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Axe to Grind: Negative Reviews – Where to draw the line

Axe to Grind

As a book blogger with over two years of experience under my belt I know that it’s impossible to please everyone. Authors love you when you post a glowing review but negative ones are a whole other kettle of fish.

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As a reviewer I strive for balance; I think it’s important to be respectful of authors because books are their babies after all, if I told you that your kid was ugly you probably wouldn’t react very well now would you (with good reason!)? However, my commitment is to my followers and for me, the most important part about a review is honesty. My followers read my reviews because they value my opinion and if I falsely lead them to believe that I enjoyed a book when I didn’t my credibility suffers as a result.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook then you know that recently I had an author drop out of my Holiday Foreplay event because of a negative review that she received from one of my associate reviewers. This is the first time that this has NEVER happened to me so, needless to say, I took it quite seriously. Deciding to add members to my team was a huge decision for me and one that I didn’t take lightly because I was worried about losing control of my content and of situations like this. Even though I didn’t personally write the review I have to take some responsibility for it because it did appear on my site and the fallout impacts my reputation. I won’t name names as to who the reviewer was nor the author but if you want to know feel free to message me in private and I will share this information. This post isn’t meant to put the blame on the author nor the reviewer but rather to shed some light on a tricky situation and to hopefully help other reviewers. Over the years I’ve received countless e-mails from fellow bloggers asking for advice about exactly this. Should you or shouldn’t you pull a negative review because an author/PR rep/publicist asked you to?

My answer is no, you shouldn’t. In this case I contradict myself because I did out of respect for the author and because I didn’t want to cause more fuss than the situation warranted. I gave the associate reviewer in question the option of revising their review but ultimately I INVITED this author to participate in my event and tasked a member of my team with reviewing the book to help lighten my blogging load. I am partially to blame for this situation because I assigned a novel that was outside of said reviewer’s reading preferences so I knew that there was a chance that the feedback would be negative. That being said, I personally didn’t think there was anything wrong with the review. There was no author bashing in it and the book still received a 3/5 star rating which isn’t horrible in my opinion. However, I agree that it wasn’t very objective and had minimal substance. The reviewer repeatedly said that they didn’t like the novel but the reasons why were unclear. There was very little mention about the plot, character development, writing style, story arc, etc. The fact that these elements were missing also impacted my decision to remove the review from my blog. The complaint fell in a gray area and I’d rather be safe than sorry. It is the Canadian way after all!

As for where the author is concerned, in my opinion, she could have handled the negative feedback better. In her e-mail to me she mentioned how she strives to “eliminate all negativity from her life” and couldn’t in good conscience contribute to a blog that didn’t appreciate her book. I see that as a lack of professionalism on her part and think that her expectations are unrealistic. I’m not an author so correct me if I’m wrong but, anyone who is should be able to take the good with the bad. Again, it’s impossible to please everyone and people have a right to their opinions just so long as they are constructive and not inflammatory. Also, it’s been my experience that negative reviews often generate more buzz and sales than the 5 star ones so if anything, she should have seen this as an opportunity to attract a larger audience. I found it noteworthy that before I removed the review, it received a surprisingly large amount of traffic because of the controversy. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? The fact that this author pulled out because she thought that I was setting her up to fail is not only insulting but hurtful. It implied that my goal is to bash authors rather than promote them which couldn’t be further from the truth. If I dislike an author’s book I almost always give them a second chance to change my mind because often enough debut novels aren’t up to par; it’s their first crack at it so it’s to be expected that there are improvements to be made. Isn’t that how we learn, from our mistakes?

Mistakes

The response that I received from my followers and surprisingly, even a few authors, was overwhelmingly in favour of the reviewer and I can’t thank you enough for your support and feedback. I was actually commended for opening myself up to criticism and for taking ownership of the situation. So, in case you don’t follow me via social media, I’m posting this for the world to see and offering you the opportunity to chime in. Should a blogger pull a negative review at an author’s request? In my opinion the answer is no; respect is a two-way street and I have just as much right to my opinion as an author has the right to publish a book that doesn’t please everyone.

Carmel Signature

About the Blogger
I review Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance books with a focus all things werewolf. Based out of Ottawa, Canada

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Owner, designer and main blogger behind Rabid Reads. Avid book reader, snowboard bunny, video gamer and Supernatural fan. I love all things paranormal, werewolves especially. I also offer virtual assistance to authors and webmaster services to bloggers. Oh, and I’m Canadian, eh!

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31 Comments

  1. hi Carmel! i remember how you advised me before about sticking to my guns when a publicist wanted me to remove my review from Amazon. i’ll never forget that experience and how you helped me out. thank you! <3

  2. i don’t think a reviewer should delate or remove a review even negative one as long as it’s done with honesty and politness
    i did read book with a lesser score and i enjoyed them , other time i disliked them. review gave us an insight but it’s not answer because it’s an personnal opinion…. author should accept that ( and for 3/5 is good…like only not love but not all books can become our own favourite either)

  3. Hi Carmel. I agree with you 100%. You cannot please everyone and no you will not always like a book that is written. I agree honesty is the best policy. How can we remain credible if all of the reviews that are posted are outstanding? It just doesn’t happen. Now I always try to find something good within a book but sometimes you can’t. I would never “bash” an author’s work and I did read the review before it was removed and I do not think that your associate reviewer in anyway bashed this author. There were no personal attacks once so ever. I agree this author is lacking in the professionalism department. The only way to grow and build yourself up as a better author and person in general is to take the critism and learn from it. Very well put Carmel. I agree and support you 100%

  4. I respect your opinion, and that comes from knowing that your reviews are fair and respectful. I read the review in question, and believe me, I don’t see anything wrong at all; it was never personal and never disrespectful to the author. And you right, should be thanking your associate, her book has received more attention than if the rating were have been 5 flaming stars…LOL
    Maybe she’s a marketing genius…LOL

  5. @Ao Bibliophile You’re welcome. I actually thought of you when I wrote this post. :)

  6. @miki *phew* I’m really to hear that there are other reviewers out there who support my point of view. I don’t like writing negative reviews; I go into each and every book with a open mind but if I don’t like it, I don’t like it. What can you do?

  7. @Kristen My Bookish Fairy Tale After I removed the review she actually did a complete 180. It kind of felt like a petulant child getting their way. But to be fair to both her and Josh and removed the review and didn’t publish her guest post. Fair’s fair after all.

  8. @Loupe Duffy LMAO I never thought of it that way!

  9. This is a great topic. There are a lot of bloggers out there who will not post a negative review and I think it’s unfair because the review is supposed to be honest. I’ve lucked out with liking every review book I’ve received so I haven’t come across this.

    I write low rated reviews but I don’t bash. I just posted a 1 star review the other day but in it I clearly stated WHY I chose the rating. Nothing negative about the book or the author, it just didn’t fit my personal preferences.

    An author knows going into this that some people won’t like the book. There isn’t ONE book ever written that every single person likes. It’s just not possible. Everyone should learn from criticism, not just choose to ignore it. You did the right thing. Only, I would have left the review up and just had them add the reasoning behind it. Or had a different associate review it. But then, that may not have made them happy either so sometimes it’s a no win situation anyway.

  10. @Mandee Wyrick I think my associate reviewer is going to revise the review. A few of his words were easily taken out of context and I think expanding on the meaning behind them would change the overall impression of the review.

  11. How is 3/5 stars a bad review? In my book, that’s an average rating. I could see being upset if the review eviscerated the book or bashed the author, but that kind of hatefulness wouldn’t be allowed on your site. I know that a book is an author’s baby and that an average review can be upsetting for that reason. Still, I don’t think that’s enough to justify yanking a review. As you said, that would make your readers trust you less.

    Not everyone is going to enjoy every book. That’s why publishers have a whole range of books out there on millions of subjects. Many times I have read glowing reviews of books that I didn’t like and wondered how there could be such a huge difference of opinion. That’s life. That’s people.

    I’m glad you stand up for your integrity as a review site.

  12. I know this is a difficult topic in the book blogging world, but I completely agree with you, Carmel. There is no reason you should remove a negative review provided that there is no author bashing and there is ample reasons as to why a reader did not favor a book. In the book industry, all readers aren’t going to like the same book, and I would hope that most authors know that fact. So I hope you’re able to stick to your guns when it comes to other negative reviews because when giving your honest opinion, it’s not always going to be positive.

  13. I know there are a lot of problems with mixed reviews now. I’m always a little anxious when I post one, and at the same time we shouldn’t be, it’s not normal. It’s our opinion, and we can’t love everything,even if we want to. I therefore don’t think we should blame the reviewer, even if it’s not what he used to read, why couldn’t he try something new? Sometimes we’re surprised, sometimes no. And as many say, a review is for the reader, not the author. I think it’s terrible to have to take off a review because of someone. It’s kind of sad… After that you’re right when you post a negative review it’s interesting to explain why and what you dislike in it. The good points like the bad ones. But otherwise I think we should be able to do what we want.

  14. @Keslynn Exactly! 3/5 is a pretty average review and I don’t understand how an author would be offended by receiving that as a rating.

  15. @DJL I generally do stick to my guns. This is the first time that I’ve ever pulled a review and it was more because I invited the author than anything else. Under normal circumstances, like if I’d purchased the book, well then I can rate/review the book honestly.

  16. @Melliane I blog in my spare time and receive no compensation for my reviews so, based on those facts alone I think I have a right to my opinion.

  17. I think you handled this situation admirably. As a general rule, I would not pull a review because an author asked and I do think it is unprofessional of authors to ask. Our first responsibility is to our readers and we would be doing them a disservice if we recommended books we didn’t like. At the same time, I respect authors and can imagine how hard it is to deal with a negative review! For that reason, I try to always temper negative reviews by indicating that the review is my personal opinion and by mentioning other types of readers who might enjoy the book more than I did.

  18. @Carmel @ Rabid Reads

    I totally agree with you.

  19. Well said Carmel. I think negative reviews are required. The reviewer should have opted out of reviewing or been more neutral and precise in the review.

  20. I completely agree with you Carmel. Authors need to realize that a 3 star review is not a crisis. I preach this all the time. Learning from a review is key to success. I wish more authors would grasp this. As an author myself, I love the feedback no matter the rating. Heck, I’ve even gotten some 2 star reviews that set me straight to write better and more effectively.

    Kudos to you for being so honest and straightforward. You’re awesome and I always love reading your reviews. You find some great books :).

    Thanks for sharing this. You ROCK!

  21. Carmel I agree we have to be balanced in thing and I know that if I have to post a review with something I didn’t love I always try to find good things to point out as well as what I didn’t like.
    We are given a book in exchange for an HONEST review, if we aren’t honest in our opinion then we are just flunkies for the publishers. That isn’t what readers come to the blog for.
    Well said and thanks for this post! Carin

  22. @William Yatscoff It’s a slippery slope either way.

  23. Thanks @BK !

  24. @Carin It’s crazy how often we have to repeat “honest” when reviewing books. It’s in our guidelines, reviews, e-mails to authors/publicists and the message still doesn’t seem to get across properly.

  25. As long as you are respectful and honest in your review, then I don’t think you should take it down. However, I can definitely see how giving the book to a reviewer that doesn’t normally like that genre would be unfair to the author.

    On a side note, if you can’t stand any negativity in your life, I don’t think becoming a published author is a great career choice.

  26. I agree 100% with this post. The only thing I would have done differently is not remove the review. (I didn’t get to read it) If it was the reviewer’s opinion and they were respective in the review I wouldn’t see a problem keeping it.

    There are actually times when a “negative” review gets my attention more than a 5 star review. I’ve read books that got low ratings just to see if I agreed.

  27. @DoingDewey I always try to be generous in my negative reviews by emphasizing what I did like more than what I didn’t like to help lessen the blow.

  28. @Krista Exactly! An author messaged me over this and she was like there aren’t many careers out there where you open yourself up to criticism. I never really thought about it that way but it makes sense.

  29. @Jennifer TheBookNympho I know that’s true because you’ve told me a few times that you were gonna read a book after I wrote a so-so review out of curiosity.

  30. I came across this topic on Twitter. I think you did what you felt was right but in general I don’t think a writer should be able to intimidate a reviewer. The truth is we won’t please everyone and if it simply is stated that this reviewer normally didn’t read this genre, that should be all that is done. As a reader and writer, I’d rather see honest, open reviews. It’s not a negative in our lives to have a negative review. It’s only one when we take it poorly

  31. Hi Carmel! *waves*

    I agree completely with you. I don’t know if I would’ve pulled the review (no idea what the book was). But here’s my opinion on this huge debate: if you’re going to take the risk and sell the story/book you’re writing, expect negative reviews. Are they respectful? Do the authors of those reviews talk only about your book? Then be sad a little that someone doesn’t like it and says so, but be a little happy at the same time that he/she sat down and read even part of it, but don’t speak up. Don’t even say “thank you for your review”. Just move on. Is is offensive towards yourself as a person? Then you should defend yourself.

    I believe it was more than unprofessional that this author decided not to participate on your event based on that review. Plus, like many, many others said before me, a 3/5 stars review isn’t a bad one.

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