Who Likes A Negative Review?

…Interestingly it would appear that you all rather like them actually. I was really interested to see the results of the survey that I asked you all to take part in, and you still can if you haven’t yet, a while back on and about books and book blogging. I had always been rather unsure about negative reviews and wasn’t sure that you would all be fans, yet it seemed from the results (shown below) that actually rather a lot of you are, but why?

It was interesting as until then I hadn’t really thought that if all I was writing was positive reviews you might not be getting a rounded picture my ‘reading personality’, as one of you very nicely put it in the comments box, and what I found even more enlightening was that a good fair few of you felt that if all you were reading was positive then a blog begins to look like a PR campaign and that is NOT what you want from a book blog. The other valid point that came from it all was that ‘nastiness is unnecessary’ but being ‘constructive and explaining what you don’t like’ is very much the way forward. You also made it very clear that if all you are hearing from a blog is negative then you will be unlikely to keep coming back.

The thing that has previously held me back from writing negatively about books is that a) an author has put hours and hours into a book and I haven’t written one (well not a whole one yet) myself b) I wouldn’t want to put anyone off a book. However after seeing your responses you may have noticed recently that not one but two books have received less than favourable though hopefully polite and thoughtfully explained reviews on Savidge Reads in the last few months. I also have to add here that I don’t think my word is anywhere near the law on books and am sure you all take several reviews into account before you do or don’t read a book.

I was interested when recently out for a coffee with Paul Magrs, during a rare hospital free day or two, and he told me about a huge furore that had been caused by a negative review written on a blog, one which the author had seen and had really flipped out about. In fact it was this discussion that made me want to talk in more detail about negative reviews. It is one of the most interesting, and initially hysterical, series of comments I have ever read, one that actually sees the author starting to tell commenter’s and reviewers to actually ‘f**k off’. Seriously.

The book in question was ‘The Greek Seaman’ (the very name had me sniggering, sorry I should grow up) by Jacqueline Howett and it was featured on Big Al’s Books and Pals, a book blog I hadn’t heard of before. The reviewer hadn’t liked it and said so. Fair enough, it didn’t seem a personal attack, they said what they felt and there is that thing called freedom of speech. However the reaction of the author, who was understandably hurt, though any author I have met has said one of the most important rules of writing is be thick skinned and open to critique, who eventually started to lash out. Initially this all seemed slightly amusing yet then the commenter’s, clearly fans of Big Al’s, started to fight for him and as you read on it becomes quite ugly in parts. So where does the line stop and start, at what point does something go from constructive to cruel?

I bet in a few cases though, if myself and Paul are anything to go by, this will quite possibly have also worked slightly in Howett’s favour too. Paul was inspired to download a copy of ‘The Greek Seamen’ right there and then on the spot, which I bet several other people have also done afterwards, to see what the fuss was about. So I naturally had to pilfer his kindle off him and give the first chapter a whirl so I could see what the fuss was about too…

What did I think; well I didn’t finish the book. In part because the writing wasn’t my cup of tea, the fact the possible heroine of the piece was wearing a purple rippling top, white trousers and beige shoes (who would, really?) and was obsessing over some plants her mum was growing in the attic for a good few pages and wasn’t quite gripping me, if Jacqueline Howett comes and tells me to ‘f**k off’ in the comments today I will possibly die of laughter and be utterly thrilled, and I got the giggles because of the whole furore I had read on that blog. So in truth I didn’t even finish the first chapter, erm, maybe everything wasn’t aligned as we all know it sometimes needs to be with a book we read?

Do have a look at the now infamous review and its reactions and let me know what you think? Who goes too far, is it the reviewer, the author or the commenting bystanders? What are your thoughts on a negative review? Do you like them, loathe them or are you not that bothered? Has a negative review made you rush out and read a book, if so which one and was the reviewer right or a million miles off?


Filed under Book Thoughts

44 responses to “Who Likes A Negative Review?

  1. novelinsights

    “possible heroine of the piece was wearing a purple rippling top, white trousers and beige shoes (who would, really?)”

    I think your point about being a fair reviewer is important. Time and effort has been spent to creat a piece of writing so I think it’s a good attitude to review thoughtfully.

    I think the reasons why it’s great to read a negative review occasionally are…
    – See your reading personality
    – Gives balance on your blog and easier to distinguish which books are must haves v not so bothered
    – Sometimes it’s funny when you have a rant

    • Seriously and I know that quote was a bit mean bit I lost it there and then, which sounds really silly and a bit camp but it really, really bothered me.

      Even though we say we dont you are right we all love a good rant now and again.

  2. Susan E

    Truly, a lot of work goes into even a bad book. However, as a reader, I also put time in (I’m thinking now of one recent 565 page book that sounded perfect for me from the description but wasn’t–and in fact, I later saw discussion of it online that hit exactly the problems I’d had with it). So there are two of my reasons for liking some negative reviews in the mix — good information for readers trying to decide what to read and validation for those who have read it and agree. Another would be kicking off discussions with people who disagree. BTW I enjoyed your reviews –the positive and the recent negative one I read

    • It does indeed Susan and thats why I found the whole thing slightly fascinating and really uncomfortable all at once. I do think with so much self publishing, especially with the rise of the ebook (yeah lets get cross with it when we can) there is more rubbsh readily available. Theres no one editing you see… mind you even books that go through editors sometimes need a little more, erm, editing.

  3. Louise

    OMG!! That author is a nut case! I find it quite funny how she defended her writing when she spells disgusting with a C! I’ve never read anything by her and after reading that, I wouldn’t and i’d direct anyone who wants to try her to that blog post! She went straight to the jugular of the reviewer and attacked everyone.It was so unprofessional and uncalled for, maybe she’s in the wrong line of work if she cant accept criticism,without readers authors wouldn’t mount to much.
    I do think that some of the comments(not comments made by the reviewer) were turning a bit sour and distasteful,but i think thats just down to a handful of people who like to jump on the ‘bandwagon’ just for the hell of it.

    I do like a negative review,it does give balance and when executed properly is far more reliable than using ratings/stars. I read a review for Under the Skin by Michel Faber recently,the reviewer really didn’t like it and her reasons have made me want to read it!… so not always such a bad thing. 🙂

    • I know what you mean about bad reviews. I too have seen a dreadful review of Under The Skin and its made me more intrigued than anything else.

      I can understand people being hurt by a negative review, we have all been there in some kind of way, but the way she goes about it is wrong, but then the responses just get vicious.

  4. Your link was an eye opener. Why on earth did she go so public with the crude language, the antagonism. Surely any author has to accept negative reviews. I think we do it all the time. You can’t love everything all the time surely!!!

    • You can’t love everything you are right Mystica, and if you back up why you dont like something I think go for it. I do get bored of seeing ‘well it just wasnt what I expected’ a book rarely is.

  5. To be honest, I felt the reviewer at Big Al’s wrote a decent overview of what he did and didn’t like about the story. Unfortunately for the author, it was she who completely escalated the negative activity with her unnecessary and childish responses (I had an image in my head of her stamping her foot, not wanting to go to bed at her bedtime). And the true crowning achievement were the commenters who started out as supportive, and then once the debacle became known everywhere, other commenters began to join in the fracas and were jumping into the fray for the sport of it, so the true support of the blogger becomes convoluted with all the mish mash of the other random “supporters.” What is sad even more so is that some of the commenters went on to Amazon and other sites to bash the book, even though they hadn’t read it, ultimately skewing the overall rating for the author, which I guess you can say is what she deserves to get when she blasts away at a reviewer the way she did. Big Al did respond in a later post that he didn’t approve at all of that activity of commenters jumping onto Amazon to do that, which I felt was the appropriate thing to do as an honest blogger. But ultimately, had the author just let it go, would anyone have heard of this one bad review? Nah.

    • Very good points made there indeed. I think if it hadnt become so escalated with the authors sudden out burst, though I get she was upset it went too far (though was kinda funny), we wouldnt have heard of this. Yet I bet its happened with some other authors on the odd occasion. Or maybe that just me imagining so lol.

      I think that the sad thing was that commentors who she had said nothing to went for the jugular.

      Big Als thoughts are his own and I think in both parties cases if you put something out in to the domain, as I do here, not everyone is going to like it and they can say so if they wish.

  6. That link is astonishing — the poor woman digging herself deeper and deeper into a pit of her own making. I’m also getting comments from people who appreciate negative reviews but I tend not to do them unless the authors are established and I reckon they can take it. Interesting post — thanks.

    • Harriet, don’t you think all writers benefit from well argued criticism given in the right spirit? Is it not most helpful to those who are trying to become established?

      Are novel writers less “robust” than those of us who get our papers or grant applications rejected?

      • Interesting thoughts there as ever DP.

        I think the problem is objectivity. I might love a book and say wonderful things and someone else with loathe it and say the opposite, what does the author do then?

    • I think its really surprised me by how many people do like the odd, certainly not all, negative review here and there, so I am going to go with what they say and see what happens. It does give a clearer view of reading likes its true.

  7. Bet

    Wow! That author needs to GROW UP! The reviewer was completely fair, and didn’t blast the book, just stated calmly what he didn’t like about it. The author should have ignored everything except the part about the book needing better editing (that’s embarrassing and un-professional).

    All the book bloggers I follow seem to know the difference between “something that doesn’t work for me, but may work for others” and simple “bad writing”. I like an honest, even-tempered review, not one that is sugar-coated for fear of offending.

    • I think there is a fine line between ranting and offending and often if a book makes me so cross it would be rant worthy I dont finish it and so dont feel I can even bring it up in a small post on the blog. I would never want to offend,just politely state my reasons for not really getting on with a book.

  8. Extraordinary! I hope that all reviewers make a best effort to be appropriately and justifyably critical (positively or negatively) when they review a book, and as far as the weblogs I read they certainly do. I’m not a book reviewer (well I am but only for technical books in applied physics) but I do comment upon books for an online literary bookgroup and on other weblog postings about non-technical books. I always say what I think and, within the limits of my untrained ability to do Eng.Lit.Crit., I hope I provide my reasons.

    I like to read negative reviews that are well written and justified, they say something interesting about a book and the writer of the review just as the positive ones do.

    Keep up the balance!

    • I think that ‘a best effort to be appropriately and justifyably critical (positively or negatively)’ when reviewing the book is the best way its been put DP.

  9. The author certainly went too far, but given her obvious, rather sad mental state, the bystanders are the ones who make it truly nasty. Although my own negative reviews tend to have lots of softening qualifiers, I don’t think any author should be given a pass, no matter how hard they work on something. If a reviewer/writer/blogger thinks a book is terrible, that is the price one pays for wanting to be “published”.

    • Its the bystanding bit I find really uncomfortable with this whole thing I have to say Thomas but I guess they thought their friend was being attacked and so attacked back, its sadly a human condition though not a pretty one.

  10. Chelsea

    I have to say, honestly, that reading that chain of comments re: the review AND the author was some of the funniest stuff I’ve read in the blogosphere for a very long time! As for my feelings towards negative reviews: I like them. Granted, as you were saying Simon, there is a difference between a constructive negative review and an out-and-out attack. The latter I don’t think is necessary. But the former? If you read a book you don’t like, and you a.) don’t blog about it at all, then I’m left possibly chancing upon it myself and realizing that I’ve wasted my time or b.) write a semi-positive review in an attempt to be kind, then I’m yet again venturing in to a book I may not enjoy and wasting my time with it. Yes, it is ultimately up to me to make the final decision. But a book with a negative review – and enough negative reviews – is certain to draw some negative associations in my mind. In addition, I do think it’s a valuable aspect of freedom of speech to be able to post what you truly feel about the book your reading. Anything else feels like censorship. Of course, in the example at hand, Ms. Howett also had the freedom to respond as she did. And face the consequences like a big girl. Thanks for bringing up such an interesting – and pertinent – blog related question, Simon, and I’m glad to see you’re getting a few days out of the hospital here and there. Now if you’ll please excuse me, I’m off to go read more of the ridiculousness that is Ms. Howett v. Big Al!

    • I hadnt thought of what might happen if I just left a bad book with a ‘sort of nice’ review, people might go off and then be furious with me. Mind you I have never sugar coated, just wrote about books I loved.

      I am still rather saddened that Ms Howett hasnt come on here and told me to f**k off I would be thrilled, it would be quite an accolade.

  11. The authors do work hard and I feel badly about saying bad things. But, if I don’t finish the book, I don’t review it.

    • No I am the same Isabel, if I dont finish the book its not going on the blog. I thought about doing ‘unfinished book’ posts but then thought, nope not even that. If you havent read a book cover to cover you cant review it.

  12. I’ve always done negative book reviews — and have never understood why so many bloggers shy away from writing them. I often find a negative book review, that provides concrete reasons for the assessment, makes me want to read a book. For example, the only reason I ever read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was I saw a piece in Word magazine slagging it off, and I thought ‘surely it can’t be that bad?’ I promptly whent out and bought it…

    • Well said Kimbofo! I too do not understand the self-censorship aspect either.

    • Good point Kim, I think the reason I did was simply I didnt finish books that would be below a three star but reading the orange longlist put a stop to that. If I loathe a book I am not finishing it and therefore dont think I can write about it. Maybe thats weird. I will be less bothered in the future though if I think a book is squiffy.

  13. None of the negative reviews I have posted ever prompted a response like that. Maybe some day. Honestly, I think Big Al’s review was a bit unfair, since Advanced Review Copies are not final edits. One should expect to find a few or more than a few errors in them. That said, authors really should stay out of it. I’ve never seen author interventions like this come out well. Even when the author had much more on the ball than the one in question does.

    • I wonder if one of us will ever get a response like that. I wouldnt know what to do, apart from try and stay rational. It seemed a very surreal moment for a blog.

      Good point about review copies and errors, yes I think I have not commented on that before knowing its an uncorrected proof.

  14. I’ve read enough of these negative review debates that start when an author comments on the review to know how they go and know where I stand on them (I’ll write what I like, I’ll try to be fair and not to be harsh, if other reviewers who have better comedy talents than me write snarky reviews that’s cool they should just never tip into genuine personal attacks (some people do not seem to understand that critiquing a book is not a personal attack, saying ‘I hope author X loses their wirting hand’ is a personal attack and so far I’ve seen very few of those in the corner of blogging land I exist in).

    I thought you might like to see some thoughts that came out of a recent discussion like this where some YA authors came out to explicitly say they were fine with bad reviews: http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2011/03/06/i-love-bad-reviews/ Interesting stuff.

  15. I too find it difficult to write negative reviews, but I enjoy reading them so long as they aren’t nasty and they are well-balanced and thought out. They don’t really put me off the book and I tend to become curious about the book (like kimbofo). However the reactions of the author would put me off, though.

    • I personally cant do nasty in a review, but then again I wonder if an author came across a negative review I might write they might actually think I was being nasty because its so close to home. Its a tricky one.

  16. gaskella

    Of course I also went to check out this book on Amazon – and now it keeps on coming up in my recommendations. GRRR! 😉

  17. I find that sometimes negative reviews cause me to want to read that book instead. Sometimes it is because I want to see what I think myself after reading it and other times it is because I think it sounds like something I would enjoy so I pick it up anyways. I must admit that I struggle with writing negative reviews myself though and I always try to say at least one nice thing even if I didn’t care for the book.

    • I too can find a negative review draws me to a book more than a positive one. If I see loads of glowing hype around a book I avoid it a while. If I see a book getting a slating I somehow want to try it if in part to defend it. Bonkers isnt it?

  18. Honest reviews make for the best reading and surely that’s going to mean the occasional negative one? I try to always say what I like and what I dislike about a book and have only once or twice completely slammed a book (I tried to do it constructively). There was one title last year I chose not to review at all because the author had recently died, and was a friend of friends, it was all a bit too awkward. But generally I think a little criticism adds colour and interest to a book bog.

    • I do like the expression slammed I have to say. Ooh being friends with authors can be dangerous. I have become friends/aquaintances with a few authors and always have a mini panic before reading their next book in case I don’t like it.

  19. A self-published novelist is lucky to get a review anywhere. Big Al’s blog reviews lots of them and that is a service to both readers — especially Kindle readers who enjoy the inexpensive contact, but could use a filter — and to writers trying to get their work known.

    There was nothing unfair about Big Al’s review. Howett’s reaction was over the top. The comments got out of hand and if Al is at fault at all, it would be for not cutting them off sooner. People on the Internet often act like children.

    Comparing the sales numbers to the number of reviews post-Big Al’s, it’s clear that many people only downloaded a sample and then attacked. Even if they bought the book they did so to snark. That was also petty and childish although one could make the case that Howett had it coming for putting up gushing praise by family members and displaying such an attitude. Still, most of us witness inappropriate behavior all the time and just move on. We don’t all feel obligated to join the circus.

    • I have to say until this wholething kicked off I hadnt heard of Big Al so I didnt know if he did read a lot of these books or not. So thanks for letting me know that, adds more colour to the whole situation.

      I don’t think its just on the internet that people act like children, I just think they are naughtier meaner children on the internet as they have an ether and computer to hide behind.

      I hope you don’t think I am joining in the circus Marion, I just wanted to use it as a way of discussing how far negative reviews can go.

  20. Pingback: Re-evaluation, Revamping, Resting & (More) Reading | Savidge Reads

  21. Oh, the author’s opinion was childish. But those anonymous comments were harsh. And unfortunately blows up a semi-minor issue into a huge furore.

    And I didn’t think that review was harsh at all. I find basic spelling and grammatical errors a huge turn-off in books, and would have probably been just as negative if not more. The least you can do when you are sending stuff out for review, is do a proper self-edit.

    And I am speaking as a writer (not fiction, but technical manuals).

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