A review is a reviewer’s opinion on a book with the aim of giving the review reader enough information to decide whether they want to read the book under review. It is possible to give the review reader enough information to do this even if the reviewer did not like the book.
Reviewers don’t always have a choice over which books they are given to review, and some might be seduced by the concept/premise of a book but then find the execution lacking. If the review reader gets to the end of a review and finds they’ve no idea whether they want to read the book, the review has failed and is therefore a bad review.
The reviewer not liking the book is not a bad review. Bad reviews are:
Reviewer writes a blurb, not a review
Publicists, marketers and publishers love using review quotes as publicity and positive reviews can support marketing efforts, but a reviewer’s job is not to market the book.
Reviewer reviews the book the way they wish it was written
It is not the reviewer’s job to rewrite the book. If the action scenes were slowed by too much description it’s fine to mention it, but the reviewer shouldn’t then re-write one of those scenes as it should have been written. The reviewer should figure out what the writer intended when writing the book and whether those aims were achieved.
Reviewer takes the ‘critic’ part of the job description too literally
It’s rare that a book has no redeeming figures. A review that trashes a book says more about the reviewer’s prejudices or expectations of a book than the book under review.
Reviewer is writing hyperbole
A puff piece or hyperbolic comparisons – “Genius phrasing”, “this poet is to be compared with Walt Whitman”, etc, particularly when not backed up with quoted examples – helps no one, least of all the writer. No one knows which contemporary poets will still be read in 50 years’ time. And how does a genius top the current book if reviewers are over-hyping it?
Review is vague or full of ambiguities
Most poetry reviewers are also poets so very conscious of not burning bridges with contemporary poets which might be useful people to network with in future or a publisher they might want to be published by at some future point. So it can be tricky when faced with a dud book. But it’s better to refuse a review rather than post one with no substance.
Review is about the cover/book design and barely mentions the contents
Brilliant or appalling bad design may be worth a mention, but not to the extent it takes over the review. This is usually an indication the reviewer didn’t want to write the review but had a word count to meet.
Reviewer writes about the writers’ other books/career and barely mentions the book under review
Another indication the reviewer didn’t really want to write the review but needed to fill a word count and thought showing off their knowledge of a writer’s career might gloss over the lack of actual review.
Reviewer only wrote about themselves
Similar to reviews about the cover/typography, or the writer’s career, it’s another indication that the reviewer was reluctant to write a review. This is like reading an interview that is all about the interviewer and not the interviewee.
Reviewer has a grudge against a writer
The review should be about the book, not the writer.
Not a Bad Review: didn’t like the book
Not liking a book is not a reason to not write a review. A reviewer can’t be the target audience for every book published or even every book published in their favourite genre. But every reviewer can write about the book and give the review reader, who might be part of the target audience, enough information so they recognise the book is for them. Once a when a music reviewer hated a new album, I would rush out and buy it. When the same reviewer praised a new album, it went on my ‘never, ever buy’ list. We had opposing tastes. But because he was consistent and give me enough information in the reviews for me to know I’d love what he hated and vice versa, the bands he hated were never going to lose sales because the reviewer didn’t like their music.
Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.