A Bad Review Needs a Good Attitude

This is a re-post of an article published by Indies Unlimited on February 9, 2015


Okay, so you read this book, it didn’t suit you and you’re upset you paid good money for it. Do you sit down in the heat of the moment and fire off the first barbs that come to mind in a one-star review on Amazon? Well, that may make you feel better, but sort of review is simply not effective. If anyone reads it, they’re not going to believe it. Everyone is aware of all the knee-jerk reactionaries and internet bullies out there, and if you sound like that kind of nasty, you get exactly the same reaction: “Click! Goodbye.” If you want to get more of those coveted “Your Review Helped Another Customer” responses on Amazon, read over your review before you publish, and consider what your reader is considering as he reads: your attitude.


Who Cares About My Attitude?

Who do you think reads reviews and says, “Oh, yeah, that must be the truth?” More likely they are thinking, “Who is this guy and what does he know?” and most important, “What is his attitude?” Because, not knowing you from Adam (or Eve, as the case may be), the main problem any reader has is deciding how valid your review is. Knowing the writer’s attitude gives the reader a good handle on the validity of the writing. People read reviews to find information about a book, not to be shoulders for you to cry on. If the reader thinks all you care about is venting your own feelings? “Click! Goodbye.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about “instant reaction” reviews, tossed off while under the force of your initial response to the book. Sure, authors get some bad ones. But that’s the source of many five-star raves as well. I’m talking to reviewers who are ready to take a second look at their writings to make them more useful.

Show Them That You Care…About Something

The best way to give your opinions validity is to persuade your audience that you care: about the book, the writer, the reader or good writing. If you care, your motives are seen as positive. Your opinion is worth at least a quick read-through, especially if it’s a negative review. Most reviewers want to inform customers and respond to authors. Most also want to entertain readers. All of these reasons require connecting with your readers, gaining their trust. A heartfelt concern for something other than yourself goes a long way towards achieving that goal.

Be Constructive, Even in a Negative Review

So if you don’t want to be seen as one of the nasties, it’s better if you temper your reviews with a bit of empathy. If you can’t be positive, at least be constructive. “This book needs…” is so much better than, “This book has no…” It’s easy to say something negative. To say something positive requires thought. Yeah, I know. That’s work. But readers notice, and that gives you validity.

Be Positive, Especially in a Negative Review.

I know. This may be hard, but find a way. As a teacher, if I phoned a parent and said, “Do you know what Joe did today?” and started listing off her darling’s faults, the mother would end up shouting at me, and Johnnie would get worse. If I started off with, “Is something bothering Joe? He’s been really unhappy today,” I’d get some help (she was probably going out of her tree with him at home, too) and we had a chance with Johnnie the next day at school.

So, if you start a review with, “…I realized the hero was just a complete moron that I couldn’t empathize with, and in fact there wasn’t anybody in the entire book I cared about,” and then proceed to list 13 separate stupid things the hero did, you can be pretty sure of these reactions:

  1. Potential customer: “What’s his problem? Click! Goodbye”
  2. The writer: “What does he know? I have twenty reviewers that loved my characters, and only one of them was my mother. Click! Goodbye” (I kid you not. The book that got the review I quoted above has 29 five-star reviews on Amazon, and many of them specifically note the wonderful characters.)
  3. Entertainment? If people “Click! Goodbye” your review because they consider it biased and useless, you’ve hardly entertained them, have you?

On the other hand, if you start your review with, “I have always been interested in novels involving anti-heroes who are so unlikeable as to drive the reader bonkers. However…” you have a much better chance of communicating your opinion.

The Snark

And that pretty well lets out sarcasm, fun though it may be. I like to throw a bit of edge into my writing now and then for the sake of entertainment (oh, you noticed?) but not about a book I’m reviewing, and never, ever about the author. I know that sort of thing is entertaining, but if the reader is looking for valid information and gets the idea that I never let the truth get in the way of a good laugh, well, that’s the best way to get the “Click! Goodbye” reaction.

The Real Life Test

Is your review too harsh? Before you send it, read it once more and ask yourself; would I read this review out loud to a bunch of my friends with the author in the room? You would? What kind of friends do you have, anyway?

Okay, think about reading it aloud to a prospective boss with the author listening. Does this review present you as the person you want the world to see? Will someone who reads it think it credible? Will it affect readers in the way you want?

If you like the answers, then publish it proudly. It’s your opinion and you have a right to it. Maybe you’ll even persuade people to agree with you.


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