Alison joins us today to talk about reviewing a book that you didn’t enjoy.
As part of Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC, we continue our week of advice posts. See the link at the bottom of the page for details of the challenge and where you can sign up for a free book in exchange for a review.
Honest but fair – how to review a book you didn’t like
If you read books and write reviews, the chances are that you’re going to eventually be faced with writing a review for a book that you didn’t like. So what do you do?
Before you write and post that review, consider the following:
What didn’t you like? Be specific – was it the story itself? The characterisation? The plot? The pace?
Once you’ve nailed that down, ask yourself why you didn’t like that particular aspect or aspects. Was the plot too complicated? Were there plot holes? Were the characters not believable enough? Did they act without a reasonable motivation?
Now you have a clear idea of what you didn’t like, be honest with yourself. Was your dislike because there was an actual issue with the book itself or was it more to do with personal preference?
If it’s the former, then you need to decide if you’re going to review or not. Some readers and reviewers don’t like to leave a review if they can’t give a certain number of stars, for example, or can’t think of anything nice to say at all. You are under no obligation to review and you are not an author’s editor, beta reader, or critique partner. If you have been gifted a book in exchange for a review, then make clear before you even agree to take on a book that your review will be honest or that you will not review if you can’t award more than a certain star rating.
My personal opinion is that if someone has written a book, published it, and expects people to pay money for it, and there are fundamental issues, such as bad writing, grammatical mistakes, typos etc. then there is nothing wrong with leaving a negative review. If you decide to do this, then make sure that you aren’t rude or insulting, just say exactly what was wrong. For example:
‘The characters didn’t behave in a consistent way.’
‘The plot didn’t make sense.’
‘The novel needs a thorough proofread.’
Give examples if you can – they don’t need to be long or incredibly detailed, just give a flavour of what the issue is.
And if there was anything at all that you did like, however small, do try to mention this. So you could say that the main character was relatable, but unfortunately, they didn’t always behave in a consistent way. Or that while the settings were beautifully described, this description sometimes got in the way of the story. Or you loved the storyline, but that there were a few too many typos.
If there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the book, but you just didn’t like the content, then you need to handle this in a different way, in order to be fair to the author. If the characters swear, for example, and you don’t like swearing, then that isn’t a reason to review negatively – it just means that the book wasn’t for you. If there’s lots of sex, and you like ‘clean’ romance, then again, it just means the book isn’t for you. The same applies to violence, horror, the supernatural.
I would suggest that, in these circumstances, you either don’t review, or you try not to let those personal opinions cloud your judgement.
For example, when I finally read ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ by Hubert Selby Jr., I was faced with this dilemma. Reading it was, without doubt, uncomfortable, and unpleasant. I hated reading it, to be honest. But I can’t deny that it is absolutely a work of art. So despite the fact that I didn’t enjoy it, I can’t criticise it for the skill of the writing, or the talent that lies behind it. It deserves a fabulous review (okay, I did knock off half a star!).
So the key thing here is that you need to be objective. Yes, say that something made you uncomfortable, say there is a lot of sex, or swearing or violence, or whatever it was that you didn’t like, but also make it clear that this is a personal opinion and that even though the book wasn’t for you, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, or that someone else might not love it.
Remember how important reviews are for authors, but also remember that the review isn’t for the author, it is for any potential reader who wants to know what they’re going to get for their money, and if a book is worth that money or the reader’s time. So do be honest, but do be fair.
If you’d like to read more about Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC click here
Tomorrow John will be writing about why book reviews are so important to authors.