How to Review a Book You Hated

Lately, I’ve been talking about the why’s and how to’s of writing book reviews. There’s a lot to consider if you want to write reviews that are useful to readers and authors. But there’s one aspect of reviews I haven’t covered yet. This is a question I get quite often when I tell people I’m a book blogger, “How do you review books you don’t like?” Many people assume I don’t review those books.

Low star reviews are just as important as five star ones. When written with care, they provide important information to readers, authors, and publishers.

So how should you address a book you didn’t like? The answer is definitely not to avoid writing the review! I’ve seen other bloggers say they reach out to authors of self-published books before posting a negative review, to give the author the choice of whether or not they want the review posted. I don’t subscribe to this method. Once the book is given to me in exchange for my honest review, that’s what they’re going to get. Being choosey about which reviews are published feels manipulative.

When I get a book directly from an author who has worked hard to publish and market their own book, it has a different vibe from one that’s sent en masse from a publisher. Sure that makes me more sensitive to the fact that there’s a human being with emotions who’s going to look at my review. I don’t let that stop me from being honest, and it shouldn’t stop you either.

Not all readers receive free books. As reviewers, we have a responsibility to be honest so they can use our feedback to determine whether or not to spend valuable time and money on a particular read.

How to Review a Book You Hated

1. Be objective. Tell us what you saw on the page. Saying the book is bad and you hated it is subjective, that varies from person to person. Objective is what’s observable. Poor grammar? A lot of cursing? Graphic sex or violence? That’s what’s on the page. Tell us what you experienced.

2. Acknowledge that opinions differ. This is where you can be subjective. Say why you didn’t like the book, be specific. Tell us who else might like it.

Some examples I use in my own reviews:

  • I don’t have kids. Therefore, books don’t always resonate the same way with me as they do my mom friends.
  • I’ve survived domestic violence, so my take on encountering it in a book is going to be different from someone who hasn’t.
  • I’m sober, and got that way without a 12-step program. That affects my opinions on the subject. Here’s an example.

3. Make sure you’re separating the characters from the writing. More than once, I’ve finished a novel and huffed, “Ugh, I hated that” when what I really meant was I disliked the characters and the decisions they made. Often times that means a book is written well if it can evoke such a strong reaction. Make sure you know exactly what you’re criticizing about the book. Here’s a review of a book I struggled with one this issue.

4. Make suggestions for improvement. Tell us what could have made the book better for you. Maybe book felt like an early draft and could have used more editing. Or maybe a novel was confusing because there were a lot of characters to keep track of. That’s worth mentioning.

5. Leave the author out of it. This isn’t personal. There’s no reason to trash an author just because you dislike the book.

6. Be honest and polite. We don’t need for more meanness in the world. Give your genuine thoughts. Get creative – don’t mimic other reviews.

One more thing…

What if you hated a book so much you quit? Is it fair to review a book you didn’t finish?

There’s debate on this issue, though I feel strongly that it is totally fair as long as you disclose you didn’t read the whole thing.

I start my reviews with: DNF at 20% (or the page number.) This makes it clear up front. Then I explain why I quit. I couldn’t get into it because it was slow, I was confused, I was put off by the content. I try to find something to mention that I did like (maybe it’s the cover or the title, but something.) I also try to think of which readers might like this book more than I did. If I can’t think of any, I’m honest about that. Here’s an example of my DNF reviews.

Give me your thoughts in the comments. Do you have trouble reviewing books you disliked? Do you have any other advice you’d add to mine?

1 Comment

  1. Jackie

    July 16, 2020 at 12:54 pm

    All great points! Thanks for your perspective!

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