Friday, September 19, 2014

Talk 2 Me: Negative Reviews

I am participating in Bloggiesta this weekend and one of the things on my list is to do two mini-challenges. This first one I am tackling is April’s challenge about the proper way to write a negative review. While the challenge is simply to leave a couple of thoughts in her comments section, I feel like an can fill an entire post with my thoughts! And here it is...

April also referenced a previous post she did on negative reviews. I link it here because I think it gives valuable background information. I completely agree with her about the importance of negative reviews. A blog that only gives happy, positive reviews isn’t really that interesting, or trustworthy, in my opinion. If I never see criticism or critique, I begin to wonder why. Does the blogger feel obligated to say nice things? Or maybe she isn’t reading the book closely enough to really have an opinion. I used to read a blog that only gave positive reviews, and while that probably made the authors happy, to be honest after awhile it got pretty boring. The reviews were a bit shallow, and didn’t entice me to read the books. I started skimming the reviews and eventually unsubscribed from the blog. So I value a negative review when it is thoughtful, honest, and well-written. April tackled the process of writing a GOOD negative review.

The first point April makes about writing a negative review is that we should never make it a personal attack on an author, and I agree. I try to remember that the author may well stumble across my blog, and I certainly don’t want to hurt her feelings. I can criticize the choices she makes in her storyline or writing style, but not her! I do feel like I have come close to the line a at least once. In my review of A Girl Named Zippy, while I didn’t specifically attack the author, the comment about the book being more interesting to the author than the audience, while meant about authors of memoirs in general, would probably be hurtful to this particular author if she were reading my review.

Another point April makes is that we need to maintain balance and find SOMETHING we like about the book. To expand on this, she suggests the ‘sandwich’ technique and points out the importance of being specific about what we didn’t like. Obviously this would help a reader know whether the book was for them, even if the reviewer did not like it. One of the most negative book reviews I ever did is for Girls In Trucks. While I was pretty specific about what I did not like about the book, I probably bashed it a little too hard. I managed to find something I liked (the cover)!, but I didn’t do too well with sandwiching idea. I’m sure if the author ever stumbled across that review, her feelings were hurt.

There are a couple of hints I want to add about writing negative reviews; things I try to do in my reviews that April didn’t specifically touch on. The first is that I try to refer readers to other reviews, particularly if my review is more negative than most. This usually consists of a simple statement near the end of the review pointing out that even though the book wasn’t for me, it is getting much higher ratings on Goodreads, along with a suggestion that they check out the reviews there.

The other thing that I think can help cushion the blow of a negative review is way you choose to word the criticism. Teachers are very good at this, so I will give a couple of examples from the teaching world. The first is this statement my child received on a report card in early elementary school; “demonstrates leadership potential”. Sounds positive, right? Well, I knew my child, and I knew what she really meant was that he had a tendency towards ‘bossiness’; heloved to direct other students and tell them what they were doing wrong and how they could do it better. But the way the teacher worded it sounded much nicer than “you have a bossy kid!” A couple of years later I got a comment telling me “does not like to lose”. I was mixed about this one, because it certainly sounds better than telling me he yelled and blamed others when he lost, but it probably would have been better to say something like “needs to learn to be a gracious loser”. Not liking to lose is actually a good thing. I mean, when is the last time your heard a coach say “I want you on my team because you like to lose!” My point is that in trying to be positive, she actually distorted her message. When we write a review, we need to be careful with our wording so that it TACTFULLY conveys what we mean.

Thank you to April for giving me a lot to think about with this mini-challenge! I will keep these thoughts in mind as I write reviews in the future!
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  1. I love it Kim! The idea of linking to other reviews I think can be incredibly useful to readers -- also TACT. Sometimes it's not what you say but how you say it! Excellent post!

  2. Great post, and I agree that linking other reviews to give people different perspectives is helpful!

  3. Thanks for going into such detail! I love your examples in report cards ... ;)

  4. I've also found that blogs which only post good reviews tend to be vague and eventually get boring. I think that's fine if that's how someone wants to run their blog, but it's not my favorite kind of blog to read.

  5. I love your idea of providing links to other reviews, especially if they differ from mine. I may start linking author sites and interviews as well to highlight his/her perspective. And I agree that wording is most important. I just started a book blog and find this conversation very valuable.

  6. I should add that both reviews I've posted contain some negative criticism. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  7. Nice addition to April's Bloggiesta mini-challenge post! I like your thought about linking up to other reviews. And being tactful is good! The right word is so important, and that is something I need to work on. Sometimes, I just can't find the right words.