Bad Reviews: The Controversy

First and foremost, these are just my opinions and you are free to disagree with them.


Let me be real with you, the book community never ceases to shock me. Things I think are common sense, are not. Bold declarations are made that simply should have been quieter. Peoples' allyship is visibly so conditional that I wish they'd just put a formal statement in their bios so I know not to waste my time. But, and this is a big but, the one thing that shocks me most of all is the notion that reviewers should never leave a bad review about a book.


What constitutes as a bad review?

In this context, I am referring to reviews that state that a book is bad. As in someone rated it less (depending on your rating scale) two stars or less. But, let's back up and discuss what makes a review "bad" or "good" in my opinion.


A "good" review contains the following:

  • Reasons the reader liked or disliked the book in detail.

  • Harmful content within the book.

  • A blurb on what the vibe, pacing, and style of the book was.

  • Who the reader would recommend this book to and why.

  • If the reader will be reading more from the author or, if they have read more from the author already, how that specific book compares to their other work.

  • A succinct pros and cons list is always good.

  • Contextualized reflection of the text.

A "bad" review contains the following:

  • Personal attacks on the author that are completely irrelevant to the book. (this does not apply to bigotry in the book that reflects the authors personal beliefs, call that out always).

  • "I couldn't relate to the characters" because we know how that's often weaponized against BIPOC.

  • No review at all, just a star rating. Like, what's going on, sis?

  • Purposefully taking words/passages out of context.

Okay! With that out of the way, let's go back to the issue at hand: Should reviewers even talk about books the intend to rate poorly? I say yes as long as the review is a good review that explains why they did so. But why is this so controversial when reviewers and critics are so integral to the book selling process?


The author worked hard on this book.

Without a doubt writing is difficult. Hell, if you're a woman you've only been allowed to do so and get paid for less than two hundred years. If you're a woman of color, congrats, even less time. Writing a book can take a month to multiple years! Now add the slog of editing, querying, submissions, acquisitions, marketing campaigns and release dates to that and you have a recipe for exhaustion. Writers are extremely exhausted people who work hard, fact. With that in mind, the greatest respect you can give to an author is to honestly and analytically (and respectfully) review their work. They did not write the book with the expectation of everyone loving it, they had an audience in mind and they should know if it hit that audience.


People tag authors in bad reviews.

Yeah, stop doing that. I've made that mistake before and I will never do it again. Sometimes I imagine how I might have ruined that authors day and want to weep. Do not tag authors in crap reviews. It's unnecessary and rude. Trust me, they don't want your advice, they have industry-trained professionals reading everything and condensing it for them.


Not all reviewers are skilled reviewers.

My only issue with this argument is that people read for different reasons. Not everyone is out to give an eloquent rundown of the content of the book, which is completely fine. Some people are just trying to scream about a specific trope or scene that they loved. If a consumer is looking for in depth reviews, people are out there providing that content.


Those are the most common reasons people cite as to why people should just say nothing but, I hazard to say, a "bad" review for one person could be someone else's next read. I read a review once that stated something about how much smut was in a book and immediately went to go read it. One person's trash, could be your next favorite. Perhaps instead of not saying anything at all, we should change the statement to "If you have nothing good to say, explain why."


But those are just my opinions as a writer and a reader, what do y'all think?

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