Giving Bad Reviews?

How do you feel about giving other authors bad reviews? I've heard lots of times before that we should all support and encourage each other with positive words, and never leave bad reviews because of what they can do to an author's ego and enthusiasm. Personally, I think writing bad reviews is fine, and I do it all the time on Goodreads. I figure, when I read somebody else's book, I'm reading it as a consumer, not a writer. If I don't like the story, I'll feel like I didn't get my money's worth for it and let the author, and any prospective readers, know with a negative review. I'm more forgiving on sites like WattPad and Fictionpress because 1. I'm not paying anything to read those stories, and 2. I'm aware that a lot of those writers are just starting out and obviously won't hold up to professional standards. Nut if I go to Barnes and Noble, or even the Kindle Shop, and spend money to bring the book home, then I *do* hold it up to professional standards, since it was professionally published and the author is receiving royalties for every book that gets sold.

I mean, if a story sucks, it sucks. If it has a lot of problems, then it is so. You can leave a constructive criticism; in fact, new authors probably need it a lot more than sugar coated good feelings. They aren't going to improve if they live in an echo-chamber of compliments. Even if you're being forgiving, it can be helpful to point out if, say, they really need to work on their proofreading, or if their plot is unclear, or if their character motivations are confusing.

As long as you're not just slamming them or being a dick or making a mockery of their mistakes, "bad reviews" can be very valuable.

Just give honest reviews or don't review at all.

There's a big difference between good/bad reviews and positive/negative ones. A good review will list the positives and/or negatives and provide explanation. A bad review will just say "THIS IS AWESOME/AWFUL!!!"

As for leaving negative reviews? Criticism, and learning to accept it, is a vital part of being a writer (or any creative). There's nothing worse in a writing group, be it online or off, than someone who throws a strop the moment somebody says something remotely critical about their work.

I give great reviews- they're detailed, focus on the information pertinent to new readers, and are honest without letting myself be motivated by personal bullshit. Therefor: they are amazing reviews, every time.

What they are not, is "nice" reviews. Any reader that gets high marks from me *earned* it. And everyone interested in the style and genre of the story should read those stories that have my approval. And that's why they're great reviews.

The ones I give negative reviews to? I think are the better reviews, as they're the kind of information a writer can use to improve their work. To go from mediocre to at least okay, perhaps even good.

My approach could be summarized by the question, "Who's your audience?"

In my opinion, there are two.

1. The reader who has come upon your review.

2. The author who wants to find out what you thought.

For the reader, you want to answer the question, "Is it worth my time?" Specifically, you might want to say what worked, what didn't, and what's the overall picture.

For the writer, you'll want all of that plus, "How could this be made better?" If you have suggestions, feel free. That said, this is a review not a critique. Too much of a focus on writing wastes the reader's time.

Beyond that:

1. Be honest.

2. Be kind. There's no reason to leave the writer in tears.

3. No personal attacks. Beyond the need to simply be decent to people, you might well get banned.

4. If you feel like the work contains something messed up (ranging from sexual content to racist/sexist content), you can still say something about it. As long as it's not a personal attack, you're okay.

If you feel like sparing a writer's feelings, you can skip the star rating if you want. Otherwise, you might try to be consistent with the rating system editors use.

Here's a couple examples of negative reviews I've written. I always try to stay objective, but still let how unhappy I am with the book show.


I'm the kind of person who leaves a review if I like it, and if I don't, I don't waste any extra time writing a review.

Whether it's worse for a writer to be hit by a bad review or wall of silence is up for debate.

The one I had, I just had to make sure it wasn't personal distaste showing. I went into the story because I liked the premise, but it really let me down. There was a lot wrong with that one in terms of writing, and I felt it needed a good calling-out on its problems for more than just me being disappointed with how the author took an otherwise-interesting premise.

As far as receiving criticism: good. Some of us are neurotic enough that we'll think it's horrible anyway. If someone gives us some good advice on something to work with, then we know what to improve on. You can't fix a problem you don't know is there (or a typo that you don't know is there, either).

I fell to pieces a little bit over my first bad review. It happens. I'm not proud of it.

Now they don't affect me much. It's the name of the game.

I think any writer that would quit from a bad review probably shouldn't be writing in the first place.

What Blaise said.

Whenever I let someone read a WIP, I make sure to let them know that I want whatever criticism they've got. If there's a hole in my story, or a flaw in my style, I NEED to know that...certainly, I need to know that more than I need non-specific praise.

I think, if we leave reviews, we have a responsibility to negatively review when appropriate. I read a lot, I buy a lot of ebooks on Amazon, and I check out the Reviews before hand. Because I read so much, I'm much more likely to buy books at the cheaper end of the scale (if I can buy 1 book for $10, or 10 books for $10, I'm going to buy ten, because that's like 3 or 4 days worth of reading).

Because I buy so many cheap books, there are a lot that are pretty unreadable for me. Now, part of that is me. I simply cannot stomach reading anything written in the present tense. I hate it. And part of that is that some indie authors don't pay for proper editing or formatting. And part of it is because anyone can put a book on Amazon, and some people really shouldn't until they spend a good few more years working on their craft and getting feedback.

But leaving only positive reviews on work that isn't good means more people buy that work and hate it. It means that people that follow reviews might learn your name and distrust any other reviews you write. And it means the author will probably keep throwing out substandard work without ever consciously trying to improve their craft. IMO.

I am a firm believer that your reviewing style should show your character, such that the people that follow you will know how to take your opinion with a "grain of salt," because they'll be able to identify where they agree and disagree with your usual perspective. For instance, I remind people that I hate vampire and zombie stories because I think they're an over-used genre with very little original to say, in my opinion. Someone who loves those types of stories will be able to take a 3 star review from me and guess that they might like it at a 4 star amount. If I say 4 star, it would probably seem like a 5 to them, because that's a high rating but still betrays my personal feelings about the topic. If someone managed to get a 5, that story would probably be epic, because they overcame the handicap of overused zombies and vampires to say something really original and moving and life-altering.

My review volume used to be quite high -- I think only Fiona and Chris might have more, and sometimes they have reviews that are just tentative scores, instead of in-depth analysis. I used to go through the unreviewed stories, thinking they needed a looking at -- and since most of them were start-ups without fans, it meant quite often that there were rough stories that needed editing and work, so I wrote a lot of low-score reviews. I would like to believe that I made them educational, pointing out ways to work on flaws and improve the craft of writing.

That being said, I was sometimes criticized by other authors in these forums as too harsh, but only once can I recall an author of a reviewed story themselves taking issue with me. Once I wrote something that verged on rude, and Chris Poirer helped me find a happy medium that has stuck with me ever since. The fun thing for me was that authors would often seek me out to GET a review after seeing one of mine go up, and the people that requested them from me did it knowing that I would offer analysis and critique, which they found helpful. Inevitably, people that sensible and seeking constructive feedback had fairly solid stories, 3 star and up, so I see a relationship with their desire to master their craft with the sensible nature to go to someone with the same goal even if they might be harsher than others in seeking it -- it almost guaranteed that the writing would have a good foundation, because they were logical thinkers.

I haven't had time to review like that, but my twins start school in September, and I'm hoping to make time for writing and reviewing once again. And I will do it with a constructive sense of improving my own craft with logic and time, while analyzing the writing of others to ensure that the community grows stronger. When our ultimate goal is good stories, it shows in our approach. If you have that constructive growth mindset, I don't think you can write a review that is "bad."

I probably wouldn't give anyone a negative review. I totally get the arguments in favor it though. I have a buddy who self published some terrible stuff because he's a great guy and no one could bring themselves to tell him that he needed to get better. I'm just kind of soft-hearted, myself. I wouldn't like to think that I'd hurt somebody's feelings.

As far as getting reviews? I don't mind what anyone writes. A review mean at least that person read my stuff, so that has to go in the plus category.

I'm of the opinion that it hurts fledgeling writers more if they spend months, possibly years wondering why their books aren't selling and can't figure out why. They'll keep being depressed by lack of sales and never get the chance to improve.

I can tell from experience that improving one's writing makes ALL the difference. I used to wonder why I only got a handful of comments on my web serial, why reader numbers didn't go up for the longest time, or why none of the comments I did get ever said 'great chapter' or 'I can't wait to see what happens next' (other serials all seemed to get those kinds of comments).

So... I did some hardcore editing, and because English isn't my first language, I hired help. And... BAM! 500 views per day, comments that moved me to tears, 95 votes on topwebfiction.

Also 5-10 daily sales on Amazon. :D

I should mention that many of those edits were inspired by critical reviews and reader comments.

Unfortunately I'll never know how many readers I permanently lost very early on because my writing failed. Most of those will probably never give me a second chance.

I've received my fair share of bad reviews, but to be fair my early books were pretty crappy, lol. The only ones I took issue with was when two people who had it out for me in school began writing trashy reviews for my books. Not based on facts, I doubt they even read them, they just wanted to hurt me. IMO, that's where an author should draw the line, when the reviews stop being objective and turn personal.

A constructive review is gold, positive or negative.

As an author: A constructive, positive review is, of course, the glorious golden unicorn. Someone who likes my work for clearly identified and communicated reasons, AND who has useful suggestions on further improving, or at least identifying points of weakness? Awesome, A++ would be reviewed again.

A constructive, negative review is still a glorious golden unicorn, it's just periodically kicking me in the ego. And that's okay. Someone who doesn't like my work, for clearly identified and communicated reasons, and who has useful suggestions on further improving? Still awesome, A++ would be reviewed again.

I'd rather have either of those than any ten "This was great! I loved it!" or "This sucked, boo!" reviews.

But ultimately, readers don't *owe* me any of that. It's just awfully nice. :)


As a reader: Give me a plot summary (non-spoilers), a quick look into the premise of the protagonist, and then tell me if the story prose is crafted well. That's really all I need. Everything else is critique for the author.

I have an important caveat to make to my earlier response.

Yes, I think writers should be able to take criticism, or at least not lose their minds from it, but context matters.

A 14 year old just starting out for fun probably doesn't want nor deserve a 2000 word, critical review tearing their work apart.

Someone like me or like many others on this forum who are aiming to self publish are inviting criticism merely by our intended end goal.

Context matters. IMO, people who volunteer reviews where none are requested and tear apart a new writer aren't doing much of a service to anyone.

I don't want up to 10 year olds who just started painting and tell them that their art sucks. We all collectively realize as human beings that this would be a dick move. So why is it okay to do similar for writing?

Food for thought.

I think giving reviews is as much of a skill as writing in the first place. As Jim said earlier in the thread you have to consider your audience - but also what you want to achieve. If you want to give constructive criticism then do that - on a writer's forum that's often appropriate, elsewhere, maybe not.

Personally I think being constructive without being cruel is a difficult part of the overall review skill. For example, unless the author has asked you too there's no point pulling every single mistake out of the story and waving them around. Just pick the one or two most important, maybe allude to the overall quality of the story, and leave it there.

We really need a 'report' button for stories that are no longer available or temporarily unavailable. I don't feel one-starring those stories is the way to go - especially considering that the link from WFG might simply be outdated (maybe it was moved to a different website and the author forgot to email Chris), or the issue might be temporary.