The positive side of negativity

Whether it’s buying fake positive reviews or writing them for their own books under fake names, many authors seem to be convinced that anything but a rave  review of their books is a terrible blow. Apparently, bad reviews are the ultimate disaster.

From a reader’s perspective, of course negative reviews are helpful if they help you avoid reading a book you won’t enjoy. But librarians & booksellers, who recommend books as part of our job, know the value of negative opinions too. If I suggest a book to a patron that they don’t like, I want to know about it. Understanding what they didn’t like about the book — whether it was too violent, the characters too unrealistic, or not suspenseful enough — will help me find something more enjoyable next time.

But negative reviews don’t even always turn people away from the book they’re about. Anyone who’s been drawn to a book or movie because someone with the opposite taste hated it knows what I mean. If you enjoy sad, romantic stories, you’re not likely to be put off by hearing something dismissed as “a sentimental tear-jerker” — that’s exactly what you’re looking for.

So here’s to the occasional bad review. After all, a little salt with the sweet makes everything taste more satisfying.


p.s. Patrick Somerville not only received a mostly negative review of his book This Bright River, it was a) in the New York Times and b) got an important thing wrong about the story. If any author had a right to be cranky, it was Somerville. Yet he had enough self-possession to handle the situation gracefully and even poke a little fun at himself in his post “Thank you for killing my novel.”  If only we were all so level-headed…

2 responses to “The positive side of negativity

  1. Agreed. I only learned about Patrick Somerville’s work from his response to the negative review. While I haven’t read This Bright River yet, I did end up reading The Cradle and loved it. So, a negative review and a graceful response (which is very tricky to do!) can be helpful. Sometimes there’s no such thing as bad publicity!

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