reading · spelling and grammar

How To Give A Negative Review

Have you ever promised someone you’d read and review their book, only to find out you didn’t like it?

What did you do? Did you post an honest review? Or did you lie and pretend you liked it for the sake of the relationship?

I told the truth. And hawk did it hurt: me, the writer, the editor, and who knows how many others.

So was I wrong to say what I thought? I certainly seem to be the only person who gave it less than five stars, so who am I to judge?

But I just can’t help thinking it was the right thing to do. I thought his story had a lot of stumbling blocks: things that pulled me out of the story, made me question what I’d read, confused me, annoyed me.

In short, things that would stop me reading any more in the series. After all, if it was me, I’d want to know.

But in a recent facebook conversation, someone expressed a different view: the reviewer should ‘try not to sweat the small stuff’ and ‘give reviews based on the overall story’.

Is that not like saying your electrician gets five stars for miswiring your power points because ‘overall’ he connected the power?

Or the plumber laid every pipe and installed every tap perfectly but forgetting to connect one small toilet to the sewer was just ‘small stuff’ so we should overlook it?

If I, as a beta reader, tell a friend that her line ‘the jet engines were still whining when he ran onto the runway, ducking to avoid the propellers’ contains a mechanical error, am I just being picky?

No. We are writers. We trade in words. If we get them wrong, then we didn’t do our job. If all my reviews are one-sided gushes that ignore obvious issues, then all my reviews become meaningless.

So how do we do it? How do we give a negative review that’s constructive but not mean? I did my best to be positive. I didn’t get personal or launch an attack. I laboured long and hard – it was the hardest review I’ve ever written.

What do you think? How do you write negatives? Do you even believe in negatives?

(ps: If you spot mistakes in what I’ve written, feel free to let me know!)

(pps: no I’m not going to name the book here, but you should be able to figure it out from my reviews)

(ppps: my friend never spoke to me again after I told her jet engines don’t have props)

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