A few weeks ago I reviewed a book called Healing the Soul of a Woman by Joyce Meyer. Given my angst and irritation over my uber-religious upbringing, I probably should have never requested the book in the first place. I can admit that I have a Jesus-sized chip on my shoulder, and Joyce Meyer is about as mainstream, cheesy Christian as you can get. I knew I wasn’t the target audience for her book. And yet…
So I read the book and then wrote what I considered to be a thoughtful, albeit mostly critical, review. I even gave it a generous three stars.
Well, Amazon doesn’t show unhelpful vote counts anymore, but based on how many negative comments I received and how far my rank dropped overnight, it’s fair to assume that I racked up a large number of 👎🏼 votes. It annoyed me at first, but then, meh. The internet is just the internet, you know? I think I responded to one comment but didn’t bother with the rest.
It did get me thinking, though. I know a lot of book reviewers tend to write glowing reviews—which makes sense, because we usually request books we are pretty sure we’re going to like. But what happens when you get a dud? I know I sometimes feel bad about not liking a book. I always strive to give honest feedback, but it’s not like I want to hurt an author’s feelings. And on a more self-serving level, I also don’t want a publisher to blacklist me for being negative (is that even a thing?) and then refuse to grant my future Net Galley or Edelweiss requests.
It’s a tricky balance. Just like in face-to-face life, it’s hard to give negative feedback without feeling like a jerk or burning bridges. But I’d argue that it’s still worth doing. Sure, it would be easier to click the “I will not be giving feedback” box on your Net Galley page or to leave a flaccid, one-line “I dunno, this one just wasn’t for me!” review.
(For the record, even though I review every book I request, I still sometimes give only a couple sentences of feedback. Life is busy, and I’ve got ish to do, brah.)
In short, negative reviews are important! Here’s why:
- They are interesting to read. A well-crafted negative review is an honest-to-God delight to read.
- They are fun to write. I love having an actual opinion about a book, even if it’s a negative one. It makes writing the review so much easier and more enjoyable.
- Future potential readers need to know what’s up. You know how there are always those books that are critics’s darlings, but in actuality they’re boring, pretentious, overwritten, and just plain annoying? Yeah, I hate those books. That’s why I always, always, look at negative reviews. I don’t need to read a ton of them—just enough to get an idea of how people on the other side experienced the book.
- We owe it to readers and writers to be demanding. The second you put a muzzle on the truth, we all begin to suffer for it. Honest feedback, whether positive or negative, is a critical part of the creative process. It may not always feel good to give (or receive) a negative review, but if the reviewer is coming from a place of authenticity, competence, kindness, and respect, then her thoughts should hopefully be helpful.
I don’t wish a pooper read on anybody, but when they come our way, as they inevitably will, I hope we all have the courage to share our honest opinions. That’s my two cents! What do you guys think?