When a Bad Book Needs a Good Spanking

January 12, 2011

Yesterday I read Valerie Geary’s “My Non-Quandary About Book Reviews” where she discusses the struggle of published and aspiring writers with posting a bad review for a book. 

When a bad book needs a good spanking, I don’t give it.  I can’t.  I don’t give bad book reviews.  Period.  Why you ask? (Whether you did or didn’t I’m gonna tell you.)  There’s a multitude of reasons. 

First off, I don’t want the Karma Fairies smiting down my publishing career before I even get started.  Sure it sounds like a copout to say such a thing but I can’t imagine putting someone else’s work down will further my career in any way.  Like Desmond Tutu says, “If I diminish you, I diminish myself.”  (It’s my new philosophy in my journey to seek inner peace.  No seriously, I’m trying to find myself in all this mess we call life.)

Secondly, I’m not a professional book reviewer nor is my blog about book reviews.  Sure I give the occasional book review on my blog but they are more about sharing my excitement about a book I love to fellow writers.

Another reason I don’t spank books, I don’t know how to give a bad review without slamming it and pointing out where the author went wrong.  I GET ANGRY when I read a book that feels technically wrong.  Things that if my critique partner sent this to me I’d rip her a new one.  What angers me even more is HOW DID THIS CRAP GOT PUBLISHED?!?  *taking a deep breath*

So here’s my problem with writing a bad review for a book,  I can’t do it tactfully without my emotion spilling onto the page.  I even tried to Google how to write a bad book review and couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.  Valarie followed up her book review post above with “5 Dos and Don'ts for Writing Book Reviews” giving a few basic guidelines when writing a book review.  I’ve got the basics down.  I want to know how to write a BAD book review without; hurting the author’s feelings, inciting a riot from those who did love the book or worse, coming off like an arrogant book snob who’s an expert on the craft of writing a novel when I’m not even published, must less an editor or agent.  If you write/find a straightforward  “How to Write a Bad Book Review” let me know.

If I was NOT a professional writer, I’d be happy to write bad reviews but I am, so I don’t.  As a writer I read books on a whole different level.  It’s not a bad thing but I find I am pickier about what I read.  And for the sake of saving my friends a few bucks, I DO want to tell them which books I would NOT recommend.  Star ratings are generic I know but I do rate my Shelfari bookshelf books in hopes to vaguely guide some people.   

1 star = Heck no, don’t waste your money or time!
2 stars = Why do they even have a 2 stars?  I never rate with a 2.  What’s the point?
3 stars = I thought it was alright, people who like X subject would like it better.
4 stars = Really good book, you should check it out.
5 stars = You’re an idiot if you have not read this book.   

A part of me would like to start a blog page and just list the books I would not recommend but then that seems arrogant in some way.  I’ll keep trying to devise a tactful way of sharing my distastes for a particular book but until then, just search for my star rating on Shelfari bookshelf.

EDIT:  More thoughts on the subject:
Elle Strauss, her post aptly named "Watch Your Mouth"
Nicole McLaughlin writes "Sometimes Books Suck"  I couldn't have said it better.  Cute cartoon to boot.

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  1. I follow the same reasoning. I let my friends know if I don't like something, but I don't post it on my blog. I'd rather shout out to books I do like. I don't even list a book I've read on Goodreads unless I can give it a 4 or 5.

    Interestingly, I posted on something similar today!

  2. Agreed. And, like Elle, I only put books on Goodreads that I give 4 or 5 stars. Other opinions I share with crit partners or other friends, not online.

  3. Elle - It's just not a good practice, though I love it when I can dish on a book with a writer friend. It helps me understand what the heck was in that agents mind.

    Tricia - Good, bad or ugly I put all the books I read on my Shelfari. Its like my trophy shelf. I need the word to know I'm a reader. I feel like my one star is the best I can do to slam a book without hurting anyone.

  4. And the reality is that it's so subjective. I read a popular book recently, and it left me ehh-ish. One of my critmates read the same book and sparkly-heart adored it.

  5. Um, that would be "WORLD to know I'm a reader" not WORD. Ugh, editing.

  6. I feel the same way. I won an ARC of a book that's been getting great reviews, but I didn't think it was all that great. Just okay. I really don't want to post a Goodreads review slamming this book because of all the reasons you listed.

  7. I've stepped away from starring. The writing world is small, and there's a lot I can learn/appreciate from all books, even ones that weren't my favorite.

  8. Starring can be a tricky business. I personally prefer to do an out of ten system, because it gives me more room to assess the books various strengths and weaknesses.

    Then again, I still get tetchy about giving bad reviews. Personally, I always feel like there's enough negativity out there without my helping it.

  9. So far I haven't reviewed any books on my blog but if I do, I'm sure it'll be one I love and want to share with others. I agree with your points about not posting bad reviews. Not only because I'm a writer, but because I'd feel bad doing it.

  10. I agree, I cant bash someones creation on the internet. Now give me a phone with a friend on the other end and I can go to town...I am a nice person though!

    Ironically, after our discussion yesterday I was prompted to write something in the same context on my blog that I had been thinking about.

    All this has made me want to do is read that book!! lol

  11. Karen, it IS subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all that.

    Melissa – It’s best to dish with a friend and let it go. Publicly it’s not worth the negativity/backlash that can occur. But I hate that I don’t feel like I can voice my opinion so that’s why they have 1 star.

    Caroline – 100% agree! I am forcing myself to finish the book so I can learn exactly what bugs me and make sure not to do it in my writing.

    Dominique – I would prefer a 10 star system to. Or better yet the percentage grading system. 90%- higher A, etc and grade it on all aspects: voice, plot, over all ability, etc.

    Ghenet I’m so nice, I hate hurting people. I’m just not the malicious type you know? And like Dominique said here, there’s enough negativity out there.

    Thanks for all your comments. I'm so happy to know I'm not the only worries about this.

  12. Nicole you sneaky little thing. You got your comment up there before I could write mine. I'm a nice person too. I just don't have a mean bone in my body, well unless you pick on my kids then I can get really nasty. Girl if you read the book email me and we'll dish until the cows come home. I'm going to sneak over to your blog and see what you wrote.

  13. I have a hard time writing a book review if it's not a book I enjoyed. If it's really bad, I won't finish it. I go by the policy, you can't talk about it, unless you know about it. If I haven't finished it, then there's nothing to say. I usually do finish books, but there are some that would just not happen without a great deal of pain and grinding of jaw.

  14. Bethany, that is exactly why I am forcing myself to finish this book. I can't talk about it with a clear conscience unless I read the whole thing. I have another book that just came in the mail that I'm wanting to read and I told myself I could once I finished this one. Ugh.

  15. I totally could have written this. In fact, I have written it a few times. I've been struggling with this a lot, but in the end I just want good karma. I'm not a book reviewer or critic, I just like talking about books, so I'm just going to say good things.

    There are some books I have WANTED to slam, but I save that for private conversations.

  16. Jessica - It's a HUGE struggle with the lot of us. And if you can't rag on something to your friends then who can you tell? You can't put negativity out there in the universe without some of it coming back at you. Thanks for stopping by.

  17. I totally agree Dana. And as you know, I have no problem venting about books I don't like in the privacy of our email accounts hehehe. But in public, not a chance. Also, I can't help but think, what if that's me someday? What if my book doesn't resonate and people can't understand how it achieved publication? There's a writer behind that bad book, and I wouldn't want to do that to them.

  18. Hmmm...you've given me an idea for an additional post... :) The thing is, for the most part I like the books I choose to read. And even when I find myself not liking a book all that much, I can usually find something redeeming about it. But now I'm wondering... how does one write a bad review? *wanders off to ponder this dilemma*

  19. Diana - Yes in the privacy of an email, or text (wink wink) is one thing. I'll admit I'll probably end up dishing on a bad book with a fellow friend, like you and that's okay. I've also decided it is okay to say publicly I did not like a book, I will just NOT go into detail why.

    Valerie - there are two types of books I don't like. The first type I'd label as "just not my type of book." It's written well but just not my tastes the second type is just plain bad. I mean poorly written, characters inconsistent, plot all over the place, emotions being forced on the reader, etc. THAT is the type of book I'd like to see reviewed in a politically correct way. Your original post inspired a lot of offset posts. I look forward to reading what you come up with. I think you can meet the challenge on how to review a BAD book. ;)


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