When I first started out reviewing books for authors and publishers, I would accept pretty much any request, whatever book they offered to send me. This resulted in me producing a spectrum of reviews: positive, neutral, negative, or somewhere in-between.
There were many benefits to this.
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Everything stated in this post is purely my opinion, based on my own experiences. Please feel free to disagree and/or share your own thoughts in the comments at the end!
Firstly, it was great practice for developing my reviewing skills and improving the quality of the reviews I produced. I had a steady supply of reviews to write and on which to receive feedback, so it was an excellent learning process.
Secondly, by creating a good portfolio of reviews, publishers and authors were more likely to notice them and send me more requests.
Another benefit of accepting most review requests was that I was able to review books that I didn’t particularly like. This might sound odd, but if, as a reviewer, you only ever rate books five stars, it can actually work against you. You might be popular with the authors whose books you review, but you run the risk of devaluing your reviews with your audience, who could begin to question your honesty or assume you have an ulterior motive for strongly promoting any book you review.
Many book reviewers (myself included) provide affiliate links to the book they review. This means that if a reader clicks on our link and makes a qualifying purchase, we may receive a (very!) small percentage of the sale from the seller (at no extra cost to the buyer). Some readers may perceive this as an incentive for the reviewer to disingenuously promote a book, even if they didn’t actually like it.
Of course, in the majority of cases, this isn’t true. Most book reviewers I’ve encountered are entirely genuine and transparent about their affiliate links and their reviews in general. But even the perception of simply drumming up sales can be damaging to a reviewer’s integrity and reputation.
As such, I think it is beneficial for a reviewer to show that they are willing to share not only the books they enjoyed and would recommend that you buy, but also those that they didn’t enjoy and wouldn’t necessarily recommend.
That’s not to say that reviewers should seek out books outside of their interests with the sole aim of providing a negative review. This is dishonest in itself and unfairly damaging for the author of the book. I must emphasise: Do Not Go Out Of Your Way To Leave A Negative Review!
However, if you do have a negative (or even not entirely perfect) experience with a book, I wouldn’t advocate for avoiding sharing your negative/neutral review simply because you don’t want to upset the author. There is nothing wrong with providing a negative review if that is your honest opinion – although it goes without saying that we should aim to provide constructive criticism in the kindest way. Negative reviews don’t need to be nasty, nor should they encourage any ill-will towards the author.
I have definitely entered into the realm of “snark” in my reviews, but I think it is important to remember the actual human author behind the book. There are definitely some reviews I wouldn’t necessarily word the same way now as I have in the past.
Nevertheless, when you receive a request for an honest review, it is important to remember that the author/publisher has specifically asked you to be just that – honest. They enter into the agreement with the understanding that your review will be honest – there is no guarantee that it will be positive.
My readers know that my reviews are honest. I have shown that I am willing to share my genuine opinions, even if this means I won’t recommend the book and therefore do not actively encourage them to click my affiliate link to buy it.
This kind of honesty is important to me as a core value by which I try to live my life. However, I think this also gives my readers confidence when I do recommend a book, because they know I’m not just recommending anything and everything. This builds the trust they have in my reviews and encourages them to return for my next review.
Having said all of this, there is another aspect I’d like to discuss.
As I mentioned at the beginning, when I first started writing book reviews, I would accept pretty much any request I received. While this was important to begin with, my view on this has evolved as time went on.
Over time, I began to receive more review requests than I could manage. This meant I had to become more selective about the books I chose to review, as I only have so much time and energy in a day to use for this task.
While I still try to accept a variety of authors, publishers, genres, and formats, it is only natural that I am more inclined to accept review requests for books that match my interests or that I think sound interesting from my initial research.
Keeping in mind that I will not necessarily decline a review request based simply on the fact that it isn’t exactly without my areas of interest, there are a few reasons why I might decline a request for a review.
I would preface this by saying that I judge each book individually, so these “rules” are not written in stone. Nonetheless, they provide a framework of areas that I consider when deciding whether or not to read and review a book.
1. I don’t have time
This one is simple. If I don’t have time in my schedule, or if I’m already backlogged with other reviews, I will decline the request. It may be tempting to accept the free copy of the book, knowing that it could be weeks or months before I get round to it, but this isn’t fair on the author who is usually looking to promote their work immediately. I’m certainly not the only reviewer out there, and sometimes it’s more appropriate to decline and let the review go to someone else who has the time to produce a review in a shorter timeframe.
2. I strongly disagree with the premise of the book
When I receive a request, I do some basic research into the book: the blurb, the genre, a bit of the background, perhaps checking out the contents page or the first couple of sample pages. If I find that I take issue with the premise of the book as a whole, I will decline the request. An example of this might be a book that promotes an ideology that contradicts my core values and beliefs, such as anti-abortion propaganda, advocating for so-called “gay conversion therapy“, or themes of gratuitous violence.
I stand by my belief that we don’t always have to agree with everything within a book to provide a review. However, when the overall premise is obviously and irreconcilably at odds with some of my core values, it would be both aggravating for me and honestly unproductive for the reader for me to review that book. I won’t give it my time.
3. I dislike the genre/topic and have zero interest in it
At the end of the day, if I’m going to spend time reading and reviewing a book, I obviously want to enjoy it! I want to have fun with the process and I want to be able to support the author’s work if I can. So if I am approached to review a book about cooking or motorcycles or parenting, I have neither the background interest or knowledge about the topic, nor the motivation to learn about it. This immediately puts me in the starting position of not being the book’s target audience.
Though I will not decline a book outright on this basis, it is a strong indication that my review would be automatically negative at worst, or at best, simply unhelpful to the reader. My thoughts on these topics would be surface-level only, with no useful insight into the book’s contents. It could be a fantastic book on its topic, but it is likely I wouldn’t appreciate it or be able to give a meaningful opinion on its quality.
4. The request was rude or impersonal
This one is a bit more petty, but I did say I try to be honest…! Most requests that come through are lovely. The writer is pleasant, polite, and makes their request in a way that makes the recipient feel valued. A big part of this is whether or not they use my name. If the writer doesn’t include a quick “Hi Hazel” at the beginning, and the whole thing is a really obvious copy-and-paste paragraph sent out en-masse, I am less likely to consider it.
Many review requests include my name and also the reasons that they are requesting a review from me specifically, such as they have noted my previous reviews on a similar subject, or that they noticed my profiles on NetGalley or BookSirens where I have listed my interests in terms of books.
This type of personalisation is much more likely to draw my attention, as it shows a level of thought about the request, where the author/publisher is seeking genuine, honest reviews from their target audience, rather than simply spamming any and every book reviewer they come across.
As for rudeness, what I mean by this is unreasonable requests (such as trying to control what I can and can’t say in my review) or generally being rude and pressuring in their correspondence.
I review books for free and I have no obligation to respond to all requests (though I always do, as soon as I am able to). This kind of rudeness will most definitely get my back up… and hence, a swift decline.
There are plenty of reasons you might decline to review a book. Some may match mine, but my list is by no means exclusive. You can obviously pick and choose to review whatever and however you want!
I think there are benefits to being open to sharing negative reviews alongside positive ones, but it isn’t essential. I think we can learn a lot from engaging with media that doesn’t necessarily line up 100% with our specific interests, but it’s totally understandable to want to spend your time reviewing books that you are more likely to enjoy reading.
My main piece of advice would be to review on your terms, try to enjoy the process, and don’t be afraid to share your honest thoughts – positive, negative, or anywhere in-between.
I hope you have found this article helpful and/or interesting.
What are your thoughts on writing negative reviews?
Is it something you avoid, or is it just part of the job?
What advice would you offer your fellow book reviewers?
Share your ideas in the comments below!
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