How NOT to respond to a bad review

by Simon St. Laurent

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Military historian Caleb Carr needs to learn when to hold his fire.

Carr, author of Lessons of Terror, doesn't seem to realize that reaching a "provocative set of conclusions" (as the catalog describes his book) often means that people disagree with those conclusions.

In response to (what I thought was) Laura Miller's mildly unhappy review of the book on Salon, Carr storms:

"Read the New York Observer review: At least it displays SOME knowledge of the SUBJECT, rather than just ATTITUDE."


It doesn't appear to be an isolated incident, either. Carr seems to be running around blasting any reviewer who complains - at least any mass-market reviewer. Maybe if Carr wants to insure that the book is reviewed by critics who meet his particular standards for discussing military history and share his set of opinions, he should stick with specialty books sold to a specialty market.

And even though it might seem strange, similar things happen with technical books. Authors pour enormous amounts of work into books that not everyone always appreciates. Even the best of technical books are rarely fit for every possible reader - there are too many variations of style, approach, and yes, even facts in technical writing for everyone to be happy all the time.

If you're an author, whatever you're writing, try to remember that not everyone is going to like everything you do. Try to learn from critics, but don't let them make you so angry that you have to reply like this. It won't impress critics and it won't impress readers.

Reviews can be a blessing or a curse for an author. How do you handle reviews?