I regularly check the Amazon and Goodreads reviews. This isn’t because I’m narcissistic, or even fishing for encouragement (though encouragement is awesome), it’s because I like to post them on social networks to promote my works. I like doing this because first, I’m an introvert and don’t like promoting myself, and second, there’s that whole “let another man’s lips praise you, not your own” thing from Proverbs, and posting reviews seems to fit. At least, it seems that way to me.
Of course, not all reviews are unequivocally positive. All of my Amazon reviews are more or less positive so far, some point out flaws, a couple readers gave three stars, saying the books were good but not their favorites. But I was digging a little deeper on Goodreads the other day, and I found this two-star review of Never:
“Had I checked more closely, other than the general Goodreads description of this book, I would’ve undoubtedly “never” read it. Anyone, including “born-again Christians” such as Ms. Pennington, has every right to put out a novel with their particular slant. At several places in this book the “preachiness” became apparent to me, and this just isn’t my cup of tea. In my view, this was really a sort of sermonette under the guise of a novel. I’d agree that the overall plot is not bad. The writing is OK. I don’t find the characters particularly well-defined or memorable. The author’s frequent use of “kay” for “okay” is somewhat anachronistic & silly, not to mention annoying. Some elements of the story seem really far-fetched. I mean, given the description of the serious physical travails of Travis, could someone actually survive all that? About the only feature that kept my interest was the whodunit element. Compared to the initial Goodreads description, the novel was a disappointment to me.”
I actually think this is a pretty fair review, given the reader’s preferences. And I think that giving it two stars was honestly probably generous. But it’s still by far one of the most negative reviews I’ve received.
After browsing a bit more, I found this review of Firmament: Radialloy:
“I gave it 25% before I gave up on it. The collision of a merchant ship with an asteroid at “warp 8″ instead of vaporizing the ship, and asteroid, yielded no significant damage, or injuries, just some “malfuctions”.. “Propulsion” which should be a force, was treated like a speed. Totally ignoring physical laws(Google Newtons Laws). And the characters were barely developed.”
Again, this isn’t a mean or nasty review. This is a guy who knows a whole lot more about science than I do and who is severely bothered by unrealistic elements (though for the record, I have my own warp formula that is different than Star Trek, and I don’t see why I can’t call speeds propulsion if I like, but anyway…).
What was especially interesting to me in reading these posts was my reaction. I am not a person who is especially graceful at receiving criticism (unfortunately), but these reviews didn’t really bother me. Why?
Because I’m confident in my target audience.
There’s a fable in Aesop featuring a father and son going to town with a donkey. At first they walked beside the donkey, but then people mocked them for walking when they could ride. So the man put his son on the animal, but then passers by complained that the son was disrespecting his father by riding while the old man walked. So the man made the boy get down and mounted the beast himself, but some women along the road protested that the father was making his little child walk while he road in comfort. Eager to please, the man pulled his son up with him, then a fellow nearby expressed outrage at how heavily they was burdening the poor donkey. In a final attempt to satisfy, the man tied the legs of the animal together and carried it over a bridge into town, upon which proceeding the poor ass broke free of its bonds, fell into the river, and drowned.
The moral, Aesop kindly states, is that in seeking to please everybody, one pleases nobody.
The fact is, I didn’t write Never for non-Christian adults and I didn’t write the Firmament series for knowledgeable science geeks. I wrote them both for Christian young adults. And all the Christian young adults who have read them so far have more or less enjoyed them. If I had seventeen-year-old homeschoolers and young science-fiction fans saying my books were lame and unrealistic, I’d have reason to worry. But that hasn’t happened. So the fact that some people outside of my target audience really, really dislike my books honestly doesn’t bother me.
That’s not to say I shouldn’t work harder on my science or take into account the shared opinion that my characters could use work. But at this point, my main concern is turning out enjoyable Christian books for teens and young adults. If I’m accomplishing that, I’m happy.
Know your audience. You can’t please everyone, so decide who you want to please and focus on that. Ride, or walk — but don’t try to do both.