So, I’ve been mulling things over after reading Jenny Trout’s Blog about the “Be Nice” vein beating away in the body of Writing for Masses. For those not in the know, “Be Nice” basically means don’t leave a negative review because of how it could potentially mar the career of a budding author.
I am of the school of thought that a negative review can be positive, if it elaborates on why the book sucked. To say, “This sucked shitbuckets.” doesn’t inform potential readers or the author (who may check reviews in hopes of gleaning some sort of insight to a random person’s mind, ahem, I know nothing of that) of things that the original reader didn’t care for? To say something along the lines of:
“Chapter 3 was triggering, Chapter 4 had stilted dialog between the two leads, and the whole conversation with the waiter could have been cut. Chapter 10 redeemed the book a little until the male lead committed several felonies in the name of ‘lust.’ Chapter 11 didn’t move the plot along, neither did Chapter 12, but at least that had an interesting revelation of the female lead’s character. The ending didn’t have enough build up to be believable. Felt very contrived with a happy ever after no one deserved or earned. Felt kinda weird when it ended because all that build up for nothing.”
One can dislike the book, tell potential readers/author of the work why it didn’t work for you. This sort of review is considered Constructive Criticism and every author should desire any information that can improve their art, even if they don’t agree with the point of view.
Let me tell you a little story about a review I received 15 years ago that I still remember because it offended me. The story in question was a retelling of celtic myth with a Princess Bride twist of a story within a story. I looooooved this work so much, I started working on it my junior year of high school (and it’s still not finished… but one day!) until I got divorced. It was my baby.
That it was short is why I remember it so well.
The review I got said,
This is just a ripoff of Lord of the Rings. Try writing something original sometime.
This was before the movie was released and yes, I lived in a cave until I moved to Arizona for college and never read LotR or The Hobbit (although I had heard of The Hobbit) so to basically accuse me of purloining someone else’s story line (especially since I have never read it) just pissed me off royally. I asked for clarification and got none. So, to this day, even after watching LotR, the only things similar in my story to that of Tolkien’s work is that it’s medieval sword and sorcery fantasy. I’m okay with that. I consider my novel more Game of Thrones with less incest, but hey, the reviewer is entitled to his opinion.
So readers, if you’ve read a novel and found something that took you out of the story, let the author know. We live for that kind of feedback. If the author responds negatively, you can clarify further, or if the author comes off sounding very defensive, just keep the attention on the work and civil. Many times, these books are sacred texts to the writer, and to have it attacked is akin to knifing a baby in front of it’s mother. Tact goes a long ways.
As a reader, you are, of course, not obligated to write a review. Many choose not to, and that’s fine. Many authors, myself included, are just thrilled to have our work read when there are so many options out there for entertainment.
But if you really want to make an author’s day, tell them why you loathed or loved the story they poured out of their soul for your consumption. Those whys will help us write an even better next novel, and it will be due to your help.