July 3, 2014

Rants & Raves: The Value of (Thoughtful) Negative Reviews

This is a feature that appears sporadically on the blog, whenever I have a bookish issue I need to rant or rave about. Feel free to comment with your thoughts!

This post was inspired by the amusing video put together by The Midnight Garden, which featured various YA authors reading excerpts of negative reviews of their books. To all those authors, I say kudos for having the guts to do that!

While making me smile, the video also got me thinking about why, as a reader and blogger, I often appreciate reading negative reviews. I feel like everyone gets so up in arms about negative reviews that it's something I shouldn't be admitting — but hey, it's true.

I find them useful, quite frankly, in the following two areas:

In Evaluating Book Blogs

When I'm perusing a book blog that's new to me and deciding whether or not I want to follow, one of the first things I do is look at their review archive, of course. I tend to click on reviews of books that I've read, to see how our perspectives compare without spoiling myself for a book I haven't read.

(Sidenote: book bloggers, if you do not have an easy-to-browse list of your reviews, please consider making one! It is so much more user-friendly than trying to slog through a backlog of blog posts.)

And when I'm skimming these reviews, I'm looking primarily for two things:

1.) Is the review written in an articulate manner, and has the reviewer given the book critical thought? (Spelling and grammar also make a difference.)

I don't want to see something like:

OMG <insert title here> was like THE best book ever!! I wanted to be BFFs with Molly and I <3 Dave so hard!!!!!1111 *swoon* I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. This is DEFINATELY a book that everyone will LUV.

A review like that will make me die a little inside, and then I will leave the blog in search of something that does not hurt my brain.

2.) Has the blogger written some negative reviews?

These don't have to be books that I gave a low rating to. In fact, they can even be books that I was impressed with and enjoyed (although, depending on how fiercely I love the book and how well they defend their negative rating, that could potentially impact how likely I am to follow.) What I really just want to see is — are they capable of examining a book and finding flaws in it, and then following that, are they gutsy enough to post it on their blog?

Authors find reading negative reviews about their books tough, but it's important to remember — it's difficult, too, for reviewers to post them, especially if the review is of a book that everyone else seems to have loved.

In Ordering Books 

Besides helping me to evaluate book blogs, negative reviews can also be mightily useful in, of course, influencing my book-ordering decisions. I like to know whether or not I'll be wasting my time on a book. Generally, I tend to steer clear of books that get an overwhelming number of negative reviews on Goodreads, but a few negative reviews does not necessarily mean the book is bad, or even that it won't work for me.

This is where the "thoughtful" part of it comes in. The negative reviews have to be written in such a way that I can figure out whether or not the book's flaws would irritate me. Sometimes what one reviewer hates another loves, or at the very least can put up with. Other times, the flaws are deal breakers. So a negative review that just says...

OMG I HATE THIS BOOK SO MUCH. Why did <insert author name> ever write such a piece of ****? Why is she writing at all? I threw this book so hard against the wall there is now a dent in my wall!!!!!

...is as useless to me as the previous example. I need to know why the book did not work for the reviewer (if possible, without spoilers). Personal attacks on the author are, needless to say, entirely uncalled-for. One should always be able to review a book critically without resorting to nasty, slanderous remarks.

As a reader and blogger, then, negative reviews are really a good deal more helpful to me than positive reviews. Sure, it's nice to read about how much someone loved a book, and yes, glowing reviews can get me excited about it...but I like to go into the reading experience with at least one eye open. Is this book going to be so stereotypical and cliched I will be groaning 10 pages in? Is it riddled with typos? Does it have a protagonist that is "too stupid to live"?

Basically, I want to know if a book will tick my "red flag" checkboxes. If so, it will probably drop down my need-to-have list. And if not, well, then I'll be able to discover its awesome attributes all on my own.


  1. I agree. Negative reviews are important. I know some people don't like to write them, but when I come across a blog that has only glowing reviews of every book that's on there, I assume that the reader isn't very discerning... and I probably won't trust their opinion as a result of that. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying why a book didn't work for you. (I have plenty of negative reviews on my site. I try not to get too personal, but sometimes it's difficult when the book is so bad that you think the publisher that accepted it must've been smoking crack!)

  2. Totally agree with your thoughts on the value of negative reviews, Danya. I also find them really helpful when there's way too much hype around a book because it's impossible for everyone to love a book.

  3. I agree that negative reviews can be just as helpful as positive ones! When a reviewer states some of the reasons why they didn't enjoy a book, whether it was because of a main character's personality/actions, underdevelopment, falling too heavily into tropes, etc., I'm always a bit grateful because their honesty saved me time and money. If these thoughts seem to be common in several reviews, then I tend to stay away from reading the book, even if it's wildly popular.


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