How to Write a Good Bad Review
“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Mama’s advice serves well to keep us kind, but people don’t always need kind. We don’t even need polite all the time. Sometimes we need truth.
Gina birthed the question on facebook: “Why do people post negative reviews?”
Ron responded with a post about armchair critics and how writers can and should handle those single-star assessments. (HINT: in stride with a hefty grain of salt.)
I then defended my right to write negative reviews.
Oh, I sound so sadistic, don’t I? That’s not my intention. Really! My defense originates in the belief that not all negative reviews are bad.
I’m one of those readers who rushes to the one-star ratings. I often find them far more helpful than a dozen sugar-coated, yet hollow praises. Now, some of the low ratings are just as ignorant as the hollow praises. Good reviews — well thought out, objective perspectives — contain value regardless of how many stars they grant.
It is possible to write good bad reviews. It’s also possible to tell the difference between negative reviews that writers should heed and those they should ignore.
Here are a few tips I employ when writing negative reviews.
1 — Separate the author from the book. I rarely attribute faults to the author. Instead, I will point out how the text, characters or story fail to … whatever it is. We all know that points back to the author and editor, but it’s less personal in its presentation.
2 —Don’t post anything that is overly emotional or even hints at a personal attack. Reading is personal to those who love to read, but splattered emotions typically detract from credibility. This goes for positive reviews, too. Say what you think, but don’t gush it or bleed it.
3 — Be succinct and precise. If there really is a problem with the book, state it as briefly and clearly as possible. Don’t twist the knife or labor your point. Just pinpoint the issue and move on.
4 — Be purposeful. If you don’t have a reason for writing a bad review, don’t. Know why you are writing a bad review and write it well, with respect and objectivity. I will often post a bad review where promised (on my book review website), but not broadcast it to the world (via amazon or other avenues). If I haven’t promised to review it, I won’t. If I really, really hate the book, I’ll contact the author before posting anything anywhere. I want that person to have the right to withdraw their request and control their own PR.
5 — Avoid comment wars. Everyone has a right to disagree. Arguing with strangers over conflicting (and often irrelevant) opinions is a waste of time and energy. Remember: you need not attend every argument to which you are invited.
I can’t end this post without answering Gina’s original question: Why do people write negative reviews?
For me, the most common reason centers on unmet expectations. For example, if the cover image or blurb contradict the actual content of the book, I’m going to reserve my praise. Readers should know before they spend their money on it. Authors and publishers should know that their presentation was misleading. This, of course, is not a reflection of the author specifically. It’s not even a reflection of the work or writing. It’s an assessment of the marketing and advertising.
That’s my two and a half cents.
Your Turn: Do you post negative reviews? Why? What rules do you follow to keep it civil?
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