by Narelle AtkinsHave you ever wondered why the majority of Christian fiction reviews are positive and tend to have 4 or 5 stars on review sites like Amazon or Goodreads? At first glance you might assume that all Christian fiction books must be excellent reads. Or, Christian reviewers are too ‘nice’ to write negative comments in their reviews.
I think the real story is more complicated and obedience to God’s word plays an important role. I’m writing this post from the perspective of a writer and author. Iola Goulton is posting a series on book reviews starting next Monday, and she will cover the issues and challenges facing readers who write reviews.
The Bible teaches that we need to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:31) and that we need to edify our brothers and sisters in Christ to build up the body of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says (NIV) ‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’ And in Ephesians 4:29, the apostle Paul says ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’
If an author writes negative comments in a book review, are they acting in a manner contrary to the teachings in the Bible by saying something that may potentially hurt their brother or sister in Christ?
Publishing is a tough business and you need to write an excellent book to capture the attention of an editor at a publishing house. Traditionally published books are vetted by industry professionals. They put their time, energy and dollars behind a book because they believe there is an audience for the book and they can generate a profit by selling the book. The publishing world is small, and the team of industry professionals who work on the books we review could potentially become our future work colleagues.
If we write a negative book review, are we dissuading someone who could potentially like the book from buying it? And are we working against building up the kingdom of God and potentially placing an obstacle in someone’s spiritual journey if they could have benefited spiritually by reading the book?
Where does this leave readers, who may read reviews to help them with their book purchasing decisions? Do readers deserve to hear all the positive and negative opinions on a particular book, since they’re handing over their hard earned dollars to buy a book they want to enjoy?
And Paul also says in Ephesians 4: 14-16 (NIV): ‘Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.’
How does speaking the truth in love work in the world of Christian book reviews? Or is the concept of truth in this instance less relevant, due to a like or dislike for a book being primarily based on an individual’s personal taste?
This is the dilemma Christian reviewer’s face – how to balance the need for readers to hear honest reviews without unnecessarily hurting authors because the book is, in their opinion, either flawed or not to the reviewer’s taste. And personal tastes vary. It’s true that there are some books that we’re just not going to like, including books written by bestselling authors.
I've posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and they are all positive reviews. Would a reader question my credibility as a reviewer because I’ve only posted positive reviews that are 4 or 5 stars? On the few occasions I’ve volunteered to be an influencer for a book, I’ve been blessed by receiving fabulous books that I can happily review and promote as excellent reads for those who like books in the same genre.
An influencer, by definition, is obligated to only post reviews that will help influence readers to buy the book. What if I had disliked one of the books I had agreed to influence? What is the best way to handle this situation? If you’re a writer, is it better to only review books you love?
Authors are recognising the value of having a large number of reviews for their books on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. They encourage their fans to post reviews, sometimes offering incentives if their loyal readers post 5 star reviews. Amazon now has strict guidelines in place regarding authors soliciting reviews, in response to accusations that authors were buying reviews.
Do reviews lose integrity and value if you know the author has offered big incentives to readers to post 5 star reviews?
Where is the line in the sand regarding soliciting reviews? How far can authors go in offering incentives to readers for posting reviews?
Is an extra entry in a book giveaway okay because there is no guaranteed monetary reward that could be viewed as a payment for the review? Is a giveaway that is purely rewarding 5 star reviews crossing the line, because a reviewer is guaranteed to receive a monetary gain from posting a review?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
NARELLE ATKINS writes contemporary inspirational romance and lives in Canberra, Australia. She sold her debut novel, set in Australia, to Harlequin's Love Inspired Heartsong Presents line in a 6-book contract. Her first book, Falling for the Farmer, will be a February 2014 release, followed by The Nurse's Perfect Match in May 2014 and The Doctor's Return in August 2014.
Narelle blogs regularly with International Christian Fiction Writers. http://internationalchristianfictionwriters.blogspot.com/
She is also a co-founder of the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance (ACRBA). http://acrba.blogspot.com
Twitter: @NarelleAtkins https://twitter.com/NarelleAtkins