There’s been a lot of hubbub over negative reviews, authors behaving badly, reviewers behaving badly, fans behaving badly, and generally just everyone getting offended.
But here’s the thing—while I do recognize that some reviews are just plain mean and don’t particularly help anyone, there are times when negative reviews actually are a GOOD thing, for both readers and authors.
So I thought I’d make a post to try and alleviate some of the tension surrounding negative reviews so that we can all be a little more positive and get along a little bit better :-)
The Ways in Which Negative Reviews are Helpful
1) Negative reviews lend credibility to books.
I don’t know about you, but, as a reader, I have a tendency to be hesitant about reading books that have only 3 star and up reviews. Maybe it’s stupid, but I’ve had bad luck with those books in the past, and I start to get suspicious of how real all the positive reviews are and wonder why there are no negative ones.
2) Negative reviews help readers make decisions.
I like to read both positive AND negative reviews before deciding on a book so that I can weigh the good and bad. Without any negative reviews, I’m more likely to just walk away rather than take the risk. Also many positive reviews tend to be vague, like, “THIS BOOK WAS AMAZING!!!” and thus not very helpful whereas the lower rating reviews tend to give more information about the specific things the reader liked and disliked.
3) Negative reviews help create realistic expectations.
Knowing there are a few things that aren’t perfect in a book doesn’t automatically make me not want to read it. Sometimes the imperfect things aren’t things that really bother me as long as the rest is good, which means they won’t scare me off from reading. And if I’m really interested in a book, I’ll still read it regardless of what flaws are mentioned, but at least I can go into it with realistic expectations and thus end up giving it a better rating than if I had had my expectations too high and been disappointed.
4) Every review helps with exposure.
Even if someone posts a negative review on their blog, it’s still putting the book in front of the eyes of more people and therefore increasing the chances of more potential readers finding it. And, as far as I know, all reviews on Amazon count towards the numbers required for better promotion on the site, getting accepted for book promo emails, etc. (Anyone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)
5) Negative reviews help authors improve.
No matter how good or famous someone gets, there’s always room for improvement. Some things in reviews are completely subjective, like someone not liking romance in books, but some things are constructive and helpful, like pointing out head-hopping or repetitiveness. Authors can use this constructive criticism to make future books even better.
6) Negative reviews help books find the right readers.
A negative review might scare someone off, but if it does, it’s doing the author a favor by weeding out the readers who aren’t right for that book. Negative reviews often point out things someone disliked about a book, so anyone else who also dislikes those particular things will skip the book, and that’s a good thing because when a someone reads a book that’s not right for them, well, nobody really wins.
7) And last but DEFINITELY not least… What one person hates, another may love.
BOOKS ARE SUBJECTIVE. I don’t know why people keep forgetting this. I have literally, on many occasions, been sold by a negative review—not because I was intrigued and just wanted to see what people were talking about, but literally because I happened to like the things that someone else didn’t. Books that are too dark and disturbing for other people? I love ’em! Love triangles, one of the most hated tropes? Sign me up! Characters who blow up at each other instead of getting along because they don’t communicate? I find that realistic, so I’ll take that too! Flowery writing? Hell yes! The point is, any review that explains why someone liked or disliked a book has the potential to make another person interested, regardless of the rating.
The Takeaway A.K.A. Some Brief Advice
Reviewers: For those of us who do still feel guilty, let’s try to stop feeling that way. When we accept review copies, it’s inevitable that we will sometimes have to write reviews for books we dislike. Write your reviews as respectfully as you can while still being honest and make sure you actually talk about what specific things you liked and disliked about the book, and then the reviews will still be beneficial.
Readers: Don’t discount a book just for having some negative reviews. See what they say, and you might find you like the things someone else didn’t. Remember that just because someone else didn’t like a book, that doesn’t mean you won’t love it.
Authors: Remember that books are judged subjectively, and not every book is for every person. We all have our preferences and opinions, and it doesn’t mean your book is bad just because one person didn’t like it. Their negative review can still be a good thing for you. And please don’t comment on negative reviews unless you want to make yourself look bad and lose potential readers. In fact, you don’t even have to read negative reviews if they upset you too much. (And I just want to give a quick shout-out to those authors out there who are in fact appreciative or at least accepting of negative reviews!)
Fans: Don’t downvote or bully or leave rude comments for another reader just because they have a different opinion. You’re not going to change their opinion because they still like what they like. You’re only hurting the author by scaring off more potential readers.
Some Other Great Related Posts
Coincidentally, I’ve happened to stumble across a couple other posts with similar thoughts lately, so here are some more great posts for you to check out!
Author Hayley Stone talks about how reviews are ultimately for readers, not authors: Marion, Don’t Look at it: Authors and Reviews
Blogger Kazza talks about the growing problem of some authors expecting positive reviews: Review Terms and Conditions and Meltdowns? We’re Not Going to Take it!