What do you do with a bad review?

bad-online-reviews

What do you do when you’re asked to read something that you really don’t like?

Reviewing books that you like is easy, but what happens when you’re tasked with reading something that just doesn’t float your boat?

Do you give up halfway through or do you keep reading until the last page?

Ok, so wading through something you don’t like is hard but even harder is the task of writing a review that doesn’t sound as if you’re ripping the whole thing to shreds. Can a reviewer honestly write an article on something they disliked without it a) being dishonest and misleading to their readers and followers, or b) being so harsh and that it stunts a writer’s book sales?

This is a quandary that I’ve found myself in recently and one that I am not sure how to get out of. I know one thing for certain: I didn’t like the book, but how I go about dealing with that is another matter entirely.

My mother always taught me that if you had nothing nice to say about someone – or something – that it was best just to say nothing at all. While this is a wise adage to live one’s life by, it doesn’t help solve my problem.

As a wanna-be-published-writer myself, I can understand how hurtful criticism of your work can be. Much like a mother carrying her child, giving birth after nine months of toil, then the subsequent rearing of said child into early adulthood, writing a novel is much the same thing. No one wants to be told that their child is ugly or useless and by that same token no writer wants to hear that their story is…..well, a bit of a dud.

But if a reviewer does not make constructive criticism of your work, what are the use of reviews at all?

A writer – much like a child – can only learn from their mistakes and if they are not aware that they are making any then we are setting them up to fail. If a writer is not aware of their shortcomings, how can they ever hope to improve?

Perhaps it is in the way that such criticisms are worded that counts. Flaming or trolling a writer is unfair and uncalled for, yet the manner in which criticisms are articulated is one that is a fine line to walk.

How much is too much?

When reviewing, I always make a point of highlighting the areas which I believe worked well and were of benefit to the overall story. I only mention criticisms when I feel that they have such an effect on the story that I simply cannot overlook them. If the negatives are relatively small then I will gloss over them and concentrate on what did work, giving a good review of the book itself while recommending it to my readers.

When the negatives are glaring I am forced to debate whether it is worth me posting a review at all. I certainly don’t want to be seen as condescending, snarky or overly critical, but my own credibility would be at risk if I were to recommend a book that I didn’t believe in.

So what do I do? Do I publish the review and risk upsetting not only another writer, but possibly a publishing company too? Do I say nothing and let the author continue to think that their book has merit when I honestly feel that it doesn’t? Do I contact the author privately and let them know my criticisms in regard to their book and pray to God that they don’t smite me for it?

I didn't like your book. Please don't stick pins in me for it!

I didn’t like your book. Please don’t stick pins in me for it!

Perhaps many of you are screaming, “Don’t read the Goddamn book then!” but to that I would answer that I am nothing if not a stubborn son of a gun and that once I start something I like to finish it. Yes, I wasted several reading hours on something I didn’t enjoy, but I learned valuable lessons in regard to the kinds of mistakes that I would like to avoid when I attempt to get my own writing published.

I was once told by a close friend that I am perhaps too kind to be an honest reviewer and I suppose to a certain extent they have a point. I disliked the book but I certainly have nothing against the writer and in fact I would feel badly if I mentioned the aspects of the story that I didn’t like. It’s not for me to trample on anyone else’s dream, but I wouldn’t be honest with myself or the author if I didn’t speak up for what I thought was right.

Speaking up and doing what is right is somewhat of a double-edged sword. On the one hand I would maintain my integrity as a reviewer and writer, but on the other I would be concerned about coming across as too harsh or critical and somehow giving the impression that I know better or could do better than they have.

That’s not the point at all. There is enough room for each and every writer out there to have their work published and I would never want to be a part of crushing their dreams. I also believe that writers should help each other to learn and to grow and that honesty amongst peers should be valued. If I feel that another writer could learn something valuable, why would I keep it to myself?

Maybe some writers would in an effort to keep their competition at bay. I am neither competitive nor mean-spirited enough to do such a thing and would rather help a fellow writer out than pay lip service to them. No one wants to be told that you’ve found fault in their work, but maybe it’s not what you say but how you say it that counts.

I’d be interested to hear the opinions of others on this. Please feel free to leave a comment below:

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23 Comments

Filed under Book reviews, Music and media, Starting out

23 responses to “What do you do with a bad review?

  1. If a book was something that I thought was not exactly great, I’m not sure I would publish a review, but instead send my review to the author privately. I know what you mean about hurting others feelings, especially as writing is something most people put their heart and soul into. But, I still think criticism is important, or else, how will the author improve?

    It’s a tough situation!

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I agree that I don’t think any writer would like to see a negative review published about them and that such thoughts are better sent privately. It is certainly the way that I would prefer to conduct myself in such situations. All writers will invariably receive a bad review at some point in their careers, but I would rather not be the person writing that negative review!

      By the same token, writers put their work out there to be judged by others and so they must be willing to take the rough with the smooth, so to speak. Constructive criticism should be welcomed by a writer but should be done in such a way that it helps them gain confidence rather than knocking them down.

      Reviewing is so often a catch-22 situation – trying to keep both writer and prospective readers happy. A tough situation indeed!

  2. You captured the dilemma facing reviewers so nicely! It’s something I think we all struggle with from time to time – how much to say, and how to say it. I try to remember that my responsibility is not just toward the author of the book, but also to the reader who may purchase a book on my recommendation. Great post!

    • Thank you so much for your comments, Kate. I agree that reviewing is a tricky business, especially when one finds fault with a book. The issue of how to articulate one’s thoughts without coming across as harsh or condescending is a difficult task. Reviewers often have to strike a balance between keeping both writer and reader happy while maintaining their own sense of integrity. It’s a bit like trying to juggle several balls and keep them all up in the air at the same time.

      Reviewing is certainly not for the faint-hearted! 🙂

  3. As a rule, I don’t send negative reviews to authors. I do publish my honest opinion for any review, however. Good or bad, I want those that follow my reviews to know that I dislike books sometimes. I go for the principle of threes. Three positives, three negatives, just to be balanced. Even if there are more negatives I could talk about I just hit three and I don’t go into too much depth. You don’t want a rant fest. Since books are subjective as well I always preface a bad review by saying that just because I didn’t like a book doesn’t mean others won’t like it either. Be honest, be fair, and if it’s too difficult a book to talk about then don’t.

    And I’m with you on finishing a book. I just HAVE TO finish it! What if somehow it takes a turn for the better right after the part I quit reading? I’d never know!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. I think it is important that reviewers are honest when they come across aspects of a book that they don’t particularly like as they owe it to followers of their reviews to be credible when commenting.

      I like the idea of the principle of threes by mentioning three negatives and three positives as it helps to keep the review balanced. I agree that no one wants to go into a rant fest about a book (although it is easily done at times!). I also agree that it is important that a reviewer prefaces their comments by saying that just because a book is not for them that it doesn’t mean that others won’t enjoy it.

      I always have to finish a book whether I enjoyed it or not, I am like you in the fact that I hold out hope that the book will miraculously turn around from a poor one into a very good one! 🙂

  4. I would be a horrible reviewer. I don’t make it through the books I get bored with. I try..

    Well done, Heather!
    Audrey xxx

  5. In a case like what you’re describing, I would send my comments privately to the author and if the author was okay with it being published, then I would. If not, I wouldn’t.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting. I think your suggestion is the best solution for such a situation and that any comments are best sent privately to the author. I hate to give anything a bad review and in cases where the book is pretty dire I find it best not to say anything at all – at least in a public forum anyway. 🙂

  6. Wow, this is a toughy. I personally would contact the person personally and let them know, in a constructive way, what I thought. I probably wouldn’t publish what I thought out of respect for the person and their image. That person could then opt to ask someone else to do a review, and maybe that someone else would like the book and give an honest review. The best thing is to stay true to yourself and to the author. But to also respect the author and their image.
    Blessings Heather. =)
    Staci

    • Thanks for commenting, Staci!

      This is indeed quite a complicated situation to find oneself in and I would agree that contacting the writer privately is probably the best way to go about it. There are not many books that I find almost unreadable or difficult to review but every now and then one will pop up that has more negatives than it does positives.

      I would hate to knock another writer’s sales or confidence and so I think in cases such as this one that it is best to pass up on reviewing at all as it seems the solution that will be most beneficial to all involved.

      It’s always great to discuss things with you, Staci! 🙂

      • Oh, I’m so glad that I was able to give my little 2 cents of input. It is definitely a very uncomfortable situation indeed. I sure wouldn’t like to find myself in it. And I agree that the best thing to do is not to review it.
        Blessings Heather =)

      • I always enjoy your input, Staci. It’s always a blessing to find a comment from you on my blog xxx

      • You’re so sweet. It’s also a blessing to receive a comment from you on mine Heather.
        Many blessings =)
        Staci

  7. It’s a dilemma. I wouldn’t want to trash someone’s hard work, I try to find a couple of good points first and then make a couple of (hopefully) diplomatic suggestions. If it’s really not for me or I couldn’t find at least one good thing to say I wouldn’t review it.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. The general consensus seems to be that if the book is virtually un-reviewable then it is best to pass on reviewing it at all. Thankfully, I have come across very few books that I cannot find good things to say about but one does crop up every now and again.

      I am so thankful that so many people have replied with their thoughts on this post as it has given me heart that I can review both fairly and constructively. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your input, it is very much appreciated.

  8. cardamone5

    Visiting from Holistic Wayfarer’s site, where you liked a post on race featuring me. Thanks.

    Best regards,
    Elizabeth

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