer constructive criticism about what didn’t work for me as a reader. For example, if the story felt as if it were dragging on and caused my interest to wane, I might say, “at a certain point, the plot lost my interest. I feel that if a scene or two [name the scenes] were edited out, this would not have happened.” Or, if the characters felt two-dimensional, I might offer, “[name characters] could have been more developed in the following way.” If there were positive attributes about the book that you really loved, mention those as well to balance out the constructive criticism.
If you happen to come across a book that you can’t seem to find anything nice to say about to balance out the negative, it may be best to follow the old saying and say nothing at all. For readers, I’m not going to advise you to not leave 1 or 2 star ratings (or critically written 3 star reviews); the choice is entirely up to you, the consumer.
On the other hand, for fellow authors, I will advise you that it doesn’t portray you in a positive light when you rant about how much you dislike a fellow author’s book via your author page. A personal objective of mine since I’ve become a published author is to not post reviews for works that I deem to be 1 or 2 star ratings. The lowest rating I will personally post of a book now is 3 stars, and in my opinion, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the book is bad, but could use a little improvement in certain areas to make it better. Fellow authors, keep in mind that your comments can be seen not only by the authors, but by your followers and friends as well. Would you rather be seen as an author comparable to Simon Cowell on his American Idol run, or an author who is kind to other authors and actively builds them up instead of tearing them down?
Let’s try to keep the Golden Rule in mind: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 🙂