When The Book Just Isn’t Working For You

POSTED ON November 19, 2016 BY Austine IN Discussion

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This month has been rough in the reading department. For someone like me who rarely rates books lower than 3 stars, I’ve had a DNF and looking toward another. To date, I don’t think I have more than 10-15 DNF titles so 2 in a month is unusual. And for ratings I have no issues rating lower than 3 stars but have gotten lucky, I suppose. Until this month.

“Negative” Reviews

So… negative reviews.

Before continuing let me clarify that negative =/= mean. I’m talking reviews that are below 3 stars. That’s all.

Over the years I’ve heard people say that they won’t review books < 3 stars. I’ve also seen reviewers attack authors in their negative reviews instead of focusing on the book. For the first point, that’s totally up to you as a reviewer. Personally, I think reviews of all rating values are important because both are needed to make an informed decision. If there’s a book that a lot of people mentally marked 1 star but the only reviews are 5 stars, that means there’s a bias of reviews for a potential reader.

As for the second point, I’d just like to say that when you review a book, you shouldn’t be reviewing the author too. What they do and what they wrote are separate. Whether something they’ve done or a certain way they act influences if you buy their book or not is different from the actual review.

For those of you who write “negative” reviews, I encourage you to be critical. Talk about what didn’t work for you and why. It’s okay to let your emotions get away with them (I totally get that!) but try to keep it about the book. Some things to consider while thinking about those books could be:

  • What stood out to me, both good and bad? Why did it stand out?
    • The “why” is the most important part. If you don’t like something “just because” it doesn’t really hold up when critically reviewing a book.
  • Did I not enjoy the book because of the book, or because I’m not in the mood to read it?
    • I feel like this is a big one for mood readers, especially!
  • Is there anything good about the book?
    • Even if you dislike a book, it can be good to talk about what you did like as well, assuming there’s something about it that you would consider positive.


Now what if the book is just so bad that you can’t finish it?

It’s Time to DNF

For those unfamiliar with DNF, that stands for Did Not Finish. Generally, “DNF-ing” a book means you have so many issues with it that you can’t bring yourself to read to the end. The reasons are different for every reader. Personally, I usually DNF a book for one of 2 reasons:

  • I’m not in the mood for this kind of book. In this case I’ll set it aside and come back to it at a later date but I don’t write a review or do anything with it. The book is essentially in cryo.
  • The book has too many issues. Again, different for everyone but when a book is overloaded with bad writing, cliches, characters that I can’t get into, etc. I may stop reading. In this case I have no intentions of coming back to the book and will therefore write a review and call it quits.

DNF Reviews

These are a bit controversial. Some people believe that it’s wrong to write a review for a book you didn’t finish, and some won’t write them. Others will. I’m one of those people. Similar to negative reviews, I think DNF reviews are just as important if handled well.

  • How far did you read? It’s nice to know at what point a reader stopped reading because if it was only at 10% of the book then you might give it a go but if they read 50% you might reconsider as a reader.
  • Was it you or the book? Did you stop reading because you weren’t in the mood for the book, or because of the book itself?
  • What are the elements that drove you to DNF the book? Was it the world-building? Characters? Writing? Where were the issues? Don’t forget the why.


In both your not-so-positive and DNF reviews, I encourage you to be critical and objective, focusing on the book instead of outside factors because potential readers aren’t always going to know what else is going on that made your decision. We’re book reviewers, not people critics, so let’s keep it to the pages.

Do you write “negative” reviews? DNF reviews?

What are some of your tips for handling these?

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4 responses to “When The Book Just Isn’t Working For You

  1. I do write negative reviews, and DNF reviews, but I always mention why I didn’t like it and/or why I didn’t finish it! I think that’s so important, otherwise how can someone else judge whether they would like it or not? I may not enjoy a book because the plot is too slow, but someone else may love slow plots… So I think it’s important to mention that. 🙂

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  2. I try to balance the good and the bad in all my reviews and try to say the why of it. I know I likely don’t get it right all the time, but I also never attack the author while reviewing. My goal of reviews is to put my thoughts on the book out there and I hope it helps other people.

    As for DNF reviews, I haven’t done one, but I rarely DNF a book. As a reader, I like to read reviews from reviewer that DNF the book as they are often honest. Does that influence me to more often not read the book then to read it? Of course. But if I can only read so many books in a life time, I would rather read ones I’m interested in then ones that I’m not. I totally agree with you about transparency in saying in the review that you DNF’ed the book and how far you got into it, because that is pretty critical information to tell you how much you can trust the review in question.

    • That’s a great approach! No review is perfect. It’s just our thoughts and readers have to take them as such. And I get that. I rarely DNF books too but it’s definitely important to discuss the why of it for readers since we all like different things. One person’s problems may not be the same as another’s!