negative book reviews

Negative Book Reviews: Are They Necessary and Why?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a growing discussion on whether or not negative book reviews are okay, or even necessary. It may just be the algorithm feeding me these types of posts, but either way, it got me thinking.

If you’ve spent any sort of time on my blog, then you’ll know that I’m a big fan of negative book reviews (both writing them and reading them), but let’s discuss.

The Argument Against Negative Book Reviews

So, you might be wondering why people think that readers shouldn’t review books they didn’t like. Aside from the obvious, which is that the bookish community easily gets offended when someone dislikes their new darling, there are a few reasons. And these reasons mostly concern the indie writer/reader community since they seem to be most active in the discussion (and most affected by it).

For indie writers, one negative review could seriously impact sales, which I understand can be very frustrating. This is definitely something to keep in mind when reviewing books by indie authors. It’s important to remember that there’s a person on the other end of it.

However, I don’t believe that it’s fair of authors to ask readers not to review if they had a negative experience. If a person invested money and time into something, and it ended up disappointing them, it’s their right to talk about it and warn other readers who might have similar tastes.

The ugly side of negative reviews

There’s a point to be made here that some readers like to hate-read. This means that someone will, for instance, willingly read a monster romance and then give the book a bad rating because it has monster romance (when it’s clearly stated that it does). Some readers will give a genre book a bad rating because it doesn’t have literary merit. All of these examples (and more, similar ones) are entirely unfair and condescending.

It’s these types of reviews that make the discussion about negative reviews in general difficult. You cannot ban one without banning the other.

So this is where the readers need to take responsibility for looking through reviews (when they want to read a book) and determining which negative book reviews have actual merit, and which are just blatant attacks on the genre, trope, or the author themselves.

The Writing Style Isn’t Bad, It’s Just Not Your Cup of Tea (?!)

Hand in hand with the negative review discussion came a smaller issue: people believing that there is no such thing as bad writing, just different tastes. The most common argument (as the title says) is that instead of criticizing someone’s writing style, you should just say that it’s not your cup of tea, or not for you.

And while I do agree to a point (you may not like the writing style, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad), I firmly believe there is such thing as bad writing or bad prose.

Wattpad as a descriptor

Something that gets mentioned a lot is that people should avoid saying that a book has Wattpad-esque writing because it doesn’t mean anything. But it does. It signals that the writing in that book is of poor quality, juvenile, repetitive, and meandering with little nuance.

Can anyone honestly look at the Throne of Glass series, for example, and tell me that the prose is good? And I love that series for the story, the characters, and the overall vibes. But I can also objectively say that the prose in that book is not good. I wouldn’t call it Wattpad-esque, but something very close to that.

Even when I write my own stories, I can tell when the prose goes bad or lazy. So why shouldn’t the readers, most of whom have read a lot and have a pretty good sense of what is good, not leave their opinion about it for others to read?

It saves so many readers so much time when the writing style is described in reviews. If I see that the writing might be Wattpad-esque (and from several reviewers), I know not to read that book (or, alternatively, if I’m in the mood for it, actually read it).

I don’t believe policing people’s opinions on the author’s prose is the way to go.

A Book is a Product, Writing is a Job

At the heart of it, a book is just a product, whether we like to think about it that way or not. We’re precious about reading (and writing) as if it’s any different from consuming or creating a video game or a movie. And writing books is a job like any other. Should I expect my supervisor to avoid criticizing me when I’ve done something poorly just because I put effort into it? That would be ridiculous. Should we stop negatively reviewing bad products on Amazon just because the seller’s livelihood depends on it? Absolutely not.

But we pander to writers because we believe that writing (and therefore, reading) is some enlightened calling, a higher purpose. It’s romanticized constantly and that doesn’t help anyone at all. There’s a quote from a New York Times article that says it best:

Writers are not kindergartners making potato prints for their parents; they’re grown-ups who present their work to the public.

Zoë Heller

And while romanticizing what you do (writing or reading, in this case), is healthy and can make your life more beautiful, there is a point where we all need to return to reality.

At the end of the day, user or reader reviews are meant for other users or readers, not the authors. There are plenty of magazines and online portals that offer criticism from actual editors and people from the industry, which is what the authors should be reading.

Reader (consumer) reviews are not going to offer constructive criticism because they’re not meant to. It’s just one random person telling you how they felt about a book they read.

Etiquette of Negative Book Reviews (and Reviewing in General)

All that said, I do believe there are some etiquette rules that we should follow, both for positive and negative reviews.

For one, you should never tag an author on your negative review or send it to them directly. That’s borderline malicious behavior. Your review is unlikely to offer any actual help (that the author isn’t already getting), and you’ll definitely ruin the author’s day (or week). If they stumble upon your review accidentally, that’s up to them. But you shouldn’t push your opinion on the author.

In my opinion, the same goes for positive reviews. But at least if you do send your thoughts to the author, they won’t cause any harm.

Don’t make it personal

Next, you should not attack the author personally. Statements like “this author is stupid/bad/etc.” are not helpful and very likely not true. You don’t know the author just because you read something they wrote. Any personal attacks are not only unnecessary, but also harmful and discrediting to your opinion.

Similarly, you should not attack other readers who loved the book. Tastes are different and everyone has the right to their own opinion. If a book you disliked made someone happy, that’s good. Just because your opinions differ, doesn’t mean that the other person is wrong or that you are right.

Don’t hate-read

Finally, please don’t hate read books. I understand growing out of a genre or realizing it’s just not for you anymore (happened to me recently, see this review). But reading from a genre or an author that you know you don’t like and then rating the book poorly is not fair. It’s also an absolute waste of your time.

Adjust expectations

Similarly, you need to temper your expectations. If you pick up an adult romance fantasy novel and then expect exquisite prose and musings on humanity, that’s on you, not the author. If you pick up a dark romance novel and expect sweet declarations of love and no smut, that’s on you.

A good rule of thumb when reviewing the books you read is this: ask yourself, do you feel that the author achieved what they set out to do?


For instance, I read A Court of Mist and Fury a while ago, and while the prose may not be the best, I feel like the author achieved what they set out to do. I don’t feel the same way about the first part of this trilogy, or any parts after, but ACoMaF had a premise, and delivered on it well.

Another example is Writers and Lovers. The prose is good, and I really liked the premise. However, I feel like the author didn’t deliver on the premise, and didn’t achieve what she set out to do. The novel was supposed to be about a young, poor writer who ends up in a love triangle and discovers herself along the way. However, the actual story was so meandering and had so many plot lines that the main point of the book got lost.

So, if the author achieved what they set out to do, despite a book not being to your personal taste, consider adding another star to your rating. Judge the book that is before you based on its merits and faults. Don’t compare it to your favorite book that may not even be in the same genre.

Negative Book Reviews: Final Thoughts

In the end, whether to leave negative reviews on books or not is a personal decision. You may not want to do it, and that’s all right. Someone else might want to, and that’s also okay. Everyone should be able to express their opinions freely, and no one has the right to police someone else’s opinion.

As for the discussion on negative book reviews, I don’t believe it will die down soon, at least not completely. The bookish community likes to cycle through these (silly) issues every few months. Next, we’ll probably witness a revival of the famous “do audiobooks count as reading” skirmish. Or the “is indie publishing better than traditional publishing” after that.

So, what do you think: are you pro-negative reviews or against? Share your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to know!

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