Negative Reviews: Why We Write Them
This post used to be called Negative Reviews: Should We Write Them?
But after conducting a poll on Twitter (which got over 300 votes, thank you!) and watching a lot of Booktube videos, I decided that I already know the answer to that question. It’s pretty clear that negative reviews should be written. And I feel like asking that question is counter-productive to the point I’m trying to make.
Instead of asking should we, I want to talk about why I think they’re important, as well as what the term ‘negative review’ actually means. In my poll I put it pretty simply.
Asking a question that seemed obvious got some folks annoyed and confused. But at the same time, I loved reading everyone’s reasoning behind why they do or don’t write negative reviews.
When you’re a blogger, you decide everything that goes into your content. From the design and layout to the words you write. I don’t believe that to be a book blogger you should or should not write negative reviews. That’s a choice you make for your site. But, despite the overwhelming majority stating that negative reviews should at least exist, the 7%’s explanation as to why they don’t think they should was very interesting.
First of all, we need to consider what a negative review is.
There isn’t a definition of ‘negative review’ in the dictionary. So I can’t start this post like I did most of my essays back at uni. But, to me:
A negative review is criticism of a book that the reviewer disliked.
Seems simple, right?
But it’s still a difficult topic, and a definition that’s far too vague. To some, a negative review can mean a myriad of things, the main thing being ‘hate’. People love throwing the word ‘hate’ around to define negative reviews, and using it as a reason to dislike negative reviews. But here’s the thing. I believe a negative review has to contain certain criteria before it becomes ‘hate’.
Some of those things include:
Criticism that isn’t related to the book
Insults directed towards the author/readers who enjoyed the book
To others, this list might be extremely long with points that they feel make a negative review hateful. But the overall gist in the poll’s replies were that attacking the author in an unprofessional way made for an unnecessary review. And to me? Sure. But that still depends. I’ve read reviews where a reader has criticised an author due to their content. Not because the writing just wasn’t to their taste, but that they believed the book should not have been written specifically by that author. These are usually due to more serious, problematic topics that are usually a different kind of negative review. But still, is that then hate? or a negative review?
Other problems include tagging an author in a negative review on Twitter and Instagram, which we all know is just not a good look. Trust me, if someone wants to find criticism of their work, they’ll find it if they’re curious enough. You don’t have to link them to it. The book has been written, your negative review isn’t going to change that.
I think most of the 7% were talking about negative reviews in this way. Personal attacks, tagging authors, and badly explained criticism (i.e. ‘I just hated it!!’) were not something that should be written. Which is understandable.
So our next portion of this is post is:
What’s the point of negative reviews?
To those who straight up said ‘no’. To those who don’t care about criteria and definitions and who straight up think they shouldn’t exist. Let’s talk about why they’re even written in the first place.
Reviews are, essentially, for readers.
Sometimes they are used for publicity, but ultimately, they are for the people who will buy the book. Why? So they can decide if they want to read it or not.
I loved reading as a kid. I had the internet, but social media and blogs didn’t really exist. So I mainly got book recommendations from the library or my friends at school. While at university, I stopped reading for fun and had no idea what was going on in book world. Cut to post-uni Hollie who wanted to get some book recommendations.
Where do I go? Blogs! Goodreads! Social media!
I use reviews to gauge the type of book that I’m looking for, because while a synopsis is all well and good, sometimes reading the reviews gives you a clearer idea of what you might expect from a book. Hell, sometimes those negative reviews are a life-saver. They can warn you of content you’re not interested in from tropes and plot points, to more serious things like triggering or upsetting content. But even if it’s not serious, even if it’s just saying ‘hey, the writing is awful, I didn’t get on with this book. I wouldn’t recommend it.’ that can be good enough for me. I can always choose to ignore it.
There have been times when a book has received no negative criticism and when I’ve read it, I’ve not enjoyed it. So, I posted a negative review and then people who have similar tastes as me can see what they think and decide want they want to do with the information they’ve received.
But here’s the thing. You can’t turn around and say ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all’.
As someone who writes and reads negative reviews, I believe that cutting out all ‘negative’ talk of a book is very telling. I recently watched a video by booktuber Caleb at ‘Insane Reader’. He’d posted a negative review of Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings and got a lot of backlash on social media about it. But while I found no issue with the review, it was interesting to hear some of the reasons as to why others thought Caleb’s review was unwarranted.
Caleb, as well as other smaller booktubers, saw an issue. They’d all picked up Zenith because they loved Sasha and all the larger booktubers had raved about it. They promoted it. Counted down to it’s release. But when it was finally time to bring out a review, there was silence. Caleb (and a good chunk of the community) had read Zenith and hadn’t enjoyed it. But when they turned to Booktube and Twitter and blogs, no one dared to give it a bad review. So, he and a bunch of smaller creators did.
They were accused of lying, doing it for attention, and personally attacking Sasha.
But to me, as the backlash grew louder, the negative review became more important. Especially when larger booktubers, Sasha’s friends, got involved and decided to blacklist and essentially ‘cancel’ Caleb. Caleb states in his video that other smaller creators had told him that they didn’t want to review Zenith because they were too scared of what the larger booktubers would do.
All for a negative review that was funny but not insulting. Strong but critical. It did what it needed to do without being boring, without targeted harassment. And most certainly, without hate.
And sure, there may be people who don’t like an author. Yes, they may feed off of what they think a negative review is. But I just can’t fathom why books, like any other form of entertainment, should be above criticism. Other backlash that Caleb receives is that he can’t possibly know what is a good or bad book because he’s not an author. His response is perfect:
“I don’t have to be a chef to know the food tastes bad!”
I don’t think you should write negative reviews if you don’t want to. Sometimes it can feel like a bold move. Going against the grain isn’t always welcomed when it may be used for the wrong reasons. But, if done without malice, I think a negative review can mean just as much to someone as a positive review does.
Let’s talk some more in the comments! What’s your opinion on negative reviews? Do you write them? Read them? Is there something in particular you don’t or do like about them?