Positive-negative book reviews: What are they, and how do they help you?

As I delve into the world of book reviewing, I’ve been noticing a trend among authors to get rather despondent if reviewers give their books less than four stars on the rating scale.

As an author myself, I can completely relate to wanting everyone to absolutely love my books, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.

As an editor and reviewer, I can tell you right now that a positive-negative review is far better on the rating scale than a besotted and raving five star review will ever be (at least where other prospective readers are concerned).

First off, what is a positive-negative review?

This is a review that garners three or fewer stars on the rating scale, but; and this is important, still ends the review with positive feedback for the author.

When writing a positive-negative review – I really need to come up with a shorter name for that… PNr? That works. Now, where was I?

When writing a PNr, the reviewer will typically start with a list of “don’t likes” or, negatives. Some of these may be personal preferences, others will be technical such as editing mistakes. Whatever it is about the book that put the reader off, will be listed first.

To end the PNr, the reviewer will focus on aspects she did like. Whether it’s a relationship between characters, the humour in the writing, or even the style of writing, these are the characteristics that will balance the review from being negative, to being positive-negative.

A review that’s written in this format, is really helpful to both authors and readers, in spite of the sting that can come with the critiques and lower rating.

Why are positive-negative reviews good for authors?

A PNr gives a balanced perspective of a story that some critical readers will often overlook if reviews are too positive.

The Writing Cooperative states:

[Customers] will usually first note the number of total reviews — as a gauge of popularity — and then look at the average rating, and then possibly browse the content of the reviews. If they do, they normally read (more likely scan) one or two of them. And if they are like most people, they skip the positive ones and read a negative one first, before going back to a positive one (if they even do that).

A PNr; in this case, is really beneficial based on this trend, because if your rating is low, but the review ends on a positive note, readers are more likely to be willing to give your book a chance to let them decide for themselves.

Gigi Griffis posted the results of a really great survey on her blog, which states:

As for what we’re looking for in those reviews…mentions of typos and bad grammar are (by far) the thing most likely to put us off (self-published authors take note: hiring a copy editor is well worth it). A dragging middle (25%), unbelievable plot line (21%), ending people hated (21%), and unlikeable main character (20%) were also significant detractors. And 16% of respondents said they don’t want to buy a book with a cliffhanger ending.

A quick caveat: PNrs should not dip below three stars unless the book is literally a hot mess of poor grammar, atrocious spelling and terrible formatting that make it painful to read.

As Neal Wooten states in this article for Huffington Post:

If a book is well-written and well-edited, it should never get less than a three-star review. Just because you were not able to tell what the story was about from the book description, or if the story didn’t appeal to you as much as other books, is no reason to give a professional book a one or two-star review. That’s just petty. Stories are subjective, and just because it didn’t appeal to you doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to someone else. Explain in your review why you didn’t like the story. That’s what reviews are for.

Not only that, but PNrs often offer some really useful feedback, which, if you’re serious about improving as a writer, you may be able to implement in future projects. Obviously, take this with the DIWTTTSOM pinch of salt (Do I Want To Tell Their Story Or Mine?).

Why are positive-negative reviews good for readers?

As a reader with very limited time on my hands to read a book just for the sake of reading it, I love PNrs.

I will very seldom buy a book that only has positive, rave reviews. I’m a critical reader, and deliberately avoid the best-sellers list, seeking out indie authors and self-published books in an effort to support writers who are doing what I aim to do. In cases like this, I admit to assuming (wrongfully, I would hope), that if the smattering of reviews are all four stars or more, they’re written by friends and family who are supporting the author.

Unless those reviews are exceptionally well-written, I’m more likely to be wary of buying a book that only has positive feedback.

As a disclaimer, there are readers who claim to only read books with 4+ ratings on the bestsellers list. If there’s a lower review in there, they’ll bypass the book entirely. In my opinion, this is grossly unfair to new, or little known authors, as they’re the ones you’re skipping by judging books on these criteria. It’s also incredibly limiting to your ability to read widely, but that’s a rant for another day.

Why are positive-negative reviews good for reviewers?

As a reviewer, part of what you’re trying to cultivate (I may be wrong, here) is an ability to think critically about a story.

Rating books based on your personal opinion is all well and good, as long as you recognise that your review is subjective.

PNrs allow you to take a step back from your emotions, review both positive and negative features of the book for a reader who may not necessarily share all your opinions, and then give a rating that is still true to your preferences.

Not only does writing a review like this give you the advantage of considering all the options, but it also allows you to provide a far more satisfying five star review for the books that truly earn it.

As Wooten’s article states:

A five-star review should be for a book that has everything: good writing, good editing, and a story that makes you want to read it again and tell your friends about. Some people are too generous, which is generally not a bad trait to have in life. But I’ve looked at all the reviews of some reviewers to find that they’ve given a five-star review to all 30 books they’ve read. And while it’s very polite, it doesn’t serve the purpose for potential new readers. Seriously, nobody could be that lucky.

To summarise, reviewers generally really want to like every book they read. We don’t like criticising books for the sake of it; and if we do give a PNr, please acknowledge it for the advantages it carries, and the time it took to write.

For examples of some PNrs I wrote, take a look at this review, and this one.

As a reader, what sort of reviews make you sit up and take note of a book? I’d love to know your thoughts on PNrs: do you find them useful, or would you prefer rave reviews?

4 thoughts on “Positive-negative book reviews: What are they, and how do they help you?”

  1. I can definitely see the value of saying something positive in a negative review. Especially for new authors who are still figuring out how to make it all into a cohesive and enjoyable story. Often in Goodreads, when I give a 3-star review (which means the book was very middle of the road for me), I’ll say specifically what I liked and what I thought was lacking. It’s a good idea for bloggers, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this interesting post. I’ve thought before that it looks more authentic if a book has a mix of reviews. I am guilty, though, of only posting positive reviews myself. If I don’t like a book I don’t post a review! I will try to write a PNr next time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s