One controversial topic that seems to frequently pop up between authors and reviewers, is that of books that are reviewed negatively after a reviewer has stopped midway through reading it. I’ve seen both sides of the conversation: that of the author that is perplexed and angry that someone has rated their book without bothering to finish reading it, and the other; the reviewer’s, who feels that the fact that they didn’t finish the book may signify that something is greatly wrong with it. As a reviewer myself, I’d like to attempt to explain the second viewpoint, but also, offer up some advice on how to review a book you haven’t bothered to finish reading in a way that is honest, and helpful to the author.
Sometimes as a reviewer, I am put in a very difficult position. I love reading books, and the fact that I can get 100% free books if I’m willing to review them, is a mind blowing idea. It’s akin to leading a kid to the candy isle and telling them “You can eat any of the candy here you want… as long as you’ll tell me what it tastes like.” Do you know any kids that are going to turn that down? The problem is… the adult leading this hypothetical kid through the candy store… is also the adult who made the candy. As a reviewer, it’s tough to give negative reviews to an author. Having been given the gift of their creative child, it often feels like I’m telling them their kid is ugly. There’s no real polite way to it. I can be honest, and if they’re of a fair mind, they’ll take my honesty for what it is: just my opinion–of course, how many parents do you know would take that well?
So you might ask, what’s worse than telling an author that you didn’t like their book? How about telling them it was so awful you couldn’t force yourself to read it? We’d all like to think that we could push our way through any book, but sometimes, you just can’t, and it’s unreasonable to expect you to. Now, it’s not often that I’ll get a book that’s so awful I can’t finish it… but it has happened. In fact, the book I’m currently reading, is on that very short list. Sometimes there comes a point in a story when your misery of reading that book overwhelms your sense of duty, and you can do nothing more than close the cover and give up.
From the author’s point of view, this seems unfair. They want to know why we couldn’t finish reading it. That’s a fair thing to ask. You SHOULD tell the author why you couldn’t finish reading it… because whatever it is that made you close that book–they need to know about it. Unfortunately, though they want the answer, they also don’t want your negative rating attached to it. They have to make sales. Once again, we’re back to calling their kid ugly. So what, as reviewers should we do?
Tell them anyway.
We are not obligated as reviews to pander to their hurt feelings. There’s a difference between writing a flaming, unreasonably negative review, and being honest. Should you write them a review that says “THIS SUCKED, DON’T BUY IT!”? No. Should you write a review saying you didn’t enjoy the book because you found the character’s actions unbelievable and the dialogue very stiff? Yes. They need to know that, and although it may hurt their feelings, any author worth their salt is going to listen to what you had to say and use it to improve. Just because your opinion is negative doesn’t make it any less valid.
So, you may ask, how do we write a review that basically equates to “I couldn’t force myself to read this.”? The answer is simple: Explain why you couldn’t read it. It’s okay to tell an author that it “just wasn’t my kind of book.” or “I didn’t get it.” Everyone has a different preference for the type of stories they like. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Romance, Dystopians, and Paranormal. You may be a huge fan of Military History, Humorous Fantasy, or Science Fiction Thrillers. If you like that sort of book and want to give it a 5-star review, more power to you. I’d probably think it was boring. It’s okay to disagree with the masses… just make sure your review reflects the honest reason behind why you couldn’t read that book.
Take the time to explain what bothered you about the book, and cite examples. Examples are your friend, because no one can refute them. If you say “the grammar was horrible, the character was an airhead, and the plot was stupid.” Well, that’s your opinion. An author, or other reader will look at the review and say “okay.. they just wanted to be mean. Haters gunna hate. ” If you give an example, such as:
“I found the grammar in this book to be lacking. For instance, on line 4 of page 36 (location 915 on kindle), the sentence reads: “You no idea what your talking about.” Obviously, it should have read more like “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” Mistakes like these should have been caught in the first draft.”
There’s nothing they can say to dispute that. It’s an error. You have proof. If a character does something you feel is air-headed, quote the lines. Point it out, and explain why you found these instances unsavory. What bothered you about the scene?
In the end, the author may still choose to take your partial review as a personal attack, but they’re going to look stupid arguing with you. If they want to ignore the fact that you’re providing invaluable feedback towards improving their craft, well, that’s their problem. There’s only so much you can do.
As for the authors out there: read your negative reviews. It may be painful, it may make you angry, but it’ll provide you with useful information. It’s usually pretty easy to tell who the haters are… they’re the reviewers that say “THIS SUCKS!”, but if you happen to run across one of these infamous partial-reviews, try not to take it as a personal attack against your literary baby. Look past the opinions and try to find the reason behind them. Chances are, there’s a kernel of truth to what they’re telling you, OR, there may be something you need to clean up in your narrative that’s causing people to get the wrong opinion. Pay close attention to the repeated comments, you may find a few weak points in your writing you weren’t aware of. Negative reviews can only hurt you if you let them. Use them as a stepping stool to get better at your craft–and more importantly–thank all your reviewers for being honest. They are brave individuals that took the time to share their opinions and advice despite the fact they knew you probably wouldn’t take their criticism well. Reviewers that pander to your feelings are a dime a dozen. Those few who are unflinchingly honest? Priceless.