What Happens When You Don't Like A Book? The Difficulty of Posting Negative Reviews

The best part about book reviewing is being able to support authors and share book love. Spreading awareness of books I love, especially the lesser known gems in the indie world, is a really awesome feeling. Reading and loving indie books, brand new books, and some less popular books make me want to read and love MORE of these kinds of books.

Which leads me to this problem: the more books I read, the more chance I have of stumbling upon a book I don’t like. And when a book I don’t like is an indie book, a new release, or any book that isn’t very popular, I hate that I have to be “that person” who gives it a negative review. Unlike reviews of popular novels that have thousands of reviews, with a less popular book, my review is one that will be obviously noticed and one that will definitely impact the overall average on Goodreads and Amazon.

I Disliked the Book… Now What?
I don’t know if anyone else feels the kind of guilt I do when I rate a lesser known book low. I feel so terrible when I dislike a novel. I think everyone has different ways of coping with it, too. I have noticed that some people rate all negative reviews with 3 stars in order to avoid lowering the average or hurting an author. Others choose not to post a review at all. And these are probably decent ways of dealing with the problem, but they don’t work for me for a few reasons.

My Feelings About Negative Reviews
I think negative reviews help. I want to know what a person liked and didn’t like about a book. Maybe that person is nothing like me and all of the things mentioned don’t bother me at all. I read an article that talked about negative reviews being feedback as to what sort of audience doesn’t like a book. Figuring out a target audience is a good thing for any author. Getting only positive feedback is nice, but not necessarily as helpful.

Unhelpful Reviews
Now, some negative reviews are not helpful at all because they are vague. Or rude and vague. Or bashing the author. Those reviews I do have issues with, but that’s not what I’m talking about. And besides, lots of people throw out random vague 5 star reviews that aren’t helpful, either, so I don’t like to fixate on the unhelpful negative ones. After all, each of those unhelpful reviews impact the overall average, but it’s only a problem if it’s not helping the average. I’m definitely not referring to these kinds of hurtful, unhelpful reviews when I talk about negative reviews and the kind that I post.

Who Are Your Reviews For and Why?
I write reviews for myself, for other readers, for people who haven’t read the particular book, for people who have read the book, and for the authors, publishers, and agents that rely on book reviews, sales, and feedback. When I write a negative review, I’m not trying to get people to not read the book, to hate it along with me, or to skip over a book just because I disliked it. I'm trying to explain what didn't work so that a reader can decide if it's right for them. Knowing that negative reviews actually make people want to read a book more is a good thing. It means that as long as I’m specific and honest, I might actually help the right audience find the book even if my review is negative overall. I try to end reviews with “I didn’t like it, but people who enjoy x,y, and z will love it!”

How Others Might Feel About Negative Reviews
Following tons of authors and publishers online means that I have a lot more interaction with them and I see the kinds of things they post on a daily basis. And on a forum like Facebook, I get to see what their fans are saying back. And I see far too many people who think negative reviews are hurtful and unfair, not because of the content, but because of the fact that it’s negative. “I would never post a negative review!” is a really common thing I see from readers online. Is that really how people feel? Do you hate writing and seeing negative reviews?

Disliking Books and Why/How It Happens
I  guess I just don’t understand. Not posting negative reviews is not an option for me, since I review every book I read. Maybe no one else knows that, but I do, and I will know that I’m not being honest with myself if I skip reviewing the book. And when it comes to disliking books, it’s one thing if I read books outside my genre and hate them, because that’s mostly my own fault. But I open every book with the expectation that I’ll at least like it a little bit. I don’t dislike books on purpose, I don’t seek out books I won’t like, and if I’m reading outside my genre, I rate the book higher than I actually feel to offset my personal bias! People who have never disliked a book haven't read very many books, have an extremely amazing system of recommendations, or aren't being honest with themselves. It happens. It happens on accident. I’ll pick up a book and my gut clenches because I know that I'm not enjoying it. I hate that feeling. But if I don’t like a book, I can’t undo that. I can’t pretend that I did and post a 3 star review. I can’t swallow it down and pretend it never happened. I have to type out my thoughts in a coherent fashion.
The Helpfulness of Negative Reviews
I think it sucks if many people think negative reviews are purposefully hurtful just for being negative. I don’t ever want to hurt an author. I feel horrible when I dislike books, even popular ones. But I have to at least provide feedback because that’s what I do. I can’t cherry pick which books to review. I can’t save my reviews for only books I love. I can’t talk myself into loving the book. I can’t change anything. So I write a review. That's just the kind of person I am.

Authors work really hard, and while their work is their baby, it’s also their work and they deserve honest feedback, even when it’s not positive. If I decide to not give any feedback simply because it’s negative, that means there is one less honest critical review online. If there are horrible, vague, or rude negative reviews, I want to be the one that is helpful, nice, and specific. If no one posts negative reviews honestly, than the only negative reviews will be those unhelpful ones or none at all, and that’s not fair to readers or authors.

I mean, let’s be honest. If you see a book with no negative reviews out of a few hundred, are you going to assume that no one who read the book disliked it? Is that even possible? Or will you just assume that no one wanted to post their negative review? I’m definitely going to assume it’s from lack of posting. And then I won’t get to figure out what kind of people dislike the book and what their tastes are like!

Why Disliking a Book and Rating it 3 Stars Doesn’t Work For Me
Sure, I could sift through 3 star reviews in order to help me make a well informed decision about whether a book is right for me or not. I’d have to sort through the ones who thought the book was really okay, those who liked the book a lot, but use 3 stars as positive reviews for whatever reason, and the ones who actually disliked the book, but wouldn’t come out and just say so. That's  a lot of very different feelings for one star rating to begin with! I trust and like 3 star reviews if they are honestly 3 star feelings of liking, thinking it was okay or mediocre, or even good, just not great. But if someone disliked the book and gave it 3 stars, I find it hard to trust in and figure out the review. A lot of times they'll seem vaguely positive, but I can tell they didn't like the book much. What are they not saying? What are they saying? What else aren’t they saying in the review? Are they talking it up to justify their higher rating? Are they really telling me how they felt about it? If they're honest in the review about disliking it, but rated it three stars, why did they rate it so much higher than they felt?

It’s not that I don’t understand. I do. I’d love to not be the review that lowers the average and I know that 3 stars are less of a negative impact than 1 or 2. And If I got answers to those questions, I could even agree with your rating. But I’m skeptical of negative 3 star reviews just because I think it’s a cop out. It’s my own personal opinion and it is the main reason why I can’t do it myself. If I post a review of any kind, I feel like my review should reflect the stars I chose and defend it. If I rate a book 1 star, it is my responsibility to back that feeling up in my review so that others truly know why I picked it. I can’t just rate with numbers I can’t defend. That’s just me.

Why I Post AND Read Negative Reviews
Everyone has an opinion and the ability to post reviews of things we read is amazing. I get to see the opinions of others and let that help me make decisions about what I read next. I read negative reviews to find out what a person didn’t like and if I’m the same or completely different. Negative reviews help me figure out if I’ll like a book just as much as positive reviews. Finding out what kind of people love a book is helpful, but so is finding out what kind of people don’t like it. Having both sides helps me really decide if I will like it.

I post negative reviews and that’s okay. I don’t enjoy doing it and I don’t do it to hurt authors. I don’t post negative reviews because I’m an idiot who doesn’t understand the story or because I’m a terrible person who wants to ruin an author’s day. I do it because I’d want to know why someone dislikes something I do/write in order for me to be better or at least target the right audience.

And if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t post negative reviews, that’s okay, too. To each their own. I don’t mean to talk those kinds of people down or make them sound like they are doing anything wrong. I’m just different.

A Separate Related Topic:

Negative Reviews, Authors, and Social Networking
On another note, that attitude of negative review writers was brought to my attention accidentally because of the number of authors I follow on Facebook and the comments from fans and readers I see on a daily basis. I don’t know that I would have seen comments about how people who write negative reviews are terrible or stupid if authors wouldn’t bring it to the attention of all of their fans when they get a negative review. I haven’t seen authors direct their fans to do anything hurtful or post links to those negative reviews, so I wouldn’t categorize these situations as authors behaving badly, but I do think it’s a problem in social networking...

Getting a negative review probably sucks far worse than I can imagine. But if you have a Facebook page, you must have a personal Facebook account (that's the rule, anyway). And if you’re upset about a negative review, I think you should choose to post that fact either on your personal account or not at all. If I worked for a company, I wouldn’t talk about a sad, irate, or rude customer on my business account or any account linked to that company. I’d complain in private or not at all.
I think it’s unprofessional to use social networking to vent about things like that. I’ve even seen authors nitpick negative reviews, quote them, and do a sort of rebuttal on Facebook and Twitter. While that behavior isn’t necessarily terrible, the types of reactions that it incites in fans and the dialogue it produces is terrible.

People who post negative reviews aren’t trying to be hurtful most of the time and they aren’t idiots for disagreeing with the author or his or fans. Shredding it to pieces online is just immature. Threatening to stop writing because of negative feedback is something you probably shouldn't post. These behaviors make you look like you can’t handle criticism.

I TOTALLY understand hating negative feedback, disagreeing with criticism, and being hurt by it. I even understand thinking that the person must be an idiot because they truly aren’t understanding what your book meant! I understand getting bummed out and wondering why on earth you're bothering to write if people are so mean. I’m not saying those feelings aren’t valid. But social networking doesn’t automatically post your feelings. YOU post your feelings. And you don’t have to.

Taking a step back and making sure that your posts represent you the way you want to be represented is important and advice I’d give to anyone, regardless of profession. People feel mopey, sad, angry, etc all of the time. That doesn’t mean you should always vocalize that on your author fan page or twitter. If you feel the need to complain, be vague. Instead of “I just got a terrible one star review from this idiot who doesn’t understand my book!” say “I hate when people misunderstand me.” It lets you vent without being specific! Or walk away. Think about the best way to word your feelings.

Also, helpful critical reviews aren't meant to be hurtful. No piece of work is above criticism. Not everyone will love a book all of the time. Everyone is different. Authors do not deserve purposefully hurtful speech or abuse or attacks, but they are not exempt from healthy and honest criticism of their novels. Even though books are a part of an author's soul, a critique is not meant to attack that author's soul personally. The most popular books in the world all have negative reviews. Some of them may be unhelpful, vague, or ridiculous, but some of those negative reviews have points that other readers can use to help them decide if the book will be right for them.

Author Love and Respect
Authors are wonderful. They put their heart and souls into their work, and I love reading their books. I love giving feedback, helping to promote books that I enjoy, and communicating with authors online. I love hearing their thoughts about everyday things and I love being part of a fan base. Authors don’t deserve to be treated badly or bashed. Reviews should be given honestly and be helpful at all times. They should reflect the author’s work, not the authors themselves or anything else. They should never attack authors or be hateful. Even rude negative reviews shouldn’t ever mention the author as a person. I don't advocate ever being rude, and I think there are positive aspects of every book that can be mentioned, but there will always be people who will harshly critique a novel. As long as they refrain from bashing the author personally, I don't think they are out of line.

There are good and bad ways to review and conduct yourself online and I think it’s important, regardless of what kind of reviews you post, to behave well and not let yourself get too personal, attack other people, or lie.

What do you do when you don’t like a book? Do you post negative reviews? Why/Why Not?

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