Fantasy Friday – Books, Books, And More Books


I love reading and I love having lots of books to read, but sometimes promising reviews kind of puts the pressure on, especially when several of these books release about the same time. That’s the state I’m in at the present.

Publishers have their reason, I know, but it really does seem unrealistic to try to read and review the books that all come out about the same time, within the three-month window the PR people say determines a book’s sales.

Three months.

Before I became a writer, there were books I hadn’t heard of three months after their launch. How was I supposed to read them and talk them up with my friends before the window closed?

It reminds me of movies that come out in May–when we here in California are still in school. By the time our school year ends in mid June, and I or my teacher friends have time to go see those movies, they no longer are in our theaters. Here and gone before I have a chance.

Thankfully the Spec Faith library gives us a place where we can find Christian speculative fiction, new and old. For that matter, it lists books that are traditional published or put out by a small independent press or even self-published. The problem there is, with so many books, how do you know which are the ones you’d really like to read? I mean, Spec Faith is closing in on 500 books cataloged in our database.

That’s were other readers come in. We need buzz–people talking about the books they’ve read. We need people willing to write a short recommendation or a longer review. We need them to copy and past reviews they’ve written on their own site or elsewhere, with appropriate links, so that readers can see more than a list of books with their cover art and back cover copy.

If someone is seriously trying to find the best Christian speculative fiction, they need to go where Christian speculative fiction readers hang out, where they talk about what they read, and particularly where they talk about what they like.

How great, then, to be able to go to a place like Spec Faith and peruse the offerings. But right now we only have six reviews for every one hundred books. That’s a lot of books without any buzz at all–at least on a site where speculative readers gather and speculative books are listed.

So I’m wondering, what’s keeping people from adding recommendations, at least. I mean, let’s say you’re a busy mom or dad with a 9 to 5 job and football games to attend. How are you supposed to write a review?

Well, buzz isn’t all about reviews. A lot of times it’s about a reader saying: I loved this one, don’t miss it. Or even, I liked the first one better. Or, if you liked this one, you’ll love that other one.

Buzz, folks. It’s just talking about books in a way that encourages other people to talk about books. Or to read them.

That, my friends, is what Christian speculative fiction needs most. So now I’m fired up and ready to do my own reviews! :-D

Published in: on September 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm  Comments Off  
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Fantasy Friday – Spec Faith Makeover


Speculative Faith, the team blog started in 2006 by a group of Christian speculative writers headed up by Stuart Stockton, almost died out a few years ago. One thing and another happened, causing regular writers to drop off.

I was the last to keep the home fires burning, and then my computer crashed–or, more accurately, performed a slow meltdown. For a month I struggled to log on to our old site. When at last my computer came through surgery, new and improved, I didn’t want to face all the spam that had accumulated on our old site.

Enter Stephen Burnett. He’d earlier taken on the role of regular contributor but went on a hiatus–some excuse about getting married, or something … :-D When Stephen returned and saw the spam situation at the old site, we did a confab and agreed to start over, importing as much content as was feasible.

Hence, Spec Faith 2.0 launched at our present WordPress site in the summer of 2010. Since then we’ve had steady growth, in large part due to Stephen’s watchful eye and innovative work.

He created a Spec Faith Facebook page, for example, and added the Spec Faith library which now has over 400 books. (If only we could actually lend them out!)

Today he introduced the latest upgrade, Spec Faith 3.0. Besides tweaking the already classy look of the site, he has enhanced our library by bringing the creation of and access to reviews to the forefront.

Now anyone interested in seeing what’s available in Christian speculative fiction can go to the library and find, not just a book cover and blurb, but reader reviews and comments.

Of course, to make this feature viable, we need readers to actually post reviews and comments. For comments–a quick recommendation, perhaps, a response to a previous review, or maybe a report on how many stars you’d give the book–visitors only need to locate the book of their choice and click on the comment link.

For reviews, there’s a basic form where a visitor leaves their review, and an administrator will add it in the appropriate place.

I don’t know about you, but I have begun to pay more attention to reviews. How great, then, to have all these Christian speculative titles all in one place, along with reviews to help potential readers sort out which are the best books.

Not only that, but the reviews will also post to Facebook, so the influence of each one is magnified. For reviewers who are re-posting from their own blog, there is also a link (I’m pretty sure) to the original site, so it’s also a way to attract visitors to the reviewer’s blog.

OK, enough of my chit-chat. It’s much more effective if you click on over and take a look at the site yourself. Enjoy.

Published in: on June 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm  Comments Off  
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Responding To Criticism


Writers in particular seem to be interested in criticism, but the truth is, no matter what our profession we all are apt to face criticism in one form or another.

When I was a new teacher, I was so fearful of parent/teacher conferences — until I learned that most of the parents were just as fearful. Of what? I, that these parents would criticize the job I was doing as a teacher; they, that I would criticize their job as parents.

Of course there were also professional evaluations when an administrator would come into the classroom, observe, then meet with me later and give his assessment (read, critique) of my lesson. And there were the standardized tests we gave too. Ostensibly these measured the students’ progress from one year to the next, but guess who was responsible for their growth or lack thereof? :roll:

Other jobs have similar ways of measuring job performance, so why do some writers (see comments) have such a hard time taking criticism?

The topic came up recently on Mike Duran’s blog, not once but twice. And the author meltdown on Books and Pals ignited additional posts about bad reviews and author responses.

I suspect that part of the issue is how public author criticism is. I mean, when my administrator gave me a job performance evaluation, it was confidential. I got a copy and one went into my file, but from there, no one needed to know if I got a “five star” rating or a “one star.” ;-)

Writers have no such confidentiality clause with reviewers. In fact, the point of the review is to publicize an opinion about a writer’s performance.

A reviewers opinion, of course, is not accurately equated with a supervisor’s assessment. In my situation, reviewers would be more closely aligned to my students’ opinions. Imagine if each of them posted on my classroom window what they thought of my lessons that day. Hmmm. :roll:

But a writer’s reviews serve a greater purpose than writer evaluation. They benefit readers because they inform. And they benefit writers because they promote in ways a writer can’t. Reviews on the Internet aren’t paid advertisement. They are one reader’s opinion (or in the case of a blog tour, one group of readers varying opinions).

Consequently, it seems a little baffling to me that a writer would respond in any way but with gratitude. Someone read their book. That in itself is something to be thankful for.

Lambasting the critiquer? I don’t see how that’s a good move under any circumstance.

Some writers answer that the right response is to ignore all reviews, even good ones. I don’t know what I think about commenting on Amazon, but on blogs and particularly in blog tours, I think an author that doesn’t comment is missing out on an opportunity to make a positive connection with a reader.

One author, definitely old school, said to comment on favorable reviews might illicit syrupy suck-up reviews in the future. Well, maybe that’s a risk worth taking. Because no comment could earn an author no review in the future.

I know it’s not always possible, but it seems to me, if a person has taken the time to read a book, write and post a blog review, the least the author can do is drop by with a simple thank you.

I actually learned that from Andy Sernovitz who wrote Word of Mouth Marketing. A couple years ago I won a free copy of his book and blogged about something I learned from it. True to the advice he gave in the book, he stopped by my site to say thank you for the mention. And that wasn’t even a full review.

In my opinion, authors would do well to take advantage of reviews by responding kindly and professionally. I’ve seen more than one blogger won over by such an approach.

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Turquoise and Red Mentality


Turquoise and Red. Or green and purple. Blue and yellow. Opposites on the color wheel. For some reason which I haven’t yet figured out, our culture has fallen into an all-or-nothing way of thinking. It’s all my way—and of course, my way is right—therefore every other way is all wrong. This trend is more surprising in light of the “tolerance movement,” but that’s a subject for another day.

Here I’m concerned with how this “if I like it, it’s good, it’s all good” concept affects Christians reviewing books. Because, sadly, Christians have bought into this mindset as much as or more than the rest of the culture.

After all, we’re in a spiritual warfare. Evil is real and opposes God. And there is only One way to salvation; all other roads lead to destruction. On top of which, righteousness matters.

All true. But what I think we Christians lose sight of from time to time is the fact that the world is a mixed bag.

Jesus even said so in the parable of the wheat and weeds. In the story, the landed nobleman ordered his servants to plant grain. They did, but in the night an enemy sneaked into his field and contaminated the crop with weed seed. When the plants grew, the servants realized weeds were intermingled with the good grain. They went to their lord and asked him if he hadn’t planted good seed and what were they to do about these weeds. Leave them, he said, until the harvest. That would be the appropriate time to sort the weeds from the wheat.

Here’s the deal. We’re living in that wheat and weed field. The weeds, by the way, called “tares” in the NASB, were darnel, a rye grass that looks much like wheat. In other words, telling the two apart was not an easy job. It’s not easy for us, either. What looks to us like a tare now, might in fact be a stalk of wheat.

What in the world does this have to do with reviews?

I find it a little astounding that in a mixed bag world, we can see anything as all good or all bad. Yet readers rave all the time that such-and-such novel is the best book ever written. Or that such and such other book is from the pit of hell and will bring destruction upon every person foolish enough to expose their minds to it.

I remember hearing Liz Curtis Higgs speak at Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference some years ago, and she was commenting on responses she got to her novel set in Scotland. One reader raved how this was as good a book as those by an author of classics—Sir Walter Scott, I think. The same day she received a letter tearing her and the book apart. Obviously, both positions couldn’t be true. In fact, Higgs said a writer really must believe neither.

But why do readers and reviewers write as if a book they love has no faults or a book they hate has no value? We live in a mixed-bag world, where made-in-God’s-image creatures fell into corruption. Why are we shocked to see God’s image, tarnished as it is, in those very people who rail against Him? And why do we think everything coming from the fingertips of His redeemed children will automatically be without the rust of corruption? I wish the latter were true.

But I’m as much a mixed bag as the world is. Less so every day, as God does His sanctifying work of transforming me into the image of His Son. Even if I lived without sin, however, I don’t believe that would mean that my writing would also be perfect. I could have pure intentions. My motive might be to honor God, but does that mean my writing will automatically be flawless? Not in a mixed-bag world.

And final question. Is God most honored by our closing our eyes to what might be improved or by an honest appraisal that calls writers to reach for better?

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