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An Author Answers His Critics

by Dave Dewitt on September 26, 2011 · 0 comments

CoverMy book, The Complete Chile Pepper Book, has a 5-star rating on Amazon, which is about as good as it gets. But some of the readers’ reviews are not so stellar. Since it would be gauche for an author to respond directly on Amazon, I’m going to do it here just to set the record straight. First, the book is hardcover, full color on every page, and 336 pages long. Every nonfiction author drools in his or her beer or wine while dreaming about producing a beautiful book like this. Following are some of the readers’ complaints and my responses.

The book is not really complete. It is as complete as possible, given the expense involved in producing a 4-color book this size. And contrary to common thought, the publisher titles the book, not the author.

I didn’t include enough information on paprika varieties. I chose to show and describe 100 varieties from around the world but could not include every single cultivated variety. For example, there are at least 30 cultivated paprika varieties. In my book Hot and Spicy Mexican, the glossary lists more than 100 varieties of Mexican chiles, but how many could I include in this book? The identification section is already 49 pages long. The total number of chile pepper varieties exceeds 10,000. So how many would the publisher have put up with, even 300? I don’t think so.

My descriptions lack some important plant information, like the size of the mature plants. True, but size is highly variable. For example, my ‘Trinidad Scorpion’ plants are two feet tall. Marlin Bensinger’s in Las Cruces are five feet tall. That shows what the problem is: the size of the plants depends not only upon variety, but also upon seed stock, soil type, temperatures, fertilizers used, climate, pests, and luck. In short, too many variables and every variety in the book can have a range like this, so what good would it do to list “Height: 2 to 5 feet?” Days to harvest also varies according to similar factors.

The recipes don’t belong in a gardening book. Why not? One critic suggested two separate books. Been there, done that. I wanted the book to be as complete as practically possible in a single, affordable volume. After all, why leave out the most important use of the chiles? That’s what you’re growing most of them for—to eat them.

To sum up, sure, we could have turned in a manuscript for a book that would be 1,000 pages long and cost about $90. What publisher would accept that? None of them. And even if it were published, sales would be one-tenth of what this book has sold so far. These amateur book critics know very little about publishing and even less about what it takes to research and write a book that’s a bestseller in its field. That why I prefer the reviews with a headline like this one, also published on Amazon: “The ‘Complete’ in the title says it all!”  And by the way, you can buy the book here.


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