Yesterday, I found something on Twitter that rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t know who originally wrote the Tweet, since the person’s handle has been cropped out (rightfully so to protect them, I assume), and it sparked something in me.
There are a few things to unpack here, so let’s go line by line.
“If you can’t be nice about it” — Who says that all book reviews and reviewers have to be nice? What if you dislike a book? Don’t you have the right to express your disappointment, your frustration, your anger? I understand that most of us had been brought up to believe that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” but when your book review could help deter someone from reading a potentially harmful book, you can’t use a “rainbows and unicorns” ideology. That doesn’t mean you should use hurtful language in expressing your disappoint or use it as an opportunity to attack the author but you have every right to be negative about a book that you didn’t like.
“You believe the book warrants less than 3 or 4 stars” — I hate to break it to you, but not every single book in this world is a 5 star read. If you personally think a book deserves 2 stars, give it the 2 stars! Why are we so afraid of awarding a bad book less than 3 stars? Who are you trying to protect by not being honest?
“You should try to contact the author directly” — I shouldn’t have to say this, but for the love of god, please do not do this. Ever.
“They probably want to know, even if it hurts, but trashing them publicly doesn’t serve anyone” — And here’s the real kicker. The idea that a negative review (not a public trashing, mind you) doesn’t serve anyone is honestly the most ignorant thing I’ve ever heard. Of course authors want to read positive reviews about their work but if a reader reads nothing but positive reviews for a book they may or may not want to read, and end up disliking it, who do they blame? Others for hyping it up? The author for not delivering? Themselves for believing the positive reviews?
The truth about the purpose of book reviews is that we’re not writing them for the author; we’re writing them for other readers. We want to know what other readers think of a book before we go out and buy it so we can prepare ourselves for what we’re getting into. We want to know what friends and strangers alike think of a book so we can figure out if the book in question is the right fit for us. I can’t even begin to count how many books I’ve regretted reading because all I’d seen were positive reviews praising the work and author alike on the absolute surface level and I end up finding so many problems and issues with it. I get that people want to “protect” the author, but if all they read are 5 star positive reviews, they’re never going to learn what they’ve done wrong or improve in any way.
I absolutely agree that publicly bashing an author or what could potentially be their life’s work is wrong, but writing a negative review and bashing an author don’t go hand in hand. There’s always a right and wrong way of going about a negative review; it’s called constructive criticism for a reason. But you have to remember that other readers want to know what you honestly think about a book. I want to know that my 2 star review of a book I disliked is valid by looking at other likeminded reviews more than I want people on Goodreads to like my 4 star glowing review.
The book community, in some pockets, has locked itself in a bubble where they’re too afraid to give an honest opinion either because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or they’re afraid of someone “coming for them,” which is so toxic I don’t even want to touch that with a 10 foot pole (I’m looking at you, book twitter). And I believe that we have the marketing and publicity teams of publishers to blame, in part. Not all readers/bloggers/book influencers think this way but within this pocket there are those who think they HAVE to say nice things about what they read so publishers will notice them and their marketing teams will RT them or use them in their next publicity strategies. It kind of goes hand in hand with why influencer culture is so toxic and it seems it has trickled its way into how people think they need to write reviews. But if you’re writing your reviews for publishers, or for authors, so they’ll like you and use you for good publicity then you’re not doing it for the right reason. Not only should you be writing your book review for your fellow readers but you should be writing it for yourself. If you can’t recognize your own voice in your review then something’s wrong.
While I always knew who and what I was writing book reviews for, I guess there are still people who haven’t quite figured that out yet. But I want people to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to write a 2 star review of something they didn’t like because that opinion should be just as valid as a 5 star review. Of course you don’t want to hurt an author’s feelings, but don’t let that stop you from thinking your negative reviews won’t serve anyone because I promise, they will.