A Bad Review Needs a Good Attitude

This Book Sucks Biting Book ReviewsOkay, so you read this book, it didn’t suit you and you’re upset you paid good money for it. Do you sit down in the heat of the moment and fire off the first barbs that come to mind in a one-star review on Amazon? Well, that may make you feel better, but sort of review is simply not effective. If anyone reads it, they’re not going to believe it. Everyone is aware of all the knee-jerk reactionaries and internet bullies out there, and if you sound like that kind of nasty, you get exactly the same reaction: “Click! Goodbye.”  If you want to get more of those coveted “Your Review Helped Another Customer” responses on Amazon, read over your review before you publish, and consider what your reader is considering as he reads: your attitude.

Who Cares About My Attitude?

Who do you think reads reviews and says, “Oh, yeah, that must be the truth?” More likely they are thinking, “Who is this guy and what does he know?” and most important, “What is his attitude?” Because, not knowing you from Adam (or Eve, as the case may be), the main problem any reader has is deciding how valid your review is. Knowing the writer’s attitude gives the reader a good handle on the validity of the writing. People read reviews to find information about a book, not to be shoulders for you to cry on. If the reader thinks all you care about is venting your own feelings? “Click! Goodbye.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about “instant reaction” reviews, tossed off while under the force of your initial response to the book. Sure, authors get some bad ones. But that’s the source of many five-star raves as well. I’m talking to reviewers who are ready to take a second look at their writings to make them more constructive.

Show Them That You Care…About Something

The best way to give your opinions validity is to persuade your audience that you care: about the book, the writer, the reader or good writing. If you care, your motives are seen as positive. Your opinion is worth at least a quick read-through, especially if it’s a negative review. Most reviewers want to inform customers and respond to authors. Most also want to entertain readers. All of these reasons require connecting with your readers, gaining their trust. A heartfelt concern for something other than yourself goes a long way towards achieving that goal.

Be Constructive, Even in a Negative Review

So if you don’t want to be seen as one of the nasties, it’s better if you temper your reviews with a bit of empathy. If you can’t be positive, at least be constructive. “This book needs…” is so much better than, “This book has no…” It’s easy to say something negative. To say something positive requires thought. Yeah, I know. That’s work. But readers notice, and that gives you validity.

Be Positive, Especially in a Negative Review

I know. This may be hard, but find a way. As a teacher, if I phoned a parent and said, “Do you know what Joe did today?” and started listing off her darling’s faults, the mother would end up shouting at me, and Joey would get worse. If I started off with, “Is something bothering Joe? He’s been really unhappy today,” I’d get some help (she was probably going out of her tree with him at home, too) and we had a chance with Joey the next day at school.

So, if you start a review with, “…I realized the hero was just a complete moron that I couldn’t empathize with, and in fact there wasn’t anybody in the entire book I cared about,” and then proceed to list 13 separate stupid things the hero did, you can be pretty sure of these reactions:

  1. Potential customer: “What’s his problem? Click! Goodbye”
  2. The author: “What does he know? I have twenty reviewers that loved my characters, and only one of them was my mother. Click! Goodbye” (I kid you not. The book that got the review I quoted above has 29 five-star reviews on Amazon, and many of them specifically note the wonderful characters.)
  3. Entertainment? If people “Click! Goodbye” your review because they consider it biased and useless, you’ve hardly entertained them, have you?

On the other hand, if you start your review with, “I have always been interested in novels involving anti-heroes who are so unlikeable as to drive the reader bonkers. However…” you have a much better chance of communicating your opinion.

The Snark

And that pretty well lets out sarcasm, fun though it may be. I like to throw a bit of edge into my writing now and then for the sake of entertainment (oh, you noticed?) but not about a book I’m reviewing, and never, ever about the author. I know that sort of thing is entertaining, but if the reader is looking for valid information and gets the idea that I never let the truth get in the way of a good laugh, well, that’s the best way to get the “Click! Goodbye” reaction.

The Real Life Test

Is your review too harsh? Before you send it, read it once more and ask yourself; would I read this review out loud to a bunch of my friends with the author in the room? You would? What kind of friends do you have, anyway?

Okay, think about reading it aloud to a prospective boss with the author listening. Does this review present you as the person you want the world to see? Will someone who reads it think it credible? Will it affect readers in the way you want?

If you like the answers, then publish it proudly. It’s your opinion and you have a right to it. Maybe you’ll even persuade people to agree with you.

Author: Gordon Long

Gordon A. Long is a writer, editor, publisher, playwright, director and teacher. 
Learn more about Gordon and his writing from his blog and his Author Central page.

20 thoughts on “A Bad Review Needs a Good Attitude”

  1. Gordon, This is one of the best posts that I have read on reviewing. Your suggestions for handling a review make perfect sense and accomplish exactly what a review is suppose to do, help the author and the reader.

  2. I have to agree: This is one of the best posts I’ve read about how to write a review and how to approach a review. I always write reviews from a position of respect. Your points, however, have helped me reevaluate some negative reviews my books have received. Thanks, Gordon!

    1. Thanks for the welcome, Linton. I seem to recall being very careful to give one of your books the respect it deserved 🙂
      (And for the information of the rest of you, it wasn’t a poor review.)

  3. This is indeed a superb post Gordon.
    However, there’s one area you neglected to touch upon, and that area is SPOILERS.
    This is something the VAST NUMBERS of so-called “reviewers” do every time they write one; give away a lot of the storyline. Sometimes, the review are so full of them, there’s no need to buy a copy of the book.

    I believe I’m a decent Book Reviewer – I’ve got about 80 reviews on Amazon so far and my Amazon Reviewer Ranking the last time I looked is 17,540. Here is the link to my reviews on Amazon. You can let me know what you think of them here,

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/A19QLCLVPLZH0B

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I’d be interested to look at your reviews in the light of my post. It’s always good to have something concrete to talk about when you’re discussing this sort of thing.

  4. Well said Gordon. A negative review on a book that was free is the worst. I especially like the line, ” . . . I’m glad I didn’t pay anything on this book. It was free on Bookbub.”

    1. That’s a completely different can of worms, because in theory the review has nothing to do with where or how you got the book. Unfortunately, human nature intrudes 🙂 And marketing considerations.

  5. This is all good advice that might help keep you from getting negative feedback from posting a critical review from other reviewers and even the author. But I think we’re asking way too much of reviewers these days. It’s not their job to help us become better writers or be nice to us or encourage us. When we read other reviews online, like for restaurants or other products, we don’t want to hear how some guy in New Jersey thinks the chef could prepare the chicken to make it better. We just want to know if it the chicken is good and if it’s worth our money. In fact, a book review, I feel, is not for writers at all. It’s for other potential readers/customers. The only rule I think is fair to impose on any book reviewer is to share her opinion (criticize, insult, praise — whatever) on the book, not on the author.

  6. I agree with almost everything you said. However, I think there is a difference between book reviews and restaurant reviews, and it is exactly the one you mention. Many reviewers have the stated intention of communicating their opinion to the author (the really nasty ones definitely do). The point of the post was IF you want your review to have effect on anyone (author, reader, customer, whoever) think who that person is and perhaps you can use these techniques to reach that person more fully.

  7. Gordon,

    The only thing a bad review means one of two things:

    1.) You haven’t put the book in front of the right people.
    2.) You haven’t put the book in front of enough people.

    As an authorpreneur, you gotta keep on pushing your work to as many people as possible as often as possible.

    Thanks,
    Mickie Kennedy

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