And everything was rainbows and kittens: is there a need for negative book reviews?

Recently, in the New York Times, there was a discussion between two authors on the subject of reviews. More specifically, whether or not there was a need for negative book reviews.

Apparently, for a variety of reasons, negative book reviews are being frowned upon. The book publishing industry is in trouble, so we shouldn’t pan books; we should only encourage people to read, not discourage them. There are so many good books to review, so we should concentrate on those, and not spend our time reviewing bad books. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s just mean. Isn’t there enough negativity in the world? Why create more?

I call bullshit, you guys.

Listen, I’m all for nice. I think the world could use a little more nice. I completely agree that there’s enough negativity in the world – most of all, on my beloved internet, where I tend to live – that putting more out there is something that needs to be thought about before you do it. (Please note: I’m all for some good-natured snark. But outright meanness? I just think you might find something better to do with your time.)

However, anyone that knows me knows – I’m also all for honesty.honesty

I take my writing very seriously. More so my reviews, both my book reviews and my theater reviews. And I’m not comfortable putting out a review of anything that I’m not honest about.

When I’m writing my theater reviews, I don’t have a choice to review or not to review the show. I’m assigned certain shows, and I have to write a review of them. Sometimes I write a good review, sometimes a bad one, depending on how I felt about the show (and all the accompanying things like the set, the costumes, the direction, the acting, and the list goes on.) If I can’t write a good review of a show, I just can’t. This tends to really upset the readers of the paper, and they write very scathing (and often poorly-written) comments on my review, sometimes calling me names. However, I can still sleep at night. I told the truth as I saw it.

Now, here, on my blog, I can choose what to review and what not to review. And, to some extent, I do; if I read a book that I don’t feel enough about either way (or I don’t think I could write a whole review for), I just write a brief review on Goodreads and leave it there.

I suppose I could do the same with bad books, right? I could just read the book (or even NOT read the book; write it off as a bad job and give up and move onto something else) and write “I didn’t enjoy this” on Goodreads and forget about it.

But why would I do that?

Before I read a book, I often do a search for it online. I read a few Goodreads reviews (or reviews on Amazon, or on book blogs I trust, or elsewhere) and this helps me make an informed decision about whether or not to read the book.

If there were no negative reviews of it, and I read it, and hated it, I’d be kind of sad I hadn’t been tipped off and I’d wasted time on the book. And I’d write a review, stating exactly what I didn’t like about it, in the hope I could save someone else from reading it.

I’m not saying I’d write things like “OMG THIS BOOK MY EYES MY EYES” or something. (OK, unless it was 50 Shades.) But I’d say exactly what I didn’t like. And WHY I didn’t like it.

Also, even if the publishing business is in trouble…why would a bad review hasten that along? Really, in my eyes, what it would do is warn people off one book, and onto another. It’s not like it’s going to stop them from reading forever. It’s just going to warn them off this PARTICULAR book. There are MORE books. This isn’t the ONLY book.

Also, you’re not doing authors any favors by not writing honest reviews of their work, be they negative OR positive. Once you publish a book, it’s out there. It no longer only belongs to you. It belongs to every reader who puts eyes to it – and they’re entitled to an opinion. They might like it; they might not. But to muzzle all negative reviews – well, not only are you not doing the author any favors (how can they improve if they’re not aware they’re doing anything wrong?) but you’re not doing the readers any favors (it’s only fair they know what they’re in for) and you’re certainly not doing the reviewers any favors (I don’t know about you, but I have a slight issue with being told what I can and cannot write about, book-wise, on my own blog.)

Do we need negative reviews? Well, here’s my answer to that. We need HONEST reviews. We need reviews that reflect exactly what the writer felt about the book they read – good, bad, or otherwise. Yes, there’s more than enough negativity out there – but there’s always a place for honesty. And as long as you’re honest with yourself and your readers, you can sleep with a clear conscience. And isn’t that always the best kind of sleep, after all?

(And the two women in the article, after much discussion, agreed with me on this point. Only they did it in a much more New-York-Timesey way. I’m more of a free-newspaper-you-pick-up-in-the-gas-station writer. Sorry to break it to you, all.)

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16 comments

  1. cynthiaw

    The idea that there should be no negative book reviews drives me CRAZY – I DO read reviews and I count on them to steer me away from stuff that I might not like or might LIKE. The first reviews on Amazon that I read are usually the 3 star and below reviews because that will tell what could be wrong with the book. There have been a few that sounded intriguing – until I read that there were grammar issues (ugh), no character development (double ugh) or that they were filled with cliches and tropes (triple ugh). I am grateful for those reviews, as well as the ones that say “hey, this is kind of trashy, but it’s GOOD, trashy fun, so check it out if you’re into that kind of thing”, because my reading time and my money are both limited and they help me not waste either one.

    One more little hint – if I see nothing but 5-star, “OMG, this is the best book EVAH!” reviews, I avoid those books, too. I’m just naturally suspicious that way.

    • lucysfootball

      I was so surprised to run across this article – I hadn’t even known this was a thing. (Outside of Goodreads, I mean, where the authors want ALL REVIEWS TO BE NICE ALL THE TIME OR THEY WILL COMPLAIN TO MANAGEMENT!) I mean, sure. Sometimes reviews are too harsh. But, like you, I rely on honest reviews to save me from bad books, and steer me toward things I’ll enjoy more. No bad reviews means a lot more wasted time on my end – and if there’s anything I hate in the world, it’s wasting my time. I have so little of it to begin with!

  2. becomingcliche

    I have a hard time wrapping my brain around this – no negative reviews? I don’t want to waste my time or money on a book that was poorly done. No negative reviews? I like to read all reviews. If I’m going to a movie, I’d like to know overall what people thought. Why should books be different. I’m with you on this one, and I’m more of a “bathroom wall” writer, not New York Timesy at all.

    • lucysfootball

      I think it’s the same kind of people that want no winners or losers in sports events, and everyone to get a medal all the time. See, there’s merit in that…but also, there’s a loss of honesty. Some books are better than others. Some kids are better than others at certain sports, while other kids are better than others at math, or reading, or…I don’t know, basket-weaving. There’s nothing lost in being honest about it. (Somewhat nicely, I guess.)

      Hee, you are so not a bathroom wall writer!

    • lucysfootball

      Hee! Well, I’m sure they still make us sickly and indoorsy, but also if we DON’T read them, the publishing industry will be dead dead dead…so it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t predicament, really.

  3. Andreas Heinakroon

    And of course we need bad reviews. And good reviews. Honestly, what’s wrong with authors? (Present company excluded, naturally.) Why are they such babies? I don’t see musicians trawling Amazon for bad album reviews, posting “Why don’t you like me?” replies. If you can’t stand having your work criticised, fine. Then just don’t publish it. Problem solved.

    • lucysfootball

      I’m not really sure, either, to be honest. I know it’s easy to get your feelings hurt, as an artist – but you’re completely right. I don’t know any other type of artist who would say, “Stop saying mean things about my work! You’re only allowed to say GOOD things!” I mean, can you imagine a painter doing that? Or a dancer? (Actors have done it, at least locally…but that’s actors. They’re a breed apart. Love ’em to bits, but they’re not exactly what you’d call normal.)

  4. Charleen

    Personally I don’t write negative reviews on my blog. But that has nothing to do with being nice to authors or protecting the book industry, that’s just me. I don’t make a secret of the books I don’t like (especially now that I’m putting up monthly mini-reviews of everything I pick up, DNF’s included), but I don’t feel the desire to write a full review on those books. If I really want to talk about it, I’ll usually do it with some kind of discussion post (a trend I’m seeing in several books that bugs me, or a this book vs that book kind of thing). To me, these posts feel like they have more relevance, more of a purpose than just saying, “Here’s this one book I didn’t like and here’s all the reasons why.”

    But even though I prefer not to write them, there absolutely is a need for negative book reviews. And I hope that there’s enough honesty on my blog in general that people don’t think I’m being all rainbows and kittens and feel like they can’t trust my opinions.

    • lucysfootball

      I think it’s a personal preference – there are some books I just can’t write a full review about for a variety of reasons, so I just write something brief on Goodreads and move on. I was planning on reviewing everything I read when I started, but realized quickly that just wasn’t going to work.

      I’ve never gotten the feeling I can’t trust your opinions. You’re a straight shooter, which I really appreciate.

  5. Pingback: Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts – #10 | Cheap Thrills
  6. Pabkins

    I was recently pot shotted at, about a ya debut book I reviewed. I said both positive and negative things but was lumped in with a comment about “ya book bloggers getting out of hand.” So i know if you are willing to write an honest review there are always going to be people that get offended and want to be mean. Even if the review you write isn’t mean. Ive come to accept this tho it still upsets me I’m going to continue to put my opinion out there. I don’t think there is anything wrong with writing honestly what you think. It might cause someone to pick ip the book instead of not. I know i frequently pick up books of a negative starred review because the things they’ve said i think i would find interesting. Now what we don’t need are drama mongering mean spirited reviews. Those to me don’t serve a purpose. I think another reason that the YA genre isn’t treated as seriously in the SFF publishing community is also because of reviewers. Some of them really are getting out of hand because drama seems to draw people and attention. Its sad but then it ends up with readers being sterotyped. Iread 50/50 adult and YA fantasy /SF books but sometimes erg the drama makes me want to just stick to adult books. Course i wont let any of that stop me from reading and reviewing what i want. I loved you post, grreat putting your opinion out there!

    • lucysfootball

      Agreed about the drama – I think the shouty posts get more hits, so people sometimes do those just to be controversial and linkbaity. I don’t have time for that. If people want to read my blog, awesome…if they don’t, I’m cool with that. I’m not going to start a Buzzfeed list blog just to get hits, you know? It’s not true to who I am, and really, it’s all about whether or not I can look myself in the eye.

      • Pabkins

        Exactly! I’m not a flammatory person unless someone really pisses me off. Even then I’m not about to go all nutso crazy on the internet. If a book really ticks me off I can still write a review tactfully. Or at least I would hope so. I’ll be tested as I’m about to write a one-star one soon lol.

        • lucysfootball

          I think there’s a difference between writing a rip-them-a-new-one review and a tactful, adult “this didn’t work for me, here’s why” review. Sometimes I get so angry I can’t help but do the latter (when I sarcastically reviewed “50 Shades” comes to mind…) but I try very hard not to do that, if possible. I know writers are people, too. I don’t want to rip them apart. That’s their art, and how I felt about it shouldn’t be a personal attack on them (or the work) just to get hits.

          • Pabkins

            But wait then…WHY football….haha

            Completely agreed. I’ve had a few of those moments myself. I think I treat tactful critical reviews more seriously and give them more credit than snarky mean flamer reviews anyhow.

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