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Honesty Without Brutality in Negative Reviews
For authors, negative reviews are a bane, the hammer that shatters their masterpiece. The tragedy is that negative reviews break potential authors. I have seen young writers who have authored books, but upon reading scathing reviews, have stopped. Negative reviews are often insensitive. They mean well, but most reviewers do not care for feelings as they believe it is nothing personal. Even if a review is as short as a single line, handpicked word choices could either elicit a smile or a frown. And authors often do not understand that negative reviews do not summarize their competence as a writer. It simply means that the reviewer did not like the book or struck a connection.
On the other hand, reviews reflect more on the reviewer/critic rather than the book they analyze. I am not making a hasty generalization in stating that most reviewers have developed an inflated sense of entitlement. They feel they are in a higher position as authors subject themselves to their scrutiny. Isn’t that sad? Perhaps a little reminder from Spider-Man would plant reviewers’ feet back on the ground: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Having said that, like any continuing education, book reviewers must also continue to sustain their literary criticism education by keeping updated with the trends and setting standards. The purpose of a review is to analyze a piece of written work and relay to other readers the reviewer’s take on the quality and content of the author’s work. Other book lovers will always read reviews to see if a book is worth the time they will invest in reading it.
Any art form--whether it be architecture, a ballet performance or an editorial cartoon--is subjected to the lens of critics. We are all critics in one way or another. If you go to a party or have some friends coming over for dinner, the topic turns to the latest bestseller or movie blockbuster. Observe how no one would just say, “I liked the movie/book.” They will expand on explaining it. They might talk about the elements of plot and characterization on a level that they know. Their opinion could influence us to watch the same movie or read the same book. At times, we even get into an argument about the merits and demerits of the subject, and it is easy to get personal.
As for book reviewers addressing a wider audience, know that it is a different and more professional ballgame. It is always prudent to tread carefully. This does not mean that the reviewer must choose polite lying over brutal honesty. Honesty does not have to be brutal, especially in an undertaking that is 'nothing personal.' This is what separates the ethical reviewer from the amateurs and downright trolls.
Your word choices can be negative, but the way you execute them must appeal in a diplomatic sense rather than combative. Consider:
I hated the book. This is a common phrase that we read. Instead, why not write, “This book did not grab me,” or “I found myself struggling with the book.”
The protagonist makes idiotic choices. Why not, “Readers might find it difficult to identify with the main character.”
The plot is so predictable. “The turn of events is easy to guess.”
Often, a reviewer who has a sense of accountability does not hesitate to put a byline and stand by his words. Hold yourself in high esteem. Honesty is a virtue. It doesn’t have to thrive on nastiness.
Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Vincent Dublado