Clare Davidson

Writing without compromise

Negative Reviews (Or why I don't write them)

I've just written my first negative review on Amazon. Normally I have the strict rule that if I wouldn't give it 4 stars, I don't write a review. So why did I make an exception? Because I was reviewing a product, which was not fit for the purpose that it stated it could be used for. It was something that I could state as a fact was bad.

Art is very different. Art is subjective. Novels are a form of art. I don't write negative reviews for books, because it's just my opinion. Just because I don't like it, doesn't mean others won't. Tens of thousands like Twilight and Harry Potter. I couldn't get into 'We Need to Talk About Kevin', yet it was successful enough to be made into a film.

I do write positive reviews, however. I know, that might sound a bit contradictory. However, I see a review as similar to a recommendation. I'll recommend a book to a friend if I enjoyed it and I think they might like it. If I didn't like it, I tend to stay quiet unless I'm actively asked for my opinion. People who are looking at a book have already shown an interest in some aspect of it, probably the cover, blurb, or both. Reviews then act like recommendations for strangers.

There are some things that can be stated as bad in literature: terrible punctuation, grammar and spelling that make it impossible to read being the obvious. But the rest is down to personal taste: even exposition, even head hopping. I dislike both of these things, but many, many successful books employ both techniques. I won't say that a book is bad because of it, but I won't recommend it either.

What are your thoughts on writing negative reviews for books?

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On 01/08/2012 Clare Davidson said: Thanks for commenting :)

On 01/08/2012 Ruth Ellen Parlour said: I don't like give bad reviews. As an author I wouldn't want to bad mouth other authors. If a book is so bad that I have nothing good to say about it I just wont bother reviewing it. If a book just wasn't to my personal taste I bear that in mind and write what I thought was good and what others might like about it.

On 01/08/2012 LeighAnnKopans said: You know, you are a very sweet individual. I don't post negative reviews because I don't want to invite vitriol, butyou're right. What business do I have giving something less than 4 stars and making it look bad when really it might not be for me? The question is what to do about straight-up bad work - a book riddled with typos, or sloppily formatted, for example. Shouldn't we give our fellow readers the heads-up so they don't waste their money, and so that solid work like yours rises to the top? Great question, Clare.

On 01/08/2012 Clare Davidson said: Thanks for replying with an equally good question! I have bought one such book (which I won't name here), which was so riddled with typos, random tense changes and bad formatting that it was literally unreadable. I toyed for days about whether or not I should review it to tell other readers that. In the end I didn't. I don't know if that was the right decision or not. I don't know how I could have phrased my thoughts on the book, without sounding nasty! Books are sold by word of mouth. If a book is technically terrible, surely no one would recommend it and therefore it wouldn't sell?

On 02/08/2012 dasteroad said: I'm like you on that: I don't really see the point in negative reviews in general and it's way too easy to turn them into troll bait. I'd make an exception in case of strictly technical issues, such as formatting, grammar/spelling or if the book itself seriously betrays its advertising (e.g. it's presented as a mystery but its main theme is romance, and so on). If I realize the reason I didn't like it is mainly that I'm not its audience, I avoid writing a review. Occasionally I might be inspired to write a post on what and how something I read didn't work, but the place for such things is my own blog or tumblr, not the author's or book's page; also if I do that I usually avoid mentioning the work if I can, and I'm careful to write it as a lucid reflection instead of a vitriolic rant.

On 02/08/2012 Clare Davidson said: Thanks for responding! You make a good point about some books not being as advertised. Do you think that happens because the author isn't really aware of what genre they've written? Writing lucid reflections on your weblog sounds like a good way of explaining your reasons about liking/disliking a book.

On 02/08/2012 dasteroad said: Well, some books are pretty hard to shove into a genre, aren't they? In other cases it might be clumsy marketing, with the author trying to pawn the book off as something else while worried it won't sell "enough". In other cases instead it might be the result of unfortunate implications arising from naivete: e.g. some aspects of romance in Twilight may look problematic but are still written in a very idealized way. This doesn't mean the book is evil and will destroy society, of course, but it is an example of book dissonance. An example of what I mean with "reflections on how something I read didn't work" is here on my tumblr: my thoughts on the habit of some fan writers to idealize complex characters with a heavy dark side -

On 02/08/2012 Clare Davidson said: Interesting post, thanks for linking to it :)

On 09/08/2012 Clare Davidson said: Thanks for replying! I also tend to mention if there was anything that detracted from my enjoyment, but again, it's only ever my opinion.

On 09/08/2012 Ashleigh said: I completely agree. I don't write negative reviews, and regard the reviews I do give as a recommendation for a book I liked. However, I will mention in the the review if there was something I couldn't come to grips with, but always add a disclaimer that it is only a personal foible of mine. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

On 14/08/2012 Nic Widhalm said: I've think you've got it right, Clare--if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. If I see a novel that has no reviews and has been on Amazon for over a year, well...I assume it's probably not good. There may be a better system, but I'm not aware of it. If I love the book I'll make sure to pass the word in the review section, but if I couldn't stand it then I'll keep well enough alone. Unless it's Stephen King. Sometimes the world needs to know. ;-)

On 15/08/2012 Clare Davidson said: Thanks for your comment :) I hadn't considered that no reviews for a book that's been out several months = a bad review, but you're absolutely right.

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