What Should a Reviewer Do If She Doesn’t Like the Book?

Stacks of manga

I’ve struggled for a while with the question of whether it’s better, if I’m given a comic to review that I don’t care for, to write a negative review or simply not cover the work. I invariably guess wrong. If I err on the side of “if you can’t say anything nice…”, then the artist tells me he would have rather had the links, even if I didn’t like it. If I write a negative review, then the publisher wants me to have kept my mouth shut.

I’ve been pondering this because Gina Gagliano at First Second recently wrote about her intentions in providing review copies. She says,

Reviewers to whom I send books are not obligated to write reviews! In fact, if they get books from me in the mail and they hate them, I would probably prefer that they didn’t write any review at all. Even if a reviewer gets a book and feels bland and vaguely indifferent towards it, I’ll probably be like, ‘how about you review a nice book from me that you thought was awesome instead of forcing yourself to write something vague and indifferent about this book — I’ll find someone else who loves it to cover it.’

To be clear, I’m not stopping anyone from writing a review — if reviewers hate a book and want to write about it, that’s totally fine. If reviewers feel bland and indifferent about a book and want to write about it, that’s fine too. But if a reviewer gets a book from me and doesn’t want to write a review because they didn’t like it, because they feel that it doesn’t suit their audience, because they don’t have time for it, because they can’t fit it in with the rest of their content thematically that week, you know what?

Those are all perfectly reasonable reasons not to review a book, and I’m fine with that.

I’m really glad to hear it, because I think that’s a great statement that makes me feel better about what I’m trying to do, which is talk about good books — or barring that, to talk about things that I felt passionate about in some fashion. Trying to force out a review when a book leaves you feeling “eh” is hard, and the time and pressure spent doing it could probably be better used elsewhere.

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