Welcome to the first installment of my “Let’s Chat” Discussion series! This will be an ongoing monthly series where we chat about relevant topics to the bookish community. I’ll also be making videos about the topics for my BookTube channel! The videos will not be exact replicas of the blog posts, but they’ll touch on the same points. I hope you all like this series!
As you can see from the title, today we’re going to be chatting about giving and/or receiving negative reviews.
I debated about starting with a potentially controversial topic, but we all give negative reviews and for several people, those negative reviews or “negative” videos (like unpopular opinions) tend to be some of their more popular. As you will see, this is not a post bashing negative reviews, unpopular opinions, or those who give them. Hell, my unpopular opinions tag post and video will be going up in the next week. This post is just meant to open a discussion. I hope that this disclaimer wasn’t needed, but in case it was, there it is.
Also, this post will include a negative author response to a negative review that I gave. I wanted to use this story as a cautionary tale, especially for new reviewers. Fortunately, I have a huge support system in the bookish community and I was able to get some advice from some fellow bloggers, reviewers, and authors. So, without any further ado, let’s chat about negative reviews.
(Also apologies in advance for the minor tangents and length of this post.)
When and how to give a negative review:
One of the hardest things to do as a book reviewer is to give a book a negative review. Many of us know how hard it is to write and publish a book. We know how much time the author puts into a project and rating that low isn’t easy. That being said, all reviewers should strive to be honest and constructive in their reviews without being too harsh, and I know that most of the community does strive to be honest and constructive. Negative reviews that just say “this book sucks” or something along those lines isn’t helpful to fellow readers or authors. While you may genuinely believe that the book sucks, explain why. Was the story not gripping? Did the characters suck? Was the writing poor? Going into more depth for these can help authors know where to improve and can guide readers and help them decide if they still want to read the book or not. I know there are some reviewers that purposely DO NOT include negative reviews on their platforms (blog, BookTube, bookstagram, etc.), and includes this in the reviewer requests.
The part I want to highlight in her last 2-3 sentences. Kayla says:
“For books that I would rate lower than a 2, I would likely email back directly with feedback rather than feature and bring negative attention to a book.”
I think this is a great thing to add as the reason book reviewers are sent books are for publicity and to help get the buzz going. Now, not every reviewer is going to take this stance and that’s totally fine, its personal preference. The importance is making sure that you’re still able/willing to give an honest review, despite getting a book for free.
I like to consider myself an honest reviewer. I also like to consider myself a pretty nice reviewer. Unlike Kayla, I don’t have anything in my review that says that I won’t feature a 2 or 1-star review even if the book was sent by an author, though since I haven’t encountered a 1-star worthy book yet, we’ll see what I actually do then. I do have, however, a disclaimer that different genres may get different ratings (you can see photo below for the full wording of this). For example, I tend to be less harsh on Middle-Grade books or won’t give an erotic book higher than a 3-star rating. I also include that exceptionally good or bad books will get appropriate reviews and the review that I give goes into more detail as to why I reviewed a book the way I did.
I’ve included my rating system as it will tie directly into the story I included at the bottom of this post.
Most of the books I review (both on here and Goodreads) tend to be in the 3-4 star range. Part of the reason is because I genuinely try to read books I think I’m going to like. Like many of you, I’m busy and I don’t have time to read books I don’t like just to give it a bad review. Similarly, I try to find good in books and things others will enjoy even if I don’t. I feel like most book reviewers do their reviews in similar ways. Also like other reviewers, I sometimes get books for free in exchange for honest reviews. While the honesty of a reviewer can never be proven or disproven, many reviewers have a clear voice and genuine love or adversity comes through in a review. We’ve all read phony positive reviews and overly harsh or bandwagon negative reviews.
I bring this up because there are times where a negative review may result in an author reaching out to you. I’ve had this happen to me and I reached out to some of my friends in the bookish community. The idea of an author reaching thanking the reviewer for the constructive feedback and suggestions of how to improve future novels (usually done in a private message or email) tends to be looked at as harmless, though they do tend to be cautious. There are some people who say this is universally wrong while others say that the tone of the author and receptiveness to critic does need to be considered.
That being said, what was universally found to be negative and unprofessional was the idea of an author coming after a reviewer for a negative review and requesting that the reviewer justify their critique (or even dismiss the reviewer’s critique as invalid) or change their review. Sadly though, this does happen – not often, but it does.
Last week, I had an author find a review I did over the summer and requested I justify my critique of their book. Other people I know suggested that I ignore this author, they contacted me on my personal social media, not my blog’s social media, in addition to making a direct comment about my review on their social media that made it clear that it was specifically my review they were referring to. I decided to respond because I (foolishly) believed that they would value my critic. There was also a pride thing as in a video where they talked about my review, the said some things about my review and character that was just not true. Don’t do that. It was wrong, unprofessional, and the conversation quickly veered off track. I’m not going to lie, I genuinely feel that this author wanted me to improve my rating of their book or wanted to discredit me as a reviewer so other potential readers would not consider my review as valid.
I will preface (mostly to share all sides of the story instead of just the ones where the author is in the wrong), I did have a personal history with this author and they wholeheartedly believed that my negative review of their book was because of our history. The author said this to me directly, not publicly. Part of being an honest reviewer is being able to separate any personal connection or biases you have from the actual text. While we can’t do this perfectly, as we are human, many reviewers are able to do this to some extent. This is also the reason why disclaimers are included in reviews such as “this is a sponsored review” or “I received this book in exchange for an honest review.” This lets any other readers know that while the reviewer tried to remain unbiased, some biases may have slipped into the review. If you read this review, nothing about our personal history comes through in my review; all points made are directly from the book. Additionally, I did have other reviewers that did not know the author or our personal history read the review to see if it read too harsh or if it was a valid and unbiased review. Similarly, I’ve had some of my close friends that know my full history with this person to read the review to see if anything from our history came through or if the review appeared overly biases. Again, I mention this because when this was going on, I wanted to make sure that the review didn’t come off the wrong way. While I genuinely believed the review was unbiased, I wanted neutral third-parties (that would have told me the truth) to give their feedback. The author published using a pen name, so the identity of the author was not compromised either. All of the people I showed the review to said that the review appeared to be 100% about the book and no biases from our past came through.
Now with all reviews, readers can choose what to believe or ignore. I have many favorite books that other reviewers have hated (if you want to test your sanity, go to the one-star reviews of your favorite books). We all have different life experiences, reading preferences, and things we look for in literature. We’re not going to like the same books and even if we do, we may like them for different reasons. I mention this because book reviewers exist for a reason, we can add insight to the reading experience the general reading audience may resonate with or disagree with. Sites like Goodreads exist because ANYONE can leave a review for a book, regardless if they loved it, hated it, thought it was overhyped, worth the hype, or underhyped.
I mentioned some extra and unnecessary details for three reasons. 1) When talking about a personal experience, it’s far too easy to leave out details or twist the tale to make the person telling the story come out looking better than they actually might have been. I admit, there were things that I did that were done out of pride. I should have ignored this author altogether, but I let my pride get in the way and while I answered the author, I also mentioned that some of the stuff they said was wrong. That was not the best thing I could have done. 2) I wanted anyone reading this, especially those that know the author and the review to hear the other side to this review and understand what goes into reviewing a book as a blogger/reviewer compared to the lay public. 3) All reviewers will most likely go through something like this during their time as a reviewer and it sucks to have an author come after you because you didn’t like their work. Knowing how to handle it can help though!
Now, my incident with this particular author is not what I usually experience. I have given some other 2-star reviews on books and for one I actually DNFed the book. The author did contact me thanking me for my in-depth review and that they will take those notes into account for future books. We still have a professional relationship as I have another book by them to review. This is what I think is a better and more common experience. That’s even if the author reaches out. What I experience the most is that the author either doesn’t reach out to me or they only reach out if it’s a positive review to thank me.
I share this author story as a cautionary tale, not to cast this author in a negative light (hence why I never named them lol). Fellow reviewers, I leave you with this: NEVER feel the need to justify your review. If you feel like you can provide suggestions to an author and they ask, go ahead, give them suggestions. But the second critique turns to making you justify your thoughts, end the conversation. Also, NEVER feel like you need to change your review. I have had fellow reviewers consider lowering a review due to inappropriate author actions and mentioning that in their review. I’m not saying that you should or should not do that (it’s entirely up to you and how much the author contacts/harasses you).
Negative reviews are a part of life. There are books that not everyone will like, regardless of how much effort an author put into it. We’re all humans with different preferences, life experiences, reading tastes, and we all want different things from what we read. That’s the beauty of the book community! As a book reviewer, there is a right and wrong way to give a negative review (this does not include blacklisting an author or book for personal reasons, but that’s a different post altogether).
I open it up to you now.
How do you go about giving negative reviews?
For those of you that review books on BookTube and blogs, when do you post a negative review vs. sending feedback to the author/publisher directly?
What are your thoughts on author feedback after negative reviews?
Have you ever had an author contact you about a negative review? How did you respond?
Let me know any thoughts/opinions in the comments below!