The positive side to bad reviews

One topic that comes up pretty frequently in author/reader/reviewer circles is the negative review. Are they a social good or ill? Should a writer ever acknowledge them? Are they a violation of mama’s rule not to say anything if you can’t say anything nice? Etc., etc.

I’ve stated before that I welcome negative reviews as long as they articulate textual problems, for two reasons. The first is simple dedication to my craft – a valid criticism can open my eyes to a quirk of my writing that I had not seen for myself and lead me to improve as a creator. The second reason is more commercial: one person’a deal-breaker is another’s deal-maker.

For example…as part of my pregnancy-running Steampunk reading kick, I have seen the name Lindsay Burowker (sorry, spelling may be off and I am on my phone, too hard to fact-check) pop up. I’ve looked at…her (? I think it’s her) books but never been able to pull the trigger on a purchase, because they seemed more Steampunk than romance, and I’ve been wanting a balance of the two. Then I saw two reviews of Balanced on the Blade’s Edge (see caveat above about to-the-letter accuracy) that included kvetching about the book having too much focus on the romance and a too-graphic sex scene. Ding, ding, ding! Just what I had been waiting for. I picked up a copy. Haven’t started reading yet, but the author has my money now regardless. And all because of the negative reviews.


Addendum: I read it, and it was awesome. A well-selected purchase. I will definitely buy more in the series if she writes them…and all because of the person who chose to articulate a particular disappointment.



Filed under Digital Revolution, Publishing

4 responses to “The positive side to bad reviews

  1. Exactly why I purchased one of Chuck Wendig’s writing books. The review said, paraphrasing, that his language was too foul and he didn’t take it seriously enough. Gods bless the irreverent, purchase made.

  2. Coherent bad reviews by intelligent readers (note all the caveats) are gold: the detail is what you might put in a description if you were willing to make it very long – and they have put it out there for you.

    I read both kinds of reviews along with the description and the sample (if there is one), and start getting a gestalt about the book. I know it is lazy of me to let other people read first, but it is impossible to write a decent review, good or bad, without putting a bit of yourself into it which give the reader of the review an idea of your biases.

    Trolls aside, reviewers are useful – it would be nice if they signed their names and owned their opinions.

    The biggest problem I see ahead is that writers – who by trade are well placed to make those coherent choices and write informative reviews – are discouraged from writing them, or attacked and reviled when they give an honest opinion. I’m hoping that is only when their honest opinion is expressed badly, but I’ve yet to see.

    • I love coherent reviews, good or bad. for me as a reader, a high-star review that just says “i liked it” is pretty useless. I need to know WHY someone liked it, or WHY they didn’t. an opinion without any insight into that reader’s interests and biases is worthless. it might as well be my dog wagging his tail at a book cover image.

      i definitely agree that writers often make good reviewers because of knowing how to analyze and break down story structures and craft elements. And there is also definitely a reticence for a lot of writers to compose critical reviews. I know I hesitate to do so, unless a particular text is really going to illustrate a broader point I’m trying to make. But out and out reviews? No. It seems like it could too easily be taken as jealousy/sour grapes/attempt to undercut a “rival”. Not worth owning under my name, but not owning is not worth my time.

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