Bloggiesta: How to Properly Write a Negative Review

Posted 17 September, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging

So, a few weeks ago I wrote a post that received some attention entitled The Necessary Evil of the Negative Review. Before I ever started the post I knew that I also wanted to cover how to properly write a negative review, but knowing the attention-span of most internet users I knew that to put it all in one post I would lose people.

I feel too passionately about this to have your attention wander.

I received a lot of feedback and I learned that while many people have difficulty writing a wholly negative review and many are much more comfortable with the mixed review, which is great. It’s great because a proper negative review actually should be a mixed review, sometimes that mix is just going to skew more negatively, and that’s okay.

Without further ado, I want to give you five tips to better negative reviews.

One: If you take nothing else away from this blogging challenge, please remember this: Never ever get personal about the author. Even if it’s a memoir, stick to the merits (or lack thereof) of the book itself. A wise woman once wrote: “We are not our art.” (How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran)

Two: Maintain balance. There are few books that are entirely awful. Find some little something that you liked and be sure to comment on that as well. This leads me to…

Three: If all else fails, use the compliment sandwich. This technique can be especially useful with sensitive topics. The compliment sandwich, when executed properly can insulate the worst part of the review between two good things about the book. It’s just what it sounds like. Start by saying something nice, hit the book hard in the middle part of the review, and end on a happy note.

Four: When possible, be specific. Readers prefer specificity in their reviews. If all you have is, “This just didn’t work for me, I’m not sure why.” It’s not going to be very helpful to the reader. Try to pinpoint what it was that didn’t work for you, was it the world building? The characters? The style or syntax? Point out the problems and give as much specific information as you can. If it’s something personal like you were just in the wrong frame of mind for the book, say that too. It can also be helpful for readers to know who you think might enjoy the book.

Five: Don’t be afraid. Most people don’t like writing negative reviews. But I truly believe that they are necessary evil for maintaining the integrity of our blogs especially if your blog accepts ARCs. If you’re one of the rare blogs out there that doesn’t, congratulations on your freedom.

But for the majority of book bloggers out there, my honest opinion is that if you accept ARCs then you need to write negative (or at least mixed) reviews. Because I think that we all read a lot of bad ARCs. But see the original post for my ramblings on that topic.

Now that I’ve broken it down for you,  I’m going to have little blogging confessional and share with you a completely inappropriate negative review that I wrote and then I’ll link up two negative reviews that I think are well done.

First. Early on when I started blogging, like so many of us I just didn’t know the intricacies of the publishing world and I didn’t really think about authors as ‘real people’. I wasn’t thinking in terms of their book being something they had slaved over for possibly years, if not decades. So, while I shames me to trot this out in the light of day I’m going to share my review of The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No this is absolutely an example of what not to do when you’re writing negative reviews.

What’s Wrong With It

  • I clearly violate Tip Number One. I get TOTALLY personal, I even recommend she seek out therapy, not cool, April not cool.
  • There’s no balance and I offer nothing up on what might be good about the book or who might actually enjoy it. I stand by my point that it was poorly written, but there was a better way to say that.
Now. I feel the next two reviews fall well within the confines of all the tips that I’ve given you. The first one The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw is wholly negative. I couldn’t even compliment sandwich it because I found the book to be that distasteful and poorly written, but notice that I still temper the review with noting past reviews on similar topics that I made, showing my open-mindedness to the issue and maintaining a respectful tone throughout (or at least mostly respectful). I’m specific about what I have problems with and address those issues with concrete examples. Also, I don’t get personal about the authors.

Second. I have what I consider to be a good execution of the compliment sandwich. Finding Me was ill-written to be sure. I struggled to write the review because of the sensitive subject matter and this is an execution of a negative review that I feel proud of.

Edit: Kim at Time 2 Read has provided some excellent additional advice. I’d highly suggest you check it out!

The Challenge: Admittedly, this is a hard topic to challenge you with. But I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or see examples of your own negative or mixed reviews. Do you have any more tips on how to gracefully write a review of a book that you didn’t really care for?

April @ The Steadfast Reader