The Importance of Negative Reviews

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.

But…maybe…don’t?

(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:

  1. They are interesting to read. A well-crafted negative review is an honest-to-God delight to read.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

15 thoughts

  1. Ahoy there matey! I absolutely love negative reviews about books. Especially if I loved the book. I always enjoy readin’ other people’s viewpoints on things because it may enrich me own experiences. I do write negative reviews often. I am not happy about it but I write me blog to record me thoughts on what I read. That is the primary focus. There are books I don’t finish (abandon ship) and ones I finish but don’t like (walk the plank). I give ideas of why I don’t finish them because other people may not want to waste precious readin’ time on something that they won’t like. Just this year I have been getting some push back on negative reviews with commentators who tell me I am wrong. I thank them for their views but stand firm on mine. And aye, I have now been blacklisted by one publishing house but I stand by the review and wouldn’t change it. They called me out for “author provocation” and I responded with why I wrote what I did. I thought I explained it clearly enough in me review. Of course I didn’t even get a response back from the publicity manager. So I don’t get books for free from them. So what? There are still a couple authors who publish with them whose work I will read and review honestly. They can’t stop me from reviewing their stuff if I chose to. And seriously while reviews copies are nice, I have stacks of books to read already. The only time I do not agree with folks negative reviews are if they are racist etc. I will not support people who claim the Holocaust didn’t happen or black people are inferior, or women are stupid. I am not religious meself and do enjoy readin’ about religions from a scientific or historical approach. But no religious conversion or bashing. I mean I don’t like how many Muslim societies treat women but I don’t dismiss the religion as a whole. But basically the point of me argument is that negative reviews can be awesome and save me time even if I don’t always agree with them. Thoughtful post.
    x The Captain
    PS love the Quiet introvert book. It was nice to read about others like me. I can be forceful and outgoing if I must. But I don’t wanna. Arrr!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, Captain! Good for you for sticking to your guns (pun intended 🙃). That situation intimidates me a little, but you’re right: so what if a publisher doesn’t want me to review their books anymore? If it were a big one, yeah, I’d probably be upset, but even then, it’s not the end of the world. And it’s petty of them to blacklist you, honestly.

      I agree that so long as negative reviews aren’t hate-filled or whatever, they give readers good info that helps them decide if they want to pick up the book or not. In my mind, I want all the information I can get.

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  2. Lol negative reviews are SO MUCH MORE FUN TO READ than positive reviews. I usually scroll past the positive reviews on Goodreads to see what all the criticisms are. Plain and simple glowing reviews are boring to read anyways, and show me that the writer of the review didn’t take much time to think critically about what they read–I rarely read a book without finding something to criticize, even if I enjoyed the book overall.

    I agree that it’s good to be critical of a book. Writing is an art form, and art has been criticized since the dawn of humanity–it’s not possible to write the perfect book, and even the best writers can work to improve their craft. There’s also taking into account different tastes and genre preferences. I love in depth character studies where the writer delves deep into character psychology, but I know that many readers find in depth character studies to be boring, dry, and without enough action. There is also such a thing as plain old bad writing, and if you can’t write for crap, I’m going to give you a crap review.

    People who are overly concerned over one negative review you wrote really need to reconsider their priorities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, for real. I LOVE reading negative reviews. 😅 And I’m the same way about looking critically at a book—I can pretty much always pick out at least one small thing that I wish the author had done differently, even if I really enjoyed the book overall. I don’t need reviewers to nitpick, but I do appreciate a thoughtful, balanced review. Give me the dirt, the good and bad, and I’ll decide if I can handle it or not. Five-star reviews are fine and they have their place, but those two- and three-star reviews are where it’s at.

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  3. I wish more people would do negative reviews so long as they explain clearly why they didn’t like the book. I’m capable of judging whether the things that bothered them would bother me, or not. A couple of things:
    1. I find it easier to be swayed by someone’s recommendation for a book they love if I also know what they don’t love. Otherwise it’s just a subjective, unhelpful opinion that might as well be shortened to “Wow! I love all books!”.
    2. If everyone only leaves glowing reviews, how on earth does that help us as readers sort out the good from the bad? I want to know if more people rated it as 1 star than 5! So I also want people to leave reviews of books they abandon, again so long as they say why. A review saying “an animal is killed horribly on page 18” or “there’s lots of foul language” is more helpful to me than 1000 words of in-depth literary analysis.
    3. My understanding is that publishers don’t much care about the star-rating – it’s the number of reviews that push the books up Amazon’s filters so that the book gets shown on recommendations and so on, rather than the average rating. As far as I know, no publisher has ever cut me off because I give negative reviews (because I always explain why so that other readers can decide for themselves whether my pet hates – present tense, for example – bother them or not).

    Gosh, that’s an opinionated comment! Haha – you can tell you got me on one of my hobby-horses… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re completely right. I really appreciate when people say they didn’t like a book for a specific reason. And then I can decide if I care about that reason or not. Either way, it’s good info to have. I also like when they give a general heads up about intense or somewhat traumatic topics (like weird sex stuff or a kid dying or whatever). I don’t want to know the whole plot, but a warning is always appreciated!

      And that would be so interesting if publishers don’t necessarily care about rating, so long as their book is getting attention (positive OR negative). I guess that makes sense. A product page that gets a lot of traffic and a lot of reviews probably automatically gets bumped to the top. If people are talking about it, well, it must be important. That would make me feel less bad, ha. 😀

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  4. I have to admit when looking at books I tend to read the negative reviews more than the positive ones. I just want to know what others have disliked to get an idea if I may have similar issues with it.

    That being said I don’t really like writing negative reviews particularly if I received the book for free. I always have that fear of being blacklisted. That doesn’t mean I won’t leave a negative review, I would never lie and say I liked a book I didn’t, more that I don’t tend to post it everywhere. I’ll leave a review on NetGalley, Goodreads and a short one on Amazon but that’s generally it.

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  5. I go to the negative reviews first because they can usually tell me if I’m going to dislike a book. I think you did the right thing and religious people are always apt to freak out if questioned, or the truth shows up. I think negative reviews are extremely important and again…you did the right thing and YAY! for your integrity. I’ve been fooled too many times by positive reviews that’s why I go to the negative ones first. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, I hate to say it, but I think you’re right. Granted, there are extremes on both sides of the political/religious spectrum, but good grief. If you say something even mildly negative about a religious “celebrity,” woo-ee watch out. Things can get real hostile, real fast. It’s disappointing.

      But yes, that’s exactly what I do, too! I look at the top reviews, and then I pretty much always scroll down through the negative ones, ha. I always like to get the balanced view. And even if the negative reviews are garbage, I still just like knowing what’s out there, knowing both sides. It helps me make a more informed decision about what to read or what to spend my time on. It also helps me trust a reviewer more—anyone who gives 5-stars to every book she reads clearly doesn’t have very high standards!

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      1. I agree. And I go to the one or two stars right away because sometimes they say animal abuse and violence against women and the terrible things that are done to them. Also if a book is filled with hate I am happy to find out so I don’t end up getting something that I won’t want to read. I write reviews stating those things as well, to warn others who are against animal and women hating to skip it.

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  6. This is such an important point to make, thanks for writing out your thoughts on this. Writing negative reviews can be tricky (although sometimes easier when you have a clear feeling, like you said!) and like you I don’t want to hurt feelings or get blacklisted, but honesty should be key. I think if you can be clear about what worked and what didn’t it’s the most helpful – I’ve read plenty of negative reviews and knew right away the points that had bothered someone else weren’t going to be an issue for me, and others where I know my time and money were saved and I appreciate that so much. It’s just not helpful to read gushing praise without deeper thought put into it.

    I can’t believe people responded so negatively to your review (even writing that, I realized of course they did: internet, duh) but as long as someone doesn’t say something offensive about the author personally or trash a book without making a good case for it, I would never fault a review/reviewer! What a dumb waste of their time.

    I had such a laugh at the “Jesus-sized chip” on your shoulder! Thanks for giving me the right words for what I’ve got there too 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, glad I’m not alone with my Jesus-chip. 😅I agree with you. I think the key is to deliver criticism in a calm, non-emotional way that doesn’t include personal attacks. Most of the time I think I know where the line is for going too far in a negative review, but it still can be tough! I actually stopped writing reviews for authors who contacted me directly for that very reason. I wanted to be honest, but I really didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Emailing an author to tell them that you didn’t like certain parts of their book is basically torture. I finally just decided I couldn’t do it anymore.

      But if you can get the balance right, then it does make all the difference! I also always appreciate the reviews that give thoughtful and well-articulated reasons for not liking a book. I’ve been saved from some duds that I know I would have not liked. For me, I think Goodreads has become my go-to place to get that level of quality reviews, positive or negative. I notice I get a lot more hotheaded, reactionary responses to my reviews (and even the books themselves) on Amazon… 😒

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s so interesting, I don’t often read Amazon reviews, mostly because when I have it’s seemed like there are more fake ones there than I see on Goodreads, but that might just have been my impression…strange that you notice more hotheaded responses there, I wonder why that is!

        And totally agree with you…it’s tough to find the right balance but when you can, it’s so valuable in a negative review. Such an interesting topic, great to read your thoughts on it!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I value honest reviews, even negative ones. I’ll be the first to admit I have even bought a book after reading a damning critical review of a novel because it still sounded like something I enjoyed reading, even though the reader did not. And other times negative reviews have helped me adjust my expectations before reading a novel. At the end of the day reviews are just opinions and you need a broad selection of glowing and flaming ones to get a balance… then you can read the book and form your own opinion. The mob mentality of internet trolls attacking negative reviews is a sad state of affairs, but as long as you stay true to your feelings and reactions to a novel it will win out in the end. All of these positive only reviews are as bad as fake news. I only trust balanced critiques. Don’t sweat the small stuff and enjoy doing what you do *two thumbs up*

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    1. I know what you mean about negative reviews helping you adjust expectations. I was just looking at a book review yesterday where the reviewer warned that the book (which I am SO looking forward to reading) had a slow start but then got really good. I’m glad I read that so I knew what to expect. It helped me mentally prepare. I always prefer a balanced review that gives pros and cons. I know that sometimes we just have to gush over a “perfect” 5-star novel, but more often than not there are usually at least one or two minor complaints—and I like hearing about them! 😆

      I definitely agree about the mob mentality of the internet, too. Most people are nice, but some people get vicious, yikes. I notice that on Amazon especially—maybe because it’s more anonymous than, say, Goodreads or Word Press? I don’t know. I used to engage more with comments on my reviews there, but now I rarely do. No point in wasting time and energy with someone who’s decided to be that harsh and negative, you know?

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