Authors aren’t supposed to respond to bad reviews. Reviews are for readers, not authors.
But as an author, I try to get something out of each bad review, especially when the reviewer is within my target market (or somewhere close to it). I may have failed to communicate clearly and I need to figure out how to improve going forward.
Although, in all honesty, I grumble about it first. I give myself a few days to gain some perspective and then I consider what the reviewer said.
My NASCAR devotional book, Racin’ Flat Out for Christ: Spiritual Lessons from the World of NASCAR, has received seven reviews so far: two five-star reviews, two four-stars, two three-stars and one two-star.
The reviewer who gave the book two stars said, “This is more like a good church hand out that should be handed out for free for a good cause.” I didn’t know whether she was in my target market or not, so I clicked on her name to see her other reviews and my book is the only one she has reviewed. So, this review isn’t helpful for me as a writer.
One of the three-star reviews says, “I was hoping for personal testimonies from drivers. There’s very little of that. This is a mediocre teaching book by Warren.” I can tell from the context of his comment that he is a Christian, but I can’t tell if he’s fully in my target market (a NASCAR fan who is a Christian). So I needed to dig a little deeper.
Before I did that though, I knew he had a fundamental misunderstanding of what the book is about (the sub-title says it’s about spiritual lessons from the world of NASCAR, so it isn’t a book of testimonies, and that is by design).
This person has reviewed 209 books. As I paged through them, most are fiction, and many of those contain an element of fantasy. Many of the books have a Christian slant. And in one of his reviews he refers to a time in his life when he was an assistant pastor in a liturgical church. So I had no doubt about his coming from a Christian perspective. But as I flipped through page after page of reviews, I didn’t come across a single sports book, let alone a NASCAR book, leading me to conclude that he probably isn’t in my target audience, so this review wasn't helpful for me, either.
But one Amazon Top 500 reviewer left a lengthy review of my singles devotional book, Single Servings, that I found quite helpful. As I looked through his other reviews, I saw many books about how theology applies to the modern church (something I tried to do with this book), but he isn't single, so he wasn't the perfect match regarding my target market. But knowing his desire to live out theology in real life made me want to hear what he had to say.
Here are his suggested areas of improvement:
“There are a couple of areas I might suggest some improvement. I would liked to have seen some serious interaction with Paul’s statement about those who are given the gift of celibacy and how these people differ from those who are single because God has not yet seen fit to bless them with a spouse. The author also writes quite often about hearing God or listening to God’s voice, but without indicating whether this is to be done only through Scripture or whether he refers to hearing God’s voice through subjective impressions and so on. Clarity in this matter would have been useful.”
His desire to see some serious interaction with Paul’s statement about those who have the gift of celibacy versus those who are single because God hasn’t brought them a spouse yet is an interesting one. My position on this wasn’t fully developed ten years ago when I wrote this book, so I don’t think I could have done this topic justice at the time. Ten years later, I have formed an opinion about this topic (here’s an article I wrote about the topic for CBN), and it’s one I would include in the book if I were writing it today.
Regarding the reviewer’s other point about how one hears God’s voice, he makes a valid point. It’s just not one I considered when I wrote the book, but his comment makes me want to go deeper regarding similar concepts I discuss in future efforts. And that’s the takeaway for me.
How about you? If you are an author, how do you filter the critical comments and what have you learned from them?
Over the years I’ve confused people with the number of websites and blogs I run. My intentions were to keep my many sides separate. I’m a sportswriter, a devotional writer, a journalist, a freelance editor and an aspiring novelist. Over the past year, though, I’ve been re-evaluating my web presence and have come to a conclusion that it’s more important to have content and links in one place – right here on my website.
I’ll be adding information here soon about my editing services (you’ll find it in the tabs above), and I’ll be posting links to my newest articles that appear around the web as well as blogging about the writing process once in a while, too. In other words, this will be my main hub on the web.
This will allow me to let you in on a few good deals, including this one – until June 29, Revell has reduced the price of the e-book version of my singles devotional, Single Servings, to $1.99 on the Kindle and Nook. Christianbook.com is offering the e-version for $1.59. Single Servings came out nine years ago, but it still has an audience among kindreds who are navigating life without a spouse and I’m so grateful for that.
Speaking of books, will you do me a favor? If you have read Single Servings, Racin’ Flat Out for Christ, The Experience of Christmas, Inspiring Thoughts for Golfers or Fun Facts for Sports Lovers, will you take a few minutes to leave a review on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, GoodReads or anywhere else you hang out online? The more good reviews a book receives, the more exposure it gets.
The latest article I had published appears on the SB Nation website, MinorLeagueBall.com. During the College World Series, I had the opportunity to follow the TCU Horned Frogs as they visited sick patients at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. The thing I was most impressed with was, long after the tour was over and the video cameras were off, the players talked among themselves about the patients, mentioning them by name. Here’s a link to the story: Hospital Visit Makes Impact on TCU Players
Some of you have asked about the novel I wrote last fall. I’m in the middle of revisions and have every intention of writing book two in the series this fall. I spoke to an editor recently who is interested in seeing a proposal about book one, so I’m shifting gears to work on that. Hopefully, I’ll have good news to share about it soon.
My friends will tell you I’m a Julia Roberts fan. I’ve seen most of her movies and some of them have made an impression on me. Notting Hill comes to mind. But recently she posted something on Instagram that I’ve been seeing from many celebrities on social media and it made me think.
She posted a picture of a t-shirt that says, “I love my fans.” Well, the shirt actually uses the heart icon for love, but her caption reads: “I LOVE YOU.”
I have a friend who believes we live in such a time that we need to contend for the definition of words and I feel a sense of obligation in this case.
“Love” has a number of definitions, including to “have a great affection for,” to “derive or receive pleasure from” and to “be enamored with.” In that sense, Julia Roberts loves her fans, and they love her back.
It’s nice and all, but I wonder if we spend too much time loving people we will never meet, who will never know our names.
Jesus called us to a deeper kind of love – one that is far more satisfying for everyone involved – when he told us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
If, as a fan of Julia Roberts, I’m having a hard time making ends meet, she won’t be showing up at my door with a bag of groceries, but if I have developed a good relationship with my neighbor, then there’s a good chance he will, and vice versa.
Knowing that makes me feel less alone.
I once asked my next-door neighbor to feed my cat while I was on a trip. When I got back, I discovered he not only fed my cat, but he also fixed the deadbolt on my door.
A few years ago, when my city had a massive windstorm and the power was out for days, that same neighbor allowed me to hook into his generator even though his generator had an extremely limited amount of power.
When he was diagnosed with cancer, I told him I would pray for him, and I did. Thankfully, he’s in remission now.
And when his son died, I attended the funeral and mourned with his family.
But I still have work to do. I don’t know all of my neighbors. I know most of their names, and a few of their stories, but I need to go deeper with them, if they are willing. And I certainly need to know more about them than I do about Julia Roberts.
I think she would agree.
UPDATE: June 25, 2014
Julia Roberts' photo was deleted from Instagram, so I replaced the image with the one you see above.
Maybe good things really do come in small packages.
I first heard about the tiny house movement a couple of months ago on a national news program, and I was intrigued. Then I came across this article on The Atlantic’s website about a Portland couple who lives in a 128-square-foot tiny house (from what I’m seeing, these houses run from $20,000-$35,000). They got rid of most of their stuff, got out of debt, built the tiny house and now have what most of us crave – more free time and more freedom.
According to The Tiny Life website, the average American home is 2,600-square-feet, so making the transition would certainly be an adjustment. But I love the question that the woman asks in the video above:
“Do you really want to spend your time working at a job you hate, to buy crap that you can’t afford? Probably not, you know. And so in a lot of ways, I think tiny-housers have figured that out and so they’ve reprioritized their time to focus on relationships.”
A recent poll shows that 59% of Americans believe the American Dream is dying. The problem is, the poll didn’t really define “American Dream.”
Over the past 80+ years, Americans have believed that freedom allows everyone (“all men are created equal”) to work hard at the job of our choosing, which leads to the opportunity for prosperity and success.
The math in this equation adds up, arguably. But does it really provide the answer that will satisfy your soul?
I’m not convinced it does.
And even if it did, it’s an Industrial Age mindset, born out a time period in which Americans worked hard in factories, lived on less than they made, saved money, bought homes, lived reasonably well and then retired on their savings. My grandparents did that and I was so impressed by what they were able to do with their earnings.
But we’re in the Information Age now. We have more freedom with our careers than previous generations. So maybe it’s time to redefine the American Dream.
If I’m reading tiny-housers correctly, their American Dream equation would be that freedom gives them the choice to live on very little, in very little houses which affords them the opportunity to do the work they love and to spend more time with loves ones.
That sounds much more satisfying to me.
It’s hard to offend people when you tell them what you like, but try telling them what you dislike and see how quick they are to respond.
When I walk in the morning, I usually play SongPop on my iPhone. Someone sent me a playlist recently called “Worst '80s Songs.” Worst is a matter of taste, of course, but somebody behind the scenes at SongPop came up with a list and I was stunned to see that “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor was on it.
How is that even possible?
“Eye of the Tiger” is one of the most motivating songs of all time.
AskMen.com took a poll of its readers and the song was voted the best workout song, ever. Muscle & Fitness readers also named it the number one workout song, ever. The Telegraph named it the third best workout song, saying it is a “power-chord behemoth – probably the finest rock pep talk ever committed to tape.”
How can a person not like “Eye of the Tiger”? Come on!
See how passionate I get when someone refers to something I love as one of the worst?
At the risk of having you throw vegetables thrown at me – by the way, I recently heard about a Russian composer named Igor Stavinsky who caused a riot at a ballet in 1913, apparently because his music was dissonant and jarring and contained no melody, which led to patrons throwing vegetables at the musicians onstage, and that made me wonder whether people really brought vegetables to the theater a hundred years ago just in case the performance was offensive, but that’s a rabbit trail – here are some items on my worst lists:
Also, summer is the worst season – by far. The heat and bugs are just too much. Give me a 48-degree fall day and I’m a happy man.
If you brought vegetables to my website just in case I ticked you off, go ahead and start hurling them now. Once you are done, read the next paragraph.
You can learn a lot about a person by listening to what he or she deems to be the worst. A story lurks behind every worst, if you’ll take the time to ask – and as a person lets his or her guard down to explain, you might just grow closer, even if you disagree.
So what are your worsts? And what is the story behind one of them?
Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.