Monday 16 February 2015

Deception in Our Writing

Do you ever find yourself sitting in church, listening to the speaker, then have him (or her) mention a verse, and your mind takes off (or God takes you off) in a completely different direction?

That happened to me one Sunday recently. I actually can’t remember what topic the speaker was discussing, but my attention was caught by the command in Leviticus 19:11:
Do not deceive one another (NIV).
This was reinforced by my Bible reading the following week, from Colossians 3:9:
Do not lie to one another (NKJV)
Now, I know Leviticus is the Old Testament, the law, the old covenant. And I know that, as Christians, we are under the new covenant. When I looked up New Testament references to deceit, I found they had a different slant. Rather than telling us not to deceive others, they warned against being deceived by others, and deceiving ourselves.

This got me wondering: do we deceive ourselves? If so, how? And how can we stop ourselves being deceived by others?

Deceiving Ourselves

Do we deceive ourselves about the quality of our writing? Maybe. Do we deceive ourselves by believing our work justifies a five-star review on Amazon? Do we deceive ourselves when we sign a contract with a publisher that others call a vanity press? Do we deceive ourselves by entering vanity writing awards?

Sometimes we do.

I see authors who believe they must be good writers, because their manuscript has been accepted by a “traditional, royalty-paying” press, ignoring the nay-sayers who say it’s a vanity press and to be avoided at all costs.

Is this deception intentional? Do we really mean to deceive ourselves, or others, with our writing and publishing choices? I’d like to think not, but it’s a tough call. Which is worse: that we have been deceived by those around us, or that we are actively deceiving ourselves—and others?

It’s not pleasant to think we might have been deceived by those around us, especially if we trust them as spiritual advisors or personal mentors. However, whenever we surround ourselves by like-minded people, we run the risk of being the blind led by the blind (to rephrase Matthew 15:14). In short, we are being unintentionally deceived by others, who don’t know or don’t understand that what they are recommending is deceitful, unethical—or both.

While part of me can accept (almost) this kind of deception, we live in an age of almost unlimited information, and there is no excuse for authors who don't undertake proper research before making a decision that will cost them thousands of dollars. The magic of the interwebz means anyone with a computer can research any person, organisation or award with a few clicks.

There is no excuse for not doing the background research. 

Hint: use the word “scam” in your search, as in “Publish America Scam”. This will dig out the critical information, which is the information that will help you determine whether a contract offer is an offer from a genuine publisher, or a vanity publisher marketing themselves as a “traditional royalty-paying publisher”. And remember that Publish America has undertaken the time-honoured method of fixing a bad reputation: they've rebranded themselves as America Star Books ...

Being Deceived by Others

Deceiving others is often found in Christian groups where people believe in being “nice”. They follow the dictum that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. The implication is this attitude is good Christian citizenship, and saying anything not nice is somehow unchristian. I wonder what these people think of all those nasty things Jesus said about the moneychangers in the temple?

Because it's deceptive to not tell someone their writing needs work. No, it might not be "nice" (although we should still make every effort to be kind), but it is truthful.

Do people who believe in the doctrine of "nice" realise they’re not quoting Jesus, but the Disney Corporation? Yes, that’s what Thumper’s parents impressed upon him, in Bambi:

Too much emphasis on "nice" leaves ups open to being deceived by others ... which can result in us deceiving ourselves.

We need to examine our motives, and surround ourselves by people who seek God, rather than seeking "nice". God disciplines those He loves, and we discipline our children, teaching them to seek God's will and obey Him. Why don't we exercise that same discipline in our writing?

God calls us to obedience. 

Obeying Him might lead to fame and fortune, but that’s the result, not our motive. Our motive should be to seek His heart and obey His voice. Yes, easier said than done.

We are sons and daughters of the Most High God. We don’t need to seek approval from others through extrinsic recognition like winning an award or gaining a publishing contract. God loves us exactly as we are, and your (and mine) book will be exactly as successful as God plans for it to be. No more, and no less. His plan for your book might include a fantastic publishing contract with your dream publisher, and a Christy award. But it might not, and we need to learn to be content with that, and not to deceive ourselves.

Do we leave it all to God? Not entirely. If God has called you to write, He has called you to learn how to best honour Him in that writing, by having a teachable spirit and working to learn the craft of writing and the principles of marketing. If you are writing to God as an offering, you need to present the best offering possible, which (yes, again) means having a teachable spirit, and learning the craft of writing and the principles of marketing.

Then we can rest in Him, knowing we have been obedient, and knowing that He loves us no matter what.

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest  or Tsu.

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2000.


  1. I do enjoy your well thought out articles, Iola. And I'm being truthful here not just "nice"!
    Over more than thirty years now I have had many comments from editors, readers - and yes, reviewers also. Some were flattering, some very "nice", some were very hurtful - and even about the same manuscript or book.
    I learnt many years ago that for both kinds of comments, I simply had to do what King Hezekiah did in 2 Kings 19:14 .He spread his very troublesome letter out before the Lord and prayed. Both kinds of comments can be used by our enemy, Satan, to deceive us. One kind can lead to pride which can hinder our writing career so very much because we may not believe an honest, tough comment. The other can lead to personal depression even to the point of not writing another book. However, as you have said, the Lord can use both to teach us so much about how to develop and use our writing to honour and glorify Him by being the best we can be.

    1. Thank you, Mary!

      That's a valuable insight from King Hezekiah. We need to be sure we have the right attitude in God

    2. Mary, well said. Thanks for your helpful comment on how to have the right perspective.

  2. Well said, Iola. I like this quote which I came across recently: 'The surest way to be deceived is to consider oneself cleverer than others.' (Francois de La Rochefoucauld, a 17th century French writer.) Good reason to keep a check on pride.

    The hard part is, no one thinks they're deceived, do they? You're right - we all need to be on our toes, willing to learn and prepared to stand corrected. Thank you for your thought-provoking post.

    1. That's a quote worth remembering. It probably holds true for a lot of things in life, not just writing!

  3. Your thoughts are too true, Iola. Thanks to editors like you, we can get honest feedback. We just have to be brave enough to take it!

    1. Thank you, Elaine!

      I'm always a little nervous as I send editorial feedback to clients. I pray they take it in the spirit in which it's given: to help their book become the best it can be.

  4. Your no-nonsense attitude to this sad state of affairs is so helpful, Iola. No wonder publishers/editors tell writers not to seek their friends/relatives opinions, but to go to those who know 'the rules'. Non writers may be doing the best they can to help, but if they don't really know good writing, then we are wilfully deceiving ourselves. As for receiving genuine criticism, one saying fits; If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

    1. It also holds true for book reviews. Some authors can't handle critical reviews, and I wonder if it's because no one has given them that critical feedback before publication. Really, a review shouldn't say anything your critique partners, beta readers and editor haven't already said!

    2. Excellent article.

      Wyndy Callahan

  5. Iola, excellent post! A teachable spirit is essential for all writers. I think the unintentional deception that writers can fall into, particularly new writers, is that they don't know what they don't know. But, I agree that there are many ways writers can educate themselves by researching and taking the time to learn new skills. We will never 'make it' and there will always be room to grow and improve as writers, especially in the area of writing craft.

    I also think the philosophy that writers should support other writers can lead to writers being nice rather than honest. The whole area of authors reviewing books is tricky. Personally, for a whole bunch of reasons, I'd rather not publicly criticise someone else's work via a book review. If an author asks for my opinion, I will share my thoughts privately. An opinion is usually not a reflection of absolute truth. Many readers have enjoyed books that I consider poorly written or boring. Writing is subjective and authors need to discern if the advice they are given is helpful or not, as per Mary's comment. That said, a poorly written book, despite being enjoyed by some readers, would probably appeal to a larger audience if the writing quality is improved.

    1. I agree that writers should support other writers, and agree this can lead to people being nice rather than honest. But if "nice" is actually a form of deception, that means we are actively deceiving other writers with dishonesty. At the end of the day, I don't believe that's supportive.

      I also agree that we should all be seeking continuous improvement, in the same way as we should all be progressing in our Christian walk. This means finding people who challenge us to improve, no matter what stage we are at.


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