You Have Such an Ugly Baby - tactfully reviewing books you aren't in love with

Saturday, February 04, 2017
Have you ever read a book you didn't like? How do you write a negative review? DO you write a negative review?

This is truly something I struggle with. I have many close friends who are authors and I've seen first hand the labors of love they went through to bring those little bundles of paper into the world! I couldn't tell them their book was awful anymore than I could tell them their baby was ugly. This leaves me in a rough spot when it comes to reviews. I want people to take me seriously as a reader and reviewer, but I am also a peacemaker by nature and would never intentionally hurt someone's feelings.

I'm hoping some of you can relate with the scenario I just described. I went on a mission scouring the internet for guidance on writing negative reviews. I couldn't find a single article I agreed 100% with. In the spirit of "take what works and leave the rest", I've compiled my own little list. Maybe this list will help me AND YOU in the future.

1) Try to find the positive. Finding the positive in a book doesn't mean you need to give it 5 stars, it just means there HAS to be something in that book that made it worth your time. For example: The characters were believable, I love the way the author described the scenery, I felt inspired to do _______ after reader the section about __________.

2) If you are going to say something negative, have some facts to stand behind it. You can hardly say "this was the most poorly written book I have ever seen" without explaining yourself. Instead of generalizing the entire book as being poorly written, talk about the specifics. Try saying "I didn't feel connected to the characters and I wish there had been more back story" or "the author went into so much detail that I was bored and couldn't stay interested" or "it was a little slow paced for my liking"

3) Don't be afraid to be brief. If you didn't like much more than the cover and a quite used at the beginning of chapter 5, that's okay. Just write a brief review about what you DID like, follow up with a comment about what didn't work for you (in a nice way of course), and then give the book the appropriate number of stars. I've also seen reviewers use language similar to: "this book really didn't speak to me, but I could see how someone in a similar situation would find it inspirational. I'm glad I read this because it gave me a new perspective". See what I did there? That's much more gentle and yet it's honest.

4) Don't beat a dead horse. If you truly can't find anything good to say, then maybe you just don't need to leave a review. Pass this particular book on and give someone else a chance to love it. Leaving a lengthy negative review isn't helpful for the author and doesn't make you look great either. Don't be the lady at the dinner party who spreads gossip about everyone else. None of us really like her and we know that when she is done talking to us, she will be talking about us. Don't be that girl. My daddy would tell me "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" and that's still some pretty sound advice.


Before I had kids, I was with a girlfriend and we were standing in line at the grocery store. We peeked into a woman's basket and saw a baby in a car seat. The baby could best be described as having "a face only a mother could love" and I remember smiling politely and saying that the baby was adorable. My friend suddenly became super interested in the gum choices. Later, she asked how I could lie like that. I said "well, she had really pretty eyes and long eyelashes" this just goes to show that I haven't changed much. I struggle with saying things that may be hurtful.

How about you? How do you tell someone something they may not want to hear? How do you give feedback when it may come across as criticism? What do you do when you've agreed to review a book and you can't give it a very nice review?

Level with me dear reader. Do you agree with my bullet points above? Do you have your own ideas? Please share them - help me become a better reader!

I appreciate your thoughts and comments - you're awesome (and PS - I bet your baby is adorable too!)


Crystal is a secretary and musician at her church, babywearing cloth diapering mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 9, Andre 8, Breccan 3, and Delphine 1), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff at: When she's not doing that, she's baking bread and cookies for her friends and neighbors. She says "the coffee is always hot and you're always welcome here!"


Sioux Roslawski said...

Crystal--You could always go the Seinfeld route and say, "The book was breathtaking."

Seriously, I agree with the "accentuate the positive" part. There is something worthwhile in every book... even if it's an incredibly tiny tidbit.

Jerry Waxler said...

Wow. This is such a lovely way of looking at book reviews (and babies!) - it has given me great ideas for a book review I'm working on right now. Thanks. What a lovely world it would be if we all put this much thought into how to be kind to each other.


Crystal Otto said...

Thank you Sioux and Jerry for reading and sharing your thoughts.

You are both such wonderful friends and mentors.

Happy Sunday!


Anita Rowe Stafford said...

I think a lot of people struggle with what to do in this situation. Your suggestions will be helpful. I have agonized over reviews at times.

Jodi Webb said...

I could probably count pn one hand the times that I've had to say "I absolutely won't post a review." for a book. I'm with Crystal -- start with the positive. Authors will easily overlook your negatives if you like SOMETHING. And I always do the "cup of tea" test. Is it truly a bad book or is it just not my cup of tea?

Sheila Good said...

Excellent tips. I believe it's important to remember, not every book will speak to us. Perhaps, it simply is not the genre we prefer or went in a different direction, but others may find it incredible. Your tips help all of us review those books that we've struggled to read. Thanks for sharing. @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Wow. Talk about the solution I needed right when I needed it. Thank you.

Mary Horner said...

Keep it about the work, and provide reasons behind your opinions to make it constructive.

Crystal Otto said...

Thank you all for your comments, ideas, and suggestions. You are much appreciated!


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