Great Reviews or Great Sales?

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

We all know that the books receiving critical acclaim aren’t always the same books that are selling millions of copies. The books that win literary prizes aren’t necessarily logging big numbers at the cash register. The books that seem most important and mean the most to us aren’t always the ones that will top the bestseller list.

So tell me: If you had a choice, which of the following would you rather be?

(1) An author publishing steadily to positive reviews and strong critical acclaim, but selling modest numbers of books and therefore unable to support yourself with your writing…


(2) An author publishing frequently (whether self-pub or traditional) to mixed reviews yet making a comfortable living and never having to take on other work.

And let’s be as honest as possible! The #1 thing authors tell me is that their greatest dream is to quit their jobs and write full time. So think hard about this one!

Great reviews, critical acclaim and awards… or great sales? 

Image copyright: olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo

25 Responses

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  1. The only acclaim I hope to hear is, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” And that is riches beyond measure.

  2. Carol Ashby says:

    I’ll take option 3: reviews/emails that tell me my novel strengthened a reader’s faith while telling a story they loved. It’s gratifying to have books selling well (not stellar), but I’m more interested in a spiritual than a financial return on investment. But I’m in that sweet spot where my retirement from my old career lets me write full time, so I don’t need to make money from my writing.

  3. I always look at the one- and two-star reviews. Often, that’s what sells me on the book. My goal as an author is to impact lives for Christ, and some people won’t welcome that change. I suspect that some of those negative reviewers are the ones most touched–the “protesting too much” syndrome.
    * Isn’t every sale a positive review?
    * I would love to quit my job and work full-time opening readers’ hearts to the movement of the Spirit.

  4. My preference is option 2.5, where I’d like to be able to retire from my day job in IT and write/speak full-time, but even better than that, I’d like to be writing and speaking in a way that has a positive impact on individuals and the kingdom. The positive strokes feel good, but critical acclaim is something that is fraught with pride-instilling danger. I have a quote on my wall from Randy Alcorn that reads: “the greatest danger of notoriety is that you start thinking about you. People then exist to serve you, exactly opposite of what Christ modeled.”

    • Oh my gosh, Damon, I have the exact same quote in my home office! May we always remember Who we’re writing for and why. I want to see hearts and minds turn to Him through my writing – or I have no purpose in writing at all. May He alone get all the glory. He is more than capable of providing for my needs; my job is to obey His call and to do it to the best of my ability. I don’t ever want to stand before Jesus and realize I sold out my writing only to gain man’s empty praises.

      • It is a wonderfu (and impactful) quote, is it not Shadia? I recall when I first read it – everything just stopped for a few seconds because it was such a deep and profound truth. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Ooooh, this is tough. Becuase it IS my dream to quit my job and be able to write full time….it would also be difficult to do that with constantly mixed reviews. I know you cannot please everyone, but I also know myself and I long for my writing to make a difference in the world and in people’s hearts and lives.

  6. Great sales are the kind of great reviews that count, the ones that led to the readers’ wallets through their hearts.

  7. Lynn Horton says:

    Rachelle, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m a wee bit of a Type A businessperson so my answer will not surprise you. I write high-quality books that represent a variety of Christians (particularly women) in realistic, global, intelligent, progressive ways. The more I earn, the more I can give to Kingdom work and charity. Why invest in creating manuscripts that only please the academic or literary elite? That seems selfish, especially in light of God’s expectations that I use my gifts to His highest good, and share my faith.

    • Katie Robles says:

      Lynn, what an interesting perspective! Do I want to reach readers or critics? I already knew my answer was Option 2 Sell More Books, but your answer made my answer sound more poetic and noble, and less like me chanting “Quit the day job! Quit the day job!” 🙂

  8. Kristi Woods says:

    Door #2, please. The more books that sell, the more people exposed to the words of ministry He’s authoring through my scribbles.

  9. CJ Myerly says:

    That’s a tough question! I’m a stay-at-home mom so I don’t have a day job. I think I’d pick door number 1. While I’d love to sell more books, I think the positive feedback would keep me growing a lot faster than mixed feedback. It also means that my stories might be reaching others a little deeper.

    Up until now, I assumed that positive reviews and strong critical acclaim meant more sales. So I’m learning something new.

    • Lynn Horton says:

      You’re a stay-at-home mom, so you DO have a day job. And a very important one at that. (I know what you mean, but I juggled building a corporation from a home office thirty years ago. Your work with your child or children should NEVER be undervalued.)

      • Lynn Horton says:

        Make that, “Building a corporation in a home office called Chaos Central by my clients while homeschooling two smart young children who became attorneys.” Your path is an important one, CJ.

      • CJ Myerly says:

        Thanks, Lynn. I definitely understand the worth in what I do. I just meant I’m not trying to replace an income. 🙂 Haha. I love that. Chaos Central.

  10. I can’t say I wouldn’t want to have positive reviews and critical acclaim, but the readers themselves (evidenced by sales numbers) are my target audience, not professional reviewers. If I had to choose, it would be option two. Although not all readers leave tangible reviews, their continued purchasing is still feedback. If no one but the professional reads and enjoys my book, then I’ll have missed my mark. Oh, and having writing as my primary source of income would be great too 😉

  11. I’ll take the financial success. 🙂 Why not? Because there will almost always be mixed reviews, no matter how safe or unsafe you play it.

  12. If anyone’s interestested in a truly awesome essay on the nature of success, may I point out Ann Voskamp’s latest post? She describes what happened when a routine surgical procedure segued into heart failure.

  13. Elissa says:

    My “day job” is as an artist, and I don’t think I could quit that any more than I could quit writing. However, once I’m published, I’d like to stay that way. So I want enough sales that publishers are satisfied, whatever number that is.

  14. I never expect to get rich with my writing, but I LOVE that I’ve heard some things I’ve written made a positive difference in the lives of people who read them.
    Of course it would be nice to have both.

  15. Angie Arndt says:

    It depends on what we want in our heart. Is writing an art form or a money-making career. As someone who majored in commercial art, there was almost a “mean girls” sneer from the “serious artists” offered to anyone who was in graphic art.

    But now my concern is to touch hearts with mine books. Money and awards are a bonus.

  16. Angie Arndt says:

    It depends on what we want in our heart. Is writing an art form or a money-making career? As someone who majored in commercial art, there was almost a “mean girls” sneer from the “serious artists” offered to anyone who was in graphic art.

    But now my concern is to touch hearts with my books. Money and awards are a bonus.