September 1, 2020 , Tue

Okay, guys, this tutorial comes highly requested by the general community and I thought I’d bite the bullet and make it. So, you just read a book. It wasn’t great. You actually thought it was terrible– possibly the worst book you’ve ever read in your life.

The world needs to know that this book is Not Good. It’s not problematic or harmful or anything, it’s just THE WORST… for reasons. And you feel like you need to share this. To warn people. I get it, I do. We have limited amounts of time and no one wants to waste it reading bad books. So, here are the steps you need to take in order to not tag the author of the book in your negative review:

  1. Write the review.
  2. Post the review (optional step).

Now, Susan, I know you want to be helpful. You want the author to know where they went wrong and how they could improve. You’re trying to make sure this doesn’t happen again and that they learn from their mistakes. But at the same time, have you considered not… doing… that? Just a thought.

Because the thing is, Susan, reading is a uniquely personal experience.

We bring our own individual experiences to the table when reading. Our past, our tastes, our lives, our baggage and heartbreak, our likes and dislikes, the entirety of a palette that is truly unique to us, which means that what didn’t work for YOU could definitely work for someone else. So telling the author that you, personally, didn’t like their book is like saying to your friend who makes killer pumpkin pie that pumpkin pie is disgusting and that you prefer apple pie and that they should make that instead. Are you seeing the issue yet? Let’s try another angle.

Who are reviews for? Go ahead, think about it, I’ll wait… Nothing? They’re for other readers.

Reviews are for readers just like a review posted on Amazon about your new roller skates is for people who are also looking to buy roller skates. You want them to know that you think the skates were made well– the wheels turn easily and they’re super stylish. You aren’t emailing the maker of the skates telling them they did a good job on their product. They aren’t part of this conversation. This conversation is for the roller skate enthusiasts within the community who are deciding if they want this particular pair of roller skates, and, as an aside, while you liked these roller skates someone else still might think the wheels are too loose and that the colors are ugly. You see, Susan, again, reviews are subjective even if you think you’re being objective because you can’t speak for other people’s experiences and tastes.

Now, Susan, let’s talk about ego.

You walk into a doctor’s office because your knee has been hurting. You have experience with knee pain and your knee has hurt many times before over the years. You may have even googled knee pain and read all about the causes of it. The doctor takes you back and examines you. He tells you that you’re overextending yourself during your workouts and you’ve strained your muscle. You won’t then tell him, well, actually, you’ve googled this and you think you have a dislocated kneecap according to your research. You know why you won’t do this? Because you are some random person who has occasional knee pain, has studied Philosophy, and works in retail. You know who he is? He’s a trained physician who went to school for a decade to be able to diagnose issues that patients like you come in with. He is an expert in his field. You are not an expert in his field even though you’ve spent hours on reddit threads reading about people who also have knee pain. That is not equivalent knowledge.

So let’s apply that same logic to writers.

A writer has worked on their book and their craft for YEARS. Some of them have even gone to school specifically to learn about this process. They’ve attended workshops, worked with mentors, sometimes even gotten degrees. And even if they don’t have a formal education, they have spent much more time on their work than you ever will. They have likely enlisted beta readers, critique partners, agents, editors, sensitivity readers, and many more people over the years to help them fine tune their work and hone their skill. Not to mention, all of these people have specific expertise and work experience that they offer in order to come out with a polished final product. You have… read a lot of books? Maybe you’re even a writer yourself. But you don’t know their work better than they d0– or better than the people who have spent years working on the project. You can’t completely know their reasoning or intentions for the choices they’ve made. You can make guesses, some of them even educated, but you’ll never know for sure why a writer chooses to write their book a certain way. And what you get out of the experience is not universal to all readers. Do you see how arrogant it is to come into someone’s space, who is the authority on their own subject material, and tell them, no, you did this wrong. It’s supposed to be like this? Honestly, that shit is BANANAS. I would never say to someone who has trained and worked hard in their profession that I, a person who has not been trained and doesn’t even work within the same profession, think that they’re doing it wrong when I have only seen bits and pieces of their process through a highly obscured lens. Like I said, BANANAS.

And finally, let’s talk about how useful it is to tag authors in negative reviews, Susan. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

The book is out. They can’t go back and re-write it or edit it. By the time you’ve read it, they’ve long finished working on it. Your criticism isn’t useful on any level. You might argue that it’s useful for the future, for their other books. But no two books are the same. And each book written adds new experience to the writer’s craft. And like, sure, they use a lot of em-dashes and it’s distracting for you, but again, some people effing love em-dashes (maybe the author has a soft spot for that particular punctuation) and you are not the authority on everyone else’s experience with the text. Only yours. So basically, tagging an author in your negative review with criticism (even if you think it’s constructive) is essentially telling them, hey, you clearly didn’t write this book for me personally so next time be sure to match the book exactly to my tastes. Or alternatively, I know how to write your work better than you do. Or worse, I know how to write better than you overall, which, okay? Sure? Even if you genuinely believe this, do you go around to readers telling them you read better than them? ‘Cause I don’t. And I don’t go to other teachers telling them that I teach better than them? WHO DOES THAT?

So like, don’t? I promise you, it’s not necessary. If you want to bitch about a book, that’s totally cool. Do it in the DMs. You can even do it on your Twitter, just don’t invite the author into the conversation. Don’t be like, hey, come here, I hate your outfit, cool, thanks. BECAUSE NO ONE DOES THAT. And also, I will hate you.


📚 Are you this asshole? Plz don’t be.

📚 What kind of things do you look for in a review to help decide if you want to read a book?

📚 Do you review every book you read?



About Diana

Diana is your sleep-deprived, fandom loving, payload escorting, book obssessing tour guide. She has her Bachelor's degree in English Literature and her Master's degree in Creative Writing. She currently works for a community college in the IT department and is an adjunct professor teaching English.

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