On The Baltimore Sun's book blog (www.baltimoresun.com/readstreet) we've noted the recent discussions about bloggers who post tough reviews -- and get hammered. Recently, a blogger dissed a self-published author's book, and got a snide, anonymous comment, as well as threats of legal action for posting an excerpt and the book's cover. Many bloggers are justifiably outraged, and some note that they do not post negative reviews, to avoid offending anyone.
Do you shy away from giving a bad review? Have you ever had an angry response from an author? Is the reaction worse from self-published authors?

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I've never had he pleasure of a negative response to my reviews. However, I try to pay careful attention to how I word my review to provide an honest opinion of a book without being mean to the writer/author. I rarely review self-published work. I think honesty is best and those authors published or self-published should realize that their books are not going to appeal to everyone equally. Some books I love, others I dislike, but there are some that I like certain things about the book and dislike other things. The old saying goes: You can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all the time.
Well said Serena.

I"ve never had a negative reaction to a review, but I have had authors who were incredibly gracious to my negative reviews. They can take the criticism well.

I also work hard to keep my tone fair....I won't hesitate to say a book doesn't work for me but I don't trash the author and will look for the positives.
Well the last couple of days certainly have been *ahem* interesting. Things like this pop up more often than we think. The blog owner in question, in this instance, spoke up about it. And I'm glad she did. Lit Blog people tend to circle the wagons and support our own. Now as to your questions....

1. Nope, never shied away from a bad review. But I will say this - a negative review for a self-published book is going to be different than a negative review of a book coming from a publishing house. Why? Quite honestly, I suppose it's because the self-published author has already been through a bit of agony not being able to find a publisher. In most cases, I suppose they thought long and hard before spending their own money to get what they have to say out there to the world at large. They've been through a lot of rejection, probably didn't have enough money to hire a big-time copy editor, nor did they have the guidance that a publishing house would have given them, had their book been picked up. So I lean towards constructive criticism in those cases and as bad as the book might be, I try to find something good to say about it as well, just to temper the not-so-good.

Now a book that came through a publishing house is a horse of a different color. When I read a sloppy book with grammatical errors, spelling errors, holes in the plot, bad dialogue, etc, I'll generally let them have it with both guns. With all the resources available to them, there is no excuse for that.

2. I've gotten a couple of angry responses from authors on Amazon, but what are they going to do? Vote down my ranking? (Now that's something I really care about, ha). Although......there has been a case (or maybe two) of Amazon reviewers getting sued. Isn't that amazing??

3. Self-published authors don't have the threats of their publicists hanging over their heads, so they tend to have less restrained reactions to criticism, in my opinion. With all the time, heartache, money, etc they've put in to self-publishing, they are so vested in the book that emotions override.

All of this is certainly a relevant issue in the blog world. I, for one, will not shy away from giving a negative review when warranted. If I only give good reviews, I feel like I'm serving up a big dish of bland oatmeal every single day. Boring. And no one who is an avid reader believes that all the books we read are so wonderful. An honest lit blogger will certainly, in the end, garner a heck of a lot more respect than the blogger who only reports "nice" reviews.
Actually, I feel like I see bloggers bring this topic up every few weeks. I probably read too many blogs. ;)

But good insights about self-publishing.
(I'm late to the conversation as usual, but here's my $0.02). I disagree with judging self-published books by a different standard (though it does explain a lot of reviews I've seen):

Self-published books are at a disadvantage in terms of quality because of how they get into print, but they are competing for the same readers and the same money as those that come from publishing houses. If they are going to be competitive, they have to be as good if not better than those from publishing houses. The readers of a book review do not necessarily know that the book is self-published (there are so many self-pub services and imprints that you really have to know what you are looking for to figure it out and most readers don't know to look). Also, the self-pub authors often (rarely?) realize that they are being reviewed by a different standard and then don't understand what hit them when they get a review judging them by the same standard as published authors (or why their sales never take off if their book is so "good").

If you are going to review self-pub books differently, then you owe it to your readers to tell them that a) it's a self-pub book and b) you're giving the book a pass on things that you wouldn't give a conventionally published book a pass on.

I have been on self-pub forums and it is not safe to assume that all of these authors have thought long and hard about the decision to self-pub. Many don't realize how the industry works in the first place, so they don't realize that printing a book is different than publishing a book. Many are convinced that the publishing industry is a conspiracy (rather than their writing is not at a competitive level) and give up very early in the submission process. Many write their first book and won't let go, not realizing that many successful writers have 4, 5, even 10 books in the closet before the first one that got published.

As a general rule (and despite what my e-mail inbox would suggest), I don't review self-pub for these reasons and because of the tendency to give self-pub a pass that would normally not be given to other books I cannot trust the reviews for self-pub either.
" If I only give good reviews, I feel like I'm serving up a big dish of bland oatmeal every single day. Boring. And no one who is an avid reader believes that all the books we read are so wonderful." I agree w/ you, Michele. As an avid reader, Michele, I appreciate honesty in a review which is often a rare thing : (. I think if it is all frosting no one is going to enjoy the taste anymore, afterall, sometimes you need a little pizza or broccoli. lol.
Dave again. These are great comments. Would you mind if I post them on the Sun's Read Street blog? (If you add a post, please let me know, too.) Thanks
Post away.....we're not shy! :)
I think it's fine to write a negative review as long as it doesn't get personal, and all of the negative reviews I've read have been that way - they've been well written, thoughtful and careful not to attack the author. I also think it's the reviewer's responsibility to be honest with her audience. I've written several bad reviews and have never gotten any response from the author or publisher. I think I would just ignore it if I did. An author did post a comment thanking me for reviewing her book and my review was only lukewarm.
(Feel free to post this, if you'd like.)
I write reviews on nonfiction books, almost exclusively. I have not written a negative review of any book, as I have been blessed with books preselected for me by publicists I trust, and by publishers who send me their best business books. It is my experience that every book has some positives to praise, and I focus my review on those strong points. No book is perfect, and no book is so comprehensive that the author discusses all aspects of the subject matter. I always write a paragraph or two on what I consider the power of the book, and who the book will benefit by reading it.

I always send a link to my review to the author, publicist, and publishers involved with the review request. So far, touch wood, all of my replies have been happy ones. Many of my reviews have had quotations pulled for publicity purposes. Most of the reviews are linked from the author's site and blog.
Hi Dave,

I think that it is important to point out some of the flaws or negatives, when writing a book review. It is also important to include many of the good points.
Sometimes I find it difficult to read and review certain books because of certain content and/or it’s not a genre that I am very familiar with.

A little bit of constructive criticism never harmed anyone. It’s how you say it, not so much what you say.

I think it is important to keep in mind that it is only my opinion and others could write a completely different review and rate it very differently.

Up to this point, I’ve found the ‘bad’ points of a book to be: insufficient editing, story flow and pacing.
So far the books themselves are ok or at least have the potential to be a good book.
I try to find good points, a few negatives if there are any and let my blog readers decide for themselves.

I try to be respectful of author and their books because I know that a lot of time and heart has been poured into it and to each individual author, it means a great deal. Even if the general public does not feel the same way, it is still someone’s 'baby'.

As an independent book reviewer, I am still learning and improving my own technique.
I hope that I am informing my readers correctly on the books that I review.

So far I haven't had any 'angry' comments from authors, only happy ones.
Let’s hope it stays that way!

If you'd like to quote me, please do so.

-Bobbie Crawford-McCoy

Book Reviews By Bobbie
There have been a few books that I've read for review that I REALLY didn't like. To the point that I struggled to even find something positive to write about. And that, for me, is rare. I still have one book that I haven't written something for yet because I'm trying to find something good to talk about.

I haven't really had any issue with negative comments per se. A couple of comments have pissed me off just because the person commenting seemed to have forgotten that it was MY blog and MY personal opinion about what I thought was a good choice for a certain age group.

Seriously, if you're going to publish a comment, at least have the guts enough to leave your name. That drives me bananas.


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