How to Make Negative Reviews Sound Positive

– Anirban Nanda

Anirban Nanda is an engineer by profession and writer by passion. When not writing codes, he can be found in his room with scattered books and coffee-cups, mulling over some story idea or reading books. He has published his stories in 8 anthologies till now and won few prizes. His recent anthologies ‘When They Spoke’ and ‘Defiant Dreams’ published by Readomania are in amazon bestsellers list. 

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Reviewing a book is a tricky job for two main reasons:

  1. The author is eagerly awaiting your review, and every review that they get. This is true especially for newbie writers. If the review is positive and praises the book, the writer will read it again and again and will feel sheer joy. I have felt it myself. So, in a way, the writer has expectations from you.
  2. The reader, who is also the reviewer, has invested some emotion into the book and that is bound to reflect on the review.

The reason this is a tricky job is because of the number of emotions connected to every book and the subsequent review. But, reviewing is absolutely, completely, and definitely a professional business. You may have reviewed a work written by your friend and given a glowing review of that. But is that the right thing to do? Once you become a well-known reviewer, you should focus on being more professional.

So, let’s get started, shall we? It’ll be short, I promise.

Reviewing means ‘a critical appraisal of a book, play, or other work’ (ref. Concise Oxford Dictionary) which, upon expanding tells us: you read a book and you give honest opinion based on your experience of reading many books previously, and the opinions should be such that it’ll help the writer/artist ‘appraise’ his/her work.

In simpler words, from your review, both the writer and readers must get something of value.

Now, if the book is good, reviewing is a cakewalk and everyone (the reviewer, readers, the author) feels happy. But what happens if the book is not so good?

Basically, you have two options here:

  1. You praise the work anyway and the author gets happy. You intentionally hide the frown factors. But after reading your review when a reader buys a book and gets disappointed, believe me, they are never going to give much attention to another review written by you.
  2. You point out the issues point-blank. That will hurt the author brutally. He/she has spent hours (months) creating the book and getting such a review will hurt the writer’s sentiment. It’s true. No matter how mature one is, negative comments about his/her work are going to hurt. When other writers will read your review, many may get scared of your review and will not prefer to get their books reviewed by you. Because your reviews do affect sales.

But wait, there is another option.

Here is what you should do:

  1. Point out the good things first. And do not forget to justify those with required quotes from the book as they will increase the credibility of your review. But do this without spoiling major plot points; do not spoil a book in your review.
  2. Point out what you think of it in the context of the current society. It will help the reader understand if he really needs to read the book. (For example: when I wrote the review of ‘Voices of the Silent Creek’; I started it like this: The book ‘Voices of the Silent Creek’ tries to bring out raw truth about women hidden behind the curtains of big houses and how knowing their situation, people choose to keep their mouth shut. The hypocrisy of people calling themselves supporters of women empowerment will strike you fiercely in this novel. A very different attempt for a debut novel and definitely deserves a round of applause.  Read the full review.)
  1. While handling critical points, do it honestly but candidlyNever underestimate or insult the ability of the writer. That is the bleakest insult a writer can get. For example: if you see the dialogues are not good, instead of writing “The dialogues are very badly written and don’t interest me at all,” write, “I believe if the dialogues were constructed tautly, the effect of the story would have had more impact.” You have done the same thing but the latter option is more candid.

With that, I am listing few quick points that could be of your help in writing any review:

  1. Do not write a summary and spoil the entire story.
  2. Show proofs of your opinions and justify your points.
  3. More detailed the review, the more spoilery it may become. Try to write a review that does not spoil the story but gives enough glimpses into the story to justify your point.
  4. Personally, I do not like to rate books, but it is not a sin to rate a book either. Everyone assesses everything in this world by some certain scale.
  5. Do not copy-paste the blurb from the book in your review. It makes it look less professional.
  6. Try to learn something from the book because your love for books is the whole point of becoming a reviewer or a writer.
  7. Do not promise to review more books than you can read properly. This is very important. Try to review as much as possible, not more than that.
  8. It is preferable to restrict yourself to your favorite genres. But if you are an avid reader who reads everything that comes in your way, then you might go for more variety.

Lastly, I am listing few of my reviews for samples, which have been considered as well-written reviews by my followers.

  1. Review of an Indian contemporary fiction — Maya’s New Husband
  2. Review of a classic — Ceremony
  3. Review/Analysis of Perks of Being a Wallflower

I convey my sincere thanks to Neil D’Silva for giving me the opportunity to write this guest post for his website.

Anirban Nanda blogs at www.anirbanigp.wordpress.com.
You can reach him via facebook (https://www.facebook.com/anirbanfreethinker.nanda) or twitter (@AnirbanNanda1). You can read his stories at www.readomania.com/viewstories/anirban007 or in his blog.

 

2 thoughts on “How to Make Negative Reviews Sound Positive

  1. Very well said, Anirban, thanks for making these points. I especially agree that the author and reader must take something away from a review even if it is negative. As it is said ‘one man’s meat is another’s poison,’ so bashing of a work benefits neither the author nor the reader. I follow the sandwich principle for my reviews. If you want to say something negative, fill it between two slices of what you can appreciate in the work.
    Thanks for the post, Neil.

  2. Anirban Nanda is a brilliant reviewer, and I have great hopes from him as a writer. His negative feedback on the #ARC of my novel #iAm16iCan helped me reduce the length from 195K to 160K. “Where everyone thinks alike no one thinks much.” (Don’t remember whose quote this is) but reviewer like Anirban proves that they don’t have to sing the same tune everyone sings. End of the day, we each are working for a collective goal. There have to be better books in this world. He does a great job at keeping the writers see the issues of their work.

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