Monday, January 19, 2015

Giving a bad review

You know that saying "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"?

Well, I don't really believe in it.

People saying things that weren't especially kind was instrumental in helping me become a better writer, and while I don't appreciate when people seem to delight in tearing me down or have no regard for my feelings at all, I do prefer people focusing more on the content than on how I'll feel about their reaction.

So that brings me to bad reviews.

I've given precious few really bad reviews in my time. And I have been especially careful about it since embarking on the "actually becoming a professional writer" train. Other writers may have written books you hate, books you disagree with, books that are just crap, but . . . they're also your peers. And anything you say could be seen to be tearing down a competitor, possibly out of jealousy or petty attempts to lift up your own work.

Most authors actually feel this is very far from the truth; we don't consider ourselves competition for the most part, though places like Amazon have rules about reviewers engaging in any behavior that could be perceived as financially benefiting them (and that includes having friends/family promote their own books with good reviews as well as leaving bad reviews for other people whose books are similar to yours). We're perceived as competition by those who view our books as a product. And though I think it's pretty clear that people who would like both my book and another author's similar book would very rarely buy one instead of the other, especially in fiction, we're still viewed as rivals and disallowed from participating in supposedly self-supporting behavior.

So what I try to do is only write a really scathing, highly critical review if it's something I would honestly feel capable of saying to the author's face.

If an author offended me or made some terrible choices or just did something I want to give them a harsh lecture over, I might put it in the review. Most other times, I'll say one or two critical things if I think it's appropriate, but I'm not nasty about it, and I'm much more focused on discussing why I would or wouldn't recommend the book to others. I'll also be more likely to say negative things about a book I didn't like if it's very, very popular, because it's unlikely my opinion will affect the author negatively in any measurable way, and I'll be less "sensitive" about my wording if I really hate the book and the author is no longer living.

But considering it is always possible I, as a person who aspires to a lifelong career as a fantasy/SF author, could theoretically end up on a panel with some of these people, it would behoove me to never say anything I wouldn't be prepared to defend if I met them in person.

You can see the books I've read and reviewed with lowest ranking at the top here on my Goodreads account, though my own book is at the top because it's marked read with no star ranking. (I couldn't bring myself to rate or review my own book.) Check out what I thought deserved a spanking and why. And let me know if you read any that you feel are in poor taste, and I'll listen to why I should change it.


  1. It's interesting to hear you say this because I agonize about it for exactly the reasons you list: it seems like bad "office politics" for an aspiring novelist. Of course, I would never blacklist someone for saying they didn't care for something of why would I think others would be any different? Paranoia is hard to overcome. It was good to hear your take on it.

    1. Yeah, thing is there ARE authors who would resent you forever for not giving them a good review (or might even resent you for not giving it five stars!). It's weird because most of us will say upfront that we want honesty and we think empty positive reviews are useless, but then if we get a bad review we'll act hurt. And some of the more unreasonable among us will feel that it is inappropriate and/or designed to ruin us, and will react in kind, ignoring what kind of world it would be if nobody ever posted a bad review of a book they didn't like. I figure as long as I don't get personal about it, most reasonable authors should be able to take what I dish out on Goodreads.

  2. I think it's good to see authors writing reviews because often times they have a good handle on why the story isn't good, and they can say it well.

    Of course non-writers can do this too. But before I started writing, I probably wouldn't have been able to explain from a technical side why I didn't like the book. Now that I've been writing, I can much easier point to a reason that story didn't appeal to me.

    I read reviews for explanations of why the books were bad/good. Vague reviews that just say, this book sucked, don't do me any good. And nasty, uninformative reviews won't sway my opinion.

    1. I agree, I feel the same as you do about verbalizing what I liked and didn't like about a book. It's part of what helped me figure out what makes me enjoy something and write so I'm speaking to that. And having been on the other side of creating a book, I can see the strings more easily than people who haven't tried to do it. And yeah, the closest to "this book sucked" I ever post is just to point out that I didn't personally connect or something like that. I rarely say that without corroborating it with an explanation of something concrete that made me not like it, though.