ON MY MIND: The Negativity Surrounding Negative Reviews
Labels: On My Mind
Listen, I understand that some people are uncomfortable with writing negative reviews. They are afraid that they'll hurt an author's feelings and that it will reflect poorly on them. I get it.
Personally, I have no qualms with writing negative reviews. I certainly don't go out of my way to find things wrong with the books I read, but when specific things don't appeal to me, I am not against being critical of them. I'm a very opinionated, observant, and analytical person by nature. I'm also straightforward and more than a little snarky. When I write reviews, I remain true to my personality, and I don't censor myself. My intent is never to be malicious or disrespectful, but I do have a tendency to be brutally honest. I don't mince words. I simply call it how I see it.
I know that writing a book and getting it published is a lot of very hard work. Kudos to all of those involved in the process. Nonetheless, the fundamental fact that some people forget (or choose to overlook) is that books are products, readers are consumers, and authors/publishers are selling a service (entertainment).
If you're an avid reader like me, books can become a significant expense. A single hardcover book purchased in a non-online store can cost you around $20. International readers can end up paying a lot more for books shipped to them out of the US. Moreover, given the current state of the economy, people's budgets have become increasingly tighter, and consumers have been forced to become more conscientious & frugal with their spending.
Consequently, product reviews are more important then ever before. Consumers need to be knowledgeable about their potential purchases. They don't want to and often can't afford to waste their hard-earned money on choices they later regret. And so, negative reviews serve the same purpose as positive reviews, which is to equip the consumer with information needed to make a smart purchasing decision—either to buy now or to save the money for a different product/service later.
Additionally, there is another perspective to consider. Think about when you were assigned to write an important paper for school. You spent many days and sleepless nights doing research and meticulously putting your thoughts to paper with the intent to impress your teacher and get that coveted "A". After much stress, headdesking, binging on junk food & caffeinated beverages, and repeatedly flipping off the computer screen, you finally completed your assignment and handed it in with much pride & hopefulness. A few days later, your teacher gave it back to you, and you found yourself utterly dismayed at all the red markings littering the pages. After a brief catatonic phase followed up by a bit of covert crying in the bathroom, you pulled yourself together and took a long, hard look at the teacher's criticisms. There were some you agreed with and some you didn't. Nevertheless, you now gained a better understanding of your teacher's expectations, likes, and dislikes, and you filed those away in your memory as you vowed to yourself that you would get better and totally blow your teacher's mind next time around.
Sound familiar? I sure experienced that scenario more than a few times in my past. In fact, some of the teachers that had the greatest impact on me and pushed me to continuously better myself were those who set a really high standard and who were unabashedly critical of me and my classmates. They didn't hand out gold stars to everyone for simply trying. They made us work our asses off for any and all praise every single time. Were those teachers being mean to us? Was their intention to hurt our feelings? No. They were challenging us to improve while inadvertently helping us grow a thicker skin. If people are constantly telling you how great you are and how perfect your work is, you run the risk of becoming stagnant in your growth & development because you eventually start to lose the motivation to try new/different ways of thinking & doing things.
Now, yes, there are different kinds of negative reviews. Admittedly, some are more tactful & helpful than others. I believe that negative reviews should explain why the reader didn't enjoy or understand particular aspects of a book instead of simply making statements like the following: "This book totally sucked donkey balls. The characters were lame, and the story was so boring I wanted to gouge my eyes out with a freshly sharpened pencil." As amusing as that remark might be, it's not very informative. That's why if you compare my positive reviews with my negative reviews, you'll notice that my negative reviews tend to be lengthier and more in-depth. I make every effort to explain in detail what didn't work for me and why. Sure, I put a funny spin on things and crack jokes here & there, but I do that to offset the negative tone of the review and not because I'm trying to be flippant.
With that said, what really bugs me is when I see commenters verbally attack reviewers for posting negative reviews. I find this kind of behavior extremely closed-minded, immature, and hypocritical. Furthermore, I can't stand the misguided notion that an opinion is less valid or valuable if it happens to be in the minority. Also, people really need to stop interpreting negative reviews as a personal affront on their reading tastes. That's not it at all, trust me. As I hope to have demonstrated above, negative reviews serve a legitimate purpose and are not inherently bad or written with ill intent.
So, please, let's respect each other's opinions.