I am a part of the BookSneeze program that Thomas Nelson started a few months ago. If you’re unfamilar with it, this is a program where they send review copies of books to bloggers to write and post reviews. I’m not opposed to the idea of send out a few free books to promote new releases…especially in our current economy. If you can give people a chance to read some books and save a few dollars in return for some promotion it’s a wise move. My problem is deeper than the surface issue that so many see where giving a free item implies someone has to write a good review.
My problem with BookSneeze and similar programs is that it can really enable someone to act in a non-Christian manner when it comes to doing reviews of books.
I was looking through some of the websites of those who have been or currently are writing reviews for BookSneeze. I noticed that several of the sites contain reviews that give heaping amounts of praise to books that are explicitly Christian and very heavy on obvious Christian content while every book that comes from a Christian worldview and is not “explicitly” Christian is slammed. Those harsh, negative reviews are essentially not about the book itself…the story, the dialogue, the quality of the writing…but rather the fact it’s not “Christian” enough. They slam Thomas Nelson for putting out a book to the general fiction arena instead of only doing books for Christian sections or bookstores.
The BookSneeze pages that are for the bloggers who registered it will say in very clear text that Thomas Nelson doesn’t just do “Christian books” (defined by me as those aimed for Christian bookstores) but also books with a Christian worldview aimed at the general market. You know…those people who might not be Christians. The ones that Jesus told us we should share with them our belief in Him? Those people outside the protective bubble many Christians want to put around ourselves so we can keep our Holy lemony-fresh?
I’m sure this will bother some people but I’m going to be honest. If you take a book that you know is aimed at the general market with a Christian worldview and you write a review that attacks the book for not being “Christian” enough, you’re sinning. You went into that review with the intent of harming another Christian because you want to push your view of what’s “Christian” enough. Your votes that it’s a one star book because it’s not as overtly Christian as you think it should be is a sin if you went in knowing it wasn’t going to be overtly Christian. In the case of BookSneeze, I know you can’t say you didn’t realize it going in because they state general market books on the page where you choose the book for review.
Now, I know some people will say it’s their review and they have the “right” to write whatever they want to and review in any way they wish. I’m not opposed to that at all…I’m not opposed to these people writing reviews with their opinion. My beef is where someone will say “I don’t have to pay for this and I can rip it apart to stand up for Jeeee-zusssss.” The people who take advantage of the good will of people like Thomas Nelson and then savage the company, their authors and books because they aren’t meeting some “standard for Christianity” in the mind of the person who took the free books.
The intent of the person writing the review matters…their heart matters…and if they go into it with the intent of ripping it apart for an agenda then it’s a sin. If you accept a free book to write a review with anything less than a motive for an honest critique of the work itself then you are sinning. You make the commitment to review the book on the merits of the book. If it’s general market you have no right to impose a “Christianeze” standard on it. To do so and give a bad review is being deceptive. Deception is not Christ-like.
Now, if the publisher doesn’t say it’s a general market book and thus not overtly Christian you might have a pass. (Still, if it’s something like a Ted Dekker style serial killer/fantasy/mystery novel you should reasonably expect it not to be preaching at you.)
If you want to attack a publisher like Thomas Nelson for bringing books that aren’t just preaching and full of Scripture references but rather bring a Christian worldview in ways that non-Christians will read them…buy the book yourself. If you buy it, say whatever you want to say. Have the integrity to allow people to ask you why you bought that book and reviewed it in the manner you did knowing that it wasn’t aimed at the “Christian book” market but the general market. Explain why it’s such a bad thing for authors who happen to be Christian to write books that show life as it really is and how Christians in those situations could deal with it.
You know…people like you and me who are living in the real world every day. Who see the horrors of murder and famine and rape and human trafficking and assault and adultery on the news every night. People who have to live their faith in a world that’s not inside a plastic bubble sealed for our protection.
I am going to just implore those involved with BookSneeze or any other similar service to check your heart before you click the button to accept a review. Check your heart to make sure you’re doing it for the reason you say you’re doing it…an honest critique of the work itself. Check your heart to make sure you don’t have ulterior motives and that you’re going to harm the publisher, the author and others connected to that book to advance your ulterior motives.
I know there’s nothing that BookSneeze or similar groups can really do to stop it. Legally, they’ll have to leave it open to anyone who meets their qualifications. Still, it opens the door for Christians to act in a manner contrary to Christ and we need to watch out for that in the reviews we read…and the ones we write ourselves.
* – I know some will say “he’s only writing this to suck up to Thomas Nelson for his book.” My book’s quite a few years away from being publication ready and I really doubt Thomas Nelson would even give it a sniff. My manuscript makes Ted Dekker look like Billy Graham even though one of the main protagonists is a pastor. )