In Defence of Negative Reviews

Today, I wanted to take a few moments to talk about something that I’ve seen a lot of people talking about online over the last couple of weeks. It seems to be one of the big topics in the BookTube community at the moment, but it’s really a topic that’s relevant to the wider industry as a whole.

Basically, I keep seeing people saying that if your goal is to become a writer, you should never write a negative review. The idea is that by doing so, you’re closing doors on the publishing industry and alienating people who might want to work with you. They say that if you’re not going to say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all.

This is a discussion that hit home with me because I’m both an author and a reviewer, and so I’m exactly the kind of person that this advice is supposed to target. The problem as I see it as that I’d rather be known for my honesty and my integrity and never published than to self-censor myself to make friends.

For a start, as an author myself, I respect reviewers who offer constructive criticism, and at the same time I also know you can’t please everyone. Then there’s the fact that even when you love an author, you don’t love all of their books the same. I find it hard to believe that Stephen King isn’t going to work with me because I gave a couple of his books mediocre reviews after enjoying the vast majority. I find it hard to believe that Stephen King gives a damn about what I think.

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that you do end up not being published because you gave a negative review to a book by one of their authors. Or perhaps the editor involved doesn’t want to work with you. My question is why you’d want to work with a company that blacklisted you for having an opinion or with an editor who worked on a book you didn’t like.

Personally, I think that occasional negative reviews are just a part of life. Like I said, you can’t love everything. I always try to be constructive with my criticism, but even then there are occasional books that I think are technically good but which I just didn’t connect with. Seriously, you can’t love everything, it just doesn’t work like that.

I even write honest reviews when I’m sent a book by a publisher or when I read a book that a friend wrote, which is apparently something of a rarity. I don’t accept paid reviews because I think that makes it hard to stay impartial, but I won’t hesitate to leave a bad review of a book I was sent if I didn’t enjoy it. It’s a little awkward, I guess, if you don’t enjoy a book that a friend wrote, but I’d rather tell them that than to lie to them – and to everyone else as well.

It seems to me that the bookish presence on blogs, YouTube and Instagram is facing a problem which will need to resolve itself one way or another in the next five years or so. When I started blogging, I simply started writing about the books I was already reading, and maybe I took a free book or two every now and then if I was interested. But these days, it’s easy to feel as though every review you see is sponsored, either through a free book or through direct payment. People are blogging purely for the freebies.

That could cause a problem, because it dilutes the integrity of the reviewers who are reading and reviewing what they want – and with honest opinions. I’m proud of the fact that I say it as I see it, but not every reviewer is like that. They’d rather only post positive reviews, even if they don’t actually believe what they’re saying. If it helps them to get published, good for them. But I’d rather do things my way.

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