Does Christian Fiction Require a Warning Label? (Free Kindle Download Edition)

Is It Dishonest to Not Label “Christian Fiction”? That was the title of an article I recently posted at my personal website. It’s a hot topic among Christian writers, which bore out in the comments on that post. In the article I reference three popular CBA novels, books that were well-reviewed in the Christian market, which were then offered as free Kindle downloads, only to get blasted by reviewers for being “mislabeled” and “deceptive.” The sentiment was perfectly summed up by one angry reviewer who said:

If it’s Christian literature – JUST SAY SO!

Question: Do the reviewers have a point? Are we Christians trying to “trick” people into reading our stuff? And is this the real reason behind these negative reviews? Could there be, as some suggest, a built-in bias against Christian fiction that taints the review system? Or maybe we Christian authors are the ones getting unfair treatment, huh?

Whatever your answer, I happen to believe this controversy is a perfect window into the world the Christian fiction community has created. I mean, haven’t we brought this on ourselves? Christian fiction was forged as an alternative to secular, general market fiction. We demand certain themes, certain messages, be evident in our stories. So is it a surprise that when our “message” is spotted, some people get pissed?

Furthermore, the same system that allows readers to indiscriminately hand out five-star reviews, allows readers to indiscriminately hand out one-star reviews. Thus, reviewers have a right to pan my book simply because it’s Christian fiction. So what? Some reviewers will give my book five stars simply because it IS Christian fiction. I’ve been saying all along that we Christian writers get too cozy with the five-star reviews. We feel we’re obligated to give them and, as a result, we feel we deserve to receive them. Is it any wonder we get our feelings hurt when someone rips our previously hailed five-star wonder? If we weren’t so beholden to five-star ratings, perhaps we wouldn’t be as dismayed by one-star beat-downs.

Seriously, I think we would do well to shut up and listen to our detractors, rather than huff our way back to the country club. Sure, there’s blowhards and blockheads who have no agenda other than slamming anything religious. But not all our detractors are cretins. Take for instance this comment from a reader of the aforementioned post (you can read the entire comment HERE):

I think it’s wrong to mislabel or omit important information about ANY book, Christian or not. I’m a Christian, but sometimes I don’t WANT to read Christian fiction. (And, even within the genre, I don’t like books that make me feel preached to.) Just like any customer, I should be able to tell enough from a book’s description and category/genre that I know, before I buy, what I’m getting.

Fwiw- I have contacted Amazon numerous times, complaining about the way their search options and book descriptions fall short and make it difficult for the shopper to find what s/he is searching for–forcing us to wade through pages of listings and book descriptions–and still it isn’t clear. There should be a way to weed out what one doesn’t want from the search. The technology exists, they are simply not employing it.

I don’t think rating systems (like for movies) would work for books. They’re too varied. But listing things like: ‘This book contains foul language, violence and graphic sex’ or ‘This book contains scripture references, aspects/acts of personal faith and strong Christian themes.’ would cut way down on bad reviews from readers who feel deceived, or–at the very least–poorly informed.

I mean, can you really blame them? How would you feel if you thought you were buying a wholesome book and got a twisted tale of erotica? At the end of the day, its boils down to one, basic problem–the customer spending their hard-earned money and not getting what s/he thought s/he was getting.

Amazon does have avenues for challenging reviews, and I think readers should think twice about giving a 1-star when it’s Amazon they’re upset with and not the author. But why not avoid the bad reviews in the first place, by simply being honest about the book’s content upfront?

I appreciate the tone of this commenter. Not everyone who pans a free Kindle download does so simply because they are anti-Christian. Some do so on the grounds that they just don’t like what Christian fiction has become.

On the other hand, does Christian fiction really require a warning label? If it does, then we better start labeling every piece of ideologically-driven fiction: feminist fiction, atheist fiction, humanist fiction, etc., etc. I mean, c’mon. A warning label? Nevertheless, I believe it would help if we Christian authors and readers drew a deep breath, took a step back, and asked if this vehemence against our stories isn’t part of our own doing.

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike’s debut novel, “The Resurrection,” is in stores now and his novella, “Winterland,” is available in e-book formats. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.