Handling Negative Book Reviews

We have all been there. We finish a title we need to review and we simply did not enjoy it. It can be a difficult spot. I know many of you are pros at tackling those less than stellar reviews, but if you are like me, it did not always come easy. I can still remember the first time I completed an ARC and felt disappointed and completely terrified of the negative feedback I had to address. It was overwhelming.

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Jump forward nearly 2 years, and I have convinced myself that I might have a handle on the situation. But getting to this point truly was a process of trial and error. I can still look back at older reviews and cringe and shudder. It has taken hundreds of posts, multiple publishing contacts (and lengthy discussions with contacts), and a continuous assessment of follower reaction to develop an approach I feel comfortable with. I will not say it has been perfected, because life (blogging included) is one huge work in progress! Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.

So how do I do it? Today I thought I would share a few tips I find useful for keeping even these most negative book reviews more positive. Please share your own as well!

Handling Negative Book Reviews

  1. Skip the star ratings – Okay, there is nothing wrong with stars. I still apply them to retail sites that require them and know many bloggers who utilize them beautifully. But for me, there is nothing more detrimental than slapping 1 or 2 stars right on a book review. Many bloggers have given them up for great reasons. Not only does the removal help reduce the harsh impact, but it encourages readers to actually read your review. It is too easy to see that a reviewer deemed a book 3 stars and move on. But without them, you kind of have to work for their thoughts 😉
  2. Itemize pros and cons – This is my favorite. Lists are fantastic in the fact that they really help us break down the material, often making it easier to find a few positives that we may have overlooked. And even it if is as simple as noting beautiful cover art, each additional item included in the pros can really help offset a bit of the cons.
  3. Seek balance – This is an important but sometimes impossible one. I always aim to provide a review that equally addresses the good and bad of each title reviewed. Unfortunately, there will not always be enough “good” to do this. Give it your best, and feel good knowing you were fair about the process.
  4. Do not let it become personal – I cannot stress this enough. I have seen it happen, and it is not pretty. Review the book, the story and your time with it, not the author and people behind it.
  5. Send feedback directly to the publisher – On the rare occasion that I find myself unable to finish a review copy or pull enough positive from the work to offer an insightful review, I opt to contact the provider directly instead. I have found this to actually be well received many times and appreciated.
  6. Short and sweet – If in doubt and you feel you must post a review, but are struggling to not completely rip someone’s work to shreds, favor brevity. Not all reviews need to be 1000+ words. Simplicity can be your friend.
  7. Target an ideal audience – Maybe you did not like the book, but you know fans of similar titles or series may. Acknowledge that and recommend the book to them!
  8. Be honest –  This is the most important and easiest part of reviewing books. It is okay to dislike a title and your readers deserve to know you did not and why. So the next time you are writing that less than stellar review about a largely popular title (I’m so sorry Cruel Prince) just remember how appreciated your honesty is!tumblr_m58cxoabqk1r6qbl6o2_250.gif

    How do you handle negative reviews? Maybe you enjoy writing the more difficult reviews. Drop a line in the comments and share some tips or thoughts!

    Let’s Chat,

    Danielle ❤

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91 thoughts on “Handling Negative Book Reviews

  1. I only have anxiety about writing negative reviews if they’re for books from the author/publisher where I’m expected to send them my review back directly (or send them the link once it’s live, or whatever). I’ve mostly solved the problem by taking no books directly from authors and only taking a few from publishers–and then I try to accept ones I really think I will enjoy. I think sometimes people see ARCs as “Yay, free books!” and will accept anything that’s offered to them because it’s free and “Why not?” but personally I try not to break too much out of my reading comfort zone with ARCs because I am mildly afraid of writing that negative review. :p

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I should clarify, maybe, that I understand publishers expect some negative reviews and will doubtless be professional about it, but it just seems so MEAN to me to directly tell someone “Yeah, this book you published? It’s garbage!” (Not that that is the language I would actually use in a review…) I’m all about honest reviews, but it’s just the thing about purposely telling the publisher to their face (er, email) that I didn’t like the book.

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      1. The direct contact definitely can make it feel more personal. We know it is not and they should too, but it is never easy to say “Hey, this book you worked on forever is really bad”. Lucky since I only request and pick up what I am interested in, this does not happen too often. Fingers crossed since I said that 😛

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    2. Yes! I am super selective now and work more with the publishers (aside from a few authors I have developed more personal correspondence with) so I understand what you are saying about the feedback. A few of them really like to have a link sent along, so I am always a bit more on pins when I have to explain that the title did not work for me. But more often than not, they seem to appreciate that. I tend to naturally be open about my feelings, so I guess that helps too 😛

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  2. Great tips! I typically only feel anxiety when writing negative reviews if it’s for books where I know the authors or it’s an ARC that has very few reviews. I understand that negative reviews ad beneficial for them, but I feel slightly uncomfortable knowing that the authors are aware of how I felt about their book.

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  3. Awesome tips!
    The very first ARC i ever got was so bad, i haven’t even finish it. I chose not to review it. Out a few lines on Netgalley why I did not like it, but didn’t want to spend more time in it….
    I think negative reviews are important. I like your idea if skipping the star rating. Might try that next time…. 😀

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    1. Thank you Norrie! I agree that the negative is equally important. I struggle with bashing though (although I know some bloggers use this as a gimmick). So balance really helps. But since honesty is most important we cannot always find that positive. Sometimes we do need to dnf or just send that negative feedback. I will never enjoy those moments. Removing the star ratings has been beneficial for me in multiple ways 🙂

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  4. This is so helpful! If I DNF a NetGalley book, I send feedback and let them know I won’t be reviewing as I don’t feel I’ve read enough of it to give a proper review. If it’s a book from my own shelf or the library I might review on Goodreads so I have a record so I don’t try it again later by mistake. It is difficult because I don’t want to be rude about the author or their hard work.

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    1. I agree and handle the DNFs when they do happen in the same manner. Direct feedback explaining why I will not review. I keep a policy also that I do not normally post what would be 1 star reviews. I send personal feedback instead. This helps. I tend to do the same with my personal library as well 🙂 Although I will review a book I greatly disliked if I feel there is enough discussion value. Thanks Nicki ❤

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  5. Just what I needed! I just finished a novel I didn’t like. It’s not something that happens very often because I choose carefully what books to read but this one only had one rating so far on Goodreads (a five star one no less). I’ve been tempted to skip reviewing it because it’s going to be hard to be kind 😉 but on the other side, I feel it’s my duty too to not only share great reviews. I have always rated novels and it would be easier not to rate this one but I do feel it doesn’t have a negative impact, quite the contrary, people are more interested in reading my 2 or 3 star reviews than the others it seems. If a book interests me I also really want to read those reviews though so I can see what points they bring up. We’ll see if I can find the right words.

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    1. Excellent point about lower ratings drawing more interest Inge! I can see how that might be the case. I have no doubt that you will come up with a well balanced and insightful review. You always seem to find a way of beautifully summing up your experience. I do understand though that only one rating makes it feel more difficult! – xx

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  6. I always make a beeline for the 2 star reviews on Goodreads to see what the most common issues readers have with the book and whether or not they would bug me. Gushing 5 star reviews rarely give you the depth that 2 star reviews do. I like constructive reviews that mention issues with pacing, characters, plots, writing style etc as these give me a proper look at what to expect in a book and whether or not I want to read it. This is also how I try to write my negative reviews. I am not interested in putting off people from reading a book-I just want to prepare them for what they can expect!

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    1. That is an excellent point! I love insightful reviews and can agree that you will usually find them more so in the lower ratings. The only time I am put off is when I discover those who seem to really enjoy bashing on someone’s work or making it personal. That doesn’t feel constructive at all. But then I just unfollow haha.

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  7. Ha! A 2 or less star book wasted my time, so it deserves a gutting. And I proudly put up that low star icon 🙂

    As I was reading your post, I just kept chuckling because your outlook is so different from mine. On so many points. It was a good reminder that not everyone reviews things the same way or even has the same outlook. That is definitely something that a lot of bloggers (me included) tend to forget about.

    I am glad you’ve found a system that works for you. I know because of how I write negative reviews that I don’t take books from people I know and I only accept 1, maybe 2, requests a year.

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  8. Fantastic post.

    I have no issue with sending a publisher the link to my negative review after all, publicists are readers too and they realise that you can’t like all the books. Hell, one time, one even totally agreed with me.😂 Though, I’m not the best to comment on that as I tend to forget to send links half the time anyway.😂

    I agree with all of your points. I try to be balanced. I don’t think my last review, Seventh Decimate was particularly balanced but if possible I try and offer both the good and the bad to give a rounded view point.

    I think that’s a lot of what the issue is with negative reviews, hating, offer the good with the bad and it gives balance but lots seem to just outright hate on a book they disliked. Sure, it’s their blog and it’s their way of reviewing so that’s cool as you should blog and review how you want but I do feel that for a negative review to be beneficial that you need to know what didn’t work for the reader as opposed to they just hate it. After all, what one person dislikes another might like.👍

    I think the personal point is a big one too, you didn’t like the book, cool, it doesn’t mean others will feel the same though and you don’t need to state things like everyone who likes it is wrong, etc which I’ve seen people do.

    I also think that some people go overboard at times, for example, they read a certain word that they take offence to and then that’s it, the book is bad and the author vile for using the word and completely hate on both the book and author in the review over a small thing. Sure, it’s something that they dislike, it needs addressing in the review but spitting vitriol, no as you often have the good with the bad.

    Gotta be honest too regardless of the type of book, ARC, hyped etc.

    Ratings help too or the lack of. I didn’t stop rating due to negative reviews but in general its easier not having specific star ratings on my blog. 👌

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha yes. I think we agree on most of this. I am not one for bashings and rantings when it comes to books and author’s. It seem cruel and very counter productive. As you mentioned, the reader should walk away with some expectation or idea not just “wow they hate this”. But it seems to be a trend or gimmick I think with some. And I guess it works, because people still follow. I do prefer more insight also though. And your Seventh Decimate review was everything it needed to be. Sometimes they cannot be balanced because the experience was not. But I read it and understood your issues. It felt insightful and fair not personal 🙂

      My biggest reason for ditching ratings was because others started actually reading my reviews 😉 But it does help in terms of those less than stellar ones for sure.

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      1. That’s valid about ratings, I still have the hell yeah, etc ones as I wanted something just to say yeah, the book is great, OK, or not without the specific star rating. What did it for me was The Hatching as I rated it the same as a fantasy tome and loved them both yet they were both so different and the things I liked in The Hatching I would have hated in the fantasy book and afterwards it made me question the rating being the specific same ergo, I changed it up a bit.

        Thanks, I tried to be fair with the Seventh Decimate review but it’s not always easy to see for yourself if you have. If there had been any redeeming aspects I’d have included them but there wasn’t.

        Yeah, people do follow and they are often popular, trend or gimmick, I’d agree with both though for some I’d say it’s a gimmick as they proclaim book love and then spout rants in their reviews but whatever works for them.

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  9. Since I don’t read ARCs or anything for a publisher, I usually just stop reading books I don’t like and give a quick sentence or two in my weekly review. It makes that easy.

    When I need to finish a book I didn’t enjoy, it’s hard to stay balanced and find good things about it. I should work on that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Finding balance is not always possible. Let’s be honest, it is a nice goal, but it is not always there. Sometimes a book is just bad or we are not the right audience. In that case we just have to fall back on honesty 😉 I always DNF nonreview copies now. Life is way to short if I am not enjoying it. Sometimes I revisit them later to see if they work at a different time.

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      1. And then there are the books you love to hate…. 🙂

        I definitely DNF books I’m not enjoying, and I usually try to state why, assuming I mention them at all in the blog. You at least try to find a silver lining with a book you weren’t thrilled about. I tend to latch onto what I didn’t like and can’t see through it to what might have been better about it.

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    1. Thank you Lisa 🙂 Sometimes it can be hard to find a balance, but remaining honest and thoughtful goes a long way. I try to always remember I am reviewing something someone worked truly hard to accomplish. So I should never be overly aggressive or unnecessarily harsh 😉

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  10. Great tips! I use stars on Goodreads, but I never use them on my blog because I’ve discovered that people just look at the stars instead of reading the review. I always try to write balanced reviews. All books have something good and something bad about them.

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  11. So much love for this post! Writing reviews for books you didn’t love is incredibly hard sometimes. I don’t shy away from star ratings, but I really liked your thoughts on why it ought to be skipped.

    Something I’ve started doing lately: When I really don’t know what to say (even for a book I loved, but especially one that I didn’t) I break my review up into small sections. What I liked, what I didn’t like, and final thoughts. It helps me focus my thoughts, and I often end up having a lot more to say than I initially thought I would.

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    1. Excellent point Betty! I have also been following a similar format of late with my own reviews. Although, I admit part of this is result of the brain fog I am fighting. The more compartmentalized approach helps me keep it straight and balanced and easily avoid spoilers ❤ Your reviews are always honest and thought invoking!

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      1. I’ve been thinking lately that having a set way to structure my reviews might be a good way to go all the time. I like the idea of all my (future) reviews following a set format that makes it easy to identify as mine. I get distracted very easily anymore, so I think that would help with focusing on what I’m doing.

        And thank you for the lovely compliment! That made me very happy! 😍

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  12. It hadn’t occurred to me not to use star ratings on my blog, but losing them is something I am going to consider. For low starred books, I try to start and end my review with something positive, and to explain why other aspects didn’t work for me. Often something not to my taste – lots of fast-paced action for example – will appeal to other readers so it’s all very subjective.

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  13. I can relate to this post! I worry about hurting an author’s feelings and potential readership with a negative review. As someone who plans to publish my own books one day, I’m also nervous about turning the author, their agent, editor, etc. against me for posting a disparaging review. For most books that I find lacking, I usually won’t post a rating at all. When I do post a negative review, it always opens with good points about the book. I recently did what you suggested, which was to post a written review but without a star rating.

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    1. Thanks Eve! Yes, I generally leave the ratings to retail sites and off of the blog. This also seems to encourage followers to actually read the review in entirety which is better for the author and books as well, since we generally try to include the positive where we can. Reviews as a writer must be a daunting process!

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  14. Great post! I do use stars and have never really thought about leaving them off of my review. Now I am wondering if I need to make any changes. I don’t often post negative reviews but it does come up every once in a while.

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  15. This is so helpful! I’ve had a much easier time writing negative reviews after I told myself it was okay to use more than one format and go for a pros vs. cons approach. Another thing I’ve started doing (and didn’t see on your list) is scheduling negative reviews for a few weeks after the book’s release. I got an eARC this spring after contacting the publisher directly and unfortunately it was a total mismatch between book and reader. It’s a hyped new release so I’d like to offer my experience as a counterpoint, but there’s nothing so offensive that I feel the need to “warn off” others from giving it a try. Instead I’m bundling a couple of spring duds together in a joint post that will run a month after they’ve both come out. That way I’m still giving publishers and my followers some feedback, without feeling like I’ve spoiled a book’s release 🙂 Lovely post Danielle!

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    1. I think itemizing and pros/cons can be so useful for this very reason. Sometimes breaking it down helps us uncover more positive than we initially noticed at first too (not always though – sometimes it just is not there). I have begun sticking with a similar format with my brain fog. It helps me keep my thoughts more organized while avoiding comments I feel my be to deterring because like you I realize many of us have varying taste and reading is so individualized. Your reviews are wonderful though. You have had some that were less than stellar that I still felt like I would enjoy after reading ❤ Thank you so much JJ!

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  16. I don’t really write reviews but I’ve jotted down a few thoughts on goodreads. I wrote a comment that I thought there was a smidgen too much of a certain humor and something else and the author liked my review. Completely unexpected and was a little embarrassed. This was a book I enjoyed so I can understand how hard a book you didn’t like would be to review.

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  17. This is wonderful and so helpful for those who don´t know how to write a negative review ( if such a thing even exists).
    The reason WHY I love your reviews is- You state both the negative and positive. You make a point of mentioning both. Reviews are tricky business when you don´t point out the positives and negatives directly. I don´t do that ( and I don´t know why I don´t ) but it´s important to clarify your likes and dislikes the way you do it. It´s a fab way of avoiding misunderstandings.
    Half of a review is always based on the personal emotions of a reader. It´s important for a reviewer to reveal those emotions but it should be done in a diplomatic way. Otherwise it´s just bashing an author / a book and no one needs that. Anyone who wants that kind of entertainment can spend a night over at Goodreads, where all hell breaks loose.
    What I do ( and make a point out of because I think it´s crucial ) is try to target an audience in my reviews. You know this as well as I do that when you read a certain book and don´t like it… it doesn´t mean others might think the same. You know the parts of a story that weren´t appealing for you ( or me, or anyone else) will most definitely be loved and appreciated by others. I think we can do that because we have the experience do make such decisions ( with refering to our age and the fact that we have years worth of reading experience ). “Hey, I didn´t like this type of book but I know many who would.” It´s a simple statement that isn´t harmful but rather helpful.

    Not being personal in reviews is the hardest thing for me to do. My biggest struggle. But I think I´ve managed a good balance in the area ( not always, mind you.Lol)

    I see your point regarding the star ratings. Makes total sense to ditch those when writing a negative review. I use star ratings mainly for myself. They help me form my thoughts before I type up my review. For me, they make my life easier… does that make sense?

    About the honesty- I wrote a post about honesty and negative feedback and how both go hand in hand. Did a full breakdown on why authors need negative feedback and how important it is for readers. It´s all about balance and trying to be helpful along the way.

    Okay. I need to stop here because I´m afraid of leaving another Tolstoy in your comments. Lol. I loved this post. Your reviews are ( for me ) well structured and give off a positive vibe no matter what type of review you post…. I see nothing but kindness and helpful feedback for authors and indecisive readers who´re looking for their next read.
    ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First of all, your approach to star ratings is quite unique and I actually enjoy it very well ❤ They can work wonderfully for many reasons (such as you mentioned) but do not work for me sadly. I think that I enjoy most about your reviews, is that even though we tend to read completely different genres, I always leave with a sense of the best audience. I would be comfortable recommending a romance you reviewed to a romance loving friend for instance! And that is saying a lot. So please do not change them haha. Ok well, if you ever truly want to, I am sure they will remain wonderful, but you have a style that works brilliantly for you and it comes through ❤

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      1. You know what`? I´m going to print this out and hold it under my husband´s nose to show him that people DO understand the idea behind ratings and reviews in general. THANK YOU ❤ ❤
        No. Star ratings don´t work for everyone. That´s true. I´ve been seeing less and less ratings for books lately. A lot of blogs are ditching them because of the same reasons you´ve mentioned. I fully understand that. I had time to give the whole rating thing more thought today and.. you´re right. It´s definitely a smack in the face when you highlight your dislike with a 1-2 star rating. It makes the negative review seem more negative. Plus a 1 -2 star rating can prevent readers to view your review ( as many don´t appreciate reading negative thoughts ) It makes sense that they´d skip a 1-2 rating.

        THANK YOU. Knowing you´d recommend a romance to another person ( who enjoys romances ) despite you not liking the genre is an act of kindness. I know you don´t have to do that but you´re still going out of your way to help others with finding new reads. You need a hug for being the wonderful person you are.<3 I´d do the same.

        LOL. Don´t worry. I´m not planning on changing anything in the near future. I´m kind of enjoying the simplicity of my reviews and hope they stay that way ( becuase you should have seen what clusterf**k reviews my ex blog and I posted. What a tacky mess ). ❤ Thank you for your kind words ❤ ❤

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  18. This is very helpful, Danielle. Handling a negative review is hard, whether you are the reviewer or the author. I must say that I have had a few reviews that were not as good. I was pleased that the reviewers in these cases explained what they did and did not like which I appreciated and learned from as a writer. I try to do the same as a reviewer.

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    1. That is a wonderful point Robbie. Not only is included both positive and negative valuable for other readers, but critical feedback for the authors who read their reviews! Thank you for bringing that thought up. I imagine reviews that rave or rant without much the other way, offer little in terms of useful feedback?

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      1. As an author, Danielle, I like to receive honest and constructive feedback. Rave reviews that are not necessarily genuine are not very helpful and neither are troll reviews. I have never read a book that does not have some good points so I do like to share those even if I generally didn’t like the book.

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  19. Fantastic post with great tips! It’s always good to remind ourselves to sometimes take it down a notch and really think a review through, especially when writing one in the 1/2* category… It has happened to me on some occasions where I disliked the book hard and thought my review was going to be supermean, but once I started slowly making my way through the review, new thoughts and angles and possibilities opened up in my mind which offered that all-important balance.
    Love this post- bookmarking it for future reference! Thank you! 😉 ❤

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    1. Thanks so much Stan! I agree completely too. I often find that while I am tackling a review and approaching my thoughts, I uncover my balance than I originally anticipated. But you are very open minded and good and seeing potential, even if you are not the ideal audience. You write some of the most balanced and honest reviews I have encountered. Always a pleasure!

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  20. I agree with everything you said! I also skip ratings when I feel confused about a book and did not like it but don’t want to add fuel to the fire in my mind! I only keep them if a story hurt me in a way, and when this happens, I sometimes have to wait a few days before I can write a review with respect! I always keep respect in mind, it is easy to criticize for the sake of it, but a constructive bad review is a good thing, I believe.

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  21. I see that experience has turned you into a veteran on the subject! Your approach is definitely brilliant and will certainly help those that struggle with books that have failed them. I personally will keep the overall structure of all my reviews the same but will always be kind in the way I describe the things that flopped for me. Balance and honesty are definitely key!

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    1. Your reviews are always stellar and well balanced! I could not find room for improvement in them if I were trying. I love when you tackle a book of interest because I know some good insight is headed my way. And definitely not a veteran, but I do enjoy sharing thoughts with everyone and trading tips 🙂

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  22. I never enjoy posting negative reviews, but I do sometimes since I can’t like every book. I always try to find some positive things to talk about too and make sure to remind people that this is just my opinion. I also have a “recommended for” section in my reviews, and as long as I didn’t find the book offensive or just completely awful, I still include that section and say who I’d rec it for. I’m considering just removing star ratings entirely from my blog. I also really like your tip to make the review shorter. That’s a problem I have, I feel like I need to point out every single little thing that I liked and disliked. But in negative reviews, it can end up making it seem even more harsh!

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    1. Thank you Kristen! I have nothing against star ratings at all, but removing them worked so well for me for many reasons. If you decide to, I would love to know how it works out for you. And yes, it is hard but favoring brevity works in my favor at times 🙂

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  23. These are such great tips Danielle! I’m late to the party but this is such a big thing that book bloggers deal with. I try very hard never to request a book I suspect I may dislike or find not in my wheelhouse just to avoid the negative review I may have to write. I do find though that I’ve started to favor positive focus over everything. I may mention a huge dislike I have but frame it in a way that only someone who agrees with me will see as a negative. I like championing books so this makes me happier. ♥️

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    1. Thank you Dani ❤ Your reviews are always wonderfully balanced and insightful! I also tend to seek out titles I feel will be in my more favorful realm. Time is too limited to spend it sorting through things I do not want to read and I do not wish to bash on someone else's hard work ever. But I think we all try to remain honest and insightful, which makes it challenging when we encounter those occasional books that missed the mark.

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