Sometimes I read negative reviews for fun. Negative reviews of stuff I love, negative reviews of stuff I hate, even of stuff I feel ambiguous about. I’ve wondered why I do this, why I take such pleasure in reading people who are enraged, or disappointed, or just haters. And, okay, partially it’s because I’m a troll.
But I think it’s also because I trust negative reviews more. Positive reviews are so common that it makes me distrust love, especially love that uses very broad terms to discuss the book.
I recently saw on a writing acquaintance’s site an announcement of a review blog, with the promise of ‘no negative reviews here!’. Are negative reviews really that bad? I suppose the idea is: negative reviews could hurt sales! And also, hurt feelings!
Regarding the former, negative reviews haven’t seemed to hurt Twilight at all. Word of mouth helps sales, but my impression is that even negative reviews count toward ‘word of mouth’. A hilarious or scathing negative review will probably produce as many new readers as an enthusiastic and positive review, just because enthusiastic and positive reviews feel so much like being advertised to– they’re that common. And because interests and means of enjoyment vary widely, probably as many new readers will become fans (or ‘fans’).
As for the latter, that negative reviews hurt feelings… well, I’m sure it’s true. I’m a writer. Negative feedback makes me sad, when it doesn’t make me laugh at how clueless the reviewer is. Sometimes, very occasionally, negative opinions of somebody I respect about something I love can also make me feel self-doubt. I can’t help but wonder what it says about a review site, though, if it’s worried about hurting writer and reader feelings? Is it a site interested in discussing and discovering books? Or only in providing validation to its readerbase through ego stroking?
I’m being mean, aren’t I? I should say there’s nothing WRONG with providing validation. Really. It’s okay. But it’s not really book reviews if nothing ever earns negative commentary.
Anyhow, I’m thinking I should be mean more often. Review more books I read. Demonstrate that it’s okay to talk about things you don’t like, and that not all books are amazing. And that we can learn about our own writing from having discussions about what doesn’t work in a book. Because that’s the final reason I read negative reviews. I learn a lot.