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)
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.
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