I’m sorry. I like you, I just didn’t like your book.

It was bound to happen sooner or later.  I read a book by a friend of mine, and I just didn’t like it.

Was there anything wrong with her writing?  No, not really.  It was just a disappointing read for me. So, what did I do?  I finished it, and I moved on to something else, kept my mouth shut, and I didn’t do a book review.

At one point, in a forum we are both on, she said, referring to me finishing her novel:  “I guess no news is good news, yikes”.  Well, there was no actual question asked in the statement, so again, I kept my mouth shut.  I thought I had ducked the bullet.

Today she sent me a private message. (Almost a month later) She asked me if I hated it.  My heart sank.  What the heck do you say?  I don’t want to lie. It’s not that it’s a bad book.  It was traditionally published, so someone had to think it was good, and it had a few good reviews.  I just happened to agree with the bad ones.  I would have given the book three stars if I’d reviewed it, but in doing this, I felt like I would have to list the things that I didn’t like.

I have a policy not to review books I don’t like at all.  (Although some would say I’m lethal even when I do like a book 🙂 )

The way I figure it —  It doesn’t help the author any to bring their rating down because I didn’t care for it.  That’s why you have only seen four star reviews so far.  The stuff that I haven’t liked, I’ve set aside (except for that one I reviewed without giving the author’s name or book title)

So now, I’m stewing, and writing a blog post about it.  I need to say something to her by tonight.

Whattya do?

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34 responses to “I’m sorry. I like you, I just didn’t like your book.

  1. There are thousands of books in any bookstore, and millions on Amazon. I would not read most of them if you paid me. Romances, for example, are not my thing. I’m not interested in hunting, fishing, or higher mathematics. See what I mean? There are millions of books because even friends have different tastes. You can say it was well-written, just not your kind of book. This happened to me in an in-person critique group when a member’s romance-adventure came out. (I agreed with an editor who had rejected it.)
    However, I don’t like even best-sellers in that genre, so…

  2. I’ve been asked to critique work in a genre I don’t really like to read, so I have to put on my editor’s cap and focus on the quality of the writing and the parts of the book I really do like about it. There’s always going to be stories that we don’t get hugely excited about but others might love. I’m sure your friend will realize it. If I were you, I’d soften the bad things with the good, if there were any (and, hopefully, there were!). 🙂

  3. Be honest. Be considerate. Be constructive. Your friend thought enough of you to give you the MS to read. I think you owe her an honest opinion.

  4. i would write the review but instead of posting it email it too her and leave whether she wants it posted in her hands, play up any positives but also mention what turned you off stating that these are your views as a reader not a writer

  5. I think you can be honest without being hurtful.

    I was asked to review a book and before agreeing I told the person I would be honest. I critiqued it and softened the blow by offering tangible advice on what would make it stronger. She appreciated my candor.

    Good luck!

  6. This is why I would never ask someone to 1) review my books or 2) ask why they didn’t review my book once it was published. For most of us, reviews are a sensitive issue that gets raised in a very public venue.

    If you feel you must answer, politely, but honestly, is probably best. And there’s nothing wrong with partial honesty. I would understand if someone told me my book just didn’t click with them and wouldn’t hold it against them. Hopefully, your friend would be understanding, too.

  7. Reblogged this on andreagaszak and commented:
    To Margarita –

  8. Aaaaah! The Oreo Cookie critique! I was going to suggest that approach but you beat me to it!

  9. I’ve been in this position before. I also, didn’t write a review and when I was asked directly about it, I was truthful but I was also very sensitive to her feelings. I made sure to focus on all the things I DID like about the book and when asked what I didn’t like about it, I chose to just mentioned couple of things, the ones that hurt the story the most. Of course, this is all just my opinion and I made sure to point that out to her as well. She said that others had mentioned the same things to her and that she was going to work on those things.

  10. What an awful position to be in. Constructive honesty IS the best policy. A couple of times in my writers’ group, I sputtered exactly what I was thinking and felt awful. It was the truth because I knew the writer involved was capable of much better work. She hasn’t held it against me. At the same time, others felt the same piece was great. Reading is subjective after all.

  11. Good heavens. What a position to be. It’s not fun for either of you. The good news is that your friend has probably already braced herself (or is bracing herself) for your review. She knows it can’t be great, otherwise you wouldn’t be procrastinating. She may be wondering whether she should just let it go or maybe she wants to look in its face and brave the elements. I don’t know your friend, but she may want constructive criticism to improve. Also, maybe you could send her (or give her chocolate) when you critique her.

  12. Start with what worked for you, put some of the things that didn’t work for you in the middle, and end on a positive note. Keep it private, unless she’s comfortable with making it public. All the best!

  13. what an awful place to be — I have been there, so I know–so now I try to avoid this kind of thing, which means I had to quit a writers’ group –but I belong to another one, where thankfully, I love everyone’s writing
    I wish I had some advice for you — your friend should not be trying to pin you down

  14. I’ve been thinking about this very topic as I notice how often bloggers are called upon to review books by their blog buddies. Can I really trust that writer’s review, if what’s at stake is the friendship between them? I hope so! But, I feel that reviews are for the benefit of readers, not writers, and should be designed to help readers choose books they’ll enjoy reading. I believe that knowing the writer personally introduces bias on the part of the reviewer.

    So I have to ask myself, could I compromise my own integrity to give a boost to a writer who I feel needs to work on their story more before it reaches publication? I don’t think I can do book reviews for writers I know until I can answer that question.
    In your position, I would probably do just that–indicate your position about the book, and ask your friend whether or not she still wants you to post the review.

    BTW, I love your reviews! The cookie rating system is pure yummy genius. 🙂

  15. Tough one. I hate being asked to review books by people I know.
    I’d go with Mara’s advice. Well written book but just not your cup of tea.

  16. I don’t post bad reviews either. This is why: I picked up a book, started reading it, didn’t like it, tossed it aside only to pick it up a year later, try again and love it. Sometime it’s the mood I’m in and not the book.
    As for your review. Honesty is the way to go. If you can be constructive and kind, don’t forget to point out what you like, tell her. Once that’s done, then ask if she still wants you to post a review. Good luck.

  17. I’ve used your original technique of avoidance in the past, but when that doesn’t work you have to be honest with your friend. It’s not easy, but she knows you and if you make sure to point out good, bad, and just not your cup of tea it could be good for her writing and maintain your friendship. Good luck!

  18. I would tell her the truth in a private message. You’re not one to say you don’t like it and not have a reason. Explain yourself and also reiterate that books aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and not everyone will like it. Have her/him try to focus on the good reviews but consider your comments for future books. I have been harsh in a few of mine but I always explained my rationale. The coin flips the other way. There are some books I absolutely love and others thought they were bad. Different strokes. It doesn’t mean the author is bad, only that the book was not for you for xyz reasons. Good luck.

  19. I think it’s fine to give a lower rating if there are objective reasons for it, i.e. things that any reader would say are bad and aren’t subjective to personal opinion. This would be stuff like grammar, spelling errors, confusing POV, stuff like that.

    But if there really isn’t anything technically wrong, and it just wasn’t your cup of tea, then I guess there’s no harm in saying so to her. I agree about not rating it poorly, but surely you can explain it to her without her being upset by it. People have different tastes after all.

  20. This has actually happened to me. I run a book review blog, and I am usually honest in what I have to say and I don’t not post a review just because I didn’t like a book. However, I would NEVER post a negative review for a friend’s book. So when I was sent a review copy of a friend’s book, by her publicist, and my review ended up as a 1200 word list of the issues I had, I found myself in the same predicament as yourself. The difference was, I was expected to post my review as part of her blog tour. So, I had no choice but to contact her. I sent her a copy of my review, so she could see the issues I had with it–some of the issues were things that should have been picked up by her editor–and after a little bit of discussion, I admitted that I wasn’t comfortable posting a bad review for friend’s book. I’d critiqued her work prior to either of us being published, which meant she already knew how honest I could be, so thankfully we’ve never fallen out over it. Sometimes, you just have to let them know the truth because lying about them won’t help one iota. Just be constructive, so at least then they have something they can work with from the feedback.

  21. I think there is a difference between not liking a book and the story lacking quality. Like you said, it wasn’t badly written; maybe the plot was solid, the flow was consistent, the pace was appropriate, dialogue realistic, all the positive attributes were there… but it just wasn’t your cup of tea. That’s perfectly reasonable.
    I try to separate the two things when I read book I plan to review. Wuthering Heights is a good example. I can see how the writing is good and why it’s considered a classic piece of literature but but it bored the hell out of me!
    I hope this helps.
    Good Luck! 🙂

  22. Eeek! I really feel for you Jennifer, I’m dreading that happening.

    I was brought up with the motto ‘if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all’ and I tend to cling to that advice when reviewing books. So, like you, I don’t post a review if I didn’t manage to finish it (because it was so awful) or I really hated it.

    I recently critiqued a story I didn’t like, which was hard, and I have to say I bottled it and told the guy that it was good (but didn’t say I enjoyed it…which I didn’t!).

    I think I’d probably go along the lines that it wasn’t really your thing (easier if its a genre you don’t write in).

    Good luck honey xx

  23. Maybe she’ll know already if she reads this blog!

    You can find some good things to say right? You can do the old sandwiching of two positives around a negative.

  24. I think you should tell her the truth. But make sure you add to the response that just because you didn’t like it doesn’t mean other people won’t, and that you did finish it. I think I would rather hear the truth then you to lie to me.

  25. I’m with the consensus … go with the standard critique model. Good bits, bad bits, good bits.

    And repeat after me, “it’s not personal, it’s not personal, it’s not pers …”

    Good luck.

  26. Julie Catherine

    Oh dear, Jennifer, you are between a rock and a hard place, and I empathize with you, my friend. Personally, I have a policy to be honest all the time – although I do my best to be as tactful and diplomatic as possible; and if there is anything I can add of a positive nature, I will (even if I really have to dig far to find it). My friend Selena and I critique each others work all the time, and we don’t pull any punches – if it sucks, we say so; and if it’s awesome, we say that, too. Not being honest, even to a friend, is not doing that person any favors, now or in the future. If they’re happy with mediocre work, that’s up to them … but if they want to put out the best work they possibly can, they need to know the truth. And sometimes the truth hurts – and that is ego. I find that there is little room for ego in writing or in life. Again, this is just my opinion … I guess if nothing else, you could just say that it wasn’t your own personal taste? ((((Hugs)))) ~ Julie xox

    • She Started It

      I’m with you, Julie. Honesty, no matter how brutal, will make her next book better. I have friends who tear my stuff to shreds. I’m so grateful for it.

  27. Tough position for sure, bt I think you have to be honest–tactfully, f course. Instead of saying, you hated it, you talk about finding it hard to relate to.

  28. I suppose it’ll test your friendship.