Blog Tours and Controversial Books
I am in the middle of a “blog tour” right now, and I will be starting a second one when this one ends in a week. I got tired of doing the work of begging bloggers to consider reviewing my book and found someone else to organize it for me so that I could concentrate on writing my next projects. There is only so much of me to go around and having other people in the promotion with me is a relief.
Yet there is something uncomfortable to me about the whole blog tour process. There seems to be an assumption, at least on the part of some people, that if they sign up to participate it is their job to help promote the author. The blog tour concept does seem to set up that expectation. Being promoted is my goal as the author, but it shouldn’t be the blogger’s goal. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care if people like my book or not. I would love it if the process of publishing was nothing but one long stream of congratulations and praise, but I don’t expect it. When praise for a book is completely universal, people do tend to suspect that is was bought and paid for, or that it was all posted by the writer’s friends anyway.
I had an odd situation yesterday that has been playing on my mind. Just for background, in case I have not sufficiently hit you over the head with promotional messages for my book already: Angel, my novel, is the story of a Christian minister whose worldview is challenged because he finds himself falling in love with another man.
One of the reasons I had reached out to a blog tour organizer was that I hoped she might be able to reach some audiences I had not been successful in reaching on my own. Notably, I wanted to hear what Christian readers thought. So far, the book has been reviewed mostly by LGBT-themed sites. This is great, but I wanted to move beyond that. I don’t want to “preach to the choir” or reach only people who will be predisposed to say, “Of course a minister should be able to have a same sex partner.”
So I was thrilled that my tour organizer had managed to line up a number of Christian reviewers for the book. Then one of the sites, on the day she was to post the review, contacted the organizer to say that she was uncomfortable with the subject matter, so she had not reviewed it. Instead, she posted a promotional blurb for the book. Her posting of this blurb when I knew that she objected to the book on some level bothered me. I asked the organizer to tell her that she did not have to advertise for a book that she had moral qualms with, but she said she wanted to keep the blurb up. I am not sure why. So I received an advertisement instead of what may have been a negative review. I should be happy, but I am not. I have spent most of my time since then thinking about why.
This feels like a missed opportunity.
Reviews are not an objective statement about the quality of a book. They are a report on the relationship between the book and a reader. If I say I can’t get along with Joe over here, it doesn’t mean that Joe is a bad person. You might love him. It just means that our personalities don’t mesh well. It is the same with readers and fictional people. If the blogger had written about why she became uncomfortable and couldn’t finish Angel, I would not necessarily have considered it a “bad review,” just an honest one.
It wasn’t my intention to be provocative, but I understand that my book will rub some people the wrong way. If I had wanted to write a book that no one could object to, I would have written Chicken Soup for the Soul not Angel. I have been anxious to have the book reviewed by Christian readers, not because I wanted their seal of approval, but because I am interested to see the discussion. Does this subject make you uncomfortable? Why? What does the discomfort mean? What do those visceral feelings tell you about yourself, about your faith, about your literary expectations? Do you think I am wrong in the picture I paint? Why?
I will give the reviewer the benefit of the doubt that she wanted to be fair. She did not want her personal reaction to the book to stand as a judgment of its quality. She thought it best to let others make up their own minds.
Maybe she felt that talking about what made her uncomfortable would have been more personally revealing than she wanted. Maybe she was afraid that voicing an opinion on a controversial subject would be divisive and lead to a flame war. I can’t guarantee this wouldn’t have happened, but I will say that I would not have been the one throwing the flames. I welcome the discussion. I wanted to write a book that would pose questions, sometimes uncomfortable questions, and promote discussion. When you do that, you can’t get too offended when people express values that do not match your own.
Maybe she just didn’t know how to give a star rating to a book that she had no literary qualms with, only philosophical ones. I had a star-rating problem like that with C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. He is a brilliant thinker and writer and his arguments for orthodox Christianity were well-developed and articulated, but I wasn’t persuaded by a lot of them. What number of stars does that get on Goodreads?
There are a lot of reasons why someone might have found it daunting to write a review of Angel. I am sympathetic. I would like to have heard them.