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?
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.