Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reading and Writing Negative Reviews

Recently I've been considering whether I want to do more with my Goodreads account. I made one a while ago for better access to some of the features, but I haven't added any books or friends because I'm not sure how, or if, I'd rate and review books.

The main reason is because I'm nervous about writing negative reviews and giving less-than-glowing ratings. Sure, I'm incredibly grateful for other people's negative reviews, since they can:
  • help me avoid books with elements I know I won't like
  • temper expectations for hyped books
  • make me feel less alone in my dislike of certain books
  • inspire me to read more critically
  • educate me on issues in literature
  • remind me that taste is totally subjective
  • make positive reviews more meaningful
  • provide lots of entertainment (ok, I admit it's a guilty pleasure of mine!)

Still, I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to write them myself. Here's a few obstacles I can think of:

1. Don't want to hurt the author's feelings
I know you worked that that book forever and totally poured your heart into it, but, no offence, I thought it was terrible.

This is really for my own peace of mind, since I have no idea which authors read their negative reviews and which don't, and anyway mine won't be the only negative review out there. But if I publish a negative review there's always the chance the author might come across it, and imagining it makes me feel kind of guilty because it's not like I would write a negative review to hurt an author on purpose but she would probably still be hurt, you know?

This is especially terrible when you "know" the author. I hate that feeling when I read a book by a writer whose blog/tweets I enjoy, only to INTENSELY DISLIKE said book. It's so awkward and makes me vaguely uncomfortable, and putting my dislike for it out on the Internet for everyone to see would just intensify that feeling.

2. Desire to be (or be seen as) a nice, positive person
I'm a NICE PERSON, dammit! Only unicorns and rainbows and sparkles allowed!

So I'm not really one of those "if you have nothing nice to say, keep your mouth shut" people, but at the same time I can totally understand the desire to not be or be seen as a jerk by keeping public criticisms of other people's work to a minimum. Also, some people are committed to positivity and prefer not dwell on negative experiences (e.g. a book they didn't like) by spending time and effort writing about how awful the book was. Plus, people might like you more if they know you only say nice things about others and so don't have to worry about getting on the wrong side of your snarkbazooka someday.

3. Karma
Ok, whoever's keeping track, I've written ZERO negative reviews in my entire life so I'm owed a little consideration when my book comes out, right?!

I can see how the concept of karma would affect someone's decision about writing negative reviews, even if I'm not a big believe in karma myself. Some people are strongly affected by criticism themselves and so, out of consideration to other people's feelings, refrain from posting critical reviews online, hoping that spreading a little goodwill will make a difference. For some, it's just the right thing to do.

4. Avoid backlash from fans or authors
How dare you dislike the best book of all time! You clearly misread the book and failed to appreciate its brilliance due to your inherent stupidity.

Sometimes readers take it personally if you criticize a book they like, since it can be seen as a direct criticism of their taste in books. People might even attempt to tear you down for daring to write about their favorite writers in a negative light. And if you're really unlucky, you might even hear from an angry author. Yeah, not fun.

5. Career considerations
I don't know why so many people buy your books, which are clearly awful, but I'm really desperate for a blurb by someone other than my mom.

I have no idea if I will ever pursue publication. But in the (unlikely) event that I do, it'd be better not to have burned any bridges with scathing reviews. Authors/agents/editors/publishers are more likely to be favorably disposed toward you if you don't bash their books, and they probably won't want to help you if you say their book sucked. So it could be safer to err on the side of caution and refrain from writing any negative reviews if you're working or hoping to work in the industry, just for the sake of your professional relationships.

Anyway, those are just a few I could think of. In the end, I think it comes down to your purpose for writing reviews. Some people write reviews to promote books they love, support other writers, sell books, share their opinions, or help others choose what to read next. Depending on what you want to accomplish with reviews, including negative ones may or may not be in your best interest.

For me, the appeal of writing reviews stems from my desire to express my opinion and join discussions about books I've read. I'd want to gush about books I loved and vent about ones that disappointed me. I'd want to talk about books that made me laugh and cry and books I wanted to throw against the wall. I'd want to analyze books as well as record personal, emotional reactions. I'd want honesty and openness.

This means that writing only positive reviews wouldn't be for me. After all, when it comes to reading reviews by other people, I give significantly more weight to the opinions of people who write both negative and positive reviews than people who write only positive ones.

But of course, all of this is possibly moot as I am most likely too lazy to write any reviews at all (particularly considering my track record with blogging). Still, it's something I've been thinking about lately, so I wanted to get my thoughts out there and hear what you think!

What's your take on negative reviews? Do you post both negative and positive reviews, positive reviews only, or neither? Why or why not?