A fellow reviewer had a bit of an ethical dilemma. He was given a book to review which was written by the 16 year old son of a friend of his. He found the book to be better than what he would have written at age 16, but it still wasn't a good book. So, rather than write a negative review in his column, he provided feedback to the young author, identifying areas that needed work. His two little was this: never before had he given an author of the option of not publishing the review. Had he handled this appropriately?
The consensus around the campfire was that he had done exactly the right thing. The point of the spear is that a young, new writer needs every bit of encouragement and support and mentoring they can get. Everyone agreed on that. The area in which there was some degree of disagreement was on whether negative reviews were helpful at all, and in what context.
For example, consider the case of an established writer of lots of great books, who then turns out a real stinker. A couple of people made the point that a negative review can warn readers off, so they don't waste their time and money. I think there's a lot to be said for this position; and I'm not sure how I feel about it.
Any time I write a review, I have an expectation that the review is going to be read by the author. That's because almost none of the books that I review sell millions of copies, and the authors who writes them are interested in what the readers have to say. I want my reviews to tell the author that I understood the story, which parts of the book worked particularly well, and to GENTLY point out areas that need some work. That's my approach, because I need books; if I am harsh and punitive, I am dropping another brick on their head. I don't want to do that, I want them to write more books.
So, what do I do if I read a book I don't like? In what might have been my last blog posted before this one, I talk about the value of having a really horrible book to read. The topic came up because Amazon recommended a bestseller book to me, and it was awful, awful, awful. They said it was a million seller. Maybe so; but it was still awful. Awful science, awful conspiracy theory, awful story, awful characters. And they even threw in a NAZI submarine for good measure. Awful. So, what did not raise you say about THAT book? Nothing, because I didn't review the book. I didn't see the point; there were hundreds of preexisting reviews, and they were all positive, so it was sort of like voting for Mcgovern in 1972. (except that I did vote for Mcgovern in 1972, with an absentee ballot, in basic training the day they taught us how to use the claymore mine.)
Now, in the case of books which are not 1,000,000 Sellers, but are severely lacking in some particular area, I contact the author if possible. I detail the problems I have, and engage in a dialog. This doesn't happen a lot, because I don't read books that I don't think I'm going to enjoy. For example, I don't do horror; except, of course, when I get sucked into it by accident (I'm looking at you, Twisted Breath Of God). I had a lengthy conversation with the author of a time travel novel one night, after which he withdrew the book from publication. Now, that was a tag team operation; one of my cohorts in crime, who had asked me to look at the book, had already ripped him a new one in a review, had what I had to say to him just expanded and extended those remarks. I don't know if that book will ever see the light of day, it had potential.
So, do I ever write a negative review? Well, yes, I did one time. But I really don't want talk about that one; if you search my reviews you can find it. I've only written about 200 of them, so it shouldn't take you that long.
And here's some breaking news: I checked earlier this evening, and my Amazon reviewer ranking is 9,100! I want to thank everyone who has read the reviews and given them a helpful vote. Since my goal is to increase the circulation of writers, a high ranking is a good thing. I started out at 14,000,000, about 18 months ago.