Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Negative Reviews: Constructive Criticism is the Key

I don’t think any of us enjoy writing negative reviews.  I can’t think of anyone who goes into it thinking ‘I can’t wait to put this author down!’  Doesn’t happen that way.  

Negative reviews, however, can be a constructive look at what a reader did not enjoy.  They give other readers an understanding of what to expect in the book and come to their own decision about whether it is something they like, dislike, or feel indifferent about.  It also gives authors an understanding of how to hone their craft by getting a variety of feedback.  But more on this in a minute.


Think about it this way: do you appreciate knowing a book had some issues for a blogger whose taste are similar to yours?  Are you interested in what aspects of the book were an issue for the blogger?  If you appreciate reading them, then so do those who come to your blog.

I’m not saying you HAVE to write them by any means!  It is up to you.  It’s your blog! However, if you do go back and forth about whether to write about a book that didn't impress you, it’s okay to do.

Readers on your blog are looking for your opinion on books to decide whether to read them or not, or whether to run out and buy it right now or wait it out.  If you don’t tell your readers this book missed its mark, how will they know?  If someone has very similar tastes as you and you read a book you don’t like then don’t tell them why you didn’t care for it, they could very well waste their time reading the same book. 

But we don’t want to just know you didn’t like it, we want to know why.  What aspect didn’t work for you?  Were the characters not believable?  Was the story boring?  Did the author tell you  instead of showing you?  Were there blocks of narrative in an otherwise dialogue-centric book?  Was the flow off?  Did the author just make you mad with a viewpoint?  Let us know specifics so we can determine whether what offended or bored you with the writing or story would be offensive or boring to us as well.


You may feel apprehensive about writing negative reviews because lately some authors haven't taken their negative feedback about their book well.  We get it, you know, it’s their baby.  But not every baby is cute and clever, and neither is every book.  

There are, of course, ways to word negative feedback that will come across as constructive rather than a bashing.  If you just write “I hated it”, “It’s awful”, “one crappy idea after another”, and that's it, all we know is you hated it, but that's all we know.  On top of that, it's not constructive.  It is the written equivalent to throwing the book across the room.  Everyone has a book they want to throw across the room (or have!) but sit back and think if that's what you want to put out there to the world, you know?.  Would you rather be the bash-it blogger or the professionally critiquing blogger?  

On the opposite hand, constructive criticism values the book as a finished product and gives positive feedback along with the negative feedback. There is something about the book that is good, whether you like a character, you like the pacing, you enjoyed the plot line- something worthy can be found.  When you are writing, write it in the spirit of friendliness- as if you were critiquing an acquaintance’s work- rather than in direct opposition- as if you are on Project Runway and you are looking to cut down to make it seem more dramatic. 


As a teacher we often have to give feedback to parents that is less than stellar.  The way we were taught in school to do this was the Sandwich Effect- sandwich a negative comment in between two positives.
You won’t be able to always use the Sandwich Effect, but it is in that spirit that you should write criticism.  The book is the author’s baby and their automatic reaction to it is to get defensive.


With that said, there is no pleasing some people.  It’s just a fact of life.  With some authors no matter what you say they will take it to heart and it will feel like you criticized their entire lives.  I, personally, cannot claim to understand that reaction because if they want to put their work out in the world they need to be prepared that not every single person will like it.  Even huge authors like Stephen King, James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, and Philippa Gregory get negative reviews- it’s just a part of being an author. 


So, to wrap up, write those negative reviews if you want to.  Don’t let bad behavior intimidate you.  Just be constructive in your feedback and point out the good parts of the book, too.


  1. I was taught the sandwich feedback technique, too. It's handy!

    Great post. :)

    1. Thanks, Monika! Yea, it is the gentlest way to deliver bad news! lol

  2. My biggest concern lately has been when to post this type of review. Normally, I might post a review within a two week window before/after a pub date, but I really don't want to intentionally hurt a book's sales in most cases. I've been holding off until after publication if I have something a little more critical to say, but I'm still not sure if that's helping.

    1. I typically never have anything read around a publication date lol. But I think that is a very generous idea, Shannon, and probably does help.

  3. Great post, Becca! This is a really important topic in book blogging. People have different approaches and I am 100% okay with that. I see my audience as being other readers, and the purpose of my reviews is to discuss books--what they said to me and what I thought did and didn't work. I'm a very blunt person and if I had to sugar-coat my reviews I'd never get anything written. But that's just me; everyone needs to stay true to their blog and their own writing style. If criticizing a book makes you sick in the stomach, don't write that type of review! There's room for everyone in book blogging.

    And I do think there's such a thing as being too harsh. I never want it to appear as if I'm attacking the author personally (honestly I don't care two shakes about them, anyway, just their books), and usually less is more when it comes to criticism anyway.

    1. The idea of you sugar-coating is not even a cohesive thought in my mind. The two thoughts don't go together! lol ;)

      I agree, not everyone has to write negative reviews. That is not some's style. But if they do have the urge to write it, then there is a good way to go about it!

  4. Holy cow that was a long comment. :p

  5. I think that a lot of the critique should be giving evidence--quoting from the book. You have to do a lot of showing, and no telling.

  6. I have written a few negative reviews and cannot agree more with the sandwich effect! If I'm going to be negative, I want to be specific, but also point out what was good. If you look hard enough, there is good in there somewhere!! :)


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