I’m not sure how many of you have ever seen NBC’s new show Songland, but if you get a chance, you should definitely check it out. The reason I bring this up is because early on in the season, four songwriters pitched their songs to Will.I.Am in hopes of being chosen as the Black Eyed Peas’ new single. All of the songs that were performed were awesome, but the song chosen as the winner is titled “Be Nice,” and I’ve adopted it as my anthem!
I sing it in the shower.
I sing it in the car.
I’ve already taught it to my three-year-old nephew.
(Isn't he the CUTEST HUMAN YOU'VE EVER SEEN - I JUST CAN'T!)
Anyway, yes, I’m hoping it catches on like wildfire!
Why? BECAUSE BEING NICE IS IMPORTANT! And I fear that many people forget this very simple truth DAILY.
The reason I felt compelled to write this as a blog post is because, as a publisher, I obviously see this first-hand pretty often. But I also have a TON of author friends and people in the biz – we all work tirelessly, and we put our whole heart and soul into our writing and our art only to be met with some not-so-kind comments and some down-right-mean reviews.
Now, please understand this, I will NEVER expect EVERYONE to like any piece of art, be it a painting, a novel, a play, or otherwise. Art is supposed to make you feel things, and sometimes art touches us all differently – and that is MORE than okay! Personally, I do not mind if a book is not your cup of tea. No book will satisfy every reader and to expect that it will is simply unrealistic. This business is all about having tough skin and pushing through past the obstacles. There are some incredibly notable, award-winning books I just have truly not enjoyed. There have been books recommended to me time and time again that I haven’t even been able to finish. And that’s okay! I’m not saying that everyone has to love everything that’s ever been written.
But I DO think that people sometimes forget when they write their reviews that A PERSON who spent a lot of time, effort, and energy and is trying to share their passion and their story with the world is on the other end of that review. There is a very real person who has feelings and emotions, and though we are advised to never read reviews, it’s human nature to take a peek. Because oftentimes, the good reviews help to justify all of the effort we put in day in and day out. To know that people read and enjoy what we work so hard on makes it all worthwhile. And even the well-written and constructive negative reviews can help us to grow as authors. I've seen some very legitimate issues with plot holes or believability or likability of characters or whatever the case may be - those are all incredible valid reasons for not liking a book. But once again, it comes down to TACT: articulating these grievances and issues in a constructive, humane, considerate way makes the criticism much more credible.
I often wonder: would these meanies EVER have the nerve to say some of these things to the author's face in this manner? If the answer is no, then to hurl your mean-spirited criticisms from behind the "safety" and anonymity of your computer screen is just cowardice, in my opinion. Makes authors (and you know, people in general) just get defensive.
So, in an effort to minimize hurt feelings and and maximize the effectiveness of book reviews for readers, here is a quick, simple list you can reference when you want to write a critical book review.
5 Tips for writing a Great NEGATIVE BOOK REVIEW:
1. Be Honest and Be Fair, but be tactful and considerate. Be honest. That's what readers, and authors/publishers expect. We all want to trust reviews and reviewers and trust comes only with unmitigated honesty. So please articulate that you didn't enjoy a book! That's more than fine! It's great, in fact! But please do it kindly and when possible justify your opinion with reasons. Ask yourself: would I say this to someone's face? If I did, would they cry? If the answer is yes, they'd cry, then maybe you want to reword it. Don't change WHAT you're saying, just maybe HOW you say it.
2. For a review that would receive less than 4 stars, try to give at least two things that you enjoyed about the book and two things that left you feeling dissatisfied. It's called the sandwich method: you sandwich the less than flattering points between the good bits. So you'd start with something positive, shift to the critique, and then end again on something positive.
3. Be specific when you can when discussing things you don't like about the work. Was it the pacing? The subject matter? Was the hero too chauvinistic for your liking? Was the world building too confusing? Give some examples of where you feel the novel fell short or maybe even what you would have preferred to see and didn't.
4. I always like to include a PERFECT FOR FANS OF... and that can be followed by an author, a genre, or even subject matter! Though it may not have been YOUR cup of tea, maybe it'd be received more favorably in the hands of someone else?
5. Last but not least, don't write off an author just because you didn't like one of his/her works. Each book is a different endeavor and though authors tend to lean into a particular style or subject matter, each book is a different journey - for you and for the author. Maybe the work you read was the author's debut novel and they hadn't found their footing yet? Or the content and characters just didn't resonate with you? Just keep an open mind - in reading and in life!