Friday, March 21, 2014

On Bad Book Reviews

I made the meme myself this week instead of stealing it from the Internet. Aren’t you proud of me?

I spend a lot of time on Goodreads because I actually enjoy reading book reviews. I’m fascinated by the fact that people can have massively different reactions to the same book, and I truly appreciate reviews that are detailed and thoughtful.

Sometimes I come across a bad one-star review. I don’t mean a negative review of the book. I mean a bad review. These one-star reviews are often sarcastic and mean-spirited. Instead of just stating the reviewer’s opinion, they attack the author, the characters, the book, or the other reviewers. They use phrases such as, “I hate this book,” “The characters are stupid,” “The writer doesn’t know how to write,” and “People who like this book must be dumb.”

These reviews are irritating and sad. I skip over as many of them as I can. I know that some of them were posted because the reviewer wanted to be irritating and get a reaction from people, so maybe bad reviews say more about the reviewer than the book being reviewed.

For people who aren’t attention-seeking trolls, there are ways to write a good negative review. I think the best way is to state your opinion and back it up with evidence from the book. Be specific. Be detailed. If you stopped reading, say where you stopped and why. If you liked something about the book, include that in the review. Don’t take quotes or the actions of the characters out of context. Remember that just because you disliked the book doesn’t mean that the book is bad or that people who like it are dumb. Just because you disliked the author’s writing style doesn’t mean that the author doesn’t know how to write. Just because you disagree with the characters’ decisions doesn’t mean that the characters are stupid.

Remember to be kind. You can be kind while giving a negative review. I’ve seen it done a thousand times. The anonymous and impersonal nature of the Internet makes it possible to say things in reviews that you’d never say in person, but that doesn’t mean that you should say those things. All of the authors who I know read the reviews for their books. Even if they don’t respond to the review, they are reading. In most cases, the author has spent years working on the book that you’re reviewing. They’ve given up time with their families, spent countless hours writing and rewriting the same scene over and over, brought the book to an editor or writing workshop and had it picked apart, and stayed up all night to put it back together. This book is important to the author. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t have written it. So, most of all, remember that there is a human on the other end of your review. Be kind to that person.

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