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How to Write a Good Review of a Bad Book

How to Write a Negative Book Review

Can I let you guys in on a secret? I prefer writing negative book reviews to positive ones. It’s not that I take pleasure in bashing other people’s work, I just find negative book reviews so much easier to write. 

Obviously I only pick up books that I think I’m going to enjoy so when they meet that expectation I often don’t feel the need to add to the noise already out there in the form of a detailed book review.

I also find it much harder to express why I love a book in a meaningful way when writing a positive book review. A person’s reaction to a book is very personal and sometimes I like a book just because. 

Maybe that romance gave me a warm fuzzy feeling, or that thriller kept me on your toes, or I simply fell in love with the main character.

Whatever the reason, I find it a harder to go into a lot of detail about these positive aspects and the last thing I want to do is fangirl or reveal spoilers, neither of which are conducive to a good book review. 

On the other hand I find it easy to express exactly why I don’t like something. And that’s why I’m writing this blog post about how to write a negative book review. 

There is a certain method to writing good negative book reviews in order to avoid coming across as nasty and bashing a book without justification. 

Writing a negative book review that doesn’t properly explain why you disliked it does the author a huge disservice. If you’re going to publicly shame their work, the least you can do is clearly explain what went wrong for you. 

Here are my top tips for writing a good review of a bad book:

Don’t be nasty.

This is the most important. Just as you wouldn’t turn to a colleague at work and tell them that their idea is stupid and they should bury it with a shovel, nor should you say such things online in a review.

As reviewers rarely have to confront the author in person it can be easy to hide behind a computer screen and type a nasty review.


Be respectful, no matter what you thought of their work. Someone has spent months or years working on a book and they have managed to get it released into the big wide world. That’s quite a feat in itself and even if you hated every word they wrote, there’s no need to be unpleasant. 

Explain what disappointed you.

If you had certain expectations that the book didn’t fulfil, explain these. Was it pegged as the Christmas romance of the season? The new self-help book to change your life? Let your readers know what you expected (and why), then explain what it is about the book left you feeling disappointed.

It’s a good idea to provide specific examples so you could point to certain characters or plot points that you disliked. Alternatively it might’ve been the structure or writing style that put you off. Whatever it is, write it down using examples. 

Whilst Rick Yancey set up a very exciting and unique story back in The 5th Wave, I couldn’t help but feel that The Last Star was a little lacking. The final part of this story takes place over a mere four days and these four days are packed with action, but not much excitement. For me, it felt like there was just more of the same stuff that we’d seen in the previous two novels but with more experienced and hardened characters.

The Last Star Book Review, What’s Hot Blog

Try to remain as spoiler free.

There needs to be a balance between providing specific reasons for your negative review and keeping your review spoiler free. It can be tempting with negative book reviews to reveal all the exact moments that bothered you and pick these apart. However a good review will analyse what went wrong without spoiling it for any people who still want to read it.

Consider what the author was trying to achieve.

If you think the author fell short on certain aspects but can sense what they was going for when writing their book, give them credit for this.When you read another person’s work you are getting inside their mind and seeing things from their perspective, which is well worth considering before you critique their work. 

For example, if you can see that the book’s aim is to use a story to try and bring certain social issues to light but poorly developed characters dragged the book down, give a little nod to their attempts. 

You may find that once you’ve considered the author’s aims that you feel slightly differently about their work or see more positives than before.

Mention the good parts.

It’s important to mention any positive aspects to the book and how the positive and negative aspects stack up against each other to form your overall rating.

No book is perfect and every story has its flaws. Some have more than others but there’s usually still something positive you can throw in. There may even be whole chunks of your negative book review that speak about positive aspects.

Even if you would not recommend the book overall, it’s still important to mention these aspects, which may appeal to other readers who weigh these factors up differently. A balanced review is infinitely more useful to your readers than one which is wholly one sided. 

Despite this, I will give Marian Keyes credit for constructing a story that doled out plot twist after plot twist. I wasn’t really sure where the book was headed at all until the very last few pages. Keyes builds up a strong cast of secondary characters who are all well-fleshed out and have their own plot threads. This is the only advantage of the length of the book as it does mean these subplots are explored more deeply than they often are. 

The Break Book Review, What’s Hot Blog

How could it have been improved?

One reason for writing negative reviews is to dissuade other readers from picking the book up. However, I like to think that something more positive can come from a negative review. 

Reviews are a way of letting an author know what you thought about their work. Whilst in most cases it’s unlikely the author will see your exact review, the general reception of the book will shape how they write in the future.

That’s why in cases where the book had lots of potential but ultimately let me down, I often suggest what would’ve made the reading experience better for me. It might help inform another budding author about how they want to write their own book – who knows!

It would’ve been more interesting to have half the number of accounts but with a little more depth on each person featured. Reading this made me feel like I was simply swiping through a large slideshow deck of similar morning routines. This book is a case of quantity of quality with heaps of accounts of people’s mornings routines but few specifics about how these routines helped these people get to their positions. It’s these crucial specifics that I usually find most motivating so this disappointed me. 

My Morning Routine Book Review, What’s Hot Blog

Consider which other readers may enjoy it.

Lastly, I always try to mention who this book might still appeal to. After all, book reviews are all a matter of opinion and just because I disliked it doesn’t mean every other reader will too.

Let’s say you are disappointed by a young adult novel because the romance took over from the action. There are many other young adult readers who absolutely love the teen romance aspects of these books and so they may adore it.

It’s important to consider what someone else may be able to gleam from this work, where possible. 

There you have my top tips for writing a negative book review. Many reviewers choose not to write negative reviews but personally I don’t think they’re all that scary and they’re a very important part of the book world! 

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Laura is a culture and travel blogger based in London. She studied French at Oxford University and now studies Law in London. She’s an avid reader and traveller and loves to combine the two with literary travel. Find her tips and reviews on the best reads, eats and destinations on whatshotblog.com.

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  1. 21st December 2018 / 10:35 AM

    YES! I always try to do this with books that don’t come up to snuff! Thanks!

  2. 28th December 2018 / 4:43 PM

    These are really great tips to keep in mind, and I’m glad to find I’m already doing most of them! I have written several negative reviews lately (it was #DNFDecember, unfortunately), and while I didn’t like the books enough to keep reading, I was still able to point out what WAS good (the author’s ability to write well) and what other readers might enjoy that I specifically didn’t (e.g., “slow burn” plot development). I feel it’s important to be honest but never cruel, like you said. Someone worked hard on a book, whatever I think of it, and as someone who hopes to be a published author one day, I know I would be devastated if someone completely ripped apart my work. Of course, I occasionally DO come across books that make me go “how the EFF did this ever get published???,” but I simply stop reading those and don’t review them. If I can’t say anything nice at all, it’s best that I say nothing at all.

    Thanks for the great tips!

    • Laura
      10th January 2019 / 8:52 PM

      So glad you found the tips useful and very happy to hear you’re already implementing some of these on your own reviews! Imagining what it would feel like if it was a review of YOUR work is such a great way to visualise what it could be like for someone on the receiving end of your criticism. I also don’t think I’ve ever come across a book that only has negative reviews, which reminds me that it’s all very subjective at the end of the day! Thanks for stopping by CJ!

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