Monday, 17 August 2015

When sparing an author’s feelings overrules an honest review...





My interest in writing book reviews spanned from reading other bloggers and people on Goodreads reviewing the books they’d read. I was hooked by their passion for the books they’d read and how much they really wanted to share the love for the brilliant book they’d just finished. Book blogs became my go-to place for finding book recommendations and discovering new authors (because believe it or not, I barely read a thing until about three years ago). I tested the water a bit by writing some reviews on Goodreads. I was a member of a couple of read-to-review groups which sent me ebooks that I would leave a short, honest review for. I enjoyed it and so Reviewed the Book was born.

Over the last couple of years, my love of books has grown massively. I didn’t just take an interest in books, they practically took over my life. I was always thinking about the book I was reading, the book I wanted to read next or the book that might be in the post on its way to me. Addicted to books? I think there’s many worse things. After reviewing for a little while, I quickly discovered that I wasn’t going to like every single book. There would be books with characters I couldn’t click with, books with writing I couldn’t get to grips with and books that honestly bored me rigid. Which leads me on to writing an honest, negative review…

Just as it is okay to not like a book, it's also okay to write a negative review. It’s seriously fine.

Some book bloggers only choose to write and share positive reviews on their blogs. Some people never finish a book they’re not enjoying and so writing a negative review is never an issue. (I also don’t believe a review is more honest simply because it’s negative. 5*s can be just as honest). It’s the reader’s prerogative to choose what they do once they’ve read a book and similar to a lot of bloggers, I also love that feeling in a morning when I’ve tweeted my positive review of a book and the author sends back a happy, grateful tweet. Making someone’s day simply with a few words you’ve written about their book? It’s a great feeling.

But getting on to the actual point of my post: why does sparing an author’s feelings overrule an honest review?

Think of it this way. An author has sent you a considered review request. It ticks all the boxes. The book sounds like one you’d love. You can’t face seeing it sat unread in your TBR pile any longer so you start to read it. And then you reach the end feeling under-awed and disappointed. The characters were annoying and unrealistic. The story dragged on for too long. The ending was disjointed. This book just didn’t work out for you and so you’re now faced with writing the review.

Everytime I finish a book I really didn’t enjoy, the same three thoughts enter my mind.

1) The author’s really going to hate me when they read this review.
2) The publisher will wish they’d never let me get my hands on this novel.
3) I wonder if anybody else felt the same way as me…

And so I head to Amazon, Goodreads or Twitter. I look for reviews of the same book. Gah. All I see are 4* and 5* reviews. I feel like the cruellest person in the world. But I write and post my negative review and you know, I don’t write them that often. Mostly, I do like the books I choose to read. But I think every single time I’ve published a negative review, I’ve had the same response. People message me, through DMs, through a comment on my review, through Goodreads. They tell me they agree with my review. They didn’t like the book either. Yay! I’m not alone, I feel. I search for their reviews waiting for them to echo my thoughts exactly. Only, they don’t.

Now, the beauty of blogs unlike Amazon and Goodreads is that you don’t have to have a star rating. It’s a nice thought, because I hate star ratings so much. Book bloggers also have that wonderful experience of becoming friends with these talented authors who actually, want to talk to us and all that stuff you didn’t think possible. In fact, this author you’ve befriended could be the very person who has sent you this book that you’ve just told me you didn’t like. Yet when I read your review, you compliment everything. The writing was strong. The characters were likeable. You can’t wait to read more from the author.

My question is, why is it okay to mislead a reader into thinking you liked a book, just to spare the author’s feelings?

Things to remember about reviews are:

1) Reviews (positive or negative) help the reader decide whether they’d like to buy the book. The author, of course, does not need to buy the book. They wrote it.
2) Reviews should be constructive. You're not being mean, you're not just saying you hated it. You're explaining why this aspect didn't work for you. You're being fair.
3) It’s far more important that the reader can read through honest opinions of a book before buying rather than the author being lied to and told you love their book. Think of it this way, you’ve told the reader how great this book you actually didn’t like is. You’ve built their expectations high. They read the book but don’t like it but it’s so annoying because this reader convinced them they’d love it and now, they’re really not going to be too eager to pick up anything from this author in the foreseeable.
4) Authors don’t need all their readers to love all their books. It’s very likely they’re going to carry on writing either way.
5) Everybody takes books differently. It’s expected (and fine) that you might not like the same book other people are raving about.
6) Reviews aren’t everything(...?)

I know, reviews aren’t everything is the most contradictory thing I’ve said in this blog post. Believe me when I say that I believe that reviews are important, vital and make for interesting reading at the very least. But would I rather be a happy, always positive reviewer or an honest person? That question entered my mind the very first time I was faced with writing a negative review. It’s never entered my mind since. Honesty wins every time.

Since starting to write this blog post, I’ve chatted to a few reviewers who I noticed are kind of guilty at this type of reviewing. The must-spare-authors-feelings-at-any-cost kind of reviewing. The nice reviewers. I was really interested (and a bit nosey) to discuss this with them and of course, tried not to hurt their feelings when bringing it up. None of them blocked me on Twitter or un-friended me on Facebook so clearly all is good… ;-)

They said:

1) They didn’t want to offend the author who sent them the review request but if it was the publisher who’d sent them the copy, and they’d had no contact with the author, their review would have looked a bit different.
2) The book wasn’t what they expected but that was probably their fault and so they reviewed it from the perspective of readers who knew what they were getting.
3) They didn’t want the publisher to stop sending them books.
4) It was for a blog tour and they read the book too late to tell the publisher they didn’t enjoy it so they had to leave a positive review.

I find it a bit worrying the number of people I see who are simply afraid to be negative in their reviews. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a reviewer discussing a book in a Facebook group, how they didn’t like it and then I read their review and get the complete opposite impression. You should never be scared to be honest. Authors need to be thick-skinned if they’re going to read reviews. It’s bad enough receiving their editor’s notes back on their first draft. They’re used to these scary negative comments. But sometimes these scary negative comments can actually be helpful. Who knows, if you point out that flaw you’ve noticed in their book that nobody else has picked up on or mentioned, the author might even understand where you’re coming from and agree with your opinion. They may not actually want to slaughter you because you didn’t give them a five star review. They might just appreciate your time and your opinion. And if they don’t, if they’re expecting positive reviews, if they’re demanding and insistent and rude about their negative reviews (who doesn’t cringe at the author who quotes and picks at every single negative comment they receive?), well then, maybe sparing their feelings should be much lower down on your list of priorities…

Regardless of whether anybody else likes it, a review should be your honest opinion. Having the ability to twist a few words to make them nicer, or having a bit of integrity? I know which I prefer…

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What are your opinions on writing negative reviews? Do you write them? How do you let the author know? I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts :)

32 comments:

  1. I think honesty is vitally important in a review, and an experienced author will know that not everything they write will be to everyone's taste. If we all liked the same books, there wouldn't be any need for so many to be published! Reading is very subjective, and a poor review wouldn't put me off reading a book. But I'd be interested to compare my opinion with that of the reviewer. It's the differences between us and our tastes that make life interesting! By all means couch your negative opinions among good ones - it's very rare that there is nothing at all good to say about a book - but don't spare us the bad!
    However in the odd cases where a book is technically badly written - full of spelling or grammar mistakes, or (my personal bugbear) a character's appearance changing dramatically - one minute she is flashing her brown eyes and the next minute the hero is gazing into her blue ones - it is even more important to give a negative review, because the author needs to be prompted to take more care over proof reading in future.

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    1. I agree entirely! Proofing mistakes (from a finished copy) should be pointed out. They're probably the most helpful comments to make. I know that most of the books I read are ARCs so I don't notice as much but when I do read a finished copy, I'm surprised at how quite a few of them do have little mistakes like that.

      We all read a book differently. And I've definitely bought books based off a negative review, because I want to see what they're like for myself. Some I've actually enjoyed. It would be weird if we did all like everything the same.

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  2. I am guilty of this. I have told bloggers that I don't want to review a book. I think it stems from a negative review I wrote for someone and they said they prefer aore positive aspect. I worried then as a guest blogger that perhaps I had it wrong.

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    1. I know a lot of people don't write negative reviews which I think is perfectly fine but I would just always try to stick to that rather than attempting to write a positive review about a book you didn't really enjoy. I guess if the person you were reviewing for only posts positive reviews then it would be a different story? But I'd never let anyone put you off from being honest in your reviews. It's difficult but you can't love everything. And I'd value your honest opinions :)

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    2. If I don't want to review a book because It is not a five star for positive reviewers I will ask if it is ok to review for others. I try not to star my reviews and always try to write a negative with a positive but that may be the teacher in me. I enjoy reviewing 5 star books for positive book reviewers and often some others are also 5 star. I think you can tell when I like the book by my review as I rave about it. I will start trying to review books I don't enjoy but as a guest reviewer I never really feel the need.

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    3. I can definitely tell when you enjoyed a book, especially in the great reviews you've written on my blog. Only review what you feel comfortable doing but if you want to write more negative reviews, I find them just as interesting to read. (And they can always have a home here!) I agree though, if I didn't have to for Amazon, I'd never use a star rating...

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  3. Great post Sophie and so true. I had this problem recently where I'd signed up to a blog tour and, when it came to reading the book for it, I really didn't like it. I debated about whether to pull out the tour but decided instead to post my review for it. It was honest, and not the most complimentary, but I felt I'd done my part by being upfront and honest and not sugar coating it.

    I've just finished reading a book that had a lot of hype around it (its a few months old now) and again, I didn't enjoy it. I was debating whether to bother posting a review or not as it's not necessary because I read it on my own back, but I think after reading this post I will... after all, it's okay to be honest - that's the whole point of blogs!

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    1. Thank you, Laura! I think blog tours are quite a big reason why I see this so often too. I know how it feels. I'm a last minute reader so rarely have chance to let the publicist know I didn't love the book. If I don't have any other content from the author, I'll still post my review. You'd definitely done your part. I don't think your opinions on a book should change just because you're posting it during a promotional tour... but it can be a bit awkward!

      I'd definitely like to see your review :) I'm great at disliking books everyone loved, but either way, I like reading reviews the complete opposite to my opinion! It's the fun of book blogs :)

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  4. This is so tricky! I think as a reviewer you have a duty to be honest. It's probably not really helpful to have a blog that's only of five star books, and no mention of other current ones that perhaps weren't so good. As an author, however, I feel I have to avoid writing bad reviews of people I know of, mostly through Twitter. It seems too personal. I see all the five stars and four stars for a book I think was absolute crap and my writer head goes, "well, good luck to them, they have an audience". I don't know what other authors do! But as a reviewer, well done for being honest! Thank you for reviewing books in general!

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Emily! I think it would be really awkward leaving bad reviews, as an author, but then I'm not sure I'd be great at leaving any form of review as an author because you know all the hard work and time that goes into writing a book! But I do think that if you are going to leave a review then it should be honest. So if for some reason I couldn't bring myself to be negative about a book I didn't like, I wouldn't say anything at all.

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  5. I haven't written any negative reviews yet, but they haven't all been glowing either. If I have finished a book, I will have enjoyed part of it at least. But I agree constructive criticism is good, and writing a positive review when you hated the book is pointless!
    I have written my first DNF book review ( not yet posted), and found it so awkward to write. But as I read part of the book and the Author gave it to me I feel I should write some feedback. I am unsure how to let the Author know my thoughts though!? Do you email the link or just post it and if they come across then they see it??? I quite like reading controversial reviews, especially of hyped books. It kind of makes me want to read them, so I can form my own opinions.
    Amanda.

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    1. I agree that you can pretty much always find something good to say about any book - I don't think I've ever hated everything, except for one book which I spent about six months reading, got to 16% and completely wiped it from my memory (and Kindle) because I'd had enough!

      If the author sent me the copy and I didn't like it then normally I email them to let them know that I'll be posting a review but it didn't work out for me and I either explain a little bit why or I'll offer to send them a copy of my review so they can read it before it goes live. I don't let them tell me not to post it. Most of the time, they've been perfectly nice and fine about it so that's what I would do. You'd probably only feel worse and more awkward if they didn't spot it and then chased you up about it a while later - because then you'd have to send them the link anyway.

      I'm exactly the same though - controversial reviews have me eager to read the book myself.

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    2. Thanks for the advice, that sounds like a good idea.
      I received my "Christmas in July" prize today, thank you very much. I will look forward to choosing something nice to buy with the vouchers.
      Amanda.

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    3. My pleasure! I'm glad you like it.

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  6. Excellent article, Sophie. I'm not a blogger - as you know - but I do sometimes read and review books for friends, which is a delicate business. A book might not wow me, but I try to focus on the things that I do like and which I think are done well. I have to confess that when I'm reviewing something by a person I don't know, then I'm far more likely to give a 3* rating, if that's what the book deserves. (See my review of 'H is for Hawk', for example, which I thought was seriously flawed.) We are in a situation where a 3* is seen as meaning 'I hate it!", which it doesn't at all. Personally, I don't mind (much!) negative reviews, so long as they are thoughtful. The one- or two-word, 1* and 2* stinkers are just silly and nasty.

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    1. Thanks, Jan! It's really difficult reviewing your friends books, especially when you weren't hugely keen. I know I try and focus on the positives too but I like to explain the things I didn't like so much either - which is much harder when the author is a friend.

      I also dislike the general opinion of a three star review! To me it's a book I liked, but didn't love. But I know so many people see a three star as meaning I hated the book. So it's hard to be constructive without people taking offense or only focusing on the star rating rather than taking in what I've actually said about the book. Star ratings are a pain altogether in my opinion! Especially the cutting one-star one-liners you see on Amazon etc. Not sure how I'd cope if I were in your writerly shoes...

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  7. loving reading the comments on this post.

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    1. Me too! I'm glad people are actually discussing it, it's really interesting to read other people's opinions on it rather than the stuff just going on in my head!

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  8. Sophie! I so relate to all this - I've had authors emailing me saying that they're reading such and such a book and it's not much good, a bit boring - then I see their 5* review for it. It makes me mad, it's misleading to the public. Recently I wasted a day's reading/reviewing time (I allocate myself some of this away from writing, as I love reading/reviewing too) on a few books by one author - I paid for one of them, the others were on my Kindle following free promos. I tried one, then another, then another - they all needed editing, proofreading, redrafting, a bit more thinking out, yet they all had a host of 5* reviews from all their writer friends and bloggers. Obviously I'm not the only person who thinks this because they ONLY had reviews from people I knew were her writer friends and bloggers....!

    It doesn't do writers any good to think their work is fabulous if it's not, and we're not children, surely we can take someone saying "I didn't think this was very good". I have a few negative reviews - I try to learn from them. Most of all, though, it's just WRONG to say that a product people can be persuaded to part with money for is great if it's not! I give 3* reviews with full constructive criticism, and try not to actually be rude; as Jan said, above, it's ludicrous that 3* is now seen as a bad review - it actually means 'I liked it' on Goodreads! Feel free to look at my book review blog, link on my Twitter page. If you look down the Rosie Amber Review Team ones (tags at bottom of reviews), you'll see a fair few 3* - I suppose I'll suffer at some point, when someone gives me a load of bad ones back!!!

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    1. Hi Terry! I know exactly what you mean. I've chatted to so many people who've told me they weren't liking a book and then their review is five star and the complete opposite of what they told me. I find it so frustrating. I also have a look through Amazon to see if all the reviewers are familiar names (or a host of authors from the same publisher). It's too obvious and I don't trust most of them. (On a side note, I do love that you read and review a lot too! It's great that you fit it in)

      I think if I was an author reviewing, like you, I think I'd always half-expect a negative review back... But I'm sure most authors are more mature than that! I read more three star reviews than any others because they're fairer and more constructive. Most of them I don't take as being from people who hated the book (I don't get why most people see it that way!). Star ratings we have to get used to but making sure the feedback you give in a review is so important and I think you can tell when somebody genuinely enjoyed (or didn't enjoy) a book.

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  9. This is so true! I'm still relatively new to book reviewing and blogging and the first time I had to write a review on a book I wasn't keen on was so hard. I was worried I would offend the author, the publisher, everyone who loved the book. Then I thought Emma the point of book reviewing is to tell people what you thought, if you loved it you would be happy enough to rave about it, so if you aren't so keen you shouldn't be afraid to say that either. My main point on reviewing books I didn't enjoy is that I try to be constructive with my criticism, nothing worse than reading a review that slags off a book, talks about how awful it was but leaves no constructive reasons why they didn't enjoy it.

    On the star ratings aspect, it's something I have considered getting rid of in my reviews, but still working through my thoughts on it.

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    1. Agree with this completely, Emma! And having read your reviews, I know you write brilliant constructive ones :) I also hate those reviews which are just there to have a go, without explaining anything.

      I'd be interested to see whether you keep the star rating. I was very close to getting rid of it but decided against it since Amazon still needs them.

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  10. This is such an awkward dilemma, Sophie, especially the Amazon star rating system. I think all authors want an honest opinion but are quietly praying that the reviewer will love their book. Of course they will be. There’s a vast difference between those one/two star one liners that are simply spiteful to those reviews that might offer constructive criticism though, as mentioned by Amanda (and Emma! I just noticed her comment pop up!). Hopefully, most authors will, in fact, be able to use it positively – if that doesn’t sound odd. I’ve had the odd negative comment from bloggers, agents, publishers on occasion, and (once I’ve stopped thinking I’m totally rubbish), I’ve realised they were actually right – and made sure to put it right. Honesty has be paramount when reviewing, I think. There would be no point otherwise. You might as well do a blanket review for everyone. Interesting post, Sophie. Definitely food for thought.

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    1. Ahh the Amazon star rating system - I hate it! Thanks Sheryl. I could imagine I'd probably have different opinions if I was writing this as an author. Who wouldn't want everybody to love their books? But I think all reviews are vital, if they are constructive.

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  11. Great post sweetie! And I totally agree. All reviews are important, if they are constructive. I post all reviews on my blog good and bad. Also as a book blogger you can't like every single book. As long as you are honest and explain why you feel a certain way about a review it's fine. I had to learn this as well, especially when it came to blog tours and I didn't like a book. Simona xxx

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    1. Thanks Simona! I love that you review both good and bad on your blog, I think it makes it all the more interesting :) I know exactly what you mean, especially with blog tours. Even though you pick books you think you'll like, you can't know for sure until you read it. xxx

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  12. This is such a brilliant post. I was sent out a signed book to review directly from the author, the book was ok, but not my cup of tea. I was scared at first to write the review as the author was so nice. But I stuck by my guns and wrote an honest review. To my surprise the author was really glad, and shared my post everywhere! He knew his topic wasn't going to be to everyones liking, but was still glad of my review and he is still going to send me his next book to review and also run a giveaway

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    1. Thank you Natasha! And I'm so glad you had a nice experience with that author. I love how grateful he was and that you wrote a fair review. I really do feel the pressure when I get along with the author whose book I am reviewing, too.

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  13. I always try and post balanced reviews of books, and mostly if I don't like a book I don't review it! I don't trust blogs where everything is 5*, for me it needs to be extraordinary to garner that grade.

    It is a fine line to walk, but I always think what would I say to an authors face - I wouldn't say I loved a book if I didn't, but neither would I be really rude. You have to be true to yourself.

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    1. Agree with the last bit for sure, Katey. I don't think I'd be able to bring myself to tell an author to their face I loved their book if I didn't, so why write it? But constructive reviews all the way!

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