Friday, November 14, 2008

Faith 'n Fiction Saturday: Reviewing


The past couple of days there has been a big flare-up in the broader book blogging community regarding review policies and a blogger's obligation to an author once they've received a review copy. For those of you who belong to the blogging alliance FIRST, we've also discussed this issue a little bit.

I decided to make today's question about this, because I think this is an even tougher situation for Christian reviewers who review Christian books. So here goes...do you receive review copies of Christian books? If so, do you review them honestly? How do you handle it when you don't like a book but are obligated to provide a review? Who do you see your first commitment being to in book reviewing (besides God)? Yourself? The author? Your readers? Does your review change based on the spiritual content of the book or is it solely based on technical or artistic merit? Have you ever had a negative experience with an author after giving them a negative review? (please don't name names)

My Answer:
I receive a lot of review copies of Christian books and am thrilled to help promote them in most cases. The market for Christian books is much smaller and so I often feel I want to do what I can to help these many talented and lovely authors find readers for their books. I take this commitment to them very seriously. On the flip side of that, I work very hard on this blog. This blog is my hobby, but I spend a considerable amount of time on it. I work hard to make it a place that people want to visit. And as obligated and thrilled as I am to help authors, I am equally committed to providing authentic reviews to my readers. They are often the ones who will be shelling out the money for a book, and I want them to feel like they can trust me to speak truthfully.

I hate having to give any negative reviews, but especially for Christian books. However, I do feel that while I am committed to authors and readers, my number one commitment here is to myself. I give honest reviews because that is how I can sleep at night. I give honest reviews because if I genuinely love a book, it's that author that I want to see get a lot of sales and that kind of book I hope will continue to be published. And I give negative or less than glowing reviews to books that fail to meet the expectation I have when I pick up the book.

Having said that, I do give what I consider to be gentle reviews--consistent with my overall tone on this blog. I do try to find an author's strengths. I do consider if I am the intended audience for the book. And then I hit publish and hope others have given positive reviews to offset my not so positive one for the sake of the author.

I have to admit that if I disagree with an author's strongly stated theological viewpoint, I will probably like the book less. This only applies to Christian fiction, though, where I often have the expectation that we will think similarly. This standard usually doesn't apply to general market fiction, although if gm fiction is too political I will probably like it less.

I have had authors comment on my negative reviews and they have all been so wonderfully gracious that it's made me so proud to know they are out there writing Christian fiction. They speak well for this little area of the book market and I'm so thankful we have them. They are certainly writing books that others are enjoying (if not me) and constantly improving their craft.

Your Turn:
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21 comments:

kalea_kane said...

Another great question, Amy. Thank you again for all you do. I think you give a great review and you definitely are balanced. :) I hope to read your reviews for years to come. :)

ForstRose said...

I am playing catch up and doing all the questions through today (Nov 15) in one post so my link above has my answers from Oct 18 through Nov 15.

Carolyn Jean said...

Oh, interesting! I don't review Christian books, but this is an issue I think about a lot, and I can see where this dimension of it would make it even harder. But I agree, it's sometimes so hard to negotiate protecting your own credibility vs. protecting the feelings and sales of an author. I actually don't take free books, except for the occasional contest win, because I know I would be unduly favorable to them, or feel an obligation!

Smilingsal said...

I love the prompt today! And, I've got the button up. Good answers, too. Thanks, Amy.

Marvin D. Wilson said...

Good question. Can't wait to read how others handle this one. My answer is up at http://tinyurl.com/6l9heg

M. C. Pearson said...

Wonderful question.

heatherlo said...

Hey Amy, I actually just have a question. I'm interested in reading and reviewing Christian books, but I've never read anything that's really in that genre before. Do you know of any specific titles that you think I should start with, or better yet, are there any publishers I should contact to let them know I may be interested in their books? Thanks so much!
book.addict29@gmail.com

Deena said...

Mine's up! First time, and I picked SOME question LOL!!

Christy Lockstein said...

Terrific question Amy, thanks for posting it!

AndieJ said...

Hey Amy,
Wow! That was a difficult one to answer! I probably wrote more than I should've. LOL
Great question though!
http://frommipov.blogspot.com/2008/11/faith-n-fiction-saturday.html

rcwriter said...

That was a tough set of questions. You really made me think on a Saturday morning. Whew!

Pam said...

This is a great question, Amy. I look forward to reading other reviews.

Sunny said...

You're so right that we have got to give an honest review...or else what's the point! I am also a "gentle reviewer" like you. Even if I dont care for the book I cant bash it, but I can say what I didnt like about it (along with something positive as well).

I love the new button!!

Wendi B. - Wendi's Book Corner ~ Rainy Day Reading in Seattle said...

Amy - I love the new button!! I also love the questions. This has made me wonder if as bloggers, we might want to come up with a blogger review code of ethics? Something we could all promise to abide by.

:) Wendi

Michelle Sutton said...

I'll answer them all the best I can. Thanks for posing the questions.

Do you receive review copies of Christian books?

Yes. Nearly every day.

If so, do you review them honestly?

I have to or I'll lose my credibility as a reviewer.

How do you handle it when you don't like a book but are obligated to provide a review?

This happens more often than I'd like. I always tell authors in advance that if I don't like the book I may not finish it and if I feel like I really don't like the book I reserve the right to not post anything. Most people prefer that anyway, especially if they are debut authors. However, I do post reviews that discuss weaknesses in the books I read and I try to balance that out with the strengths. I've written well over 300 reviews over the past three years. I've read many more books than that.

Who do you see your first commitment being to in book reviewing (besides God)? Yourself? The author? Your readers?

All of the above. I have to be honest. I can't say glowing things if I don't feel them about a story. Whenever possible I will review every book I get. But some books have been sitting a year and the authors and publishers are told when they send them to me that I may not get to it for that long. Since no one pays me to do reviews I read what I want in the order that I want and that is understood when the book is sent to me. If I am doing a giveaway or blog tour on a book I try to read it sooner than other books. But I can't read them all.

Does your review change based on the spiritual content of the book or is it solely based on technical or artistic merit?

If the book relays a message that is not good for people who are weak in their faith I will definitely note that. I've read some books that are downright depressing and I have to mention that in my review. Or if I think it gives a wrong message. I read a book where a guy burned himself with cigarettes and I thought if I were a troubled teen I might try that since I read about it and the author didn't make it sound like a bad thing. It's hard to explain, but stuff like that in a story bugs me. And stuff that is theologically inaccurate.

Have you ever had a negative experience with an author after giving them a negative review?

Yep. I have several authors who give me strained smiles when they see me at conferences or downright snub me because I wrote a review they didn't like. And though I didn't tear them down, I also didn't say the book was great. I've had them talk behind my back, too. Now there have been a few authors who laughed and agreed with me and now we are tight friends. But has the fact that some authors don't talk to me anymore stopped me from telling what I really think? No. Because I am never mean in my reviews. Authors just need to deal with it. It comes with the biz. Not everyone likes the same things I do, but for readers who love the same type of stories I love, they end up buying a lot of the books I recommend (and thanking me later) so that's why I keep it up. I have had people e-mail me numerous times telling me that they totally agreed with my thoughts on a book, yet when I read their review it said nothing of the sort. Oy! I say bottom line is if you plan to review books and do it well, you have to speak the truth or it's a waste of time. I have book reviews quoted on author sites, publisher's sites, and a variety of media sites because they were passionate reviews about the stories I read. So if you are excited about a story, let it show. :) It'll help authors get the word out about their books, and getting the word out about great fiction is what I love to do.

Jennifer @ Quiverfull Family said...

Just made it by the skin of my teeth!

Wyn said...

Good question, never really thought about it. :)

Cloud 9 said...

Another great article. Your blog rocks!
I've only left one unfavorable review so far. But like you mentioned for yourself, I try to be gentle and fair.
Really, what good would a blog review be if every review was favorable. How could you like every single book??? I think we need to be honest but not cruel. Point out the unfavorable things balanced with what's good about the book.

CherryBlossomMJ said...

This is the best part of what you said right here:

"I do give what I consider to be gentle reviews--consistent with my overall tone on this blog. I do try to find an author's strengths. I do consider if I am the intended audience for the book."

Donna Moore said...

Wonderful question!

Becky said...

A week late but here is my answer. I wish I'd known about it in time to join in the conversation :)

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