Is Writing Unfavorable Reviews a Necessary Evil? {On Reading}

by Jennifer



                               

I’m not the nicest most considerate person in the world. Sometimes my tell-it-like it is attitude comes across as insensitive. That said, I’m not mean-spirited either.

1star

We generally only post positive reviews on this site. One reason is that I know that there’s a person behind every book. Why be unnecessarily cruel if it serves no purpose? I assume the reason people read book review blogs is to find books that they might like to read. Our space is valuable — not to mention the time it takes to write a review — and we’d rather put a book out there that we think someone will like, as opposed to using space to mention a book about which we have nothing positive to say.

These reviews run the gamut from books we love, to books we liked, to books that we didn’t necessarily love but others might enjoy.

thumbs downBut I do take reviews on amazon and Goodreads into account when I’m deciding to buy something. If someone only posts a review of a book that she’d give 3, 4, or 5 stars, then the results are skewed. So though I don’t generally post those 1 and 2-star reviews here, I will put them online elsewhere. I think I feel more comfortable with that because they have balance and aren’t the sole representation of the book. I know that I always read high and low reviews. I am also careful to write those reviews more critically, because just because I don’t like a book doesn’t mean that others won’t (That said, after writing this section, I did post an unfavorable review on my Goodreads page and couldn’t come up with much more than “This book is really boring. Nothing much happened, and there was poor character development, so even for someone — like me — who enjoys character-driven fiction, it doesn’t offer much.”)

I also read negative reviews with that same intent. If someone rates a book one star because they “didn’t like the characters,” I know that isn’t a deal-breaker for me. If they write about explicit sex, violence, and language, I know that would also be a turn-off for me.

What about you? Do you think unfavorable reviews are just as important as glowing ones? Are you, like me, more reluctant to write them?

Email Author    |    Website About Jennifer

Jennifer lives in Houston with her 2 kids, husband, and dog. In addition to reading, she enjoys travel, Bible study, food, and fun. She blogs about some of these things -- when her nose isn't in a book -- at Snapshot.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carole M. February 16, 2014 at 11:12 am

I totally take into account lower star reviews and the reasons for them. And if a book has 500 5 stars and 1 one star I take that into consideration too. But if people with one star have a really good reason I may pass over a book taking that into consideration. Especially with bookbub sending me free book options daily, it’s hard to suss out what’s worth loading on the kindle or not.

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2 Dawn February 16, 2014 at 5:18 pm

I always click the 1 star reviews first when looking at a book on Amazon (or any other product, actually). I want to hear the dissension from the more positive starred reviews, but I do often find that the reason people give negative reviews either don’t necessarily mean much to me or are not articulate arguments in the first place.

I’m happy that we generally only post positive reviews here, giving it a vibe of a book lovers’ space. :)

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3 Jennifer February 16, 2014 at 9:38 pm

I also sample a range — the high reviews, low reviews, and even the 3-star ones.

I hadn’t thought about that angle of being a booklovers’ space, not a haters’ haven, but that’s a good one too. I think it does spring forth from the admiration most of us (booklovers, not just those of us who review here) have for authors and what they do.

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4 Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) February 16, 2014 at 5:21 pm

I have been struggling with this – as I do post negative reviews on my blog. I struggle between the points you made (it takes a lot to write a book and I greatly admire anyone who can pull it off) and trying to ensure my blog is authentic and honest. I want to be a place where people can trust my opinion while deciding whether to read a certain book and I don’t feel I have that credibility if I only post positive reviews. Also – taste in reading greatly differs and I feel like including positive and negative reviews helps my readers decide if they are on the same page with my “general book taste” and want to continue using my blog as a source for books. Finally, I do think a negative review adds to the discussion particularly for very popular or award winning books, and I have negatively reviewed a few books like that. Great post and always a worthwhile question to raise.

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5 Jennifer February 16, 2014 at 9:42 pm

The few negative reviews that we have posted have been in response to books that are very popular. I do think that like you said, it adds to the discussion of the matter as a whole.

I also agree that it does help define you for your readers. I know that certain reviewers I follow (particularly for kidlit) don’t like quirky books, and so when they give an unfavorable review to a book I think I’d like, it helps me to know that.

There are “meh” reviews that we post here, mostly if a book didn’t particularly send us over the moon but is one that others might like, and in those we try to be clear about why the book fell short for us.

I also think it’s slightly different because we are a team blog, and generally have more than enough content. If I was filling a blog on my own, I think I’d be more likely to post my thoughts on all books, if that makes sense.

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6 Paloma Cruz February 16, 2014 at 11:00 pm

I don’t post negative reviews, but I’m beginning to see that that may be wrong. I take reviews into account when I buy a book, so I really need to provide my feedback when I read something… especially if the book was particularly bad.

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7 Jennifer February 18, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I’m not trying to sway anyone! Like I said, we don’t really either, though some of ours are more neutral where we share our objections.

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8 Barbara H. February 17, 2014 at 1:42 pm

I’ve had the experience of getting a book I saw raved about on someone’s blog and then finding I didn’t like it at all or it had elements that were objectionable to me. I’ve gotten a book that an author I liked wrote a positive blurb for and thought it was one of the most poorly-written books I’d ever read (it made me wonder whether those author blurbs are trustworthy). So I appreciate it when a book reviewer is honest. I’ve also had comments on my blog that people have bought a book based on my review, and that scared me a little – I hoped I represented it accurately. I try to.

On the other hand, there are people especially in online reviews who are just ranting and unkind. There’s no need to be that way. But I do appreciate when a reviewer tells me exactly what they liked and didn’t like – that gives me some ides whether I’d agree with them or not. Some of my closest blog friends and I don’t always like the same books, but at least in their reviews I can process their objections and decide for myself, and I try to review in the same way.

I would like to think that authors take in some of the less than favorable reviews (avoiding the ranting ones) as a means of feedback. If several people have an issue with a book, then that could be a red flag to the author and a means of improving for next time.

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9 Jennifer February 18, 2014 at 7:18 pm

I agree. I’ve actually corresponded some with authors who had pitched their books directly to me. If I had reservations about a book, I shared it, and they seemed open to it. I agree that so many times the “bad” reviews are just personal rants.

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