I currently have one weekly Christian devotional guide published and am working on a daily version. These are written under my full name, Jonna Hawker Turek, and are taken mostly from my weekly inspirational blog, Power Walking with Jonna, on WordPress.

devotional guideWriting and promoting nonfiction is completely different from producing my novels. In the novels I can try on and discard one persona after another, but nonfiction calls for authenticity and transparency. With one genre I exercise my imagination and with the other my character.

Publishing anything makes a writer vulnerable, but I am learning to take the critical reviews of my fiction without flinching; looking for the helpful within the hurtful. I haven’t promoted my devotional guide since publishing it a few months ago and I haven’t received any reviews, yet, but I’m afraid I will be completely defenseless when the unflattering ones inevitably do arrive.

This writing game isn’t for sissies.

Reader Reviews: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Since setting the digital edition of Hollow, the first book in my first series, as free, it has had a gratifying number of daily downloads. I’ve noticed during previous free promos of my books that readers tend to be harsher critics of books they’ve downloaded for free. This phenomenon was brought to mind this week when the first freebie reviews of Hollow were posted on Amazon.

I think my fellow writers will agree that receiving a negative review of their work is as painful to us as it is for a mother to be told she has an ugly baby. So, why do we continue to offer our precious creations up to the two-edged sword of public opinion?

I remember the elation I felt upon reading my first good review from a stranger. What validation! What joy! …and what a let-down when the first critical comments were posted.

Some writers avoid this emotional roller coaster by refusing to read their reviews. They only want to know how many reviews and how many stars. Others, like me, cannot resist the temptation to read every new word, in the hope of once again experiencing the affirmation of a rave review.

With Hollow I was lucky to receive only good reviews in the early days after publication. I was well into my second book before the first negative review arrived. That reader complained because I had not listed the book as a Christian Mystery. She felt I’d tricked her into reading it by calling it a Mystery/Thriller. Shortly after that, a reader took the book to task for “too much religious content,” although the book description clearly states the lead character is a pastor’s wife. Taking these comments to heart, and following marketing advice to narrow my metadata to improve my sales rank, I changed the category for my books to Christian Suspense.

In the years since Hollow was published, I’ve received numbers of good reviews from Christians, pastors’ wives and others, appreciating the book’s portrayal of a flesh and blood, flawed, though sincere, Christian woman.

The first negative comment in the latest batch of reviews complained about aspects of the plot which weren’t actually in the plot…that’s the sort of critique I consider a “bad” review. There’s nothing helpful when the comments seem to be about a different book. I was surprised later in the week by this terse one-star review: “Trash. NOT a Christian book.”

That grim denouncement was followed this morning with five stars from an obviously discerning and thoroughly admirable reader, “Loved this book— kept me in suspense the whole time, I could not put it down!!! I bought the rest of the series, can’t wait to read them!”

Go figure.

Ouch! That hurts, thank you.

One thing both independent authors and traditionally published writers share is criticism. However a work gets published, once it is “out there” it is fair game.

The first time I hit the “Publish” button, I felt physically ill, for fear readers would hate my book. When I received my first print copy I could not even open it until my son read it and assured me it was all right.

I was fortunate that all my early reviews were positive and I even relaxed enough to joke about the fact that the only non-five star review came from my hard-to-please sister, who gave the book four stars.

Inevitably, a dreaded poor review was posted. I was so distressed I almost gave up on finishing the series I’d outlined.

Going back and re-reading the criticism, like probing a toothache, I suddenly realized what that two-star review meant. This reader had read the whole book and cared deeply enough about the characters to write and complain about the way some of them behaved. It wasn’t my writing that was objected to, after all.

That insight helped salve my hurt feelings (somebody doesn’t like me!) so I can now read my reviews with an eye to learning from them. It helps to find out what my readers expected, or wanted, to happen to my characters.

After four published books and many reviews, both positive and critical, I’ve also come to accept the fact that I can’t please everyone. The very same aspect of a story for which I receive praise from some readers can be the most strongly objected to by others.

Whenever a reader of one of my books cares enough to take the time and effort to post a review, pro or con, I am grateful.

Like the subtitle for that wonderful classic Peter Sellers movie, “Dr. Strangelove,” I have learned to stop worrying and love the critics.