To my surprise, I discovered a debate about the ethics of bad reviews. It involved much blustering, ad hominem attacks and ridiculously obscure literary references, so here are the simplified arguments:
For: People have the right to voice their opinions.
Against: Reviewers should keep bad reviews to themselves because they hurt authors, especially new authors.
Now, the argument I came across mostly applied to national newspaper reviewers giving bad reviews to new poetry, but sort of degenerated to encompass all bad reviews by anyone, including bloggers. That’s why I’ve chosen to write my own opinion on the topic, not only to get rid of the ridiculous rhetoric, but bring a little sanity to the debate. Here we go…
First off, attempting to censor the internet is like trying to forbid a teenager from seeing their girlfriend/boyfriend—it only heightens the appeal. Secondly, we need to talk semantics. ‘Bad review’ is generally a misnomer because in nine out of ten reviews with that label, the reviewer has found at least one good thing to say about the book. ‘Bad review’ usually implies that the reviewer simply hated it and wants to completely trash the book and the author, which is far from the truth. A review with honest, thoughtful criticism is better than a review where the reviewer praises the book to the heavens while lying through their teeth.
And let’s not kid ourselves here. Would you trust a reviewer that only gave 4 and 5 star reviews? To me, that says they’re either lying or they love every book they read, even the ones that are truly bad.
I’m not going to apologize for giving 1 and 2 star reviews. I’m not even going to apologize for the 0.5 star review I gave once. Why? Because I wrote my honest feelings about those books and I like to think I had genuinely constructive criticism. If I didn’t publish reviews on books I didn’t like, not only would I have less content, I’d be selling myself. When I started my blog, I promised to tell only the truth about books and I have. I am not about to censor myself because one bad review might prejudice my admittedly small following against an author. And frankly, I don’t think many other bloggers would.
I don’t see many issues in black and white, but this is one of the rare cases where I do. You’re either completely for free speech or against it. You either want bloggers to put their honest opinions out there, or you want to silence them—well, parts of them. Again, let’s be honest with ourselves: Are our egos so inflated that we actually think one bad review by a blogger will ruin a new writer’s chance at gaining a following?
Of course not. One bad review is not going to hurt authors. In fact, sometimes I read reviews where the reviewer hated the book and went on to buy it because the premise actually sounded good to me. I know a lot of people who are the same. Yes, a lot of bad reviews will harm a new book, but in that case I have something thoroughly cold-hearted to say. If your book is getting a large amount of bad reviews (70% or more), it was probably meant to fail.
So what do you guys think? Should book reviewers keep it to themselves if they didn’t like a book?