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Tips: How to Write a Negative Book Review Online

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I have ALWAYS wanted to ask people in our community their thoughts on how to write a negative book review on the internet -- this immensely socially connected place that in some ways is so different than real life.

For example, in 1990, if someone asked me what I thought of a book, I could freely speak and the conversation most likely would end at that private moment between two friends.

But, on the internet, you can post a book review and unintentionally end up in a battle with the author and thousands of others about those thoughts! And when that happens, the conversation can take on a life of its own, affecting the well-being of so many in the process.

So, how do we balance honest feedback and genuine discourse with keeping the peace? Should reviewers care about an author's feelings and how we word things or is it all fair game? There is no easy answer, but I was able to get A LOT of reader feedback on this topic that may help you decide on your own how to write a negative review on the internet.

My goal here is to be a facilitator/mediator for hearing and relaying the wide array of opinions and insights on a controversial topic. I'm not here to tell you what you "must" do, like your own voice matters and is important! This is all just food for thought, compiled into one spot for easy reference.

First, I will give some poll results from specific questions I asked my Instagram followers, and then some interesting points people brought up and some tips you *may* want to consider (but, again, it's all up to YOU, these are just things to consider and decide for yourself).

EVERY time I ask people for their thoughts on Instagram, I am blown away by how insightful you are!

Poll Results for How to Write a Negative Book Review on the Internet

Question #1 - Is it ok to "@" tag an author on a negative book review?

  • Yes: 16%
  • No: 84%

Question #2 - Is it ok to "#" tag an author on a negative book review?

  • Yes: 59%
  • No: 41%

Question #3 - Is it ok to "#" tag a book title on a negative book review?

  • Yes: 90%
  • No: 10%

From the percentage results above and the many, many comments and direct messages I received on Instagram, I would say the overwhelming consensus was that people generally don't "@" tag an author in a negative book review. While the poll results on using a hashtag on the author's name are mixed, most of the comments I received stated that hashtags of both the author's name and book title are fair game because they are used for organization and categorization.

I did also see a poll from another Bookstagrammer where the overwhelming majority said the hashtag of the author's name was fair game.

Another interesting comment mentioned that, if you are doing a collaboration, some publishers/companies require you to use the author's name hashtag.

And another person remarked that, as a Master of library science, she sees hashtags as a "point of access" to a book like any other categorization for it.

Interesting Thoughts from YOU About How to Write A Negative Book Review on the Internet

As I said, you are all SO insightful, and I truly could barely keep up with all of your really thoughtful remarks about how to write a negative book review on the internet. Below are some points that stood out to me as things to consider.

From Authors / Writers

An author of a popular new book told me she sees Instagram as a place for reviewers, and her publisher never forced her to do anything that felt uncomfortable, like engaging on her hashtags, but that she personally preferred people not "@" tag her in a negative review.

An author's wife also remarked that, while negative reviews are "a given," gentleness is appreciated because authors work so hard and give up so much of their free time to write a book.

A reporter indicated she is used to negative feedback but is disheartened by "vitriol" types of reviews that feel personal. She believes it's about explaining your opinion versus a less thoughtful tweet or off-the-cuff email.

An author/book reviewer said that reviews help her personally to become a better writer, and she took issue with authors who have a hard time accepting anything other than a 5 star review. She felt that, even if authors disagree with a negative review, the reviewer's opinion should be respected, and that, when you provide a service, you should be willing to take constructive feedback (not "meanness," which is different).

From Reviewers / Readers

A friend responded that books are subjective, and even Harry Potter was rejected!

A few people pointed out that, when there is drama on the internet over a negative book review, there may be more going on in the author's personal life that pushed that person over the edge to go on the attack publicly.

To the contrary, several others saw negative feedback as part and parcel of being a working adult in the world. This came up a lot, especially with my lawyer friends, as we get a lot of negative feedback and experience a lot of discord and debate in our world.

I was generally seeing that most people value negative reviews as readers.

So many people noted that "art" is especially meant for subjective critique.

One person believed that "all publicity is good publicity" and book reviewers more or less work for free, so the good necessarily comes with the bad. This is such an interesting point I want to explore more over the next year.

There was a lot of discourse about a negative review versus a mean review.

However, several people said they only share negative reviews on GoodReads.

Some people noted to remember that authors are people and this is their life's work.

While it's undoubtedly hard on authors to hear negative reviews, it can also be hard on reviewers to give them! A few of us (myself included) talked about how bad it can feel to give honest thoughts, especially to then know an author has actually read it (because they comment, etc.).

Someone noted that the "mob" responses of both authors and reviewers that can result from internet drama can be a lot to deal with emotionally.

A few people mentioned the author's choice whether to read a review.

I heard some interesting thoughts also about the difference between a problematic book and a problematic author (issues like racism), and that can change the game as to how someone writes a review.

Another person mentioned that if a book "just isn't for you," it's especially important to note the reasons why if the author is BIPOC / #ownvoices.

Tips for How to Write a Negative Book Review on the Internet

*IF* you are concerned about best practices as to how to write a book review on the internet (and I really do mean "IF" as it's up to each person how to write their reviews), you all offered these points to consider.

A few tips people mentioned:

  • You can put your star emojis at the top of the review, and then the author can easily decide whether to keep reading.
  • Or, you can choose not to use star rankings at all.
  • You can try to separate the book and the story from the author as a person.
  • You can add any positives to the negatives.
  • You can try to be fair in your critiques.
  • If a book just isn't for you personally, you can try to quantify who may like it instead.

I truly hope this post gave you some food for thought as to how to write a negative book review on the internet.

As a reminder, these are not meant to be "rules" by any means! Each person's unique voice matters, and this was simply a way to compile SOME of the range of thought out there into one place where people can read it easily and think about it and how they want to review books on their own.

Sending you all love and happy reading and writing!


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Dara

Wednesday 23rd of December 2020

This reminded me of a time when an author asked me to review her book and I gave it 4 stars. She messaged me on goodreads to ask why I hadn't given it 5! At the time, I was very picky with which books got 5 stars and I told her that, but it did make me feel badly that she felt the need to ask!

Jules Buono

Wednesday 23rd of December 2020

Thank you so much for adding your feedback, Dara!

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