How the Heck Did You Do That?!? Blogger Tips & Tricks #11 Negative Reviews

June 28th, 2013 Kimberly Blogger Tips and Tricks 87 Comments

28th Jun
How the Heck Did You Do That?!?

Writing a Negative Review and Dealing with the Fallout

A blogger emailed asking for advice about writing the negative side of reviews.

For me, one of the hardest things as a book reviewer is tackling the negative parts of a review. So I thought I’d share my tips on writing one and handling any negative feedback that might result.

Scenario: You’ve accepted a book in a genre you like because the synopsis appealed to you. You begin reading but find many of the aspects of the book do not work for you as a reader but the storyline is enjoyable enough that you keep reading.

The Review

You’ve finished the book and now find yourself nervous because you have to relay this information in your review. If you are like me you are sensitive that this is the author’s baby but feel equally responsible to give an honest review to your followers.

When speaking to authors regarding negative feedback, all agree that not everyone will love their book.  However, they appreciate when a reviewer states a dislike and then explains the reasons why.

This is a very fair request and the reasoning is two-fold.

First, the author can then use this constructive criticism to grow as a writer and second your reasons might not bother another reader.

Tips for tackling a negative review in a positive way

While I would love every book to be a “five cups of coffee” review, most fall in the 3-4 cups of coffee zone. Occasional I have a two. My reviews contain the positive aspects and the negative ones. These are tips to help you express what didn’t work for you. I do not review books I haven’t finished. (please see DNF section below)

1. State reason why you disliked an aspect of the book and back it up with examples or explanation.

Issue: The protagonist grated on my nerves. Reason: She was very indecisive and whined constantly making it hard for me to relate to her.

Issue: The constant flashbacks annoyed me. Reason: The transition between present and past wasn’t smooth and I often felt misplaced causing me to reread in order to figure out where I was.

Issue: I struggled with the writing style of this story. Reason: The author’s lyrical expression and description of the world overwhelmed me at times and I found myself skimming past these parts.

Let’s compare the two reviews:

A. The protagonist grated on my nerves and the constant flashbacks annoyed me. I struggled with the writing style in this story.

B. The protagonist grated on my nerves with her indecisive actions and constant whining making it difficult to connect with her. The constant flashbacks annoyed me as the transition from past to present wasn’t smooth causing me to lose my place. This pulled me from the tale and I found the need to reread portions. I struggled with the writing as the author’s lyrical expressions and descriptive style overwhelmed me at times causing me to skim parts of the story.

Both reviews state the same thing, but review B. allows both reader and author to fully understand what bothered you in a clear manner.

2.  Leave personal opinions of the author OUT of your review

(in each case notice how my example has both a positive and negative)

So it’s full of grammatical errors, wordy, tells not shows, and needs to be tweaked. Try not to lay the blame directly on the author instead focus on the work.

Problem: needs editing Example: While the plot was original the story would benefit from professional polishing.

Problem: tell not show Example: As the plot progressed the author used a telling approach to convey back history through the characters. It made the scene and conversation feel awkward. For me, I think it may have worked better as a flashback.

Problem: poor plot development Example: The premise of the story was intriguing but I struggled with the threads and direction at times causing me to be jarred from the tale.

3. Highlight what worked for you and the reasons why.

You kept reading the tale despite issues so explain what kept you reading.

example: While I couldn’t connect with the characters, I found elements of the mystery to be fascinating. The pacing was well done and the twists kept me guessing as to who the killer was.

example: Despite issues, I found the world-building to be solid and was anxious to see how things developed.

4. Be honest, respectful and fair

If you share your whys and why not’s in a non-degrading way followers, authors and publishers will appreciate your feedback.

5. Use such terms such as; in my opinion, I could not, for me, etc. All of these keywords help convey that this is your opinion of the book.

6. Take time to reread your post before it goes live. Be sure it conveys the opinions and tone you want to deliver. Often I need to just write what I feel, and when looking at it again I am able to see a better way to say it.

It’s time to notify the author/publisher your review has posted (ARC review or promised review)

We all cannot wait to notify author/publisher that our glowing review has posted, but if you are like me you get a little nervous when the review isn’t all positive. However you owe them the same courtesy and as someone, in a very large social community, you want to be professional.

Usually, my standard procedure is to notify author/publisher that the review has gone live. I then provide them with a direct link and advise them of what additional social and public sites I have posted review/link. I close with a thank you and looking forward to working with you again..yadda, yadda.

When sending a negative review to the publisher I use the same format as above, but when dealing with an author I generally state the following:

Good Morning Ms. Author,

My review of your novel, xxxx xxxxxxxx posted today and while it didn’t completely work for me I enjoy aspects of it. I tried to be honest and fair and hope my review reflects that. I wish you the best of luck on your writing journey. The direct link is

Now you do not have to go that extra step, but I prefer to let them know ahead of time. I think my approach lets them know the effort and thought I put into my review. I only modify my letter for reviews that received less than three cups of coffee.

Dealing with the DNF

If the book was an ARC you need to notify the author or publisher. Send an email, update Edelweiss or NetGalley and explain why it did not work for you. Use the same type of comments you use when writing a negative review. If it wasn’t simply a mood thing and you have no intentions of ever picking it back up, tell them and state clearly why. Authors and publishers appreciate this honest feedback and realize not every book is going to work for you.

The Fallout

So you finished the book, published your post and notified the author. 99% of the time if you have used the format I suggested the author will thank you and your followers will appreciate your honest opinion.

So what happens when you write an honest review and the author and her/his peeps take issue with it?

If you wrote an honest and fair review: I have three words of advice: Ignore, Ignore, Ignore!

Odds are in your favor that other reviews will support your opinion – let them speak for you.

I learned during my two years of blogging that there are a lot of different personalities out there and loads of opinions. When emotions are involved rational thoughts are thrown out the window. It is hard not to become hurt or angry by negative feedback or hurtful comments regarding your review. My advice; don’t enable any negative behavior. If personal attacks are made, email the author/publisher and let them know you are aware of behavior and request that it cease or you will go public. This usually puts an end to it.

I am not trying to scare new reviewers, but rather make you aware that regardless of best intentions this does happen. Since I began blogging I have posted over 600 reviews and only had two incidences and I think most would agree my reviews are honest and fair. Unless you personally attacked the author this is not your fault!!! Hopefully, you will reflect back on this post and heed my advice.

This post is intended to offer suggestions and tips that have worked for me and in no way should it be construed as rules.

Do you have a question or tip you’d like me to discuss?

Please email me or leave the question in the comments below.


Copyright (c) 2011-2013 Caffeinated Book Reviewer
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About Kimberly
Kimberly is a coffee loving book addict who reads and listens to fictional stories in all genres. Whovian, Ravenclaw, Howler and proud Nonna. She owns and manages Caffeinated PR. The coffee is always on and she is ready to chat. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

87 Responses to “How the Heck Did You Do That?!? Blogger Tips & Tricks #11 Negative Reviews”

  1. Aurian

    Awesome advice Kim, thank you. I just have a hard time explaining what exactly I don’t like in a book, and why. Which is why I don’t do many requested reviews or write reviews for books I did not like.

  2. kimbacaffeinate

    I understand, but if I loved the book but the main character made me insane I feel I need to express this because sometimes no matter how much I enjoyed the tale despite this..some of my followers won’t be able to get past it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am not a huge fan of the rating system but I cannot get around it when posting reviews on sites.

  3. Danielle Chapman

    I have actually read this several time. Thank you so much for writing this, it has been very helpful!

  4. Pooja

    Loved your post, Kimba!!! Very well thought out and thorough… I’m very antsy about notifying the author about a negative review and like that you covered that aspect as well!

  5. Michelle

    Fantastic post Kimba!Even your example ‘reviews’ are so well spoken! My mind blanks when it comes to creative wording in reviews…I actually used a thesaurus the other day, lol. I love that you including how to react to the negative reactions and that it involves ignoring and handling it as quietly as possible. It seems like twitter drama is so constant lately.

  6. Dena

    Great post! I really like the way you notify the author ahead of time that the review is not all positive. Then at least they are prepared.

  7. Angelas Anxious Life

    I have written a few negative reviews and haven’t ever had anyone be angry at me. I will admit that I always leave out the author. Well except one time. But it wasn’t personal… now that I think about it. Maybe I should go back and re-read that review and see if I did it like the examples above (running to check review right now).

  8. kimbacaffeinate

    oddly both were three cups of coffee. one wanted me to change to a four and the other didn’t like that I could not connect with characters. Your reviews are always considerate.

  9. kimbacaffeinate

    I am so not a drama makes me anxious and we all tend to react rather than reflect first…9 times out of 10 if you don’t feed a fire the flames will go out.

  10. kindlemom1

    Great tips! This is and will probably always be one of the hardest parts about reviewing books, especially when it is a book of a favorite series or author that you just didn’t care for or from an author that is also considered a good friend.
    I think you have excellent advice (as usual) Kim!!

  11. Ana

    Great guide! I’m still a bit nervous when I put up negative reviews because I’m afraid of some kind of fallout. However, that hasn’t really happened so far so whew for that I guess! 🙂 I like how you e-mail them to notify that the post is up and that the review was not all that positive. Professionalism? Definitely something I need to get a handle on!

  12. Blodeuedd

    Good advice, which I will not use cos I am a lazy ass and found the bad examples good 😉 Cos I as the reader got them, even if the authors want more

  13. kimbacaffeinate

    You do explain the why in your reviews…I as a reader of your reviews can discern whether or not I may like a character or plot you didn’t. .maybe not as flowery or wordy as I

  14. Blodeuedd

    Thanks 🙂 I am glad something is there. My style is to write, never to think. Then I get my true feelings 🙂

  15. Nick

    Great post, Kim!
    I’m always wary when I write negative reviews in fear of sounding too negative or rude. I will definitely keep what you said about giving reasons in mind.
    There are a lot of negative reviews that don’t directly attack the writer, but they come across as way too rude. I like negative reviews that are written in a polite tone, like you do. Just ranting about the book is just seeking attention, in my opinion.
    I also think tweeting the negative reviews directly at the author is sort of rude.

  16. Shannon

    This is such a fantastic, helpful post, especially the first part on (I’m going to use some teacher language here) “turning your words into gold” 🙂

    I think this is something we all struggle with because none of us went into blogging to find books we dislike or want to bash…we all love to gush about the great books. But it seems like being practiced at writing a critical review will make you pretty amazing at writing the good ones, too.

  17. Danny Bookworm

    That is wonderful advice Thankfully, I had never problems with authors when I wrote a negative review. But I admit, it is always hard to write about a book you didn’t like. I always try to make clear, especially in such a review that this is my opinion and others might totally love it. So I avoid saying things like “don’t waste your time, don’t waste your money” since it can totally be THE book for someone else!

  18. Debbie Haupt

    Kim what a great community service you provide here with your tips and tricks i was in fact just on another site recently where a new blogger was complaining that her blogger friends were very stingy with their help and told her that blogging was a competitive sport. I told her she needed to find different friends because I’ve never found anything but help from my friends and that is especially true for you. I attribute all my success on my blog to your aide.

    Now as far as negative reviews. I don’t do them on my blog because I read too many required books/month to waste my time on a book I can’t get through, if that happens I tell the publisher/publicist/author the truth and go on. If however there is a book I’m reviewing for one of the magazines I review for I’m under a duty to review it. And I give credit to the first review group I belonged to for instructing us how to give negative reviews without tearing a hole in the author or the novel.
    Your tips run very close to hers.
    I find there’s always a good way to say what you need to say without being hurtful. In fact there were more than one time when after I had to do this the author contacted me and said she/he felt the same way but was under the contract gun and had to let it go.

    Thanks Kim

  19. Andrea

    This is such a helpful post, especially for new reviewers. I always feel like if you can be respectful and honest, most authors can respect that. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Barbara Walker

    Sensitive, sensitive subject you picked for this one. 😉 I tend to be pretty forthright and try to throw some humor at the situation. I have a slightly different perspective because of some friendships I have with authors who are outspoken about reviews themselves, but the art of the negative review is always something I worry about too. I love your samples and the tips about emailing authors and pubs!

  21. Donna Galanti

    Great post! As an author, I appreciate readers who take the time to leave a review – even the conflicted ones. As you said, not all books are for everyone. And conflicted reviews give me greater insight into my writing going forward as well. When I am inspired to write a book review, I try to include the positive but may include those things that bothered me and why. What I DO wish most is that readers would think to even leave a review. After buying a book, leaving a review is the next best gift to give an author. 🙂 And for you writers reading this, I wrote a post on how to find those best fit reviewers who are drawn to your kind of writing. See here:

  22. Doctors Notes

    Another great installment Kim. I love checking out your blogger tips. I had to write my first not so great review and I realized it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I think after reading your tips it will make it a little easier for me. I was more concerned about how the author was going to feel but was happy she was ok with it. Thanks again for your wonderful insight Kim.

  23. kimbacaffeinate

    Even a four star review with a negative bit can be hard to get your feelings across. I too don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings but it isn’t fair to write a dishonest glowing review either, so I try to tactfully convey any issues I personally had and realize not everyone will feel the same. Sometimes our own personal feelings on a subject can influence us.

  24. kimbacaffeinate

    It is so important to read a blogger’s review request page. I get oodles of requests for genres I clearly state I do not read. Agreed reviews are important and I try to post mine everywhere..LOL Thanks for sharing your link:)

  25. Toni

    This is an AWESOME post, Kim. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blogger tips & tricks. You have a very special gift, a way of making a negative review sound almost positive! hehe. You rock!

  26. kimbacaffeinate

    Yes, but after the fourth email asking for tips ..i decided to help. Humor is good, and I think you are sensitive to both the author and your followers when you state your likes and dislikes and your touch of humor lessens the sting.

  27. Jenn Soehnlin

    Well said! Oftentimes when I write a negative review I break it up into Pros and Cons. I always am able to find several pros, and don’t want to discourage the author or people who would like to read it. And I definitely don’t want people who loved the book to be sad that I didn’t like anything about the book when that is not the case.

  28. kimbacaffeinate

    Even your positive reviews must have some thing negative or they would all be five stars. I do not review books that I DNF. Books that hold my interest despite world building issues ,flat characters and endings that are forced that fall into the in the 2-4 star zone are what we are talking about here. There is a reason they didn’t completely work for me but could be a 5 star for you. So I try to explain what I liked, what I didn’t and why.

  29. kimbacaffeinate

    I don’t know about all of that, but my feeling is- if you kept reading and didn’t throw the book at the wall there has to be something positive in there.

  30. kimbacaffeinate

    ooh I agree and while I would love to live in a world of 5 cups of coffee reviews and yes this would apply to good ones as well…using the same examples in reverse. Thanks!

  31. kimbacaffeinate

    I am glad Emily and it will help readers decide if your dislikes and likes are the same before they decide to read it or not.

  32. Trish Hannon

    Excellent advise. In my short time blogging, I’m already learning the value of backing up your statements. It makes for a more thorough review and gives a much better insight to the book. Anything less than 3 stars and I don’t let the author know unless they specifically sent it to me to review.

  33. kimbacaffeinate

    Of course I only email author or notify them if they provided book for review. Well that is not true..if I loved the book I might @ the author on twitter or tell them I loved it on Facebook.

  34. Kay

    Great post as always with some great tips! I agree with you 100%. I always try to explain why I don’t like something in a book I am reviewing instead of just saying I don’t like it.

  35. karina

    Fantastic post, Kimba! I’ve had some unpleasantries over DNFs before or over negative reviews, but I really try to keep the author out of it. It’s my opinion, my personal quirks which didn’t allow me to enjoy the book, and it doesn’t mean that someone else wouldn’t love the book. These instances are usually quite rare anyway, but it helps to stay calm and not to engage with angry comments. 🙂

  36. Sharon - Obsession with Books

    A wonderful post Kimba! You shared some brilliant tips, submitting negative reviews or my reasons for not finishing a book really makes me cringe but I think if it is done well and respectfully as you mentioned it is appreciated.

    Thank-you for sharing! These posts are always extremely helpful and beautifully written.

  37. kimbacaffeinate

    I don’t post reviews for book I haven’t finished its a personal preference. And I think you do a wonderful job of expressing what you didn’t like in a review.

  38. Megan Nicole

    Very helpful tips! I’ve been blogging for about nine months now and writing negative reviews is still hard for me. Especially knowing that the author may read it. So I always try to be nice yet explain as much as I can and hope the author and readers understand. Thanks for the advice! 🙂
    Megan @ Books i View

  39. Ria Spinks

    Super helpful post! Thank you for your insight 🙂

  40. Angelas Anxious Life

    Thank you… I do try to be nice… and never talk about an author. Imagine reviews from back in the day when you could find author information all over the internet. You really only could base the book on what you read.

  41. Christy (Love of Books)

    Sometimes, I’ll like a book and there will be little things that bug me, but sometimes I don’t even mention them. Unless it’s something like repeatedly saying your a lawyer. lol.

  42. kimbacaffeinate

    *giggles* Lawyer..that would grate on my nerves too ooh and whining *rolls eyes* Yeah if it’s a minor thing I may not mention it, but if I cannot connect or get jarred from the book occasionally I liked to share why, since I think it helps others.

  43. Liz

    I think these are amazing tips. I’ve been blogging almost 2 years myself, and it is sometimes very easy to get caught up in the moment and forget some very easy things like this. I really love how much thought and time you put into this post, it really shows. I’m going to keep this handy. Thanks!

  44. Lindy Gomez

    Wow, excellent and very helpful post! Thank you Kimba for taking the time to help out us newbie bloggers! I can tell that a lot of time, thought, and effort went in to this post!

    Lindy@ A Bookish Escape

  45. Jennifer Bielman

    A really great post. I try to write negative reviews with a lot of your suggestions. Sometimes it’s hard to not just be blunt though.

  46. Lark

    Spot on, Kimba! I already try to incorporate a lot of what you say in my reviews, balancing positive with negative and trying to give reasons for my reaction. I know that some reviewers’ style is snarky, and that works for them (and can be fun to read). But it’s not my style; I’m more comfortable trying to be fair, honest, and balanced.

    I like that you included how you contact publishers. So far, most of my review copies have been through NetGalley, so I submit my feedback through them (since I don’t have a direct contact anyway.) And luckily for me, my direct contacts with authors have all been positive so far. In fact, two of them approached me after I reviewed a library copy of their book!

  47. Linda Paul

    This is a great post! All beta readers, editors, and reviewers should read it. And hopeful authors as well. Carefully thought out, thorough, and honest.

  48. libby

    Great words of advice! I hate having to write negative reviews (luckily there are not alot!) but I try hard to find SOMETHING positive as well! I enjoyed reading this post! Thank you!

  49. Victoria Hooper

    Amazing post, so much helpful advice! Thanks Kim 🙂 I agree with you
    that saying things like ‘in my opinion’ or ‘I felt that’ is a really
    good thing to do. Shows that reviewing is ultimately subjective. I
    really like your example email for sending a negative review directly to
    the author. That’s the bit that stresses me out the most, and so far
    I’ve only had to do it twice! Going through NetGalley is certainly a bit
    easier when it comes to the feedback. Great post! 🙂

  50. Jen Ryland

    This is such great advice and I couldn’t agree more. Not every book works for every person. A negative review isn’t really helpful unless the reviewer explains why the book didn’t work for them.
    Great post, Kimba 🙂

  51. Roxy

    Great advice! This will come in handy when I come across I book I don’t particulary like! Thank you SO much for sharing! This post is really helpful!

  52. Victoria Hooper

    Hmm… not sure why my comment formatted itself weirdly there!

  53. Becky Paulk

    Very good advice! I use the same strategy when dealing with negative reviews and get nervous as well when I need to tell the author that their book wasn’t for me. I will definitely keep this post in mind when writing my reviews from now on.

  54. Debbie Haupt

    Ah Sue your first E-rom. love the description tastefully naughty 🙂

  55. Debbie Haupt

    First I don’t use a number/star system for my personal reviews on my blog and in my humble opinion nothing negative needs to be said for any review that rates above a 3 out of 5. I think the way a reviewer words his/her review is tantamount to how they feel about the read and I think that intelligent readers will get the gist without a number.

    I do use the numbered system where required and of course when I review for the publications I use their system as well. LibraryJournal however does not use a number system either.

    Thanks again for your informative post.

  56. Sue

    Hi Deb “Waves” I’m Glad I Attended “Kimba’s “Summit” I learned So Much..And Seeing You here,you are a Great Supporter…XXX Sue

  57. Sue

    {{{ Waves}}} Great “Blogger” Summit #hijacker.94 Comments +.Topic opened My Mind…Thanks

  58. Getty Hesse

    Wow… This will be really helpful to me. I now see I’ve been writing my negative reviews a little too sarcastically.