How to Write a Good Book Review (When you don't like the book)

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.

How to write a good 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.”

How to write a good book review - Shut up

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.

How to write a good book review - Maze Runner Series
Image from booktopia.

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.

How to write a good book review - No

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.

Edward Cullen Sparkling
It is time yet again for this gif to emerge from the darkness and into the sparkly light.

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!”

How to write a good book review - I'm kind of a big deal

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.)

18 Comments on How to Write a Good Book Review (When You Don’t Like the Book)

  1. Darren
    September 30, 2016 at 4:14 am (1 year ago)

    If the book sucks then don’t sugarcoat the thing. If you didn’t like the book ask yourself if it’s a subjective or objective opinion. Because content and theme will mean a lot. For example, Harry Potter began losing me by the time I read the 5th book sometime in high school.

    But I’m not going to say that I hate the book or that it’s bad because it’s written well for a wide audience and the story line is unpredictable and very nice. Some parts of Twilight irked me a bit, for example, sparkling in the sunlight, which should kill a vampire…

    Vampires exist within their realm of mythology and that is as pure a source material as you’ll ever find. I personally find that completely eliminating a vampires weakness just feels wrong. So I think that new ways of writing or viewing certain creatures should always be part of a review.

    On tip 3, good luck actually getting people to not talk shit about authors they dislike. It’s a skillful art to decimate an author, movie reviewer, (video games are the worst developers get death threats if their games sucks)

    A reviewers job is to get all the objective facts out of the way and use their subjective analysis to figure out who would actually purchase that book. I think that is what a reviewer should be aiming to achieve.

    But I like your tips a lot and are very practical.

    You stay Classy Chiqui!

    Reply
    • Chiqui
      September 30, 2016 at 3:10 pm (1 year ago)

      Hi there! I agree with a lot of your points, especially this one: “A reviewers job is to get all the objective facts out of the way and use their subjective analysis to figure out who would actually purchase that book.”

      And yeah, the vampire mythology centres a lot on them getting killed by sunlight, and I wonder why Stephenie Meyer chose to create that twist. Sometimes a twist to a myth is super cool and written in a way that makes sense, but hers feels like she just did that twist to shock people yanno what I mean? I think looking into twists in myths, etc., is a good thing to add in a review as well, thanks a lot for bringing that up.

      I’m somewhat privy to the gaming community (thanks to my gamer sis) so I’m aware about the death threats, etc. Sad that things are that way!

      And thank you, I’m glad you think I’m classy lol!

      Reply
  2. Jessica Sanchez
    September 30, 2016 at 5:44 am (1 year ago)

    This is my first time coming across your page, and I have found a new favorite blog to follow. Your tips were spot on. Your language and examples were straight out of my own experiences from writing groups and creative writing classes, so I was immediately able to engage with your piece. And your GIFs crack me up.

    I have not delved any deeper into your site yet, but from your literary and media samples, I feel like I can expect more pop-culture related reviews versus “classical” works, but I could very well prove myself wrong with just a little digging. That just is the impression from this single post.

    This was a very fun post to read. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Chiqui
      September 30, 2016 at 3:12 pm (1 year ago)

      Aww thank you so much that means a lot! I’m glad you were able to relate! The gifs were an experiment (also because I had no idea what other kinds of images to add LOL) and I’m glad you found it hilarious!

      And yep, I’m doing reviews (and apparently a lot of other things) for young adult books, most of which are mainstream. I adore classical works, though, and maybe I should add those reviews in for fun. (I really want a place to rant about Les Mis and all my love for it LOL!)

      Thank you for visiting!

      Reply
  3. Brit
    September 30, 2016 at 2:44 pm (1 year ago)

    I LOVE this. haha Especially that sparkly Edward GIF. Thank you for that. When it comes to writing a negative review, I find myself thinking about tea. Some people like it black. Others green. Personally, I like CHAI. *takes sip*

    Not every book is going to be a good fit for the reader. I agree with you there. What I like to do is explain why a book may be technically poor in the sense of story structure, character ARC, etc versus what is my PREFERENCE and may not necessarily be a deal breaker for other readers. There is an important difference.

    However of late, I have found myself not bothering to write negative reviews and only focus on promoting the books I DO love. The books without reviews period will disappear into obscurity anyways without my harsh comments. I save my constructive comments for beta-reading clients who solicit it. lol

    Reply
    • Chiqui
      September 30, 2016 at 3:48 pm (1 year ago)

      Haha thanks! That Edward gif is the best gif ammo I have on hand, ngl. And that’s a good way of reviewing a story! I definitely agree with you there.

      I do try to just not review when it’s a negative one, but I do also like reading negative reviews just so I know what I’m getting into, so I just like.. keep writing anyway? LOL. I do know that you’re doing some beta-reading though, so that definitely is a much better use of your time lol!

      Reply
  4. Liselle @ Lunch-Time Librarian
    October 3, 2016 at 12:29 pm (1 year ago)

    Fantastic advice!! Especially the bits about not attacking an author personally because you didn’t like the book. I think sometimes people forget that the author is a person. If you didn’t like the book, then point out what you didn’t like ABOUT the book. Don’t bash the author. Instead of “this author’s writing is terrible” saying “I didn’t like the writing style because of x and x reason” is so much better. Great post!

    Reply
    • Chiqui
      October 4, 2016 at 8:26 am (1 year ago)

      Thanks Liselle, I’m glad you like it! Over the years I’ve come across so many reviews bashing the author themselves, it’s kind of sad and I felt super bad for the author. I agree with everything you said! Thanks for dropping by!

      Reply
  5. Josh
    October 4, 2016 at 9:45 am (1 year ago)

    Hey Chiqui,
    You post on how to write a good book review when you don’t like the book is exactly what I needed to read.

    If a book is not able to hold my attention in the first few paragraphs I usually drop it. So how does this review help me?

    Well, I have been meaning to write reviews on books myself. If I only write reviews on books that I like, I come across as an author appeaser which I did not want.

    Also if some did ask me to write a book review which I did not like, how would I go about it?

    This article helps solve the problem. I’ve also heard many authors do a story swap and critique each other’s work. This article will be helpful for me in case I do not like what I read. I am going to book this for future reference. Thanks for the wonderful article.

    Reply
    • Chiqui
      October 4, 2016 at 11:46 am (1 year ago)

      Thanks, glad to know the article helped! 🙂

      Re: reviews where an author asks you to review and you didn’t like the book, I’ve actually done that a couple of times already! I wouldn’t worry much about it because most of the time authors are looking for honest critique, which also includes negative reviews. Actually, one of the authors I critiqued took time to send me a note thanking me for the review and telling me that he was going to improve on what I mentioned. (He even took away a paragraph that I found problematic!)

      Reply
  6. Summerly
    October 14, 2016 at 1:22 pm (1 year ago)

    This was an interesting article. You have given some great tips on how to write a negative book review, I wish I had known this stuff back when I was in high school. I really like the tip about comparing the authors book to some of his other work and explaining why you think the others are better by giving examples from these books. And giving context to your opinions is very important, otherwise it doesn’t hold much weight. Great tips!

    Reply
    • Chiqui
      October 14, 2016 at 9:45 pm (1 year ago)

      Thanks, glad you like it! And yeah, it does indeed help a lot especially when you know what the author is capable of and why it didn’t feel that they were at their best in their other book. Thank you for dropping by and commenting! 🙂

      Reply
  7. Billie
    October 14, 2016 at 2:17 pm (1 year ago)

    I tend to gravitate toward mysteries and who-dun-its. It’s the same with my movie/television viewing. I hate it when I come across a complete bomb or I figure out who the killer is 5 minutes into it. I love to read way to much to be a reviewer though. I’d never get anything else done! I really enjoyed your article. I am going to bookmark your page as I eventually intend to go back to college so I might just end up needing it! Wonderfully written with classy advice. I echo all those comments before me! Absolutely delightful to read! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Chiqui
      October 14, 2016 at 9:40 pm (1 year ago)

      Thanks, I’m so glad you like it! I love mysteries too, I wish I could read more of them! You make me want to pick up a mystery book now, haha! And yeah, it’s a bummer knowing who the killer is at like… the beginning chapters. it’s also pretty funny/frustrating to read the characters acting like they’re so confused and you’re like HE’S RIGHT THERE. HE’S THE KILLER. IT’S SO OBVIOUS. HE’S RIGHT THERE!

      Reply
  8. Eddie
    October 14, 2016 at 2:34 pm (1 year ago)

    Hi. This is a really interesting topic for me. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to books. I love to read, the fantasy genre in particular. I spent years in creative writing classes but always struggled with negative reviews. I always find it very difficult to see anything positive in a book that I don’t like. I read the first two twilight books, couldn’t bear to try the third. Sparkly vamps? Bram Stoker would have turned in his grave. But I did get your point about the character Alice. I actually liked her. I will note all that you have now said about negative reviews and will try and adopt it next time I come across a “horror story”

    Reply
    • Chiqui
      October 14, 2016 at 9:37 pm (1 year ago)

      Thanks, glad you like the topic and I really hope it will help you in the future! I stopped reading Twilight mid-first book (before I promptly threw it across the room and then gave it away to a friend because hey it was still new and relatively undamaged), at least you made it to the second one lol! Alice is super cool, yeah. Thanks for dropping by!

      Reply
  9. Joyce
    December 31, 2016 at 11:42 am (11 months ago)

    This is super helpful, thank you!

    I’ve always been not-so-good at writing negative reviews. I’ve done nothing outrageous like put down the autho or anything like that, but it helps to be reminded to focus more on the content and why I don’t like a book, rather than the fact that I just don’t like it.

    Thanks again!
    Joyce recently posted…January 2017 Book of Choice Giveaway HopMy Profile

    Reply
    • Chiqui
      January 1, 2017 at 6:23 am (11 months ago)

      Aah thanks I’m so glad it helped! Yeah, I agree that it’s super easy to just say “yeah I didn’t really like this” and leave it at that and sometimes I just want to do that as well lol! Thanks for dropping by!

      Reply

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