How do you break the bad news? | Fun Questions

December 7, 2013 Fun Questions 27

Join me every Saturday as I ask a Fun Question that’s been on my mind. I’ll give you my take, but I really hope you’ll jump in with your answers too, since I’m really curious to know what my fellow readers and bloggers think! So today’s question is…

How do you break the bad news?

This is a question I’m asking because I genuinely need help figuring out how to do this. I like to think of myself as a nice person. I do not like to hurt people’s feelings. But I’m also an honest person. When I say that receiving a book for free will not alter my opinion of the book, I mean it. When I’m reviewing books that I’ve purchased or even received from NetGalley or tours I don’t feel as bad saying that I didn’t like it, because I’m not in direct contact with the author. There’s some person or medium that’s going to work as a middle-man for me and the bad news. But when an author asked me to read for them and I accept, the bad news has to go to them directly. And that sucks.

This is why I take great pains to read book summaries, reviews, and, if possible, excerpts, before accepting a review request. I feel bad saying no to a book review request – and honestly, I kind of chicken out and just don’t respond when I know a book isn’t for me… sorry, I just suck at saying no. And one time I wrote out this very considerate response explaining that I appreciated them thinking of me, but I could tell that it wasn’t a book I would like, so it was better for both of us if I declined. Well, I was basically told I didn’t know what I liked, because I would most definitely like that book. They wouldn’t take no for answer. So now, I just give no answer.

But that’s not the bad news I’m talking about. I’m talking about when my careful consideration failed me. I’m thinking of a very specific circumstance right now, but I won’t name the book – as I haven’t told the author yet and don’t want to give it bad publicity. I really loved the concept and setting for the book when I read about it. But I got 30% in and realized that I was bored out of my mind. Everything was just taking too long to unfold, I didn’t like the characters (at best I was ambivalent to them), and I was incredibly frustrated by the fact that the element that had been hinted at way back in chapter 2 still hadn’t reappeared. I had pushed through longer than I normally would because it was a review book and I didn’t want to admit that I was going to have to tell the author that I had to DNF their book. But it happened. I couldn’t do it any longer.

So now what? I feel that my avoidance strategy for review requests (which I’m not particularly proud of, but I’m being honest) would be really inconsiderate here. An author gave me their book for free, hoping that I would be able to give them some good publicity. They deserve a response. Do I take the constructive criticism route and tell them why I didn’t like it? Or do I try to spare them as much as possible and simply say that it wasn’t for me, but I appreciate them considering me for a review? I’m afraid of the second option because of the response I received to using that same kind of strategy with review requests. But I also don’t want to be unkind – which I’m afraid the first response could be. As a writer myself, I know that what you write is personal and a labor of love. I also know that when I ask someone to read, I want their honest opinion. I want them to tear it apart – but it’s also not  published yet. If I could no longer go back to the drawing board, how would I feel?

So my plea: How do you break the bad news?

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About Berls
Berls has been a book lover her whole life. She reads pretty much every genre and is currently working hard at making her childhood dream of becoming an author come true. She loves sharing her thoughts about books, blogging, and just random fun stuff. She's a challenge and read-a-thon junkie, so it's no wonder that she loves co-hosting the COYER reading challenge. Leave a comment, Berls is always happy to chat!

27 Responses to “How do you break the bad news? | Fun Questions”

  1. A'ishah Rose

    I got trolled for a negative review recently and it was my
    first time being trolled since I began blogging again. It sucked. I have angsted over whether to post negative book reviews – sometimes I’m just tempted to rate them on Goodreads and leave it at that. I HATE giving people bad news or telling someone that I don’t like something – I don’t want to hurt their feelings, I don’t want to feel defensive, I don’t want to upset the status quo. On an older, more popular blog I used to be part of, we got a lot of crap from an author for a critical review we posted that was mostly positive except for a few points. I have flashbacks whenever I think about posting something negative.

    At the same time…as you put it, we DID promise an honest review, no matter how we got the book. To me, reviewing is a social contract of sorts. It’s a contract with the author and publisher that we’ll give the book a fair chance and be as up front and honest about it as possible. But it’s also a contract with other readers that we won’t sugarcoat things. We are not doing anyone any favors by avoiding reviews that might give a book negative publicity. I personally try to only accept books for review that I’ll like so I have a reason to finish them and not hate my life, but at the same time – if I only review books I like, I wouldn’t grow as a reader and other readers who look to bloggers for their next reads wouldn’t feel prepared. Sometimes a negative review can even be positive publicity – for example, there’ve been books I hated for certain reasons that others would love for the very same reasons.

    When I get a book directly from the author, I email them if I know the review is not going to be good to smooth the path. And there really isn’t a quick fix for that squicky feeling you get in your stomach when you’ve gotten halfway through the book and can’t bring yourself to finish. But ultimately I’ve tried to let go of all of that because I’ll drive myself crazy feeling like I’m obligated to provide good reviews instead of honest ones. (And getting lots of free books reallllly does make me feel like that sometimes.) For me, realizing that reviewing is really a subjective act and that that is actually a GOOD thing in the grand scheme of things has helped me get over it and let go a bit.

    • Berls

      You are so right on all counts! Recognizing that its an obligation – not just to the author/publisher but to our blog readers is what makes me determined to not sugar coat the review. I don’t want to go through what you did though – and for a positive review? That’s just crazy! I hate breaking bad news no matter how you look at it, it’s hard and someone’s going to be unhappy.

  2. Lola

    I usually just send them an e-mail where I tell them I am sorry I didn’t like their book and send them the link to my review on Goodreads (which contains an explanation of why I didn’t like it). I always try to be polite and state my opinion in a way that isn’t attacking, but even so sometimes authors just can’t deal with the bad feedback and some authors deal with it really well.
    I have gotten e-mails back in which the author told me they where glad I took the time to read their book and gave them my honest opinion and that indeed their book isn’t for everyone, but I also had authors from whom I never heard anything anymore or just a short thanks.

    No matter how you deal with it, it is a difficult situation and I hate sending those bad news e-mail every time and I am afraid of the reaction every time.
    Lola recently posted…Release Day Blitz: Third Daughter (The Dharian Affairs Trilogy #1) by Susan kaye QuinnMy Profile

    • Berls

      That seems to be the consensus, so it’s what I did. It stinks, I hate having to give a bad review, but if you don’t like a book what else can you do, right? Fingers crossed that the author takes (took) it well.

  3. Chene Sterckx

    Where was this post about a month ago when I was stressing over this dilemma! I am so happy to see I am not the only one who has felt this way and I feel the exact same way as you do. At this point I am not even accepting review requests for 2 reasons: 1 – to catch up on my tbr review list that literally exploded and 2 – that I don’t have to worry about this for a while I hope. Thank you for the great post! You have way more courage than me to post some of your questions but I am grateful for them too.

    Great Job Berls <3
    Chene Sterckx recently posted…Book Review & Tour Stop: Forbidden Future ~ A Time Travel AnthologyMy Profile

    • Berls

      Thanks Chene! It’s been really reassuring to see everyone’s answer and find out that it’s not just me. Seems we all have a bit of trouble with this – which makes sense – we’re a pretty nice group and we love books so why would we want to break bad news like this? I’m also not taking review requests right now, mainly because I have way too many books to read, but I’m also thinking I could stand a bit less of this kind of stress!

  4. Bookworm Brandee

    I’m gonna go through and read all your comments here, Berls, so I can see if anyone has the answer. 😉 I, too, have trouble saying no. (I have been known to not respond to review requests for the same reason as you) And I too recently began reading a book that had a great premise, intriguing synopsis…but I got to about 23% when I realized that it just wasn’t working for me AT ALL. I don’t DNF books (except for that one John Updike one, but that was years ago…) but I just thought to myself, there are too many great books out there to waste time reading one I don’t like. I haven’t yet written a review or let the author know…because I’m a total chicken!

    So, now I’m gonna read what others said…
    Bookworm Brandee recently posted…**Sidekick Showcase #22 ~ What an Angel**My Profile

    • Berls

      I’m glad I’m not the only chicken!! I hope you found the comments as helpful as I did. In the end, I decided that I just had to suck it up and send an email – as polite and considerate as possible, under the circumstances – now I’m just crossing my fingers that if they respond, it won’t be angrily!

  5. Pamela D

    About a year ago, I was asked by an author to review a book. I started the book, but I didn’t like it. I felt so honored to be asked by the author (nothing like this had happened to me before) that I felt obligated to finish it and find something redeeming in it. After a while, I realized that I just couldn’t finish it. I emailed the author and explained in as few sentences as possible (and as kindly as possible) that the book was not for me and that I was not going to write a review because it would not be positive. The author emailed me back and thanked me for my time and that was it. I don’t know how something can be upset with you if you say it just isn’t a good fit for you (or your blog). Maybe? Good luck!
    Pamela D recently posted…Sunday Update!My Profile

    • Berls

      I agree Pamela – it should be something author’s expect to happen and take with good grace. I emailed the author this week and haven’t heard anything back yet. So we’ll see. Maybe they are just accepting it and not wanting to say anything back. Which is fine with me, better than any backlash.

  6. Trish @ Between My Lines

    What I do is cushion the blow; something I liked, all the things I didn’t and why, and try to finish again on something positive. I get my negative stuff across but hopefully it softens it a little. I feel so bad when this happens but it is impossible to avoid. And yes I HATE it but I’d rather be honest and in the longterm being honest is what makes me feel best.
    Trish recently posted…The Sunday Post : Get your Bookish NewsMy Profile

    • Berls

      I agree completely with needing to be honest – I could never pretend I liked it just to avoid hurt feelings. I really like this idea of cushioning with positives. I guess ultimately, I’m going to have to just pull off the band-aid and try to make it as pleasant as possible.

  7. kimbacaffeinate

    First, I do not review books I have DNF’d, and when I send that email I a part of me dies a little. I will usually try to point out what drew me to accept it, what if any aspects I like and why it isn’t/won’t work for me. For example, I began reading a romantic suspense and the guy turn off for me. I told the author that this was just one of my own personal hang-ups, and that it would negatively impact my enjoyment. Another, the mc was too snarky, and the changing pov’s made me crazy and I quit around 100 pages, I explained to the author what didn’t work for me, and how I kept getting lost when the view changed. If you are honest and fair they truly appreciate the feed back. Most..will appreciate it, since others will review it and voice the same opinions in not so friendly terms. Good luck, it is never easy, but when done gently it is a good thing.
    kimbacaffeinate recently posted…Sunday Post #85 -sharing blog news and book haulMy Profile

    • Berls

      I’m glad I’m not the only one that hates the prospect of sending that email! I like the idea of making sure they know why I was drawn to the book in the first place and what I liked about it, so that there’s some positive there. My fingers are crossed that the author will appreciate my honest response and accept it for what it is. I won’t be reviewing on the blog, that seems unfair with a DNF – maybe the book would have turned around if I could have made myself stick with it. Thanks so much, cross your fingers for me 🙂

  8. Michelle Willms

    When a book is so horrible I can’t finish it, IF it hasn’t been published yet, I’ll send an email to the author asking him/her if he/she’d like a few suggestions prior to publication. Sometimes, I’ve found a strong editing can repair many issues. Other times, a simple email with a short list of concerns can at least tell the author the most serious problems. The author obviously respects your opinion. I don’t like to publish DNF books on my blogs (I haven’t yet, but I know I will have to suck it up at some point). An email outlining the major flaws you found SHOULD (if the author is even remotely mature) be take with grace and dignity and applied to his/her next book if the current book cannot be repaired. Every author I’ve worked with has, thus far, been kind and accepting of my views. That’s supposed to be why people ask for HONEST reviews. People take their reading material seriously. Readers will eat them alive. This is what I point out to the authors I work with. I am gentle, others won’t be.
    Michelle Willms recently posted…Let’s Talk About Books! turned 1 today!My Profile

    • Berls

      I also don’t do DNF reviews on the blog – I’m not sure if I ever will. I kind of feel like it makes sense to say way I couldn’t finish it in a less formal review like on Goodreads & Shelfari, but I want to have a more complete view of the book to put a review on the blog. I’m glad to hear that authors have been receptive of your criticism though, it makes me hopeful. It’s true, readers can be really vicious and that’s the opposite of my goal, so hopefully the author will appreciate that!

  9. A Voracious Reader

    This is a problem for me only because I have books up on my blog, so people know I’m going to be reviewing them. If it suddenly disappeared with no explanation someone might wonder about it. I add books to my Currently Reading shelf on Goodreads as well. So what to do when a book doesn’t do it for me? I treat it just like every other book I review. I finish it, if at all possible, and then write the review. I look at it this way: my currently reading is out there for people to see and when I’m finished I owe it to people who read my reviews to actually review the books I read. I’ve been pretty lucky so far. Most of the books I’ve agreed to read have been anywhere from ok to awesome. Not very many ughs.

    As far as requests go, I answer them with a Yay or Nay. I haven’t rec’d a reply like yours but if I did it would go straight to trash and any future emails from that author would go the same route. What an idiot.
    A Voracious Reader recently posted…Saturday ShortsMy Profile

    • Berls

      I do the same thing, mainly on shelfari, but also on my sidebar showing what I’m currently reading. I don’t know how much attention people pay to it, but I do worry that a book just disappearing with no review puts out some red flags. I think I’ve decided to put the review up on Shelfari & Goodreads, but not on the blog.

      As far as that response – I was stunned and since I had put so much thought into the response I found it really insulting that they couldn’t respect it. Definitely scared me off responding in the future!

  10. Michelle

    I sent an author an email once that pretty much was like I’m sorry but I wasn’t connecting with the book like I had hoped I would and I was unable to finish it. I told her I was really sorry but I just didn’t think it was a book for me. She was very understanding and thanked me for at least trying. Most of them are very nice about it and not everyone is going to like there book As long as your honest about it 🙂
    Michelle recently posted…My To-Be Read List 12/7My Profile

    • Berls

      That’s the response I’m hoping to get. I mean, author’s have to know that not everyone will love it (like you said), right? Keep your fingers crossed for me – I’m going to write the review and send the email on Monday!

  11. Angie F.

    I’ve never DNF a book, so I don’t think I’ll be that helpful, but I have had to submit negative reviews to the author. I just keep it short…really short. Pretty much “Thank you for the opportunity to review your book, unfortunately it wasn’t for me. If you’re interested, here is the review.” And that’s it. Thankfully, I’ve never gotten any rude responses back.
    Angie F. recently posted…December Kindle Fire HDX Giveaway!My Profile

    • Berls

      I like that – write the review, share it with them without making it into a big deal. Sounds similar to what Jonetta said she’s done – so I think that’s the approach I’m going to end up taking. I’m not going to publish the review on my blog though.

  12. Julie S.

    Ooh I have a hard time with this as well. I’ve actually not accepted a book for review directly from an author for a while because it just makes me uncomfortable. If I don’t like it, I will post an honest negative review, but I just don’t want to have to email the author and let them know I didn’t like their book. In fact, I really don’t think I understand the etiquette on corresponding with author that way. Sometimes I accept a book for review with no specific time line for the post. Am I supposed to email them months later and let them know I finally reviewed and posted the review? I haven’t really been doing that. Recently I DNF’d a book I received for review a long time ago. I wrote on GR why I DNF’d it, but I didn’t post a review on my blog. I haven’t been in contact with the author since, so it feels weird to email him to tell him I decided not to review his book after all. So I’m not helping much am I? lol
    Julie S. recently posted…Guest Post: The State of Indie Publishing & GiveawayMy Profile

    • Berls

      Sounds like this whole thing is as problematic for you as it is for me, so that’s helpful LOL. In all seriousness – I always tell authors when I plan to read their book, though I’m going to have to email several of them and let them know that I’m behind. I don’t know if that’s what your supposed to do, it’s just what I tend to do. If there hadn’t been any promises about when or how I would review the book, then I probably wouldn’t feel so obligated to give an email response.

  13. Jonetta (Ejaygirl)

    I’ve had this happen to me twice. First of all, no matter what the author’s motivation, you accepted the request to provide an honest review. That’s what you owe the writer. What remains is how to do that. In both of my instances, I took the time to provide critical feedback that I thought would be helpful. I did this via a personal email versus a traditional review.

    Some may criticize this approach but it’s what worked best for me and the authors impacted. I’m happy to say that we all walked away from the situation whole.

    • Berls

      I like that way of thinking about it – I already felt I owed them something. I definitely don’t want to do a traditional review on the blog, since I don’t do DNF reviews. It’s good to know it worked out well for you both times, that gives me hope!

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