Thoughts

Constructive Criticism Does Not Belong in a Book Review

Discussion

I’ve read a few posts over the last month and a half that frequently state not to bash the book or author but to give constructive criticism in a book review. It is true that bashing is not okay, but if you want the opportunity to hate on a book, give your readers a warning that this is going to happen. One example is that Samantha at Thoughts and Tomes labels some of her videos as “GUSH” for books that she’s going to majorly praise and “GRIPE” to complain about the content of a book.

My major concern centers on constructive criticism in reviews. Book reviews don’t need to have constructive criticism because it is rare for a book to change due to a review. At best, the author may be more conscious of the issues given in future works, but authors are not the audience for book reviews.

Constructive criticism is given when you expect the author to change the piece of writing. One example of this is in the creative writing classroom, where you workshop a story, an essay, or a poem to improve the work. Your classmates tell you where there could be improvement: more character development, inaccuracies about a business, too many or too few details, etc. They also tell you what is working. After hearing these criticisms and praises, you revise the writing so that it is stronger. This is constructive criticism. The best places to give that criticism is in developmental editing, like the example above, and in a letter from a journal or publisher about what could be improved in the writing.

Constructive criticism does not belong in a book review because a book review is not intended for the author. The audience of a book review is someone who might be interested in reading a book. In the review, they learn whether or not the book should be read or purchased and why that is the case.

What types of criticism go into a book review? Reviews have to be critical. Evaluative criticism is one. Positive criticism highlights a positive aspect of a story, which can help a less-known book become known or find something good in the controversy about a book. For example, A Fujoshi’s Kommentary posted a video about Killing Stalking, in reaction to the mainstream hate of the manhwa, enlightens people about why it has so many fans. Negative criticism is the opposite. I tend to see these criticisms come out in discussion/book talk posts because they seem to come out in reaction to hype or hate, like a the video by A Fujoshi’s Kommentary. Logical criticism could come into play if, say, a character has the ability to fly and then fifty pages later has never been able to fly. Practical criticism (“it does or does not work” in reality) is probably more of a concern in reviews of nonfiction, such as a book that proposes a solution to the problems of the current health care system.

Sometimes you might find aesthetic criticism where it concerns the cover of a book or the artwork of a graphic novel or picture book. If it concerns a book cover, that could start a whole new post or video talking about different covers in existence (e.g. Book Traveling Thursdays) or a cover change mid-series. For the graphic novel, aesthetic criticism is necessary since the illustrations tell the story.

The point is that these and other types of criticism are not necessarily intended to improve the story. The only person who can improve a novel, story, poem, etc. is the author. If you want to give constructive criticism, there are avenues to do that. For example, NetGalley has a place to submit a link to your book review and a place to tell the publisher what you thought of the book, which is a good option if you aren’t going to post a review of that eARC.

Perhaps the idea that bloggers are trying to get across is to mention what works and what doesn’t. That is fair to do in a review. “The plot was amazing, but it sucks that his best friend who has been through this entire journey with him is a flat character.” That makes sense, and it is good to point out the positives and negatives of a book. But there is no reason to have to write the review to the author, even if you would like the author to rewrite it so that it could be better.

If you would like to give constructive criticism, that is fine. Write a post about it. Send a letter to the publisher or author. When you go to write a book review, evaluate it for what it is, not what you wish it was. Don’t write it with the idea that the author will change it based on what you write.

Do you think constructive criticism belongs in reviews? What do you think should go into a book review?

14 thoughts on “Constructive Criticism Does Not Belong in a Book Review

  1. I’m not sure I see the distinction you’re trying to make. If I write that I would have like to see a faster-paced plot and greater character development, I am telling readers what I thought the book lacked and why I didn’t enjoy it/thought it wasn’t soundly constructed. I’m not actually trying to give the author advice on what to do with their next book. They’re not going to read my review. And they didn’t ask for my advice. I agree that reviews are for readers, but I don’t think it follows that I can’t offer up ideas of what I thought would make the book stronger.

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    1. My perception of constructive criticism comes from the goal of improvement, so I took it as the audience being the author. I see what you mean, though, in that this is what you thought about the book. I’m probably not working with a good definition of constructive criticism. Thank you for your input.

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      1. I guess I thought constructive criticism would be more specific. Like I might say, “Perhaps you should introduce the main character earlier” or “I think they should meet at an Italian restaurant instead of a coffee shop” or something. It’s interesting to see how people interpret it differently!

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      2. I have included your examples in my concept of it, but I attached a goal. I never thought there would be different perceptions of constructive criticism before. You learn something new every day.

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  2. I totally agree with you. I think you can put criticism in a review (as long as you do it nicely) to help other people who might want to read the book decide whether or not to. Constructive criticism, on the other hand, is meant to suggest changes that could be made to the book, as you say, and so is more for the editing stage. Once the book is published it’s too late for constructive criticism on that book in my opinion, although I guess the author could refer back to it when writing later books.
    I definitely think it’s important to make the distinction. Great post! 🙂

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    1. I know some authors change things in their books when a fact is wrong, like when J.K. Rowling has apparently made corrections about snakes with eyelids and snowy owls only being male. That’s what I’ve heard anyway. I do tend to think the book itself won’t change because of one review, but it could affect the author’s later books. Thank you for commenting!

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  3. Hello! From a different perspective: as an author, I have contact details for readers to tell me directly about things that are ‘wrong’ or inappropriate, or just to say what they need to say about the story. I like that.
    Reviews are comments about my story to other readers, and if I find them I read them – but the issue is that I write full-time, so how do I get to read things I don’t know exist?
    Most authors have a point of contact, and if you (the reader, our most important person in the world) want to say something that isn’t a review (how I felt about the story and what it meant to me), press the button and send the message direct.
    BTW – love reading reviews, but very much appreciate the difference between review and critique. Critique has to happen before publication, anything after that is a new version with erratum fixes (the proverbial pain in the [bleep].

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    1. I’m glad that there are ways to contact an author if someone wants to give praise, point out errors, or things in the book that bother them. I thought there was at least a way to contact the author through their publisher, but I’m glad that authors like you like to hear from your readers. Thank you for sharing!

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  4. I think this might be more an issue with people misusing the term “constructive criticism” than an actual issue with the way reviews are written. I agree that using that term implies that the author is going to get this feedback and somehow change what they’ve done. I think that most people who are using the term are just trying to say that you shouldn’t be too harsh or attacking when presenting criticism.

    That being said, I actually have heard of cases where an author changes their (future) writing based on constructive feedback they’ve gotten from reviewers. This happens more often with self-published authors, but I’ve even heard of the occasional case where a traditionally published author has done this. One time I even had a self-pubbed author contact me and thank me for my negative feedback—she said she’d learned from it and planned to make some changes to her next book because of it!

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  5. I suppose for me a review should say how you feel as an individual towards the book but if you don’t like it I think you need to be careful how you “pull it apart” because you don’t like it. I think that this can still be constructive in the sense that you are saying what you like / don’t like but the aim overall should be to give your impressions so that people who follow – and trust – your blog and reviews can take an educated decision on whether to buy a book.

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