Monday, June 18, 2012

Can Authors Give Negative Book Reviews?

The other day, I was scanning Goodreads and came across what appeared to be a not-so-nice review of a fairly well-known author's book. Upon closer inspection, however, I realized it was actually a rather scathing indictment of the author's reaction to negative reviews in general. According to the reviewer, the author was warning other aspiring authors to not give negative ratings to books, since it could damage their budding careers in the long run. If you bash an author's book and later want that author to write a blurb for you, for example, forget it.

Now, I won't give either the reviewer's or the author's names, since I can't confirm the accuracy of any of this information. However, I don't think names matter much in this scenario anyway. I'm far more interested in the opinions that were raised in this exchange. 

The reviewer, along with others who left comments, seemed to have the attitude that authors who get negative reviews should put on their "big kid undies" and chunk it up as part of the business. The consensus was that no author has the right to tell people whether or not to leave negative reviews, whether those people are aspiring writers themselves or not.

Hmm. Interesting. I can't say I've ever thought about book reviews in quite this way before. I've always known that they held tremendous power for writers, but I never thought how that influence may come at a price. To be honest, the entire thing has me questioning some of the book reviews I've written myself.

While I'm not a book blogger by any means, I am a fairly avid reader and I have a couple of reviews up on Goodreads at the moment...along with millions of other people. So, I had to wonder: Are authors really out there scanning for reviews like mine, ones that may or may not have been favorable to them? If I criticize an author's prose, plot or character development, will that really come back to bite me once my own work of art is published?

Well, here's my take on the matter: I believe in the Golden Rule---treating others as you wish to be treated---but I also believe in honesty. The same freedom of speech that allows you to write a book in the first place is the same freedom of speech that allows me to examine that book with a critical eye if I wish. It is our right and duty as intelligent readers to think critically about what we read, not just swallow it down without digesting it.

That said, there's no reason for us to be petty and ugly when we offer our criticism. Whether we believe it or not, every published author slaved over the words we read, polishing and fine-tuning to make them as perfect as possible. And for that, they deserve our respect, not our insults and ridicule. We can disagree with their work without devaluing them as people, and that's an important distinction to make. At the end of the day, I think it's a compromise we can all live with.

What do you think? Do aspiring authors have the right to publicly criticize the work of their peers? If so, is there a way to do it respectfully? Can popular book reviewers be honest in their reviews, or has it become "politically correct" to only post positive reviews?


  1. I agree with you on this- you should be free to post your opinion, but there are nice ways to do so without sounding snarky or mean. I'm very careful about the reviews I write, knowing full well how much work and dedication went into each book.

    Great post!

  2. Thanks for commenting, Aubrie! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Most of this is probably common sense, Golden Rule-type stuff. Meaning, what kind of review would *you* want to read for your work if you were/are a writer? Would you want those same comments made about your characters and story? I think if more people thought that way, we'd have far less snarky reviews.