Recently there have been a number of “run ins” between authors and bloggers stemming from negative reviews. This is nothing new. It’s happened before, it will happen again. These interactions make me really sad. I hate the feeling they create among the bookish community. So this is me throwing my two cents in. Obviously it is all my opinion and you are free to disagree.
To start… negative reviews. Personally I don’t respond to books I didn’t enjoy on my blog. I have two main reasons for that. First, the driving goal behind my blog is promoting young adult literature and reading. Second, I am not comfortable posting negative reviews due to my job. I am a middle school librarian. More than once I’ve read a book and not liked it at all. However, I have students come up to me raving about how amazing the book was and asking me for more books to read. Some of my students read my blog. If I had written a negative review and that student had read it they may not have read that book. May it never be said that I discouraged a child from picking up a book they fall in love with. Seriously. I would be sick over it.
I am in no way saying that no one should write negative reviews. I find them extremely helpful when deciding what books to buy for the LMC or my personal reading. There is definitely a place for them if they are well done. I have an issue with negative reviews when they go from discussing things the reviewer didn’t like to making fun of the author or the book. Regardless of what you think about a book the author has invested time and effort in to creating it. They care about it and will likely take criticism to heart. Remember, the author is a real person. They have feelings and can be hurt. I imagine a negative review is going to hurt no matter what. The least the reviewer can do is to make it thoughtful.
My guidelines for writing reviews of books you didn’t like:
Don’t Mock: Anyone can mock a book. Heck, I could write a mocking review of a book I loved. It may get you some laughs but it is taking the easy way out. It’s not nice and it’s not hard to do. Don’t waste my time.
Support Your Reasons: Don’t just tell me a character is unbelievable. Tell me why something didn’t work for you. Going off on a rant saying the book sucked is useless.
Don’t Make it Personal: I’ll say it again, authors are people. When you go from saying you didn’t like a book to saying the author it talentless/stupid/whatever you’ve crossed the line and have become a bully. Keep it classy.
Leave it up to the Reader: Do not tell me what to think. So you didn’t like a book. Fine. Tell me why but don’t try and tell me what I have to do. I am smart enough to make an informed decision. Saying things like, “You won’t like this book if you have a brain” or “Anyone with an IQ higher than a sponge will find this book drivel” is insulting to those reading your review. (I made these up but they aren’t far off things I’ve seen!)
Authors also need to be careful in how they respond to negative reviews. I understand the desire to call people out or vent about a bad review. I have read some incredibly rude and just plain mean reviews. Some people seem to live to write mean reviews. Is it fair that an author cannot respond to that? No. Is it the way things are? Yes. Sorry. I have never seen a situation where engaging with the reviewer of a negative review (whether thoughtful or mean-spirited) has ended well. I strongly advise authors to avoid this!
My guidelines for authors dealing with a negative review:
DO NOT ENGAGE: I cannot stress this enough. As I said before, I have never seen this end well. Typically it just brings that negative review more attention. I know it sucks to sit back and let people say mean things about something you’ve worked so hard on. But seriously, you will likely be the one who ends up looking bad if you engage the reviewer. Also, if you write a blog post about it remember anyone can read that. Just because someone is visiting your blog it does not mean that they are a fan. Be very, very careful!
Consider the Source: Some people are mean. Period. End of story. I have seen a number of reviewers on goodreads that only write scathing reviews. It seems they hate everything they read. Take their thoughts with a grain of salt. Keep a file with good reviews/tweets/emails/whatever that you can look back on when you come across these people.
Remember the Teens: If you have a YA book published you likely have teens following you on twitter or reading your blog. When I book talk a book I point my students to the authors blog (if they have one I know is quality.) If you post/tweet something in response to a review and you are negative your teens see that. You are a role model. Don’t forget that. Also, some of those bad reviews? They may have been written by teens who don’t quite understand the effect they have. Don’t forget that either.
Don’t Make it Personal: As I mentioned in my guidelines to reviewers…Keep it classy. Don’t bully or name call. You might call up a friend and vent but it is never okay to do it publicly. Be the bigger person and keep your integrity. I think Rudyard Kipling’s poem If sums this up well.
Basically, whether you are a reviewer or an author, it all comes down to having integrity. Again, these are just my thoughts. Feel free to tell me what you think in comments. But remember, keep it classy!
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