I have a confession to make: I read almost anything, which means that yes, I’ve read Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. But I’d like to think that in the past few years I’d grown better at spotting a book that I might dislike. And when I started is blog, I’d succeeded so far in picking up “yeah, it’s okay” to “OMG IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL I MIGHT DIE” novels to review. But now I’m faced with a dilemma I didn’t want to encounter so early in my book blogging history.
Yes, my friends, that is the dreaded negative book review.
I’d like to say, first and foremost, that I don’t think coddling authors is the right way to go. Reading a book takes out time from our daily schedule, and if we’re reading for enjoyment, we sure as hell should enjoy ourselves, or at least feel like our time isn’t wasted. It’s the truth for any entertainment media out there: if a person is asking time out of another person’s life to show them their creation, it is their commitment to the audience that their creation is the best they could offer. If it’s not up to the audience’s standards, then they have the prerogative to voice out their criticism accordingly.
At the same time, I’m not for mindless wanking. There’s a difference between criticism and outright villification. I could go on and on about this subject, but in a nutshell:
Criticism = Helpful
Villification = Unhelpful commentary designed to make fun of an author, their work, and/or their mom, dog, brother, sexual prowess, etc.
But how do you know when you’re being unhelpful? Don’t worry, my dear reader, I’ve come up with a few tips on how to write a good book review, even when it’s a negative one.
Tip 1: Give examples/explanation.
Don’t just go: “His writing suxx lolerrzzz.” Why does her writing suck? Can you provide an example of how his writing isn’t up to your standards? Does the book formatting weird you out? Are their scenes not set up right, and how so? Are the dialogues bland, and can you give an example of bland dialogue?
A sign of an unhelpful review is when a reviewer just lists what they don’t like about the book in vague, unclear terms without further explanation. “I don’t like the main character, she’s just not my cup of tea.” Okay, but that doesn’t tell me, as a reader, anything else about that character so that I can make my own conclusion about it. It’s like a dumb high school mean girl conversation:
“Ugh, I so hate Veronica.”
“Huh? Why do you hate her?”
“I just do, okay? Stop asking so many questions, Heather, you’re so annoying.”
It helps to ask yourself questions. What don’t you like? Why don’t you like it? And if you’re really up to it: How do you think this can be improved on? The more questions you ask yourself, the more answers you have for any potential questions your own readers might have about the book.
The more explanations or examples you can give in your book, the more credible and reasonable your book review will sound. Not only that, you also help the author become aware of their weaknesses and flaws so that they can improve them!
Tip 2: When possible, provide context.
If you’ve read another book from the author before (or even the previous book/s in a series), you’re going to be golden at this. Compare the author’s work to their other books, and tell your reader why you think this one doesn’t live up to the rest.
For example, I can tell you that I liked The Maze Runner a lot more than The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure. That’s because in The Maze Runner, the continuous tests and trials, mysteries, and surprises kept my attention and excitement. However, in the succeeding two books, it felt like The Maze Runner plot all over again except in a different setting. Their goals were still: Survive the trials, unravel a mystery, and run around a lot. For two whole books. It worked once, but then it just got repetitive.
Again, ask yourself some questions: What did you like about the previous books that you didn’t find here? How does the writing/plot/characters/worldbuilding differ from the author’s previous installments or works?
Tip 3: Do not attack the author personally.
Or: don’t be a jerk.
The ad hominem attack is not only a fallacy, it is a particularly terrible one because you’re attacking a person instead of their work, a work which does not necessarily reflect on them as a person. Resorting to personal attacks reflects a lot on you as a reviewer, though. Hint: it’s not the good type of reviewer.
Be reasonable and never assume. Sure, her work sucks, but she might be rescuing kittens from trees on the daily or curing illnesses or resurrecting the dead, for all you know. Never, never resort to calling the author names, commenting on their looks, weight, manner of speech, et cetera, et cetera.
Just… Don’t. Okay? Just don’t.
Tip 4: List the positives as well.
I know it’s incredibly difficult to see some kind of positive note to a book that you think, like, the spawn of Satan wrote or whatever. But try. If you want to know how to write a good book review then you should first know how to find the good in the not-so-remotely-good heap.
I think it’s not a secret that I don’t like Twilight. Like, at all. Not only is the writing atrocious, the relationship between Edward and Bella that borders on abusive and manipulative is portrayed as romantic and the relationship every girl should aspire to. That hit me right in the feminist rage buttons, especially when this is a book written for teenagers, who are, as a general rule, more easily influenced. They are going to grow up seeing this abusive relationship as ideal, and that is troubling for me. Plus: sparkly vampires.
But there are some good aspects to the book, as much as I hate to admit. For one, I really like the secondary characters. Alice in particular stood out for me: she’s the quirky, cheerful character with the cool powers that doesn’t immediately mean-girl-brush-off the friend’s new girlfriend. The book covers are excellent. Stephenie Meyer really knows how to write for her audience and how to sustain them.
See? I could say something good about Twilight without feeling the urge to jump of a cliff. I’m sure you could, too.
And in case you really, really couldn’t find anything good to say about a book, then don’t write the review. Unless the book actively promotes Nazi-like ideals. Then rip it apart all you want.
Tip 5: Admit that your opinion is not the be-all, end-all of everything in the world ever.
So you’ve made it: You’ve written your negative review and followed all four tips above! Still, there’s no need to turn your nose up and go “Everyone who doesn’t agree with my opinion is wrong and you should feel bad about yourself for how wrong you are!”
Just. No, honey, I don’t care if you just wrote a 50,000 word piece on how terrible this book is. It’s still your opinion, and just as you are entitled to your own opinion, people are entitled to disagree with it. I actually adore several book bloggers whose reviews I sometimes disagree with. But they won’t like every book I love, as much as I won’t like every book they adore.
This is the beauty of being different from each other, I think: Everyone has their own opinion about what’s great, what sucks, what they can’t live without reading, and what they will never touch even with Edward Cullen breathing down their neck threatening to turn them into a sparkly vampire or whatever Edward Cullen does. There will be as much people who will agree with you as there will be people who disagree with you and probably hate your guts. But that’s life; we can’t all agree with each other, but we can be respectful.
So respect those with differing opinions. And with that, I pose this question:
Do you agree with my tips on how to write a good book review when you don’t like the book? Do you have more tips to share when writing a negative review? Share them in the comments below!
(Gifs taken from reactiongifs.com.)