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.
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 http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.com/.
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.
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.