Ahh the topic that will never die. Recently on book twitter (because it’s always on twitter) there was a flaming row debate about how people that write negative end of year posts (ie worst of the year/most disappointing etc) were evil and should burn in hell wrong to do so. So here we are again. Even though I’ve discussed this before (more than once), I feel like there’s still more to say on the topic. Because I would go further than saying “negative reviews aren’t that bad”- I think there’s a lot of positive things to say about them too.
Negative reviews make positive reviews more meaningful. The whole point of reviews is to get an honest reaction from a reader- otherwise it’s not a review at all. As Briana from Pages Unbound pointed out in her brilliant post on this topic, sticking to purely positive reviews is just marketing. And, unfortunately for authors, readers justifiably won’t just blindly trust marketing. Books need organic interest to do well; readers need real reactions.
As a subset of this, a little negativity can lower hype. For me, this is especially useful, as overhyped books intimidate me. I don’t want to be the first person to dislike it and I don’t want to go into a book with expectations that are too high. I don’t fancy being a guinea pig (I’m a monkey) so I actually need someone to try it first and say something a bit more balanced before I can read it (come to think of it I’m more like a sheep 😉)
Also, negative reviews rarely put people off. I for one can only think of a single time that a negative review put me off a book (over a very specific taboo subject). Frankly, the only guaranteed way to make sure I don’t read your book is having a hissy fit about negative reviews (and a good way to get me to support the reviewer in question).
On the flipside, negative reviews can make me add it to my TBR- even if it’s something I’ve never heard of before. Readers are smart enough to know that reviews are subjective and discern whether they want to read it on their own. For instance, one of my biggest pet peeves is the insertion of unnecessary politics into entertainment- some readers agree with me, others don’t. Amazingly, because people have minds of their own and can think for themselves (*gasp*) I get plenty of people commenting on negative reviews telling me they plan to read the offending book anyway 😉 (even more amazingly, I don’t stop them! 😉) It’s almost as if people have freewill 😉 And I hate to break it to any author that doesn’t know: not everyone is going to love your book! Reviews aren’t just for readers, they’re for finding the *right* readers.
Let’s be real though- negativity isn’t always about people that haven’t read the book. No, it’s also therapeutic for readers to bond over books they didn’t like. I don’t know about you, but I’m more often drawn to negative reviews for books I didn’t love. I fully admit this is playing into my confirmation bias- but I find it helps me clarify my own thoughts and realising *I’m not the only one* helps me feel sane!
Now, as hard as it may be, I do also try to read negative reviews for the books I love, because I’m all about (attempts at) objectivity for favourites. For me, this is a healthy way of developing a well-rounded response to a book. Sure, I’m unlikely to agree with all the criticisms (because when it comes to arguments around books, feelings come first). Nonetheless, I find it helpful to get different perspectives 1) because it makes me a better reviewer, so I can warn readers off things they may not like (which could be as simple as a statement of fact, like “it’s slow” or “it has flowery writing) and 2) because it gives me the opportunity to strengthen my argument in favour of a book 😉 Because ultimately, that’s what this is all about… even negative reviews act as a ploy to get people to read MORE BOOKS 😉
So, what do you think? Do negative reviews have a place in reviewing? Do you see the positive side to negativity? Or do you see this debate differently? Let me know in the comments!