A blog post by Mike Duran, “Outside the Echo Chamber” (published on New Authors Fellowship), has sparked quite a few discussions. Basically, Mike says we Christian authors are too easy on each other when it comes to reviewing our books:
[Christian] authors aren’t very tough on each other. Most Christian reviewers seem to feel obligated to give good reviews to their brethren. As an aspiring Christian author, I was, frankly, surprised at the number of 4-5 star reviews Christian fiction routinely received.
It’s true. Perhaps it’s because we’re trying to insulate ourselves from the world, as Mike says. The probability of getting bashed by non-believers for the Christian content in our books is high, and for every 1 or 2 we’re scored, it’s comforting to see all the 4s and 5s we received from our fellow believers.
But it’s a false comfort.
Recently, I was informed Christians “are supposed to give 5s” to fellow Christians (five being the highest score on most scales). That was news to me. And if it’s true, there isn’t a single review written by a fellow Christian author that we can trust. We can pat ourselves on the back for all the 5s we’re getting, but if our work deserves a 3, we aren’t fooling anyone. Unbiased readers may read the author’s first book, but if it’s poorly written, they won’t read the author’s second. And if that reader bought the book based on all those wonderful 5 reviews, the reviewers will fall from grace also.
Amazon and B&N rating systems are already untrustworthy. For every false 5 awarded, there can also be false 2s and 1s. Someone’s ticked at the author? What a better way to get back at him then to bash his book.
But, as sad as all that is, it’s not the “dark side.”
Most reviewers, especially when they’re personally acquainted with the author, try to be gentle when explaining why they didn’t care for a book. They try to offer constructive criticism while presenting plenty of positive points to soften the blow. But for some authors, anything below a 5 is a personal affront, and the reviewer is considered mean-spirited, unloving, and worse, “not really a Christian.”
Some of the reviewers have been privately assaulted and publicly bashed, “de-friended” from various sites, and/or have found new harsh reviews on their own published materials.
The first time I experienced the “black-ball” treatment, I made up my mind not to write a review where I couldn’t at least give a 4 rating. Then I got myself caught between the rock of truth and a sensitive author who knew I was reading her book, and discovered that plan wouldn’t work either. So, I lied when I rated the author. To save her feelings and to protect myself, I lied.
Ordinarily, my word doesn’t carry any weight. I haven’t built up the creds for authors to care what my honest opinion is. They want their 5s, and aren’t interested in my reason for not delivering, regardless of how valid my thoughts are or how carefully they are presented. Because of this, I will no longer post reviews for friends or fellow Christian authors, on this site or any other, unless their work has earned a four or higher. Which was my original plan. But for it to work this time, I won’t let my friends know I’m reading their books. That way, if my impression of their work isn’t favorable, they’ll never know.
And for the five people whose work I’ve already agreed to review, if I can’t publish an honest review, I’ll send you an email and let you know why.