Negative reviews: a defence

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September 12, 2016 by evesummers

Throughout the many hours I’ve wasted time trawling through my Facebook newsfeed recently, I’ve noticed that more and more frequently I’m coming across posts about negative reviews. So, I thought I would weigh into the argument with my own opinion – and please understand that this is my own, personal opinionOthers are also valid, even if we disagree.

The place of the negative review

As an avid reader and reviewer, I understand the time and effort (and soul) that goes into crafting the latest release. I completely respect that authors will not want to read negative feedback of this work – who would actively enjoy watching their work be negatively critiqued? It’s not the nicest feeling.

Recently, I’ve noticed a few trends regarding negative reviews in the indie author community:

  • Some authors offer ARCs and then request that negative reviews (or anything below 3.5 stars) not be posted until up to two weeks after release date.
  • Others request that negative reviews are not posted at all (“if you can’t say anything nice…”)
  • Some of the more popular bloggers I know won’t post negative reviews, or promotions, of books they have not enjoyed reading, due to their large audiences.

Every time I scroll through my Goodreads homepage, I’m flooded with countless five star reviews from my fellow bloggers, some posting four stars if they haven’t actually enjoyed it. Rarely am I now seeing any rating below three stars. For me, this is where the problem begins.

What is the role of the book blogger? We read free, advanced copies of books in exchange for honest reviews on release date, and we promote upcoming releases. For the vast majority of us, this is an extraordinarily time consuming hobby we are not being paid for, but are involved in because we love the indie book community and have a passion for reading.

But there’s more to it than that.

Book bloggers work with both authors and readers. By posting positive reviews of books we didn’t actually like, we are appeasing the author while fobbing off the reader. Readers are the ones who invest in books, the ones who will be reading our reviews on Goodreads and Amazon (and, with any luck, our blogs) to decide whether a book is their cup of tea or not. If a reviewer is rating everything four or five stars, this is simply not true reflection of what they are reading, and diminishes the role of the book blogger within the community.

Everyone has different tastes and opinions in what they like and do not like to read. And guess what – that’s okay. In fact, if a book on Goodreads has more balanced ratings, I am far more likely to pick it up to read it. 100% positive reviews on a book look false. Because – guess what – they are. And due to this, everyday readers are beginning to not trust ARC reviewers. I’ve seen an increase in people posting short Goodreads reviews of books they really didn’t like, suggesting that the good reviews were due to people with a vested interest and ARC copies, and cannot be trusted.

And, maybe this is just me, but I rarely look at positive reviews anyway. If I’m debating whether to spend money on something, I’ll head to Goodreads and immediately go to the one and two star reviews first. I want to know why people didn’t like a book – is it due to the content? Is it due to the writing style? Is it something I won’t mind reading and can get over easily, or something that’s going to mar my own reading pleasure (and subsequently result in another negative review)? We are all adults. We have the ability to form our own opinions on things we read, and not be swayed by reading one critical review.

How else do negative reviews benefit authors? They allow an author to see what does and what doesn’t work in their writing. In the wise words of another blogger:

Do writers want honesty, or do they want ego-fluffing?

Negative reviews, when written constructively, allow authors to improve their craft, or opt not to if they disagree.

Reactions to negative reviews

Where there is also an increasing issue is with aggressive street teams. Members have been known to attack reviewers for posting negative reviews, some actually demanding that the reviewer re-read the book. Others simply mark negative reviews on Amazon as ‘unhelpful’ to prevent them being features or taken seriously by others. This is, frankly, bullying, and it needs to stop.

The odd author has also been known to come out of the writing cave to comment on negative reviews. These can range from the simple acknowledgement, “thank you for your honest review”, through to “you clearly didn’t understand the point of the novel”, or something nastier.

Now, take it or leave it, but here’s my advice to authors reading negative reviews: don’t respond. It’s really, really not necessary, and you’re likely to be the feature of another Authors Behaving Badly article or Facebook drama.

There are, of course, some occasions where a response could be helpful. If, for example, you read a particularly tongue-in-cheek, pretty damn hilarious critical review, why not share it? Why not laugh, like intended, and allow others to laugh too? And allow yourself to be seen as someone with a great sense of humour.

If a review is clearly a troll, clearly someone who hasn’t read your work – again, don’t respond. Readers really aren’t stupid, and it’s obvious to see which reviews are sincere and which are not.

A reader’s guide to book bloggers

Much of this article has been directed at authors and book reviewers. But, as already mentioned, book bloggers work with both authors and readers, so here is a very quick guide to how to decide which reviews to take with a pinch of salt.

  • Does the review have substance? It doesn’t have to be long, but is it relevant in what it says, and do you find it helpful in answering questions you have about the book?
  • Does the rating match the review? If a review has a five star rating but states that it “wasn’t for me” or is pretty critical of the book, perhaps skip to another review.
  • What is the reviewer’s average rating? Click on the reviewer’s profile and check out their average Goodreads rating. To be safe, reviewers of around 3.5 stars average are likely to be more critical and trustworthy. You can make your own deductions about reviewers with a 4.5 or 2.5 average.
  • But most of all, don’t give up on us. Don’t ignore a review just because someone was provided with an ARC; many of us are highly critical readers and reviewers. And if you find someone you particularly like, give them a follow and make their day.

A quick message to book bloggers

Whether or not you agree with this article, I hope you feel I’ve made some valid points about the indie community. I hope that the role of the book blogger will stop diminishing, and this starts with people taking a look at their rating systems. I’ve recently made the decision to tighten mine up. My five star reviews are reserved for something special. One star reviews are equally as rare.

Don’t be afraid to post a negative review. Your opinion matters.

I am hoping to start up a new Book Blogger association, dedicated to better quality reviews and criticism. If you’re interested in being part of this movement or helping me establish it, please get in contact with me through Facebook.

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4 thoughts on “Negative reviews: a defence

  1. Megan says:

    I’m one of those reviewers with a high rating average, but I also know what I like. I agree that I tend to read negative reviews almost exclusively when picking the next book on my list and I skip the positive ones. I’m pretty selective when it comes to what I read, but I’m also easy to please. I’m not an intellectual reader, and don’t enjoy flowery prose or sad books. If its going to be “the next big book club selection” then it’s probably not for me. All of that being said, I think your thoughts are completely correct. I don’t give out 1 stars because I would just not finish the book if I thought it was that bad. There are too many good books out there to waste time on bad ones. But the 5 star thing… I’m guilty of giving too many books 5 stars. Excellent endings often overshadow mediocre books and fool me into giving a higher rating than the book actually deserves. I’m definitely going to try to better evaluate my 5 star ratings because you’re right. It should be reserved for those books that just really take your breath away. Thank you for writing such an insightful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading and for your comments! I know what you mean about excellent endings affecting ratings and I’ve been guilty of this too. Nobody is perfect but I’d hate to see the role of the book blogger totally diminished!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your honesty. As a new self-published author I was happy with the 3 star good story reviews it has received. Of course I would love more reviews and maybe some people won’t buy it because it is not a 5 star like so many books are but it is honest. As a reader I support other Indie authors but I hate reviewing. I will read till the end just to give the writer a chance but some books are just not for me. Poor plots, characters with no depth,and bad formatting/editing somehow rating 5 stars baffles and disappoints me. 5 stars should be reserved for the books you rave about to your personal friends and would read again and again.

    Liked by 1 person

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