Should Authors Write Negative Book Reviews?

Recently, Cristina Guarino and I were talking via Twitter and email about whether authors (both published and as-yet unpublished) should refrain from writing negative book reviews. As a writer who hopes to be published one day, Cristina was concerned whether her reviews – even if they were constructive and offered strengths as well as weaknesses – could damage her reputation in the long run. This reblogged post is the result of her musings, and I found it fascinating and well-argued. In fact, it made me think about my own book reviewing “policy.”

When I was a freelance music journalist, I was obligated to be fair yet honest about the music I listened to. I’d talk about what I liked as well as what I thought could use improvement, but never veered into snarky or disrespectful territory. That’s been my approach for book reviews, too. And though I love or like most everything I read, there have been a few negative outliers…

The mentality I’ve had is that over time, if I were to become a published author, I’d keep reviewing books I enjoyed but refrain from reviewing anything less than than a “3 out of 5.” After reading Cristina’s piece, though, I wonder if I should adopt that change now. What do you think? Do you mind occasional negative (yet constructive, not blasting) reviews from “writers in progress” who are also working on their own novels? Or should they be more mindful of how those reviews might reflect upon them? Please don’t hesitate to answer honestly. I’d like to know if there’s something I should do differently, or stop doing altogether, if my current reviewing method might prove harmful later on.

Cristina R. Guarino

As anyone who visits this blog or follows me on Goodreads can see, I’ve been pretty invested in book reviewing lately. It’s something I started way back when I blogged for Let The Words Flow and continued through my still-ongoing stint contributing for Paper Droids. I enjoy it, but lately, I’m questioning the practice.

I most recently reviewed Eleanor Herman’s Voice of Gods and Legacy of Kings. I was thorough and honest in my reviews, and even mentioned in my review for LoK that I want to be more straightforward with my reviews and ratings; I used to be the kind who would mostly rate books 4 and 5 stars for pure enjoyment factor and never really look deeper. Now that I’m a more “serious” writer, I want to take a more analytical eye to the works I read.

But while writing these, I felt an old, nagging…

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15 thoughts on “Should Authors Write Negative Book Reviews?

  1. This was very interesting, and I can see how it would be a dilemma for authors in particular. As a book blogger, I feel that honestly is very important, as long as you aren’t attacking the author. However, I have noticed, especially with well-established authors who I follow, that they NEVER say anything negative about other authors. It almost seems to be one of those “support your family members” type things. If you didn’t like a book, it’s best not to say anything at all, because as Cristina said, you never know who you’ll meet someday. Honestly, if I were a writer, I probably wouldn’t take time to write reviews anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ^^ All good points, Tammy. I agree that it’s important for book bloggers to be honest and respectful. In terms of authors: I know exactly what you mean because I’ve witnessed it, too. What I tend to see authors do on Goodreads is give star ratings, and then write a few sentences if they give a particular book a high rating. They do give low ratings sometimes, but never elaborate on them. It’s like what Thumper said: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all. And that makes sense.

      I guess it’s a fine line to walk if you’re not yet published, though. I like writing reviews because it gives me an outlet to talk about books, especially the ones I really enjoy. Perhaps that’s what I should focus on more than a general overview of everything I read…

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  2. But as a writer and a passionate reader, I feel I do have something to say about the books I read. I love looking at how a book has gone together – and as someone who has actually been through the experience of writing novels, I find the variation fascinating. I never bother to finish a book I dislike, and can’t be bothered to write about the books which were simply ‘meh…’. So tend to be fired up and enthusiastic about the books I’m writing about – I wouldn’t dream of faking that enthusiasm. The writing would probably betray me, anyway, given that I tend to write from the gut when I’m rabbiting on about books..

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    • I do, too. And as someone who doesn’t know a lot of people offline who read the same books I read, I have to go looking for “my reading group” or “my tribe” elsewhere. Goodreads and the blog are two of the only places where I can do that. I doubt I’ll be writing reviews forever, but I will always, always let people know if I highly recommend something. That’s why I’m considering switching to a “policy” that’s more like yours, Sarah. It’s not much different than what I’m currently doing – but if something was just “meh,” I’d probably skip writing a review altogether from now on.

      Oh, I love it when reviewers (either writers or book bloggers) gush about whatever they just finished reading. Then again, I enjoy reading yours to begin with. 😉

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      • Thank you! It’s kind of you to say so:).

        It is a tricky one, and I do sometimes have to rethink what I’m doing. Trouble is, I enjoy blogging but unlike many other wonderful articles I read, I’m not very good at chatting about life in general and downright terrible at discussing my own life and doings, unless something a bit out of the ordinary is happening. Apart from anything else, although it’s a busy life, swathes of it are spent tapping away at a keyboard, so it isn’t exactly packed with adventure… So book reviews seem the obvious choice, really. And I do feel quite strongly that writing books shouldn’t automatically bar me from having an opinion on other books, so long as I couch that opinion respectfully and honestly.

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      • Same here. I feel like I need a reason to talk about things from my offline life here, and talking about writing and books… just comes more naturally. And I don’t think I live a particularly exciting life, either.

        “nd I do feel quite strongly that writing books shouldn’t automatically bar me from having an opinion on other books, so long as I couch that opinion respectfully and honestly.”

        *nods her head* I doubt I’ll ever be able to help the fact that I can have strong opinions about books, too. So perhaps this is a case of being more careful about what I say while exercising honesty and respect.

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  3. I have some authors on my friends list on goodreads and I see a whole range of ways they handle it. Some continue to be brutally honest in their reviews, others I know write whether they liked the book or not but refrain from giving an actual star rating (as not to hurt or help the book’s rating average) but the majority seem to do some form of reviewing that is “recommendations only” – rating and commenting on a book only if they loved it, would recommend it, and would give it 5 stars. I guess whatever works for the individual, but I can see how this can be a difficult decision if you’re an author.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, and I just saw Tammy’s comment and I have to say I’ve also noticed a “support your family members” type thing among authors, and on principle I don’t have a problem with that (after all, author blurbs are even encouraged by marketing and publicity, right?) As long as it’s honest. I was just talking to a friend the other day that there are some authors on Goodreads where I just can’t trust their ratings because It’s usually very obvious when it’s one author propping up another author.

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      • That’s an interesting point about the honesty bit, Mogsy. I… guess I can see why authors might prop one another in that way, but I don’t really agree with it. Probably because I find it hard – no, impossible – to fake how I feel or think about books and other things. It’s almost like the emotion becomes a physical thing, which makes it hard to mask. (It also means I can’t lie to save my life…)

        I think the opinion I’m starting to form, based on reading Cristina’s article and after reading and responding to people’s comments so far, is that it’s OK to be honest and respectful, but do it with caution. There’s a lot more wisdom in Thumper’s famous quote from “Bambi” than we might realize. 😉

        I agree with you on blurbs, too. They’re great for marketing purposes. If Best-Selling Author endorses Debut Author’s book, chances are Best-Selling Author’s fans might check out said book. What better recommendation could you get than that? 🙂

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  4. As I commented in the original article: “I appreciate constructive and kind reviews. I would feel bad about getting anything less than 3-stars, and even as a reader I don’t bother giving books stars/reviews if it’s less than a 3. So I agree it’s best to leave things be and not say anything if the book was that bad.” So that’s my tid bit of advice for authors/writers who review books, which is pretty much the same thing that people mentioned/commented above. 🙂 I enjoy reading your reviews, Sara. If you ever find yourself concerned about rating certain books, perhaps leave out a star-rating and instead write a few sentences about your thoughts on the book.
    I also think that if you know the author personally, you could email them some constructive advice and ways they could improve their writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, E. 😉 I think this is what I’m leaning toward for my new approach on reviews:

      – The policy (honest yet fair) will stay as is for books I do review.
      – I’ll only write reviews for anything I’d rate as a 3 out of 5 or higher. Those will be posted on Goodreads and Amazon, and shared here in the monthly Recent Reads posts.
      – Anything less than a 3 will only be given a star rating on Goodreads and (if I’m able to) Amazon. No review will be written, and the book will not be discussed during Recent Reads.

      In the end, I think I’m better off not saying anything at all if I didn’t like a book, especially if I’m working towards publishing my own stories in the future. But like Mogsy said in her comments, every writer (published or as-yet-unpublished) seems to have their own way of handling the subject.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This was such an interesting post! I’m not a writer but I when i review books i dislike giving less than 3 stars just because i think someone has put so much effort into this book. Now I do give 2 stars but explain that personally I did not enjoy the book but someone else might. So I would not mind reading negative or constructive reviews 🙂

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  6. Pingback: I’ve Received the Dragon’s Loyalty Award! | Cristina R. Guarino

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