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Gayle Martin

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How to Write a Good Review for a 'Bad' Book
by Gayle Martin   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, November 20, 2010
Posted: Monday, July 30, 2007

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Have you ever had a friend or colleague ask you to write a review of their book, only to find you didn't like it? Now what do you do?

Have you ever had a friend or a colleague, or even someone on an e-group you subscribe to, ask you to write a review their book? Did the book title or description intrigue you enough to say yes? Then, once you had the book in hand, did you discover it wasn’t quite what you expected? In fact, you didn’t like the book at all. In the meantime, your friend or colleague is waiting for your glowing review. Talk about a sticky wicket. So what are you going to do?

You could do one of three things.

  1. Write a negative review.
  2. Decline to review the book.
  3. Write a good review, even though you personally didn’t like it.

Call me superstitious, but I’ve always believed that writing a bad review, no matter how much you personally hate a book, is bad karma. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to take the chance of it coming back to haunt me later on by having someone else pan one of my books.

Another solution would be to decline to review the book. While this is something I’ve seen other book experts recommend it can be a problem too because you are, in effect, telling the author you did not like his or her book. At the very least this could create bad feelings, which could also come back to you later. Imagine being seated next to that very same author at the next book fair you attend.

So what do you do?

Awhile back I found myself in this position. I had offered to review a book because the subject matter was something I have a great deal of interest in. But once I got the book and started reading I quickly found it wasn’t at all what I expected. The author’s perspective on the subject matter was completely opposite from my point of view, and I honestly did not like book. Now I had a real dilemma. No doubt the author is expecting me a write a favorable review. Do I decline? Or do I write a negative review?

As I spent days mulling over what to it suddenly occurred to me. Just because I didn’t care for the book didn’t mean that someone else wouldn’t love it. We’re all unique individuals, and we’ve all heard the cliché about one person’s trash being another person’s treasure. This line of thought opened up a whole new option for me. I’d just figured out a way that I could write a positive review of a book I personally didn’t like, and I could still be honest and maintain my integrity. Instead of thinking about how much I didn’t like the book, I shifted my thoughts around to who I thought would be the best audience for it. Then I started writing my review.

I began with a sentence or two describing in general what the book was about. After that I mentioned who most likely would want to read the book and why it might appeal to them. I kept it all short, sweet and to the point. Then I sent it off to the author and waited to see what would happen next.Sometime later I received a very warn thank you note from the author. He was very pleased with my review. I was pleased that I had been able to find my way out of an extremely awkward situation with both parties walking away happy.

Will this approach always work? That all depends on the particular circumstances you find yourself in. If, for example, you find a book’s content so highly controversial that you do not want your name associated with it in any way, then declining to review it would still be the appropriate choice. But I also think such extreme instances are rare. Use your own good judgment. Think about who the audience would be for this particular book, and, if at all possible, find a way to write a positive review.  





Web Site: The Official Gayle Martin Website

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Reviewed by Aretha Renia 3/26/2009
AS I read this, I thought about a friend of mine. I went through this recently. I just wrote the review making true statements about the book stating no real opinion of my own. The experience made me consider taking option number two on your list for all other review requests from friends. I enjoyed your article. Keep up the good work.

Reviewed by Eve Rogers (Reader) 10/31/2008
I would advise that no one purchase the poetry chapbook "Of Wishes and Dreams", by Kale Rogers and Silent Dream. It is not worth it.
Reviewed by Reginald Johnson 8/24/2007
While reading your interesting article I had a John Kerry moment. At first I disagreed with your viewpoint before I decided I was for it. Let me add this metaphor: A book is like a person's baby; one should never say it is ugly. However, when I see (from my limited vision) an ugly baby ... I say nothing at all.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Taylor (Reader) 7/31/2007
That's a tough one, Gayle. I few times I've had to turn down books. One was written in a style I didn't understand, one was badly written poetry that I suggested needed editing, and one writer was so rude and demanding, I chucked it. You bring up valid points. I'd say a reviewer needs to be selective. You can say no if it doesn't fit your criteria as a reviewer. Your name will be attached to the review until the internet dies.

Good article.

Reviewed by Dennis Leischner 7/31/2007
I have faced and handled this situation as you have described on a couple of different occasions. There is always something positive to write about even if the sentence begins "For those who enjoy....". In some ways, it's akin to putting "spin" on a difficult circumstance.
Reviewed by Rita Schiano 7/30/2007
Great advice!
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