Unpopular Opinion: Tagging Authors in Negative Reviews

Ready for an unpopular opinion? (You must be, if you’re here.) Okay; here it goes: I don’t think tagging authors in negative reviews of their books should be a big deal. There. I said it.

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Before you get out your pitchforks, let me preface all of this with this: Since I’ve learned that authors generally don’t want to be tagged in negative reviews, I don’t do it. I recognize that these are people with feelings and people I respect—and therefore, I respect their wishes. Even if I don’t agree with those wishes.

But let’s talk about this.

First, when I write reviews, my goal is to describe the book and aspects of the book with adjectives and such that could help a potential reader determine whether that book would suit them. This means, I don’t go into a review and just write, “This book SUCKED” or “This book was AMAZING” and leave it at that. That’s not helpful to anyone. Instead, I’ll discuss whether the book’s plot was action-packed or character-driven. I’ll talk about whether the pace was fast or slow. I’ll detail what the prose was like—ornate and stylized? staccato and to the point? long-winded and meandering?—and it’s then up to the reader to decide if they’re looking for one thing over the other in any of these categories. None of these on their own are inherently negative, though I do have my preferences and might note those.

And, importantly, none of this is personal. The commentary is on the book, not the author.

Second, generally speaking, reviews are not for authors. They are for readers. While authors certainly might get something of value out of reading reviews—if they choose to read reviews—I typically don’t spend a few hours thinking about a book and then crafting a review for it for the sake of one person. Even when I do spend a lot of time on a review, it’s for a potential reader. I don’t know anyone who writes reviews for the sake of the author (although I suppose at least a few people do). The exception—if you want to speak broadly—is in workshop or beta scenarios, where the author solicits opinions about a work from readers. Those comments are generally not shared publicly, so tagging would be unlikely, anyway.

Third, I’m a librarian. A big part of my whole thing is the idea of easy (and open) access to information. I tag authors in reviews not to get the authors’ attention, but to make it easier for the audience to get more information. While many authors use the name under which they publish as their handle across various platforms, this isn’t the case for all of them. It sometimes takes some hunting to track them down on social media. As someone who likes to know a bit about an author when I’m reading their book, I appreciate when reviewers can direct me to the correct person. With a click tap of a link, I’m transported to a page (often) curated by the author themselves. I can find out what other books they’ve written. I can see what the author looks like. I can find a place to figure out if the author is an #OwnVoices writer or if their own story influenced the book in question. Easy access.

Part of easy access is also findability. We may use tags with the author’s name (#JKRowling), but when the author’s handle is not their name, it’s useful and serves findability to also tag the author. Because handles are sometimes strings of fairly common words, the most certain way to ensure the best chance at findability is to tag the author (@JKRowling). A small thing, sure, but ultimately one that serves the needs of the actual intended audience of reviews. Further easy access—that’s the point.

And why not just link? Simple—a lot of platforms aren’t super friendly with links (Instagram in particular, but certainly others). Tagging is the obvious answer.

I share all of this as someone who clicks the “turn on notifications” button on Facebook when my articles are shared. As someone who navigates to the comments on my posts every so often to see what people are saying. As someone who checks in on the responses on Twitter to those links. Some of that stuff can be not just disagreeing with what I’ve written or debating/criticizing it, but often, there are plenty of comments that are unnecessarily dismissive or even mean or abusive. Such is life. (And, to them I say, thanks for the clicks and boosting the article’s visibility!)

I also share this as someone who writes creatively and hopes to publish on a larger scale in the future. I’m prepared to be tagged in negative reviews. I’ll have the power to ignore them, read them, or interact with them, just as authors today have.

To reiterate—I’ll continue to not tag negative reviews. I’ll tag the publishers regardless. I may even move toward not tagging reviews at all—because so often, there’s more nuance than just good book/bad book. There’s “The plot is fast-paced, which I enjoyed, but I found the characters to be lacking in development and personality. The author’s prose is like a greenhouse, with warmth and textures and life everywhere.” And what does one do with that? Is that a negative review because of the comment on characters? I don’t know—and I don’t want to tag an author feeling the review was positive and have them come after me because they found it to be negative. Even if the vast majority of authors wouldn’t.

I can understand why some authors might be hurt by negative reviews. Criticism is hard! I’m just not convinced that the “risk” outweighs the “benefit” here. Easy access to more information on authors is important to me and authors are not required to read reviews. Most books don’t fall within categories that are strictly positive or negative. If we lean toward caution and decide against tagging authors in negative reviews, we can’t tag authors at all—it’s rare that any review worth anything doesn’t mention anything that hasn’t gone well in a book. In that case, authors are losing out on additional potential readers.

Is this a huge deal? Absolutely not. If it was, I’d go on with tagging authors regardless of the kind of reviews I write. But I do think it’s worth considering who the reviews are for, at the end of the day.

Have you been tagging authors in negative reviews? Are you an author who’s been tagged in a bad review? Tell us in the comments.