An interesting blog post about negative reviews: should we, as reviewers, be publishing negative reviews at all?
As a reviewer and editor, I urge caution if one decides to post a negative review. As others have pointed out, reading is a subjective activity. Posting negatively because the book isn’t to one’s personal taste is unfair to the author, as it ignores the quality of the writing itself. There should be a set of criteria for reviewing to prevent purely “subjective tastes” from potentially ruining an author’s career. Plot cohesion and clarity, character development, imagination (although this can veer into the subjective realm), and grammatical correctness are a couple of criteria I apply when reviewing books. I also attempt to identify the audience that the particular book might appeal to, as I am always aware of the wide variety of reading preferences.
I have been thinking about review quality a lot lately. When I look at some of the reviews blogs out there, I am shocked by the lack of sophistication and critical thinking inherent in many of the reviews. Simply saying “this is a great book” and giving it a star rating doesn’t cut it for me. If I were to write a novel, I would want to know why the person liked the book–what aspects in particular would appeal to readers, what specifically did you like about the book, characters, or plot–were there any particular passages that appealed to you, anything creative that sparked your interest in the book in the first place?
I am bothered by the fact that bloggers like these have become such an intense focus of the publishing industry (speaking as a book blogger myself). This thought is quite controversial, I know, and I’m not thrilled with the corruption at times of “professional” reviewers, either, but the fact that numerous people without the background, experience, critical thinking or writing skills to seriously critique books are out there determining who will “win” and “lose” in the game of literary “greatness” bothers me a lot. How would you, as an author, feel, knowing that you are at the mercy of just anyone who feels like making a thoughtless comment about your work; that you have to kowtow to people who wouldn’t know first from third person point of view or how to correctly conjugate a verb…
Hm, it sounds as if I’m advocating for reviewer elitism here; I’m actually not. What I am advocating is a thoughtful, middle-of-the-road approach to reviewing. If people would just explain in detail why they liked or disliked a book AND ensure their reviews are comprehensively written (using correct grammar, spelling, etc), then I think authors, readers, reviewers, and the entire industry would be better served. (note: a few typos, a mistake here and there is NOT what I’m criticizing; it’s the larger issues.)