Why I don’t like writing negative reviews

In the past year-and-a-bit since I stared this blog, I’ve written about 40 book reviews. Almost half have been for books that I rated five stars. Not one has been for a book rated under three stars.

In fact, let’s break this down.

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Maybe this looks like I only read really good books. Maybe it even looks like I’m lying about how much I like these books.

I don’t write a review for every book I read, which means I don’t post a ton of reviews on this blog. Forty reviews in a year comes out to less than one review per week, whereas I typically read 2-3 books each week, so I only review about a third of the books that I read. The simple fact of the matter is that, if given the choice between writing a review for a 2-star book and a 5-star book, I’ll choose the 5-star book.

Why? People like complaining about things, right?

Of course, but it really comes down to this:  I like talking about books that I like.

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The whole reason I started this blog, the reason that I like talking about books, is because I want to talk about books that I love, books that I want to share with the world. I do talk about every book that I read, usually in my monthly wrap-ups, but if I’m going to put the effort into writing a full review, I’d rather do it for a book that I’m excited about.

When I read a book that I don’t like, there’s always a small part of me that feels like I’ve failed in some way. I expected to like this book and I didn’t, which means I wasted time (and possibly money) being excited about and reading it. It’s disappointing to feel that way. I don’t want to spend more time than I have to thinking about and writing about it, so I want to move on to something that makes me happier.

Luckily, I tend to have a good sense of which books I will and won’t like, so I don’t read a lot of books that I rate below 3 stars. And if I feel like I’m on that trajectory with a book, I have no qualms about putting it down. Why waste time with something I know I’m not going to like?

Writing reviews takes time and effort, both of which I have a limited supply. I would much rather spend that time telling people which books they should read than which they shouldn’t. Besides, who says I’m the expert on that?

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The problem with reading and book reviews are that everything is so subjective. I might rate a book lower because it includes a trope that I don’t like, but that trope might be a favorite of someone else. Still, they’ll see my low rating and think that means they shouldn’t read the book. And maybe they missed out on a new favorite.

I believe that there is a reader out there for every book, and just because I wasn’t that reader doesn’t mean no one else is or should be. I’m always going to rate books based on what I think of them, not what I think other people will think of them, which means my own biases and preferences are going to come into play. If I don’t connect to a character, it doesn’t always mean that the character is flat or poorly written; it might just mean that I personally couldn’t relate to said character.

It’s basically impossible to objectively say “this book is good” or “this book is bad” because those judgements are so rooted in our own preferences and experiences, however subconscious. And every time I say something negative about a book, I can’t help but think about the people who might have loved it if I didn’t turn them away.

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Right now, I work as a bookseller, and an interaction I had recently made me think about this even more. I was talking to a customer who brought up a fairly popular book, which I mentioned I hadn’t enjoyed. Without hesitation, she said, “Oh, I guess I won’t read it then.”

It didn’t matter to her that we probably have different reading tastes or that I was younger than her. The small amount of authority I had in that situation, because I was a bookseller and she was a customer, meant that she took my opinion as fact. Plenty of people have enjoyed that book and it could have been a new favorite of hers, but because I said I didn’t like it, she decided not to read it. I was taken aback by the influence that I had in that situation.

Of course, online reviews are different than face-to-face interactions, and it can be hard to feel like I have any influence at all when I’m writing book reviews in my pajamas. But I can think of plenty of times that I’ve been influenced by a review I saw, sometimes even simply by the number of followers a reviewer has or the fact that I like their writing (neither of which have anything to do with how good or bad a book actually is).

The fact is, reviewers do make a difference. We might only have a small sphere of influence, but the fact that we spend our time reading and writing reviews means people listen to our opinions. Especially when it comes to ARCs, the modicum of authority that publishers grant to us by accepting our requests can make people take our opinions more seriously.

If I have this kind of influence, I would much rather draw people toward the books that I love than away from the books I don’t love.

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To be clear, I have nothing against negative reviews or the people who write them. In fact, I often enjoy gleefully reading them for the books that I dislike. Plus, when it comes to problematic aspects in books, it’s important to call those out.

I’m also never going to pretend to like a book more than I did because I don’t want to turn people away from it. I’m just going to be more aware about the influence that I have as a reviewer, and I’m not going to dedicate time to writing negative reviews. I would much prefer to spend my time and energy sharing my excitement about books than my disappointment.

I know that rant reviews are popular and tend to get more views and attention than positive reviews (not sure what that says about the internet in general), but that’s not what I want to contribute to the community. I love being excited about books. I love raving about the characters and the writing, and struggling to find words to express how it made me feel. I love how this helps me find other people who also loved these books.

If I can help someone find a new favorite book by talking about how much I love it, I will consider myself successful. And that’s only going to happen if I continue to prioritize talking about books that I love.

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Do you prefer writing positive or negative book reviews? What’s a book you’ve read recently that you’re excited about?

x Margaret 

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21 thoughts on “Why I don’t like writing negative reviews

  1. This is a lovely discussion! My favorite reviews to write are 5 star reviews because I love gushing about things I like too! But I also like negative reviews because I’m a mean little byotch lmao. For me the hardest to write are 3 stars where it’s not very good or bad and I have like nothing to say

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely see your point and agree with you. Any time I get asked for my opinion about a book I always start with a warning that it’s just my opinion. Not liking a book doesn’t make it bad and liking it doesn’t make it good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I agree, it’s much nicer to write a glowing review. I’m always aware that, even if I didn’t enjoy a book, there is still a person behind it and I don’t want to be mean. It’s especially difficult when I’ve been sent a book to review and don’t like it 🙈

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, as a writer myself, I’m always so aware of how much work gets put into the books that I read, even if I don’t like them! And luckily I haven’t been in the situation where I hate a book I’ve been sent, but I can imagine that would be awkward 😬

      Liked by 1 person

  4. jess @ crowing about books

    This is a great point. I don’t mind writing negative review, but the ones I love writing are the ones where I can’t stop gushing about how good a book is. I also feel so bad rating a book low when it’s an ARC. I always want people to keep their minds open even if I didn’t like a book, so it kind of scares me that I can influence people.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. marydrover

    I love this! It’s so draining to write negative reviews, and while sometimes I do because of problematic points that need to be called out, it’s just so much more fun to get excited about something than to tear it down. And such a breath of fresh air, I think, to see someone joyful than spiteful, you know?

    I’m currently reading Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu, and I keep throwing it at everyone, haha. That’s my favorite kind of book (and eventual review)–the kind you want the whole world to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have reviewed books I don’t like, but usually it’s children’s books and then I will say why. But, like you, I don’t often finish a book I don’t like so then I wouldn’t review it.

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  7. I think I may be the opposite of you Margaret! I find it easier and oddly enjoyable to write a negative review but I think that’s probably because I enjoy a bit of a comedy rant but also if I don’t like something quite often I find it easier to pinpoint *why.* Either the plot, characters or writing didn’t work for me but I can pick examples of why they didn’t.

    If I love a book I struggle to put into words *why* because it usually comes down to – ‘this made me feel things’ and even if the plot etc. isn’t perfect (rarely anything is) it just connected with me so I find that my positive reviews are usually waffle and gushing.

    The worst is when I find books ‘meh’ because how can you put into words eloquently that you enjoyed a book but it was like lukewarm tea? Drinkable and not un-enjoyable but it wasn’t quite the ticket.

    Good post and a thought provoker! I love reading about others people opinions and reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so interesting! I guess it’s true that everyone’s experiences are different 😀 I totally understand struggling to put into words what you loved about a book since a lot of the time it is so personal and subjective – but for me, that’s also what’s tough about finding what I dislike in a book! A lot of the time it’s simply that it failed to make me feel a certain way, which I know might not be true of everyone who reads it.
      But it’s definitely true that writing lukewarm reviews are so hard!

      Like

  8. Pingback: Bookish: Book Blogger Hop #24 – The BookNook UK

  9. As someone who writes more negative reviews than positive ones (because I have more misses than hits for some reason, and I’m super picky), I totally applaud your mindset. I love writing reviews for books I love, and it legit makes me happy, whereas writing negative reviews makes me a bit stressed. If I read more books I loved (where are they hiding at lol), I would totally write more positive reviews too.

    UNLESS of course I really despise a book. Then a good rant is in order. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a great post Margaret. I love that you decided to focus on the books that make you happy. You explain beautifully why you made that decision, and how that impacts your entire blog brand. Just sharing what you love, in hopes to bring more book enjoyment. I love it!

    Personally, I do write negative reviews. I don’t have a preference for negative or positive, I just write the review based on how I view a book. At the same time, a 2 or 1 star book for me is uncommon and very often because it is problematic. From my viewpoint, I need to share those negative reviews because I want people to know why (in my opinion) a book contains problematic scenes. I think a lot of this comes from my past in teaching, since I want good role models for teens (even if it’s a book).

    But I really get what your point of view is too. Thanks for sharing it!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! 😊💕
      That’s so interesting that your thoughts on negative reviews come from teaching, which I can definitely understand. When it comes to problematic elements in books, I definitely want to talk about them – but for me personally, I’d rather not spend an entire review on that book. Luckily, I also don’t read many 1 or 2 star books, so I can generally avoid that!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll agree with that — I’ve not come across many 1 or 2 star books. I also try to vet books before picking them up. If it’s something I think I won’t enjoy (for personal reasons, like the genre or plot) I won’t bother reading it. I don’t want to put myself in the position of ending up with a lower rating.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I think this is totally fair- I know a lot of reviewers prefer to only talk about books they love and that makes sense. I also love to gush about books I loved most of all. For me, when it comes to negative reviews, it’s a little therapeutic to vent sometimes 😉 But I know everyone’s different and should make the choices that feel right to them.

    Liked by 1 person

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