How To Write A Bad Review

In the past year, I’ve become active on both goodreads and Twitter. Each time I record my opinion of a book on goodreads, it gets sent out to hundreds of people via Twitter, sometimes even directly to the author. Earlier this year, I created a small dust storm when I made one slightly disparaging comment about a book I otherwise enjoyed. Since then, most of my reviews have been pretty darn positive. My husband asked me last night if I’d stopped being honest because I’ve been so nice in my reviews lately.

Dishonest? Me? Never!

To look at my list of books on goodreads, it must seem like I’m overly generous with those red stars. But my reviews are swayed by my choices. I rarely read a book that I don’t think I’m going to like. No one else (book club, employer, evil librarian) is telling me what to read. That being said, I do have my opinions and they’re not always nice.

When I was an art dealer, the local Arts reporter from the Des Moines Register gave my gallery a lot of press, including great photo spreads. Nearly all her reviews were extremely positive. I thanked her for that (she was really good for my business), and asked her what she did when she didn’t like an exhibition. Her response was, “I simply don’t put bad reviews in the paper. There are so many good shows, I don’t have enough space to write about the bad ones, too.” (Des Moines has a world-class art scene. Truly.) From this reporter, no review = bad review. Sometimes that works, sometimes not.

Critics are supposed to be critical, otherwise they’d be called cheerleaders. But the tiny brouhaha I found myself at the center of in March taught me one important thing. Authors are people too. Every single book (excluding the unworthy, self-published ebooks) got printed because somebody thought they had some redeeming elements. And every single person has a different set of likes, dislikes, taste, style and expectations. You can’t please all the people all the time.

As we hacks write reviews of novels, it would serve the world well to remember: Be honest but fair. Be objective as well as subjective. Don’t attack the author—they’ve put their hearts, souls and minds out there for your enjoyment, not to be desecrated. It’s okay to criticize, but balance that by pointing out something positive.

We should all be so lucky as to be published. Don’t you agree?

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