The Kindness Of God Extended Through The Kindness Of People

US_Navy_100211-N-3879H-006_U.S._Naval_Academy_midshipmen_lend_a_hand_by_shoveling_sidewalks_and_helping_stranded_motorists_in_the_streetsSometimes God’s qualities, such as His kindness, seem nebulous because . . . well, He isn’t digging us out of the snow when our car slips off the road, He isn’t bringing meals when our son is in the hospital and we’re stretched for time, He isn’t watering our plants when we go on vacation.

The thing is, God shows His kindness in a variety of ways, and one of those is through the kindness of people He sends to us at just the right time.

I’ve experienced this in any number of ways during my adventure in “self-publishing.” It’s really a joke to call it “self.”

I learned fairly soon during my first Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference that traditional publishing was a team effort. When I first heard it, I didn’t particularly like that idea, to be honest. I thought the real work was done by the author. I was schooled, however, to amend that opinion. There were editors and cover designers and layout people and printers, sales people, distribution teams, promotion and PR representatives. It was a team effort to get out a book.

“Self-publishing” at that time simply meant the author paid for all those things to be done.

Then along came the ebook revolution and Amazon’s Kindle Direct, and suddenly self-publishing really was self-publishing, wasn’t it?

PowerElements_of Story Structure finalIn my experience of publishing Power Elements Of Story Structure, I learned it’s still a team effort. I brain-stormed titles with my critique group and one, the talented Rachel Marks, volunteered to design the cover. Another member, the brilliant Merrie Destefano, conceived of a series, not just a stand alone, and made suggestions about a forward and endorsements.

So that entailed another group of people–those willing to read the book and write something to let others know what they thought. Those same people, writers themselves, also voluntarily worked as my proof readers, catching a number of errors that had gotten by me.

I still needed Amazon, of course, but to get to that point, I needed someone with technical know-how who could walk me through the publishing process. A friend from the Mount Hermon conference helped with that.

Once the book was about ready to go, people needed to know about it, so another group of friends rose to the occasion, posting the cover reveal and/or follow-up posts with the Amazon link once the book was available.

And still I need help. Reviewers. I hadn’t even thought about that until one writer friend volunteered to do a review as soon as he was free to read the book (in February, I think he said).

Happily, reviews have started coming in. How else will people know if other writers are finding the book helpful or not?

Here’s an excerpt from the first one (posted by someone I’ve not met, no less):

Power Elements of Story Structure is one of the most accessible books on writing that I’ve read . . . (I wish I had read this before I ever began writing, but I’m deeply appreciating how it’s helping me to see my current work.) If you’re interested in writing a novel, this is an EXCELLENT resource.

Well, honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better first review, I don’t think.

I’m really amazed at all this. Each of these people is so kind. They’re giving of their time selflessly. I mean, what does a reviewer gain by taking time to write something on Amazon? But as I understand it, reviews are gold for books. The kindness of each reviewer translates to a boost for my book.

But more than that, the kindness of each person who has helped in any capacity is a demonstration of God’s kindness. He is extending His kindness through each of them. How cool that God has used this team of people to show me His kindness through a “self-published” project! 😉

Where Does Criticism End And Bashing Begin?

569937_hammerinIn Tearing Down The Church: A Tool Of The Devil and “A Tool Of The Devil: Christian Fiction Or Christian Fiction Bashing?” I question the approach of some toward the Church and toward Christian fiction. Could it be that tearing down the Church, that bashing Christian fiction plays into Satan’s hand?

Is that idea the same as saying no one inside or out of the Church should criticize it, that readers ought not critique Christian fiction?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “bash” figuratively to mean “criticize severely.” The question, then, seems to be, what qualifies as “severe”? OED thesaurus gives some great synonym suggestions, but instead of simply listing them, I want to give my thoughts on what qualifies as bashing. Others may have a different take on the term, and that’s fine. For me someone is bashing when the criticism

    * becomes personal (e.g. the author is shallow; the pastor of that church is hateful)
    * generalizes (e.g. Christian fiction is shallow; Christians are hateful)
    * exists for itself, either to make the writer look clever or to curry favor with potential readers. The opposite would be to give constructive evaluation that could help the writer/church or that is intended to warn away potential readers/church-goers from something harmful. (e.g. “Christian fiction is nothing but Amish romance”; Why Men Hate Going to Church or 52 Lies Heard in Church Every Sunday)
    * is based on rumors and not facts (e.g. Christian fiction doesn’t engage the culture; Christians are hypocritical)
    * jumps on bandwagons (e.g. “I don’t read Christian fiction because it’s so poorly written”; “I don’t need to go to church when I can worship God just as well at the beach”)
    * becomes angry or insulting (e.g. nobody in his right mind reads that stuff; nobody in his right mind would go to that church)
    * questions the integrity of others without foundation (e.g. they’re just doing it for the money [applied equally to the writing industry and churches])
    * parrots others (e.g. Christian fiction is preachy; Christians must like fantasy because their bible is full of it)
    * doesn’t let up. OED calls this “railing against” something or “complain or protest strongly and persistently about” something. (e.g. Christian fiction isn’t realistic because it doesn’t allow curse words; Christians are homophobic)

The bottom line is, criticism is not wrong. Constructive criticism can be helpful. Authors join critique groups or employ beta readers on purpose to receive feedback that tells them what’s wrong with their manuscript. Churches have any number of ways of receiving feedback too–all designed to help the group improve and flourish.

I wouldn’t write reviews if I didn’t have the freedom to point out weaknesses or to narrow my recommendation to the group of readers I think would enjoy a book. If I had to lavish praise all the time and make recommendations to everyone, then why bother? Reviews are designed to help, but they often contain criticism.

So criticism isn’t the problem. Criticism is different from severe criticism. And my guess is, most of us know bashing when we hear it or read it, but for some reason, we let it slide, maybe even join in (yep, I hate to admit it, but I’ve been there, done that).

I’ve singled out tearing down the Church and bashing Christian fiction, but I suspect this whole bashing thing might be a problem, containing the seeds of bullying. But perhaps that’s a post for another day.

What are your thoughts on the difference between bashing and criticizing? What did I leave out?

How Important Are The Details?

pick, pickIn more than one article critiquing the Mark Burnett/Roma Downey TV mini-series The Bible, reviewers pointed out “picky” details–Adam portrayed as a European-ish white guy, not an African or a Middle Easterner. And beardless. More than once I read remarks about the angels outfitted much like Ninja warriors.

Are details like this important?

My first thought is, Come on, people, quite being so picky.

But hold on.

Aren’t the picky things noticeable when they pull us out of the story? Just recently I read a post by agent Steve Laube about inconsistencies in novels that editors don’t catch but readers do. It reminded me of a book I recently read in which basketball details were wrong.

For example, Team A faced off against Team B in the NBA finals, with Team B hosting game 1. Some pages later the series is 3-2 and game 6 is being played at Team A’s home court.

But hold on. Fans of pro basketball know the finals are a 2-3-2 format–games 1,2,6 (if necessary), and 7 (if necessary) are played at the home of the team with the best over all regular season record. Games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary) are played at the home of the two seed. So no way could game 6 be played on Team B’s home court if game 1 was at Team A’s.

There was a similar stumble earlier connected with basketball (in the NBA, only one free throw when a technical foul is called) and another one with the weather in Southern California (a week of rain in May? Right! Doesn’t happen!) And another one on a cross-country drive. Three days, the character determines. It will take three days to reach her destination. She starts out on a Sunday and arrives … on a Sunday. O-o-kay.

But here’s the thing. If I were writing a review of this book, I would feel like I was being overly critical to point out these slips. I mean, did any of those matter in the long run? No. Will people who are not basketball fans, or residents of SoCal, even notice? Probably not. Does the day of the week really matter? Not really. Then what’s the big deal?

Do the details in fiction matter?

Actually, yes, they do. The details give the story a sense of credibility. I’ve said before, one of the things I think J. K. Rowling did so well was construct an incredible fantasy world. Others say she merely played off British boarding schools and that may be true. But through the details Ms. Rowling included, the world of magic came alive.

Horseless carriages that convey themselves, a sorting hat, a whomping tree, portkeys, food that appears in dishes on the dining tables, a ceiling that reflects the weather outside, broken wands mis-repaired that send spells incorrectly–on and on, each detail woven into the story with a high degree of consistency. There weren’t three school houses in one book and four in another. The new students weren’t placed in theirs by the Sorting Hat in one and by the Sword of Gryffindor in another.

Of course, the longer the book, the greater number of details there are to keep straight. An epic story like the seven Harry Potter books requires a great deal of work to keep all the details straight.

But I’ll come back to the point–why does it matter? I said credibility or realism, if you will, and that’s perhaps the greatest point, but in tangent is the fact that inconsistencies may pull readers out of the “fictive dream.” Rather than living side by side with the characters, the reader stops: Wait a minute, didn’t she say the trip took three days, and didn’t she leave on a Sunday? Then how can they be arriving on a Sunday? Did I miss something?

Lack of clarity can do essentially the same thing. The details might be right, but if they aren’t expressed clearly, the reader is still stopping, still looking back and checking to see why what she thought had been conveyed actually was something different.

So yes, details matter. At least they should.

Do editors give a pass to certain authors because they know readers will buy, read, love, and praise their books no matter what? To rectify this, should reviewers actually start pointing out inconsistencies . . . or will the point be lost because others will cry, Stop being so picky!

What do you think? Do you notice inconsistencies? Do you think those things should be pointed out in reviews?

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! 😀

Published in: on September 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – Books, Books, And More Books  
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The Turquoise And Orange Mentality

Turquoise and orange. Or green and red. Purple and yellow. Opposites on the color wheel and the perfect metaphor for the way our western culture approaches … just about everything.

For some reason which I haven’t yet figured out, society 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 engaged in 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 do wheat and weeds have to do with reviews?

Here’s the point. 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 a 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 the 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 about how this book was as good as those by Sir Walter Scott! 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, but even if I lived without sin, I don’t believe that would mean 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?

This article originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in June 2008.

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

In the early days after sin entered the world, apparently Mankind still interacted with God. Closely. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel still heard directly from Him and knew what He wanted.

Thus, God made His wishes known about the sacrifices Cain and Abel were to give. Cain ignored Him. God then gave Cain His council about the jealousy in his heart, but Cain spurned it. Instead, out of his anger, Cain killed his brother.

Afterward, God came to him and asked a simple question, one that Omniscience already knew the answer to: Where’s your brother, Cain?

His answer was evasive. Am I my brother’s keeper?

As a matter of fact, yes. Cain was his brother’s keeper, and today we Christians are our brothers’ keepers. We ought to have our brothers’ backs. We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. We ought, in short, to love our brothers the way Christ loves us. Or at least the way we love ourselves.

It’s such an easy thing to say — I love my brothers and sisters in Christ — but as James tells us, the proof is in what we do, not what we say we believe.

I’m mindful of two particular areas that make me think we Christians aren’t really understanding what God intended when Jesus said the world would know we are Christians by our love for one another.

In one instance, a well-known Christian pastor has been criticized by groups of Christians, though little of substance has ever been raised against him. Recently another pastor of the same theological persuasion as the critics basically said, there’s nothing in the pastor’s teaching that flies in the face of Scripture.

Oh, the critics come back and say, he may talk a good talk when he’s with someone who believes the Bible, but what’s he saying the rest of the time? After all, there was this one instance when he could have said more, and he didn’t!

May God have mercy on me for not saying more when I could have. May God have mercy on me for not showing the love of Christ as I should. And may I learn from Cain’s sinful attitude and actions to have my fellow Christian’s back rather than speak against him or judge him.

In a similar way, other conversations and observations have made me aware that Christian writers should have each other’s backs too. In so saying, I’m not advocating a “pretend it’s all good” policy. Christian writers shouldn’t rave about books they don’t like or write glowing reviews about novels they know are weak.

However, we can and should speak the truth in love. We can also pray for one other regularly, and we can make room for God to do something through our brothers and sisters in Christ who write that He may not do through me and my work.

As I see it, the church needed Paul, but it also needed Peter. It needed Apollos, but it also needed Priscilla and Aquila.

Why, then, do some seem to think today, that every writer should write in the same way, to the same audience?

Why can’t the writer looking to place his work with a general market publisher pray for and support fellow believers publishing with a Christian house? And vice versa? And all of them pray for the ones who are self-publishing or who are placing their books with a small press?

Why do some writers talk only about their own work and not that of their fellow authors?

Why do some talk against others who approach writing in a different way?

We are, after all, our brother’s keepers. We have an opportunity to show the world a new thing by how we love one another. Not by how we speak against one another or ignore each other.

Fantasy Friday: The Next C. S. Lewis

I am NOT the next C. S. Lewis. What a shocker. 😉 The thing is, I can name at least four writers who are—or who have been told they are by a fan, a reviewer, a publisher, or an endorser. I actually had an agent who doesn’t represent fantasy say to me, “I may be passing up the next C. S. Lewis.” Well, said agent can be assured. I am NOT the next C. S. Lewis.

It dawned on me today, as I read yet another C. S. Lewis comparison—this one a glowing review saying the style of the work in question was “reminiscent of C.S. Lewis,” (the author had the sense to distance himself from that statement)—that I don’t want to be the next C. S. Lewis.

It also dawned on me that I’ve heard these kinds of comparisons before. I’m a basketball fan, and those who’ve watched the pro game for any length of time know all about the comparisons.

When Michael Jordan was beginning to make a splash, reporters started talking about him being the next Dr. J. That’s Julius Erving for those who might not know—one who made the list of 50 greatest NBA players.

But before long, young stars were coming into the league, and they were being touted as the next Michale Jordan. First there was Grant Hill, then Vince Carter, and eventually Kobe Bryant.

It’s inevitable. One day Kobe will retire, and another great player will come along with the tag that he is the next Kobe Bryant.

But a rare group of the top players seem to be beyond comparison. I don’t hear people saying, Here comes the next Magic Johnson. He’s one of a kind, a rare athlete with physical gifts, intelligence, diligence, and a love for the game that can’t be matched. There was no 6’9″ point guard before him pulling down one triple-double after another, and it’s unlikely there will be another one any time soon.

What does this basketball analogy have to do with C. S. Lewis? Simply this: Wouldn’t it be better to be yourself, in all the uniqueness God has gifted you with, than to be the next version of someone else?

I understand, whether in basketball or in writing, the comparison is a marketing ploy. But too often the athlete being compared to the great who went before is a disappointment. The fans expect something he doesn’t deliver. But when he does excel, the comparisons fade. No one is saying Kobe is the next MJ anymore, though I occasionally hear the question, Which is the better?

Here’s where I’m going with this. I do not want to set up my readers (should I one day have any 😉 ) to expect something I won’t deliver. I can promise you, I am not, nor do I aspire to be, the next C. S. Lewis. I want to be the best Rebecca LuElla Miller God has gifted me to be. That could mean I’ll spend my writing life as a “journeyman” blogger. I’m happy with that. I’ll work to fill that role to the best of my ability.

But wouldn’t it be a shame if I promoted my blog as the next Mere Christianity? As if! 🙄

Chances are, readers would approach each of my posts with a healthy dose of skepticism. It’s hard enough hooking and holding an audience as it is, but to have to meet those high expectations would be next to impossible. I can see readers leaving in droves (assuming that droves even showed up 😉 ) after the opening paragraph.

What kind of a stunt is this, one might ask. She doesn’t write anything like C. S. Lewis.

The funny thing is, if I did write like him, I’d certainly be accused of being derivative.

So here’s my plea: authors, be yourself and be happy when someone recognizes a piece you’ve written as yours. Reviewers, endorsers, back cover copywriters, knock off the comparisons because you’re doing more harm than good. Let writers be who God made them to be.

There was and will be for all time one and only one C. S. Lewis.

Published in: on January 14, 2011 at 7:05 pm  Comments (12)  
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“Reviews” That Aren’t Reviews

I admit, it’s a pet peeve of mine—blog posts that purport to be reviews but actually do little besides regurgitate press releases or back cover copy.

I can go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or to find the snippet the publisher has provided about a book. I can visit the author’s web site if I want to read his canned bio. When I read a blog post, I want to learn something MORE—something I couldn’t get in the usual places.

That’s why interviews are cool. But today I specifically want to rant abo discuss reviews. 😉

When I’m talking to a friend who has read a book I haven’t yet picked up—or if she’s seen a movie or watched a TV program I’ve only heard about—there are usually two questions I ask: what’s it about and did you like it?

If we have time, I may also ask why did you or didn’t you like it?

From my perspective, those are the essentials of a book review. If I’m talking to a friend, I don’t want her to whip out the LA Times and read their review of the movie. I want to know what my friend thought. After all, I know a little about her tastes and her worldview. She also doesn’t have a vested interest in whether or not I decide to buy a book or ticket because of what she tells me. Therefore, I trust her

Sadly, I’ve seen some blog “reviews” that miss the opportunity to build trust. Honest opinions do that. Some reviewers, instead, “love” everything. I mean, every book is a 5-star story. The writing is great—perfect, even. The author is brilliant, the characters are capable of walking off the page and into your living room. Every … single … book … review.

I don’t know about you, but that stretches my credibility. Especially if I happen to have read the book and found the characters flat and uninteresting or the writing trite and predictable.

How much better to take a step back and think about books objectively. I know it’s sometimes hard. Often when I close a book I love, I can only think of those things that drew me into the story. And that’s OK, but might there be something that could have strengthened the book even more?

Simply by noticing those things, a reviewer becomes more credible. Readers will not build inflated expectations based on a review that says a book is flawless. In reality, the reader may not care about whatever weakness the reviewer noticed, but that’s OK, too. It means the reader will actually like the book more than they expected.

The flip side of the “perfect book” review is the “PR shill” review. Little in the post is original content. The blogger has only cut and pasted material that could be found elsewhere, with perhaps a single line of personal opinion.

How is this helpful? That’s not even as informative as reading from the Times. It’s actually more like reading a paid advertisement.

When I visit a blog, I don’t want to know what the publisher says the book is about, I want to know what the blogger I’m visiting has to say it’s about. I want to know what he thought it’s winning points were. I want to know whether he’d recommend it to people like me.

At Amazon they have a way for visitors to vote whether or not they found a review helpful. Too bad all blog reviews don’t have that capacity, too. I think bloggers might see their posts in a new light if people could say with a click whether or not they found the review—or the “review”—helpful.

Of course, I’m setting myself up for failure, since I’ll be doing a review next week for the CSFF Blog Tour. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll write about a related topic and avoid the review altogether. 🙄

Thoughts on Marketing

I read an interesting article about the old and new marketing—old being corporation-controlled advertisement and new being the “conversations” held through social media (blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, et al.)

Here’s part of the discussion pertinent to what I want to talk about:

Most corporations, says The Cluetrain Manifesto [a 1999 thesis endorsed by a host of marketers], “ignore their ability to deliver genuine knowledge, opting instead to crank out sterile happytalk that insults the intelligence of markets literally too smart to buy it.”

Moreover, it says, these companies “only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.”

Honestly, when I read those lines, I first thought of some book reviews, particularly those discussing Christian fiction. I also thought of Mike Duran‘s occasional objections to Christian fiction reviews, much of which I think has merit.

In Mike’s article, he postulated that some reviewers may write puff pieces because they are happy to see works centered on the gospel. In other words, because they love the gospel and because a particular work of fiction promotes the gospel, the reviewer feels compelled to love that work of fiction. Therefore, they write reviews filled with “happy talk” and lines straight from marketing brochures.

The result is a loss of credibility. Why should those seeking information about products they might like to buy pay attention to reviews that always and only speak in glowing terms?

Mind you, I’m not pretending I have review writing figured out. Just recently a friend who frequents this blog emailed me about a particular book this person bought as a result of my review. Problem was, at least in the beginning, the book, in this person’s estimation, wasn’t measuring up to my recommendation.

But here are a few things I’ve come to believe about reviews:

1) They don’t have to trash books, even the ones that are less than great or maybe even terrible. Writing, after all, isn’t easy, and the author of the book should be respected for his efforts.

2) Reviews should be honest. A reviewer who always says the current work he’s discussing is the best thing since C. S. Lewis, simply loses credibility.

3) Most books have strengths and weaknesses. In mentioning both, reviewers actually gain credibility. Plus, many readers will decide that the things that bothered the reviewer aren’t significant enough to dissuade them from buying the book.

4) Reviews should not serve in place of discernment. Again, in discussing the strengths and weaknesses of a work, the reviewer is actually putting the ball back in the hands of the reader, forcing him make his own decision.

5) Recommendations can be tailored. Because I as a reviewer may not like a book, does that mean no one else will, or should? Absolutely not. However, if I make judgments as to who I think might like the book and to what extent they may like it, my recommendation can then guide others to consider whether or not they are part of that audience.

If book reviews are to be part of the “new marketing” dependent upon conversations, those need to be genuine, and Christians reviewing fiction should be in the forefront. Our integrity should matter.

Book Bloggers and the FTC

I don’t consider myself to be a libertarian or anything, but I have to admit, I bristle at the talk of government regulation of book bloggers.

Seems the US Federal Trade Commission is passing expanded “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Book bloggers, they say, must include a line of disclosure so that their visitors know the blogger is being “compensated” for his reviews, “compensation” referring to the review copy of the book. 😯

Never mind that print media members have been receiving free books for years and years and years without any such disclaimer and will not now be required to include such a disclaimer (see Edward Champion’s article summary of an interview with FTC’s Richard Cleland). Seems the FTC views newspapers and magazines as fair and balanced but individuals as evil and corrupt. 🙄

As such, the FTC apparently believes poor, helpless consumers are being buffaloed by us greedy, lying bloggers who say we like a book when really we don’t, thus bilking book buyers out of … what? The responsibility to think for themselves? To think about the reviews they read? To compare and contrast one blogger with another and bloggers with print reviewers?

What mystifies me is that the FTC thinks blog visitors are too stupid to tell which bloggers are writing endorsements instead of reviews. Or that once burned they might continue to visit an endorsement blog and get burned again, and again, and again.

Above all this silliness is the FTC admission that they can’t in any way visit all the blogs and Facebook pages and Twitter accounts (yes, this also applies to social networking sites). Of course these guidelines also have no power whatever over bloggers located outside the US. So what do they accomplish?

And another question for those in the US. How is it that an agency we did not vote into office can pass new laws like this, for certainly, if they can fine bloggers up to $11,000 they are passing a law. Well, not “passing” a law. That’s what Congress does. I guess in this case it’s “declaring” a law.

Then my other question: Why is the government seemingly so concerned about due diligence when it comes to protecting consumers from bloggers but couldn’t manage to look into banks and savings and loan companies to keep them from mismanaging millions of dollars?

Makes me wonder about motives and priorities and such, ya know? 😕

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