Sherry wrote: “Aren’t book reviewers supposed to review? Can’t we speak the truth in love? Wouldn’t you want reviewers to write honest assesments of your latest novel—not just puff pieces?”
Of course there is a place for knowledgeable reviewers and skilled editors. I know I’m treading into controversial waters, but here goes:
When I was young, I studied voice. I learned a lot about intonation, music theory, voice placement, etc. And as a result, when I would sit in church or in a concert and listen to a singer, I found it difficult to enjoy the song unless it was perfect because I was so aware of problems with tone, voice placement, intonation, and style. Often I was so busy thinking about vibrato and technique that I missed intention and presentation.
I could be so busy wincing because somebody’s Grandpa Joe was off key that I missed the tears in his eyes and voice while he sang “Amazing Grace.”
After a while, I learned to shut off my inner critic . Professional singers go to professional voice teachers to learn their craft. The place for critique is the practice room. I believe even amateurs should practice and polish as part of their commitment to an excellent offering, but when I’m a listener, I need to listen more with my heart and spirit than my intellect.
I do believe in offering excellence and I can tell you that every Christian novel put out by a major Christian publisher not only has a dedicated writer working on it, but also dedicated editors, copyeditors, etc. We pray and sweat and strain over every word in our books. We research and spend hours agonizing over what Sally Character should eat for supper–if it’s important to the plot, the history, or the symbolism.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m my own worst critic. I can pick up any book I wrote a year ago and find all kinds of better ways to write the words. That’s part of the growing process.
With that said, I think it takes an AMAZING amount of chutzpah for someone who’s never written a novel (or seriously studied the craft and form) to criticize someone else’s effort. (I wouldn’t know how to BEGIN to evaluate a brain surgeon’s work because I’ve never attempted brain surgery.)
As a professional novelist, I’ve been asked to review other novels for publication. One was just NOT my cup of tea. But I knew thousands of people would adore the book even though it didn’t ring my bell. I knew its message would bless people, though it didn’t do anything for me.
So I wrote a review and talked about the lovely characters (they were!) and the lovely style (it was!) and the relaxed pace of the plot. (I don’t like relaxing plots.) The resulting review was informative enough that a reader would know what the book was about and if it would be THEIR cup of tea.
Who am I to publicly criticize another brother or sister? How can I say or imply that a book wasn’t up to par when it is the dear and excellent offering of another Christian’s heart?
I don’t want to be critical of my brothers’ and sisters’ efforts. If they want me to help them grow as writers, they can (and sometimes do) ask for input BEFORE the book is published. Then I’ll offer my two cents (about what it’s worth) privately.
Why should we relay our negative opinions? Besides making us feel momentarily superior, who does it benefit? Who can it hurt? A devoted reader is most likely going to read her favorite author no matter what you say, but your negative opinion could deeply wound the author, the editor, the author’s mother (grin).
Let me say that I do respect courteous and thoughtful reviews, PW reviews, etc. Let industry professionals hold me to a standard; that’s fine. What I find hard to bear are other Christians who seem to delight in publicly disparaging the work of fellow believers or even dismiss the entire market. Why can’t we praise what is praise worthy and encourage one another to keep striving for excellence? Positive reinforcement is a powerful thing.
What did Jesus say? We’ll be known by our love for each other. Agree with me or not, but I don’t think we ought to be publicly critical of each others’ offerings .