Ok, a Negative Review Might Actually Make Me Not Read Your Book

It’s a cycle in the online book community: some authors decry the existence of negative reviews and say they’re mean and unfair; worse, they ruin authors’ livelihoods by making readers not buy or read the book that was so cruelly maligned. In response, readers explain the benefits of negative reviews (I did so myself in this post!) and insist that negative reviews don’t really deter them from reading a book; in fact, they might pick up a book after reading a negative review, if the review mentions an aspect that the original reviewer didn’t like but they themselves might. I’ve made these arguments myself, that authors have nothing to fear because no book will be pleasing to everyone, and a single negative review isn’t going to persuade me not to read something. However, upon further reflection, I’ve realized this is slightly dishonest because there are circumstances where I might not read a book because I saw negative reviews.

Generally, I might be persuaded to pass on a book if I see a large number of negative reviews. A few people here and there disliking a book is to be expected. If tons of people are saying a book wasn’t very good, and backing up their opinions with explanations and evidence from the book, I might start paying attention. This is particularly true for me when it comes to young adult novels. Most of the time, I feel as if I am the harsh critic of YA books. I will read a book and think it’s poorly written and makes no sense…then watch as glowing 5-star reviews roll in from other readers and the book gets nominated for various awards. So when I see multiple reviewers give a book a low rating, I sit up and pay attention. This happened for me most recently when I saw a certain title on at least a dozen “Worst Books I Read in 2020” lists– and didn’t see that book on a single “Best of 2020” list. (Sorry, authors who flipped out about “Worst of” lists.)

However, this is quantity over quality. One person saying a book is the worst thing they ever read won’t phase me; a dozen reviewers saying that might. After all, publishing is subjective, and while there are multiple people involved in the process of bringing a book to market, ultimately the fact that a book was published means roughly three people liked something about it: a literary agent, the acquiring editor, and the publisher if they have to approve the editor’s acquisition. The fact that a book was published, even by a major publishing house, does not guarantee the book is fabulous, just that roughly three people in the right place liked it. And that’s the value of reviews; they help tell readers how many other readers like a book.

Can a single review convince me not to read a book, though? Possibly, under the right circumstances. If I really, really am looking forward to and committed to reading a book, one negative review or even multiple aren’t going to sway me. The uncertainty comes if I am only sort of looking forward to a book, or if I am on the fence about it. In that case, a single review might influence me, but it’s rare: the review would have to mention aspects of the book that would make me very certain I would not enjoy the book, and the review probably has to come from a reviewer I know and trust. A random review on Amazon probably won’t stop me from picking up a book. A assertion from my co-blogger that the book is awful has much more weight.

Authors still shouldn’t worry about negative reviews. Not everyone will like every book, and the very point of reviews is to help the right readers pick up a book, the ones most likely to enjoy it. I just realized that in all the discourse around negative reviews, I (among authors) seemed to be claiming that a negative review would never influence our reading selections– and, of course, that isn’t true. However, some negative reviews are nothing to panic over; a book isn’t going to lose all its potential readers and destroy the career of its author because a small percentage of people who read it didn’t like it.

Briana

25 thoughts on “Ok, a Negative Review Might Actually Make Me Not Read Your Book

  1. femaleinferno says:

    I really think negative reviews aren’t anything to stress over – as long as they are REAL reviews and offer a critical and constructive opinion.

    Sometimes negative reviews have influenced my decision not to buy a book; but in those cases it was confirming a hunch I had after reading a blurb.

    In cases where I may have not entirely enjoyed a book and given it a low rating, it is balanced with pros and cons. Plus, I will still feature the book to help with possible future sales through exposure and creating a dialogue on the subject matter.

    As you stated, reading is subjective and opinions vary greatly, as do the reasons we read. Authors are selling a product at the end of the day and understand that, and get a spectrum of reactions from their writing. Negative reviews still promote their work, start discussions, and could possibly offer aspects to apply in the future to improve their writing.

    Negative reviews can be a great marketing tool if you view them as such. I’ve even seen authors use negative reviews to their advantage, like when actors react to mean tweets.

    I know writing is a personal journey and the authors emotions are strongly connected to their work, so it’s difficult to come under criticism, but it is part and parcel of publishing your work. It’s there to entertain, inform, and come under public scrutiny. Preparing yourself for as much before getting published can make all the difference.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I would definitely stay far away from looking at any kind of negative review as an author, even if I understood not everyone likes every book and understood that, you know, I probably didn’t write the Great American Novel and there WERE things I could improve. I would be too depressed by seeing the criticism! So I think authors should keep in mind whether they can handle negative reviews or should just block them out of their life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • femaleinferno says:

        I understand how comments could be scarring, but I was looking at the situation from more of a marketing standpoint – the demographics of the negative reviewers may help identify your niche market. Say, if most of the negative reviews came from a certain age group, or location, it can help you tweak a marketing campaign (eliminating targeting that demographic) and spend your budget where it will give you the most return on investment. Especially if you are self published, or are taking on extra marketing activities outside of a traditionally published contract. I’ve seen this work with a few self published authors I know very successfully.

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  2. Georgiana says:

    I read so many negative reviews about Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami and they only made me read the book even more 🙂 I wanted to read the book from the moment I first heard about it, and fortunately my experience was very different compared to those negative reviews … I loved it!

    When someone writes a review there’s so much more than writing about the book – it depends on the personal expectations, the reading history (eg. if it’s the first time (s)he reads a magical realism book after reading mostly romance), and even the personal context plays a role. So a review is just a snapshot of what a person thought at a particular time about the book … maybe reading the same book few months earlier / later would results in a totally different review.

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  3. _tirilu says:

    Great post, Briana!
    I have to admit that I don’t think that I pay too much attention to reviews when I’m buying a book – mostly. I like to make up my own mind about books.

    Then again there are times where I do read reviews and I pay attention. I think it’s that I’m easily discouraged. I like reading constructive critisism because I’d like to think that I pay attention while reading books and read criticly. That’s especially true for hyped books.

    Mostly, I think, that there are certain reviewers that I take seriously and I listen when they tell me certain points about a book. Certain reviewers just value the same things as you do and that can discourage. Others might value other things and then it’s not that important.

    I think that negative reviews can dissuade people from reading books but they can also encourage them to read them. Surely it’s not nice for an author to have their book been reviewed negatively but then again, I guess you gotta be able to take criticism if you wanna be an author.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I feel as if I usually have a set idea of what books I am interested in, and I don’t really look at reviews with the specific goal of deciding what to read, but if I see 50 people give a book 2 stars, it is definitely something I will take into account! And I agree, it depends on the reviewer as well and whether I usually agree with their assessments.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    Interesting article. Funnily enough, I am more likely to pick up a book if I have seen negative reviews, provided they are constructive and explanitary, as I am curious to find out the extent to which I may agree or disagree with the opinions of other reviewers. I think negativity becomes a problem when it is done just for the sake of it, and there is no propper explanation given as to why the book wasn’t to the reviewer’s taste. If an author has made the effort to write a book, then readers owe it to the author to be constructive, it’s a two way street really.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, I think I generally see a mix of reviews for books, and it’s really helpful for me know what people think are the flaws of the book, so I can decide whether I would be bothered by them or not. If I saw only positive reviews, it would be a bit strange. I mostly pass on a book if I was on the fence about it and see A LOT of negative reviews.

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  5. Jeimy @ ANovelidea says:

    Great Post, Briana! I usually do not look at negative reviews but when a book has had an overwhelming number of bad reviews back to back (counting on most recent reviews), I do have to admit that gives me pause. I usually read through them to see if there is a common theme as to why they reviewed it so poorly and make my decision based on that.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, that’s a good point! If there’s something specific all the reviews are pointing out as a flaw, and that’s something that bothers me, that’s when the reviews are most likely to influence me.

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  6. Alli the Book Giraffe says:

    I actually think negative reviews can help people negatively and positively. For instance, if a review says they don’t like a book because of the flowery writing. The reader of that review could love flowery writing, meaning they just found a book they would like based on a negative review. I think the only time a negative review makes me not read a book is if they name something in the book that I don’t like in books.
    If I see a ton of negative reviews, it will make me not want to buy the book before reading it, which isn’t a bad thing! I might get the book from the library before my purchase.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, I think negative reviews are not inherently a bad thing because it’s the content of the review that matters. Did the person one star it because they hate the main character’s name or something ridiculous??? Or they just don’t like mysteries, but I do?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. ashley says:

    Sometimes negative reviews are difficult especially when people aren’t actually writing reviews and just giving books 1-star ratings for whatever reason, which is a practice that unfortunately is still going on.

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  8. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    A negative review would be a dealbreaker only if it mentioned one of my dealbreakers (which are… probably instalove? I don’t have many dealbreakers actually) OR if it’s by someone whose reading taste I trust.

    But in general, I think authors don’t need to worry about negative reviews unless they are pointing out something fatal – like half the book didn’t get published or there were 20 obvious typos in a chapter, etc

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, negative reviews can be very personal that way! A lot of times I see people complain about slow pacing, and that is something that doesn’t bother me! (Assuming it’s done well, like in The Starless Sea. I guess there are some books where nothing happens and nothing else is making up for nothing happening….)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Zezee says:

    Great points you made there and I totally agree. Like you, I am hard on YA novels, so if I see a bunch of negative reviews about one of them (depending on what’s being said), I’m most likely to avoid it.
    I’m one of those who is motivated by some negative reviews to read a book, but sometimes they do turn me away from a book, and in those cases, I consider the review as a warning. If it turns me away from a book, it’s because there’s something mentioned about the writing or the story that I know I’ll not like and will totally sour my reading experience with the book.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes! And I think being turned away from the book can kind of be a plus for the author, too. I’d rather have people read my book who will like it, not have people who know they probably won’t like it, read it anyway, and then give it another bad review!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Julie Anna's Books says:

    This is a good point! When I personally am deciding on a book and haven’t heard from other bloggers, I do like to read two-star reviews, then three-star (personally three-star is good for me, but I feel like they tend to be the most honest about what they liked and didn’t like in a book). It would have to be a really, really low rating to deter me from reading it (in addition to what reviewers are saying), but in general, the negative reviews do help me pick up books.

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  11. Sammie @ The Bookwyrm's Den says:

    Great post! I completely agree with everything you said. I actually tend not to read books that have under a 3.5 Goodreads rating if they have a substantial amount of reviews, so I can’t say negative reviews don’t affect me. Similarly, if someone I share a lot of bookish tastes with rates something low, there’s a chance, depending on why they rated it low, that I won’t pick up that book. But that’s a really specific instance.

    In the majority of cases, like you said, authors really shouldn’t worry about it. It goes back to the idea that not everyone is going to love your books. I’d be super suspicious if I found a book with only four and five star ratings, because that’s not realistic. That would make me think something shady was going on!

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