“Should book bloggers ever publish negative reviews?”
This is probably one of the more polarising discussions I’ve observed in the writing community.
There does seem to be a notion amongst certain book bloggers that publishing less-than-favourable thoughts on a book in the public domain is something that should just not be done.
Why some bloggers are shy about negative reviews
I suspect bloggers feel under pressure to be kinder to authors/publishers who offer them free books (through no fault of either party, by the way).
Speaking from experience, if someone gives me a book they’ve poured their heart into, I take it incredibly seriously – as anyone should – and try to invest as much time, care, and understanding as I can. Critiquing that isn’t easy.
But sometimes you just really dislike a book. And that’s okay!
Receiving advance copies of books is not a tacit agreement for positive press – I cannot labour that point enough.
Each blogger will have their own editorial policies. Some may choose to deliver feedback to the author privately, which is okay, but there comes a time when you’re going to need to start posting your more critical reviews.
If your reviews are exclusively 4+ and 5 then there is a severe risk of your credibility being undermined.
Interestingly, I ran a poll on this topic and it came back with 90% of people in favour of still publishing negative reviews.
Admittedly, I phrased the question quite poorly, which could have affected the outcome.
I was quite surprised by this, considering that this blog post was inspired by a few robust discussions I’ve had with the Twitter #WritingCommunity – many whom told me that they avoid publishing their more critical reviews.
This is white noise to me.
I think a negative review, written properly, can be just as effective as a positive one.
What is a Negative Review Anyway?
This does tend to vary from blogger to blogger.
For some of the more sensitive souls out there, anything less than is deemed a negative review.
For others (including myself) it’s probably or less.
Common Objections to Publishing Negative Reviews
“A bad review harms an author’s book sales”
Leave these concerns to the author/the author’s marketing team. Your responsibility is to provide an honest critique for your readers.
There has, for some reason, become a blurring of the lines between critical discourse and advertising/marketing.
Remember your role – you are not an extension of the publisher’s marketing team, but a trusted independent voice.
“It’s impolite to publicly criticise an author’s work”
Be critical (sometimes very critical) without getting personal.
Critique authors’ works fairly, and steer your readership towards (or away from!) certain books. but try not to pressure yourself into coming to your conclusions.
If your review is well-researched and backed up with evidence, that’s the greatest compliment you can pay to an author, regardless of how you felt about the book.
It only becomes impolite if you write your review in an impolite way. Don’t do that.
“Perhaps I won’t receive ARCs in the future”
I don’t think this should even be entering your thoughts.
As long as you haven’t slated anyone involved in the production of the novel, I think most publishing houses will be fairly open-minded about sending you ARCs.
And actually, constructive criticism is sometimes far more valuable than blind praise.
If your review is well written, logically sound, and backed up with evidence, nobody can really complain.
If, after all that, you are blacklisted, just remember that over 600 hardbacks were published in the UK on 3rd September, 2020. There are plenty of books out there – one less ARC won’t hurt you!
“It’s awkward, or perhaps I’ll get called out”
This is an understandable way to feel. Prior to publishing my first ever review, I was very anxious for most of the week. Especially because it was for quite a high-profile author.
What would people say? Would I get roundly criticised on the internet?
Ultimately, a review is a personal opinion and you’re entitled to that opinion – just make sure that you back it up with some decent explanations!
Why you Should Publish a Negative Review
Your readers deserve the truth
First of all, you owe it to your readers. They look to you for honest, well-thought-out opinions on books they might wish to read themselves.
Publishing a negative review, provided that it’s honest, will add to your trustworthiness.
However, if you find yourself over-inflating scores (due to social pressure or otherwise), you’ll lose readers if they think you’re not telling the truth.
Honesty and integrity
Think about what your reviews say about you.
If your blog only contains 4+ reviews, it suggests that you’re not comfortable critiquing another’s work.
On one hand, I can understand why some bloggers would rather DNF a book than publish a bad review. However, you can’t do this all the time. Sometimes you’ll need to get to the end of a book, and be honest about your thoughts.
Otherwise, you’ll end up with a bunch of exclusively positive reviews, which undermines your review rating system. And why have a scale if you don’t publish anything at the lower end of that scale?
Critical reviews are the hardest reviews you’ll ever have to write.
Especially because there’s a lot of unspoken pressure on bloggers and reviewers. Perhaps you have a good relationship with the author, or maybe the book has a die-hard following.
But if you’re able to demonstrate why you disliked a book, whilst remaining professional and arguing your points in good faith, nobody can really criticise you for that.
In fact, some people (authors included!) may even read your review and respect your honesty & clarity of thought.
The same reason you publish positive reviews!
Would you hesitate over publishing a review?
Probably not. After all, why wouldn’t you want to shout about a book that you enjoyed that much?
The same logic applies to a negative review. Sometimes, whilst they’re difficult to write, it can be quite therapeutic to consolidate your thoughts and share them with the reading community.
If it’s a solid piece, critical but respectful, you should have zero hesitation about publishing it.
If you’re willing to be more critical, your reviews will carry a lot of weight with readers!
When you Should Not Publish a Negative Review
There are a couple of situations where, in my opinion, you should not be publishing a negative, or critical, review.
You DNF’d the book
If you didn’t finish the book, even if you got most of the way through it, you have no business giving it a rating.
If your experience with the text is incomplete, your thoughts may too incomplete and, at worst, uninformed.
Share your thoughts on the book, perhaps even email the author with these thoughts if they’re constructive and you feel compelled to, but don’t review it and give it a .
Doing so would be ethically and intellectually dishonest.
You have nothing insightful to say
If you’re struggling to articulate why you thoroughly disliked a book, I don’t think it’s hugely helpful to publish a full review.
Sometimes you read a book and it doesn’t click with you, but you’re unable to place exactly why.
For example, if your review only contains simple value judgments (I liked X, I disliked Y) without anything to back them up, you’re adding zero value to the discussion. In this case, if you’ve got nothing to say, there’s no point whatsoever in adding your voice to the conversation.
It’s unhelpful to readers of your blog, or potential readers of the book who, ultimately, your book reviews are aimed at.
Nor is it fair on the author if there’s nothing for them to work on.
Be bold – don’t be afraid of publishing negative book reviews. They help potential readers navigate an incredibly busy marketplace of ideas.
Just be mindful of how you communicate your criticism. For example, I like to run my more critical reviews past another person before I publish it. This is to ensure that the piece reads fairly, clearly, and is insightful to anyone who hasn’t read the book.
And here’s one final piece of advice.
Never, EVER tag authors in negative reviews. Regardless of your intentions, it’s poor form and a little unfair.
How do you feel about writing negative reviews? How do you approach them?
Let me know in the comments below!