How to Write a BAD Book Review…When You’re a Writer

Recently, I found myself in the extremely uncomfortable and very regrettable situation of signing up for a “freeview” (i.e. a free book, in exchange for an “honest” review) on Goodreads. Aaaaaand hating said book. And then realizing that I still had to write a full review. Because I promised I would. And wondering “WTH do I do now?”

Here’s a rough breakdown of my initial thought process:

1. OMFG. I was SO sure that this book was going to be awesome. The cover was awesome. The premise was awesome. How could it NOT be awesome!!?

2. Okay, don’t panic. Maybe you can just leave a few stars, and maybe there’s nothing in the fine print of your agreement that says you have to… Sh*t BALLS. I’m supposed to write a full review. F%#* me. AAAAAAAAAAHH!

3. Maybe I should just lie. After all, this isn’t some dodgy Amazon pseudonym we’re talking about here. This account is linked to my ACTUAL name. To my author site, for God’s sake. I really, REALLY don’t want to hurt this writer’s feelings. And I definitely don’t want her to hunt me down and MURDER me. That would be bad.

4. But…wouldn’t that be kind of…wrong? I mean, they did ask for an HONEST review, right? And, while I completely agree that not all reviews have to be PAINFULLY honest…like upon penalty of death the reviewer must tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth… I don’t think I could, in good conscience, give this book a 4 star review. That would be like walking up to J.K. Rowling (whose book I recently ALSO gave a 4 star review to, on Goodreads–though, not the Goblet of Fire, of course. Don’t be ridiculous.) and slapping her in the face with this epically sub-par book. Wouldn’t it? I mean, if I rate these two authors the same, I’m basically saying that they’re on the same level of goodness, right?

5. How many times have I been burned by a 3-4 star average reviewed book on Amazon that made me want to gouge my eyes out and curse the heavens? Wouldn’t it be massively uncool of me to tout this book in all its glory, leaving like-minded readers to stumble along suspiciously in my footsteps, wondering what the hell I was smoking while simultaneously shaking their fists at the sky in vengeful fury? Or, you know…getting slightly annoyed because they paid to choke down this book, while I had the sugary spoon-fed luxury of getting it for free?

6. Then again, I’m ALSO a writer. What if this was MY book? How absolutely destroyed would I be to find out that someone felt this way about my tender, darling little brain baby?

7. Pace. Wail. Curse the heavens. Gnash teeth. (Repeat.)

And here’s what I eventually did:

1. I manned up and wrote the review.

2. I picked my battles, choosing only 1-2 of the approximately 5,000 things I sincerely hated about this book.

3. I tried to frame my criticism in a constructive way, mentioning things that weren’t 100% integral to the story and therefore impossible for the writer to change. (In other words, I WOULD NOT give a 2 star to a SF/F book because “I hate this genre most of the time anyway,” or “I once read a book that was kind of similar to this but way better.” THAT’S not constructive, and I believe in most circles it is referred to as “kind of a dick move.”)

4. I made sure to emphasize that the things I didn’t like about the book were a problem for ME as a reader, not everyone. (i.e. I did not say “This book objectively sucks, no matter who you are.” Or, “This writer should go to hell and then die.” Because in the end, this is JUST ONE PERSON’S OPINION and I AM NOT GOD. Or a book reviewer for the New York Times*.)

*Also, incidentally and much to their dismay, NYT Book Reviewers = NOT GOD, either.

5. I read and re-read my review, before posting it, in order to make sure that I’m actually willing to live with the negative consequences of posting it, if there are any. So, yeah. If I’ve recently given your book a not so great review on Goodreads, you probably know who you are and feel free to bombard away in the comments portion of this post.

And while we’re at it…

Fellow writers, readers and reviewers: How do you feel about this issue? Do you think I did the right thing? Do you think a reader’s review matters any more or less if they’re also a writer? Feel free to give it to me with both barrels, y’all.

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3 thoughts on “How to Write a BAD Book Review…When You’re a Writer

  1. I was really happy to read this. I too agreed to review the book of an acquaintance and it didn’t go so well. On my blog, both my tween daughter and I review books. Both of us tried to finish this book, and neither of us did. And normally our opinions differ on books! So now I’m just sitting on this review, scared to post it to Goodreads, but I don’t want to lie about it either.

    So yeah, after reading this post, I’ll construct a semi-review, pointing out the fact that I hadn’t finished it. Ugh.

    Thanks for this post!

  2. At the risk of revealing myself to be a giant, chickeny chickenpants, my Goodreads account is under a different name. And I’m not sure I’ll leave reviews under my author account name, when I do eventually set it up. Because: fear. But I think your approach is a good one.

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