How To Write A Good, Bad Review

71747-319x212-AngryGirlwithBookIf you’re a book reviewer, you know the pain of having to write a bad review.  We don’t want to write bad reviews, but sometimes we have to for the sake of integrity.  So how do you write a good, bad book review?  There is a way, I’ll explain.

1. What didn’t you like about the book?  My suggestion is that if your rating is 3-stars or less, you should include an explanation of why you didn’t like the book to justify your rating.  Don’t bash the author or the story, going on a rant about how they personally wasted your precious time.  Rather explain yourself and stick to the plot, unless of course the grammar and spelling was so absolutely atrocious that it made reading give you a migraine.  Some issues I’ve had with books that didn’t trip my trigger were:  the plot didn’t transport me, the characters didn’t develop or weren’t defined very well, the characters’ behavior didn’t match the authors claims about their characters, the characters seemed too juvenile or unaccomplished to achieve what the author had them achieve, the plot progression was confusing or too slow, and the classic “I just wasn’t that into it”.  Let’s take a closer look at this last one…

2.  Who would like this book…even though you didn’t?  So you just couldn’t get into the story.  Perhaps the dialogue was great, the plot progression was solid, the background research was evident, but…it just turned out not to be your cup of tea.  In cases like this, try to name “the thing” that made you “just not into it”, but offer an alternative by saying, “this book might be better received by lovers of (fill in the blank).”  Or, “I could definitely see fans of so-and-so appreciating this work”.  

3.  Focus on the positive.  For the amount of negative, you should have an equal amount of the positive.  A real book review, a professional book review, not a rant, exclamations, or spoilers by fans on blogs and book lover websites is supposed to include the following:  a) a brief synopsis of the work from the readers’ perspective, b) blurbs that the author can use to show reader feedback.

That said, your synopsis shouldn’t include spoilers, for example, any of the suspense that was revealed or the secrets that made you want to open the book in the first place.  Try to offer a different spin on the synopsis than the one you read from the author or cover without divulging the drama for the next reader.  Okay…now onto b).  Blurbs.  Here is where you can put your “negative” comments, but remember to be gracious and also put what you DID LIKE about the book.  Basically, justify why it sucks, but also what was done well.  You might not like it, but someone else might love it.  Use short sentences and cite the author’s name or the title in each sentence if you can.  Example:  Smith’s characters did not develop progressively or at all, however, the action and intrigue made for an engaging plot.

A good exercise to try and come up with positives for a negative book review is to think of a film or book that you adored, but a friend of yours loathed.  I’m sure this has happened to us all.  There are works that are favorites of mine and I’ve come to find that close friends of mine absolutely abhorred them.  Upon this discovery (I don’t know if your instinctive reaction is similar to mine) my voice would raise several octaves as I exclaimed, “What? What the hell is wrong with you?  Are you out of your mind?”  While I also simultaneously had the urge to punch them in the throat, balls, or unfriend them for life until I came back to my own senses!  Remember those moments.  Remember what your friend loathed about the work vs. what made it endearing to you.  I’m not saying this to suggest you write all your reviews to be cushy, cotton candy clouds, but so you know that not all fans will be like you.  Maybe you read a bad review once and thought, “Pfft.  Well, I’m not going to read that!”  However, you might not have known it was written by someone who lives in their mom’s attic and doesn’t bathe regularly or is not the type of person you would ever agree on anything with!

4. Offer comparisons.  If you still cannot think of a way to word the positives, perhaps it is best to tell the author that you cannot review the book, unless you are a professional reviewer like me and sometimes you have to submit the dirty rotten truth.  In your blurbs section, clearly, concisely, and delicately state what was wrong with the work that detracted from the reading and enjoyment, but for the positives then offer comparisons.

I try to offer two contrasting examples, whether they be authors or other titles.  This doesn’t box in the work and make the next potential reader think it is a replica of a certain author’s or title.  Example:  Fans of John Grishom and J.D. Robb may find this work right up their alley.  OR If you enjoyed Back To The Future and The Golden Compass you might be intrigued by this read.  (Don’t be afraid to use films as comparisons, many people can better relate to films than the millions of books available on the market today.)

5.  Private notes.  If you are writing a professional review, you more than likely have the option to send personal comments or notes to the author.  If so, try to save the things that are nagging at you that you just have to get off your chest for these means of communication.  Leave your review for what a review is meant to be – your perspective of the synopsis and a few comments that will make the most likely fans know that this book is for them…even if it will never be for you!

Was this helpful?  What’s my review like?  Wait…don’t tell me!

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Drea Damara is the author of The Weeping Books Of Blinney Lane and a professional book reviewer.  You can connect with her on Twitter @DreaDamara, on Goodreads, or Facebook.

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4 thoughts on “How To Write A Good, Bad Review

  1. This is invaluable information, Drea Damara. I’m not a professional reviewer, but have been doing quite a few reviews lately. This post gives me some clear guidelines that will be of great benefit to me, authors who’s work I’m reading, and prospective readers of that work. This is a great post, one to come back to.

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