Ask A Reviewer (episode 1)

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As an author, we all want to be original, avoid cliches, and distinguish ourselves from the competition. But with so many books being published every day, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with everything that’s available in our own market or genre.

So once a month we’re going to ask my panel of professional reviewers, who have a unique perspective on the Christian fiction market, one burning question on the minds of most authors. Let’s kick off the inaugural column with a nail-biter:

What one thing do you wish authors would stop doing in their books?

“Stopping the story for a sermon!! I love spiritual truth in the fiction I read but I love it best when it’s integrated organically into the story.”  Carrie Schmidt, Reading Is My SuperPower

“Limit their own creativity. I love it when authors think outside of the box, or er…book in this case, and approach subjects, tropes, themes in a fresh and challenging way. Cookie cutter stories will put me to sleep faster than reading the phone book. I would tell authors not to be afraid to think beyond the boundaries, push the parameters and make beautiful art with their work.” Melony Peverett Teague, melonyteague.com

“Stupid or immature heroines!” Iola Goulton, iolagoulton.com

“Recently, the majority of self-published books that I’ve read have totally missed creating a main conflict or driving question for their entire story. They’ve written beautiful scenes and interesting characters without any tension. It pains me… Hiring an editor to go over the structure of their story would fix this problem, but understandably, a good editor is expensive.” Barbara Brutt, Cordially, Barbara

“I take issue with the freewheeling use of ‘devastatingly handsome’ or those ‘devastating blue eyes’! Pretty much any use of the word devastating to describe something appealing rather than, you know, actually devastating! ..There are plenty of other descriptive words in the English language which will stop me imagining the heroine crumbling to a heap upon the sight of such devastation!” Rel Mollet, RelzReviewz

“Model perfect hero/heroine. I understand the need but it would be nice to have more realistic heroes.” Andi Tubbs, Radiant Light

“I used to love them, but am getting a bit burned out on and tired of dual timeline stories…The writer must be equally good at writing historical and contemporary storylines and both must be given equal weight. What I’m seeing lately is that one side is much stronger than the other, and it makes me want to skim through the weaker side to get to the stronger one. And not just that, they need to be both integral to the plot, and if one side is a throwaway, it is glaringly obvious that the book is written that way because it’s trendy.” Melissa Parcel, Life Fully Booked

Thanks to my reviewer panel for their candor! I don’t know about you, but I’m making sure to avoid these pitfalls on the next book.

If you’ve got a question for our reviewer panel, leave it in the comments below and we may answer it for you next month!

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Comments

  1. Heather Day Gilbert says:

    Great post! Enjoyed these answers. One dual-timeline I read recently that seemed equally strong on both counts was Jaime Jo Wright’s The House on Foster Hill. I couldn’t put it down!

  2. Andi says:

    Hi Carla,

    This is a fabulous idea and the answers are great! I love Rel’s answer!

  3. Elizabeth Byler Younts says:

    I love this! One of the best blog posts I’ve read in a long time.

  4. Cordially Barbara says:

    I’m loving all these answers. It’s giving me a window into other things to be aware of as I’m reading. I have to say that I nodded along with a few here. 🙂

  5. Rebecca Maney says:

    Great post . . . . since I am an avid reader and reviewer, I can relate to most, if not all, of these answers.

  6. Andrea Stephens says:

    I love the questions and answers! As a non-professional reviewer, I agree with the professionals.
    This is a great post! Thank you.

  7. Denise says:

    Love this post! I agree with pretty much everything that these reviewers said! I would say my biggest pet peeve in Christian Fiction is perfection. I want a realistic hero and heroine! If they don’t experience any temptations or trials they aren’t realistic. Also, if they do experience temptations and trials and never have trouble making the right decisions then that isn’t realistic either!

    Thanks for a great post! Loved your books London Tides and 5 days in Skye because of great characters!

    • Cordially Barbara says:

      Denise, good point! I feel like there’s a really good reason that Loki from the Avengers has SUCH a hug fangirl base. He’s flawed but he can be heroic. As imperfect creatures ourselves, it’s somehow refreshing to read characters that if strengths that sometimes bend into weaknesses (isn’t that how it always is!).

    • Tamara Tilley says:

      Great post, Carla! Not only do I like what the reviewers had to say, but the comments, as well. I especially agree with Denise (perfect characters), and Karen (writing safe). These are two things I try to avoid in my writing. Now, admittedly, my books might have one character that is quite polished, but most are struggling with one issue or another. That’s where the not ‘writing safe’ comes in. I don’t push boundaries to the extreme, and I don’t feel I cross any lines, but come on . . . Christians live in an imperfect world. They are not going to make the perfect choice all the time. A flawed character is a redeemable character.

  8. Winnie Thomas says:

    Great post, Carla! The answers from the pros are interesting and thoughtful. I enjoyed their perspectives.

  9. Heidi Robbins says:

    Such great answers! I especially appreciated Andi Tubbs’ response- I’m so over the gushing about how physically perfect the main characters are and that that is what is driving the attraction/relationship. Interesting characters are not perfect in appearance or personality! Maybe I’m just getting grumpy as I get older… 😉

  10. Karen Barnett says:

    These are devastatingly good answers. 😉 Melony’s comment about limiting our creativity resonated with me. I think many of us have gotten so nervous about offending readers (or criticism from editors) that we’ve taken to writing “safe.” Unfortunately, safe can be another word for boring.

  11. Chautona Havig says:

    EXCELLENT post. I love it! And I heartily agree with all of you! Do I succeed with my own? I think it’s a matter of taste (but I’m pretty sure the only time I’ve used devastatingly in connection with looks was sarcastic, so I’ve got one down for sure!)

  12. Rachelle R Cobb says:

    This is so right on so many levels. Especially love Carrie’s. 🙂

  13. Iola says:

    So many great answers! Thank you for putting this together, Carla, and thank you for including me 🙂

  14. Phyllis Helton says:

    I agree with these and have a few to add.

    Editing and proof-reading are so important. Pay professionals to do this for you. While I understand having a typo or two left in the story, I get distracted by large numbers of errors. Plus, if I’m paying for a book, I do expect to have a professional product in return.

    Stop using cliches! Why do so many romance authors describe the heroine as having “curves in all the right places”? Ugh!

    Trying too much to be like the world. I’ve read a number of Christian books that I feel cross the line in describing the relationship between the characters in a physical way. I’m not saying that the characters shouldn’t be tempted by each other at all. But I’ve read Christian books where too much detail is provided about their physical relationship, or too much emphasis on it to the point the author feels like she has to throw in “but the attraction wasn’t only physical”.

  15. Brittany at the Books and Biscuits Blog says:

    LOL! I’m really glad that I’m not the only reviewer thinking these same things. 🙂

    I have read books with swapped/wrong character names, no story arc, grammatical errors, incredible historical inaccuracies, formatting problems (one book had a 130-page chapter), and just about every other issue one can imagine. Granted, some of those books were ARC’s, but quite a few of them are already released before I have a chance to notify the publisher of problems that I’ve encountered with the book.

    The editing and reviewing process is absolutely critical to a successful story! Even if readers have no idea what elements make a great book, they can certainly tell when those aspects are missing.

  16. Kate says:

    Fascinating post. 🙂 Thanks for thinking of it and taking the time to gather the thoughts! I do love the thought that some of these is a matter of taste, or even how it’s done. For instance, I usually agree wholeheartedly with Carrie about the sermon entry being part of the story. Most often I find myself completely skipping those portions of a story. It just takes me out of the plot. However, I can think of at least one instance where a sermon did actually work for me — it propelled a character shift believably, and led to an immediate (believable) action from two characters and also continued to let its effects be felt later on in the book. (Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones, if anyone’s curious). But, I do think this is largely a matter of preference.

  17. Laura Shuck says:

    This is great!
    Love to read. Love to share reviews. Especially agreed with devastatingly accurate comment by Rel Mellot. I just finished a romance novel in which the author used that particular descriptive word. Like Rel, I kept envisioning the heroine collapsing in a heap every time she looked into his devastatingly blue eyes!

  18. Mikal Dawn says:

    Love this!!! And I’m madly scribbling notes. 😁 Thank you for this post, Carla!

  19. Tamara Tilley says:

    Great post, Carla! Not only do I like what the reviewers had to say, but the comments, as well. I especially agree with Denise (perfect characters), and Karen (writing safe). These are two things I try to avoid in my writing. Now, admittedly, my books might have one character that is quite polished, but most are struggling with one issue or another. That’s where the not ‘writing safe’ comes in. I don’t push boundaries to the extreme, and I don’t feel I cross any lines, but come on . . . Christians live in an imperfect world. They are not going to make the perfect choice all the time. A flawed character is a redeemable character.

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