3.13.2014

If you can't say anything nice; Or, how to review a bad book

I will never get these hours of my life back.
Last week, Anne Rice petitioned Amazon to end anonymous reviews because, as we all know, anonymity gives people license to behave like assholes online. I understand the point. I even sympathize to a certain extent. On the one hand, writers should expect that not every reader will enjoy their book and that they will say so, sometimes publicly. On the other hand, just because a reader didn't like a book doesn't give them permission to attack the author personally.

While I have no cure for trolls, I wish that readers who chose to review books would learn how to write a constructive review of a bad book. It needs to be done, after all. Here are some things I recommend for the amateur reviews out there that I've learned when I had to be honest about some less than stellar prose:

  1. Don't attack the author personally. That makes your writing a hatchet job, not a book review. It makes you look like a prick.
  2. Review only the text. This is for the people who give one star reviews to books because it arrived late, they didn't like the cover, or something bugged them about the experience and not the book itself.
  3. Be specific about what you didn't like. Your taste is not the same as everyone else's taste. I will frequently disregard negative reviews that pick on things I actually like in stories. This is part of being honest. When someone just says they hate a book, that doesn't give anyone any useful information. 
  4. Proofread your work. This is just general advice. I always disregard reviews with spelling and grammatical errors. I can't trust someone's opinion of writing when they can't write themselves. 
  5. Consider a cooling off period. Basically, don't write angry. 
  6. Remember that the author is a human being. This is general advice for the Internet, too. Authors work incredibly hard on their writing. Some novels represent years of work. Be honest, but don't be mean.

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