Negative Natalie: Writing Negative Reviews

Have you ever known someone who is so negative that you just have to get away from him or her for self-preservation?  Well, that’s how I was feeling about my ‘book reviewing self’ for a while.  I had to step away from Negative Natalie, Queen of the 1-or-2 Bookmark reviews, and get some perspective.

(photo cred. Disney)

For months, I was churning out less-than-glowing reviews of books I’d accepted from publishers or PR firms.  I agonized over stars and 1/2 stars, wondering if I shouldn’t just chuck the whole quantitative rating system out the window.  I don’t try to make a statement or hurt an author’s feelings with my 1-or-2 Bookmark reviews, I’m just offering up my honest assessment as a reader.

By its definition, reviewing is a subjective form of analysis.  There isn’t a universal standard that book bloggers use; maybe my 2 Bookmarks (borrow it) isn’t quite the same as Care’s 2 Slices of Pie.  Feeling compelled to check Amazon or GoodReads to make sure I wasn’t the only person to give a book 1 or 2 stars should not be a standard practice in book blogging, but it was a reality for me. While I never changed my review or rating after viewing one of these sites, I frequently felt bit queasy if I was the only person to strongly dislike a book.

(photo cred. unknown)

While my book blog might not be The New York Times Book Review or a big blog in the online community, I do have fellow bloggers who stop by to check out reviews.  Just like I don’t inflate grades at school, I refuse to inflate my book reviews.  I won’t sacrifice my integrity to make an author or rep happy.

During my blogging hiatus, I came to the realization that I don’t read Meg’s (or Kathy’s, Ti’s, Steph’s, Candace’s, Jenner’s, Jill’s) blog for positive reviews.  I read these blogs (and many others!) to get ideas for new books, updates on what everyone is up to, to check on read-alongs, memes, recipes, author features or interviews, and all the other creative things you see on a book blog.  These things, more than reviews, were what I missed most while I was off the grid.

Ultimately, a reading rut did not cause my spate of less-than-glowing reviews.  Some of the books I was accepting or purchasing just weren’t my cup of cocoa (1 Bookmark).  In the future, there will be 1 or 2 star reviews on Book Line and Sinker because I won’t love every book.  As long as I am fair and support my opinion–even if I’m in the minority–my 1 or 2 star reviews will be guilt-free.

Have you ever felt guilty or avoided writing a less-than-glowing review?  Do you worry if your review doesn’t line up with the majority?

20 Comments

  • At 2012.08.27 06:50, bermudaonion(Kathy) said:

    I used to feel guilty if I didn’t love a book that I accepted from the author, so I’ve pretty much quit taking books from authors. Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with me when I don’t love a book that everyone else does (The Hunger Games, for example) but that’s just the way it is. I think it’s important to be honest in your assessment so negative reviews are necessary unless you choose not to review books you don’t love.
    bermudaonion(Kathy)´s last [type] ..Mailbox Monday

    • At 2012.08.27 08:32, Kelly said:

      I love this post. As a newer member of the book blogging community, this is something that I know will be difficult for me, especially if I post a negative review in a sea of glowing reviews for a particular book. But you’re right–we aren’t reading book blogs for the positive reviews, we want honesty! With all the recent drama around authors attacking bad reviews, I think it just makes bloggers even more nervous. But I hope you keep doing what you’re doing, because that’s the true spirit behind these blogs. :)
      Kelly´s last [type] ..A quick and dirty survey.

      • At 2012.08.27 10:14, Jane Steen said:

        As a reader, I accept that some reviewers mark high and others low. You soon get to know which is which, and if a low-marking reviewer marks high, well, I’m all the more likely to pay attention. In fact, when I’m wondering whether to read a book, a mixture of high and low reviews is more likely to pique my interest; it means that the book isn’t bland, has got something edgy about it.

        As a reviewer, I err on the generous side for the most part. A book has to really annoy me to get a 1 or 2-star review, but if it really is that annoying, I don’t care who reads my review. It’s what I think.

        As a self-pubbed author, I’m sorry I won’t get the opportunity to risk a Natalie lowball review. Negative reviews, for an author, can be the most useful and the most revealing. It’s hard for a writer to know her own weak spots, and I believe reviewers are doing a service when they point them out. I’m fortunate to have some wonderful critics among my writer-friends, who tell it to me straight. They’ve been invaluable in helping me grow as a writer. I don’t understand why some writers have a problem with criticism.
        Jane Steen´s last [type] ..The INTERN and I, or why I’m starting to feel a little brighter

        • At 2012.08.27 10:45, Jess (The Cozy Reader) said:

          Yes, I’m not a fan of disliking a book. Especially one that I’ve read the summary and knew I would like. Or I should say, expected I would like. I too have wondered if it was a personal thing I was putting myself into not liking the book, always thinking “it must just be me”.

          I am also guilty of reading other peoples lower rated reviews to see if their reasons for dislking a book are the same reasons I disliked said book. I usually feel better when I see I really am not the only one. :)

          I just recently had this happen with Poison Princess by Kresley Cole. I thought for sure I’d love that book! I hated it. I got to nearly 100 pages in giving it a very decent try before adding it to the DNF pile. I almost always feel like the reasons I dislike a book are petty. But I have come to learn that it’s not just me and I have to accept it and move on to the next book that will probably be awesome. :)
          Jess (The Cozy Reader)´s last [type] ..Review | The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

          • At 2012.08.27 11:40, Jac @ For Love and Books said:

            BRAVO!! Excellent post on such a tough subject.

            When I’m writing a review on a book I didn’t care for – I try to focus on the things that other people might like about it. Like “XX wasn’t my cup of tea, but for people who like XX, they will probably love this!” because I know that just because I didn’t like a book doesn’t mean others won’t LOVE it! (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a good example, I really had to force myself to finish that stuff… but most people just rave about how much they love it. ) So my review for that would have been tough to write. But, I use the old “Good, Bad, Good” format for these types of reviews.

            -Jac @ For Love and Books
            Jac @ For Love and Books´s last [type] ..Book Review: Shark Bait by Jenn Cooksey

            • At 2012.08.27 12:00, Kristilyn (Reading in Winter) said:

              I feel guilty when writing low-starred reviews, but only refrain from doing so if it’s a request accepted from an author. If it’s something that I requested from a publisher, then I’m fine with posting them. Of course, they do tend to drag me down and I find that I get a lot less low-starred reads when I pick my books. If I get something pitched at me, or something unsolicited, I want to give it a glowing review, which is hard when I really dislike the book. One thing I always have to keep in mind is to write something with notes of positive things as well as constructive criticism for the things I didn’t like.

              In the end, though, you’re right — I certainly don’t visit blogs solely for positive reviews. I visit them because I like the content and I like to disagree or agree with other bloggers’ reviews. That’s what brings on discussion, which is great.

              Thanks for the post!
              Kristilyn (Reading in Winter)´s last [type] ..BOOK REVIEW: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

              • At 2012.08.27 12:46, Sandy said:

                I know, I feel bad too when I feel like I am skewering the heart and soul of some poor author. But that is how I feel, and I won’t sell out. And from my point of view, when I read negative reviews, I’m thankful because I love the honesty. It is just as important to me to know which books I should avoid, the same as the ones I need to read tomorrow. I think the bigger issue (that you have addressed here) is that you have been accepting books that aren’t your thing. I’ve nearly given up review books because you just never know. I’d prefer to read books that I KNOW i’m going to love.
                Sandy´s last [type] ..Monday Matinee: Three Colors Trilogy – Blue, White, Red (1993, 1994)

                • At 2012.08.27 14:39, Nicole Harmon said:

                  Hi. I like to review books and I have had to ask that question is it good to give a bad review. And I was told you should want the respect of your fellow authors, readers, publishers and persons in the community who will read what you write. So be honest. If you don’t like it tell them why. If you don’t understand it tell them why. If you freaking loved it tell them why. They will appreciate it. And I have had some feedback on the books that I have loved that those authors appreciated it. And I think I am a hard person in reviewing because I have changed my tastes the older I have gotten. But I read almost any type of book to review. And I want to be fair because when my novels come out I want them to be fair in the review of my novels and tell me the truth.
                  So I will give negative review although I think the lowest I gave was 3 stars. I was told by one website that if I have to give it lower than a 3 star review to let them know before hand and then another reviewer will review it and we will publish both at the same time. So you get a negative review and a good review-if possible. If both didn’t like it then I haven’t actually had to see what happened with that.
                  So Natalie- I think that whatever happens we need to be honest in our opinions. And people will respect us for that.

                  • At 2012.08.27 15:33, Laurie C said:

                    A thoughtful post! I don’t write a lot of negative reviews, but that’s probably because I can’t keep up with my reviews as it is, and try to only read ones that I think I’m going to like.
                    Laurie C´s last [type] ..Waiting on Wednesday – The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

                    • At 2012.08.27 17:41, Ti said:

                      I never feel guilty about posting a negative review. Often, I’ve had the publisher email me privately to say that they agreed with me! They have to promote the books they’ve been assigned, whether they like them or not but they are readers too and some books, oh man… some just suck.

                      However, if I really have a thing for the author, and the one book was just a dud, I might not shout all over the internet that I didn’t like it. You know? I’ll post the review and just leave it at that.
                      Ti´s last [type] ..The Sunday Salon: Fall, My Favorite Time of the Year

                      • At 2012.08.27 22:28, rhapsodyinbooks said:

                        My answers to your two questions are yes and yes! :–)
                        rhapsodyinbooks´s last [type] ..Review of “1222” by Anne Holt

                        • At 2012.08.28 16:18, Crystal @ I Totally Paused said:

                          I don’t like writing negative reviews, but that doesn’t stop me from writing them. I recently had a situation where I thought I’d like the book, based on the description of it, and then really ended up disliking it. I gave the reasons why I disliked it, but did say that I thought readers of a different persuasion would probably like it better than I did. That’s usually what I try to do: say why I didn’t like it, and describe who I think would.

                          Over time, I’ve become more careful about what kinds of books I’ll accept for review, like I’ve decided to stop taking self help books because I don’t feel like I can give them a fair review. In my previous example, I’m going to try to be more careful about accepting “Christian fiction”, because some of it is quite lovely, and some is simply too much for me.

                          I guess generally I feel like I get to read so many books I may not have read otherwise, so I owe a fair review, even if it isn’t a favorable one.
                          Crystal @ I Totally Paused´s last [type] ..Teaser Tuesday! August 28, 2012

                          • At 2012.08.28 18:30, Natalie ~ the Coffee and a Book Chick said:

                            Negative reviews are never fun to write, but I think as long as the review is fair and doesn’t unnecessarily shred the author or book “just because,” then it’s important to post your thoughts, no matter what perspective you may have. It’s better to be honest than to just slap a “thumbs up” on something when it just isn’t true. Keep doing what you’re doing! My blog is more for me than anyone else and I’d rather have an open review and discussion of a book because if someone wants my opinion years from now on a book I’ve read/reviewed, I want to be able to go back to it and be able to share with them, knowing it’s an honest account of my feelings.
                            Natalie ~ the Coffee and a Book Chick´s last [type] ..Fingerprints of You, by Kristen-Paige Madonia

                            • At 2012.08.28 22:33, Steph said:

                              It definitely sucks when you find yourself in a reading rut where you just encounter one lackluster book after the next. I think very few of us got into the book blogging game so that we could trash books, so writing a slew of negative reviews can definitely shake your confidence. That said, I have always felt that some books legitimately deserve a lashing, but above and beyond that, by telling readers about the books that I don’t like, this is just as informative to them as about books that I loved. If you only hear the raves, you only get half and idea of the kind of reader someone is. It’s like, if you only tell Netflix about the movies you enjoyed watching, their recommendation system would only be half as accurate as when you let them know you hated a movie! It’s especially hard to slam a book if it was offered as a complementary review copy, but at the end of the day, I think that if you are articulate and make an effort to explain in a resonable way why you didn’t like a book, that is a valid and useful way to talk about a book and your readers will appreciate your candor!
                              Steph´s last [type] ..Remember when I used to write book reviews?

                              • At 2012.08.29 15:27, Meg said:

                                We’ve all been there — as many of my fellow commenters are asserting! I don’t particularly enjoy writing negative reviews, either, but agree that I can’t sacrifice my integrity by saying something is good when it isn’t. I try to focus on the positive, as others are noting — but it’s not always enough to skirt the issue by not acknowledging the things that, honestly, are epic suck. And when I try to write a “neutral” review, I feel like a fraud.

                                I try not to feel guilty when writing less-than-stellar reviews. As long as I’m not personally attacking an author or otherwise being needlessly unkind, I try to be honest and sincere. I have avoided penning reviews of books I didn’t like when I generally like the author and chat with them through email or on Twitter, etc., but I find that putting some distance between myself and a book — and cooling down — means I will write a fair, honest review of the book in time.

                                Glad to see you’re here! xoxo
                                Meg´s last [type] ..Fresh from the country

                                • At 2012.08.30 19:15, Elizabeth said:

                                  As a new book blogger, yes! Absolutely! I’m petrified that what I’m saying is going to be wrong, or that I’m going to offend someone. In the reviews that I’ve written but yet to publish, I’m still going over and over them, trying to figure out some way to up my rating, and make it seem like more of an enjoyable read. However, I keep telling myself that I have to be honest to my (few) readers, or they won’t trust what I say in the future.

                                  Like Meg above me said, I feel fake when I say that a book was okay, like in my newest review. I felt pathetic, like I couldn’t have a legitimate opinion. But to be quite honest, the door swings both ways, and no matter what, it’s gonna hit you in the butt.

                                  Thanks for letting me know that I’m not the only tough critic out there. I’m that member of the audience who sits with their arms crossed through half the show until something really exciting happens! This blog post couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks much!

                                  -Liz
                                  Elizabeth´s last [type] ..Review: In Honor by Jessi Kirby

                                  • At 2012.08.30 20:53, Jenners said:

                                    Well I feel guilty about it, sure, but it doesn’t stop me from doing it. I think all book bloggers should be honest about their feeling about a book. And I’m sure we all know that it is just one person’s opinion, and I tend to value hearing different opinions and the opinions of people I’ve been reading for awhile. I agree with your second graphic!
                                    Jenners´s last [type] ..Our Cruise Vacation: R to Z

                                    • At 2012.09.02 02:05, Clock Rewinders (4) | Reading In Winter said:

                                      [...] over at Book Line and Sinker wrote about negative reviews — do you visit blogs for positive reviews? What are your thoughts on writing a negative [...]

                                      • At 2012.09.06 11:36, Beth F said:

                                        Ugh. I know what you mean about avoiding constantly negative people, but I didn’t think you had become a downer. :) ) I don’t have a problem writing a negative review but when everyone else seems to love the book I sometimes feel the urge to apologize or maybe I think that I just didn’t understand the book.
                                        Beth F´s last [type] ..Stacked-Up Book Thoughts 1

                                        • At 2012.09.06 15:36, softdrink said:

                                          I don’t feel bad…the books I don’t like usually get lots of love elsewhere. And besides, it’s my blog! :-D
                                          softdrink´s last [type] ..Tips on multi-tasking