Bad reviews can be tough to write! However, you need to write the occasional less than wonderful review in order to establish and maintain credibility. Not every novel is a stellar one. And not every effort is perfect and pristine. Pretending everything is awesome helps no one, and it undermines your credibility as a reviewer.
This blog post is about reviewing badly-written works. But if a work is out and out plagiarized, then have at it. That’s just plain wrong, and it may be copyright infringement.
Soothing Hurt Feelings and Maintaining the Relationship
Let’s face it. A less than glowing review is going to engender some hurt feelings. Plus there is every possibility a friendship will end over it. That’s not someone being a prima donna (at least, that isn’t necessarily the case). Rather, it’s that you just told someone their baby was ugly.
Yeah. It’s like that.
So, what do you do?
I believe one reasonable response is to essentially perform a cost-benefit analysis. Not everyone is a critic of any sort. Consider how hard it is to get your own work reviewed at all. It’s work! And people like to be pleasant, plus they want very much to be liked. They may be a part of the community and hoping for positive feedback in return.
Or they might be friends or family. Hence we are all essentially graded on a curve. Know that going in.
One thing you can do is, delay and defer. Maybe that’s weasel behavior. But it will soften the blow if the negative review is not the first one anyone sees when researching a book. If someone already has 100 reviews, then it won’t be quite so noticeable. Of course, lots of indie writers never get that many reviews. But you might be able to delay a bit.
Another idea is to go fast. Detail and length are not your friends here, so make it quick.
Consider the Audience
I suggested this for middling reviews. But it holds true here as well. Who is more likely to read your review? If the writers asks you to review on Amazon, then you are going to rather directly affect someone’s sales and potential sales.
But if you are being asked to review on an obscure book blog read by sixteen people, then the impact will not be as great. Plus you can initially post your negative review only on the obscure book blog. Once the writer sees the review, I doubt he or she will push for you to share it on Amazon, GoodReads, CreateSpace, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks.
And, if you really want to be sensitive to the author’s feelings, you can also show them the review before you post. They may very well tell you not to bother.
Providing Constructive Criticism in Bad Reviews
While this is a good idea in theory, it’s not really what someone is looking for when they request a book review. Instead, rather than hearing that they should learn dialogue tags by checking out this Grammar Girl link, they want to read about how their book moved you.
However, you still might be able to slip in some constructive criticisms, and write things like I would love to see this book with shorter chapters; it might benefit from another round of edits or some strategic splitting. Or I was hoping for a less challenging mystery. This one was hard. You’re not damning with faint praise but you’re also not putting lipstick on things.
And there’s no law that says you can’t privately message the writer and help them out with that kind of constructive feedback.
A Few Escape Hatches for Your Lousy Reviews
Preface a bad review with some escape hatches which will help the writer. After all, you’re not there to trash them, right? Here are a few ideas:
- I am not the intended audience for this work or genre. – For example, if you’re over 60 and asked to review YA, you probably aren’t in the intended audience. Maybe younger folks would be big fans.
- The work is unique. – Unless it’s plagiarized, this is nearly always going to be 100% honest and accurate.
- It is a good freshman effort. – This is straying into the realm of damning with faint praise. But it’s not a horrible thing to write about a work. Most people are not going to do well with their first novel. And that’s okay. Overnight successes are rare, and they should be.
- I really liked this one thing and think you should have written a lot more of it. – Liked one of the supporting characters? Enchanted by the setting? Think the plot was a good idea but poorly realized? Then this suggestion is for you. Of course you are not rewriting the piece for the writer. But your suggestions might just become helpful plot bunnies for them for later. Maybe they really will write a sequel or prequel, or revisit the scene, or rework the plot in another piece.
Salvage the Relationship by Privately Reviewing
You might be able to save things by privately telling someone – you don’t want me to post this review. There are review sites which will do this, and will often give the writer a choice. If a writer really wants reviews, they might be okay with a less than wonderful one.
You are presumably friendly or at least cordial with the writer. Give them a break and give them the option.
By the way, negative reviews can often help a new writer. Not only do they give the writer what could end up being really valuable feedback, they can even boost sales. For consumers considering taking a chance on a new, unknown author, a rash of 5-star super-perfect reviews can seem suspect. But a few poor reviews can give the whole thing more credibility.
And here’s the kicker. No matter how bad your review is, it will still be listed on your reviewer page on Amazon (yes, they exist; just click on a reviewer’s name). This is a small spreading of news/linking back, and it will be helpful—almost no matter what you say. Almost.
How about Bad Reviews for Famous People?
If you only write 4- and 5-star reviews, then you are probably selling everyone short. Just like bad reviews can give a writer more credibility, they can also give the reviewer more credibility.
But if you don’t want to hurt your friends’ feelings, what do you do?
One idea is to review all sorts of books. Review classics where the writer is long dead. Or review popular works with hundreds or thousands of reviews where no one will notice your review much, anyway. Did you hate reading The Scarlet Letter? Then go ahead and trash it on any review site you can find.
It’s not like Nathaniel Hawthorne is going to rise from the grave and complain, right?
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