Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What I Want To Know

Welcome to TNBBC's "What I Want To Know" - a mini series of sorts that will hopefully answer some of the questions and quiet some of the concerns I know fellow bloggers, authors, and publishers have regarding how to choose a reviewer or book to review, review etiquette, how to pitch and be pitched.. among other things.

Last week, authors and publishers talked about their views on negative reviews. This week, we pass the potato to the book bloggers because I want to know:

How do you handle writing negative reviews?

This is what they had to say:

"I hate writing negative reviews, but I pride myself on honesty. I have found that authors appreciate this quality in my reviews more than anything. As a matter of fact I have had authors email me thanking me for my input and even offer me a copy of their next novel in hopes to change my view on their writing ability. So my approach? Write what I think, don't skirt around it, it does nobody any favors in the end." - Misty Baker, KindleObsessed.Com

"I try to give it some balance. Much like with favourable reviews, I think it is a mistake to publish a hysterical raves (or in the case of a lousy book, frothing-at-the-mouth spite). So for example with Stephanie Meyer’s New Moon, which I had a number of issues with, while I said it wasn’t to my taste, I acknowledged that a lot of folk love this series. The internet is a realm of extremes and I try to make it a rule of thumb to exercise moderation in my reviews.

(A few weeks ago)in a coffee shop I was talking about Twilight with my wife and a friend. A young woman sitting at a neighbouring table became visibly upset with our discussion, stood up and left. Had this been a discussion on the internet, her reaction may have manifested itself as a page long diatribe on our failings as human beings. This is the difference between the real world and online discussion, and it applies to every popular forum, from message board debates on American health care to the dissolution of Spider-Man’s marriage. I feel this is a great shame, so I try to eschew negativity when I can." - Emmett O'Cuana,

" I only request books that I'm fairly certain I'll like. I've been reading for most of my life and I know my own taste by now. ;) If it's something I really can't stand, I won't finish it, but if it's a book I just didn't like much, I try and say good things about it and then explain why it didn't work for me. I don't want to keep someone who would really like the book from reading it." - Kelly Hager,

"Like I would if somebody had a really ugly baby. I wouldn't come right out and say that is the ugliest baby I've ever seen but I'm not going to be telling you to enter in a cute baby contest anytime soon.

But seriously, I try to respect that it IS like somebody's baby by having tact and trying to not be harsh. I've learned in college how to be professional while disagreeing and giving negative opinions and I think that is important. It is my personal blog but it is a part of my resume so I try to be professional yet let my personality show through.

I will not, however, compromise myself and my opinions for the sake of making an author like me or sleep better at night. If your book sucks, well, I'm going to explain why. I might try to throw in a redeeming aspect of it but I'm not going to try to be nice and gentle all the time. The reality of it is that not everyone is going to like a book. It might not be everybody's taste and not everyone will "get" it. My job, in a negative review, is to explain why I did not care for it so that a reader might be able to gauge whether or not they will enjoy it. I let myself be available on email to more fully explain a book to readers wanting to know more." - Jamie Bennett,

As I mentioned in the last post, no one enjoys negative reviews. They can be difficult to write and even more difficult to read. The best negative reviews are honest reviews that incorporate specific critiques. Pull excerpts out and analyze them. If it's the writing style, what was it specifically that didn't work for you? What could the author have done differently? Is it the subject matter, the character development...? How did that hinder the novel?

Before I learned how to say no to authors seeking reviews, I had accepted a book that I knew I was not going to like. It was called "The Spiritual Significance of Music" and the author had interviewed over 1,000 artists and musicians to find out what the spiritual significance of music meant to them. I gave the book 2 stars, and struggled to finish it. But finish it I did, and when I wrote the review, I pulled out quotes and themes - and countered them with my own personal feelings.

The author contacted me almost immediately to thank me for such a well thought out review, and shared it on his facebook page.

That is when you know you have created something worthwhile for your readership. Sharing your personal reactions, but also reviewing in such a way as to try to find the books audience too.

What did you think?

Was this post helpful and insightful? Was there anything here that shocked you? What interactions have you had with publishers or authors that support or negate what you read here?

Next week, we will find out what the authors and publishers think about bloggers/reviewers who decline requests to review copies from self published or independent authors/publishers.


  1. I love all of these! Writing negative reviews is always tough, but I agree that you can't love everything. I think most authors understand that not every book is for every person, even if it still stings when somebody says negative things about their work. Like many authors here, I try to explain what specifically didn't work for me so that readers can determine whether those issues will be problematic for them as well.

    Looking forward to the next q&A! I used to accept some self pubs when I was just excited to have people offer me books, but I generally don't anymore. They usually just led to disappointment and awkwardness.

  2. Melanie, thanks for your comment. You are right, no matter what you say or how you say it, a negative review is going to sting at least a little bit! But when you are specific - as you mention in your comment - you are also assisting the readers in deciding whether they want to pick the book up for themselves!

    Glad you are looking forward to next weeks post already :)

  3. As an author, I'm really encouraged by this. I think the world of print reviews had gotten quite ego-driven and snobby, and many critics (they really were critics more than reviewers) had forgotten that it wasn't all about them. I've always strongly felt that a useful review, whether good or bad, should be geared to giving enough information to help the reader identify whether he or she will agree. It's very heartening to see that the new(ish) and vibrant world of blog reviews seems to get that, and understand more than their predecessors about the service they provide. Thanks for a great post.

  4. Hi Catherine, I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed this post. Book bloggers are certainly nothing like the critics of yesterday! We read because we love books, we review because we want to get the word out there, and we love to interact with the authors and publishers who work so hard at writing and developing those books!

    I appreciate your comment, and hope you enjoy the rest of the current series as well. If you are interested in being one of the authors that I interview for the new set of questions on WHAT I WANT TO KNOW - please email me

  5. Love this feature! It's definitely something I struggle with myself, and I feel like I was probably not as sensitive as I could have been when I first started blogging. Thanks for sharing all these great thoughts on it!

  6. I once gave a negative review of a Printz-award winner and got an angry email from a fan of said author, though it took a while for him to get to the point. He started by calling me "not very nice" in his subject line and I was pretty mad. I looked over my review and I wasn't mean in it, just honest. But what I love about blogs is that it gives someone who disagrees the option to reply in the comments and start a discussion.

  7. I agree these "mini series" have been incredibly helpful and encouraging. It's especially nice to know that authors encourage bad reviews when they are done tastefully and honestly, pointing out exact problems you had with their book. I don't want to become a "yes man" or in my case a "yes mam".

  8. I review every book I read, and I often come across books that didn't do it as much for me. I'm always honest, and sometimes find it easier to write negative reviews than positive ones. Funny right? I like explaining what didn't work for me and why, and also pointing out who likes it or might like it, and why you might like what I didn't.