I don't know about you, but I always hold out hope for a few good modern authors. After all, every age has its geniuses, and I'm sure with a little digging I can find some.
Can't say I have yet.
I've read all the catalogues, picked up quite a few from the library, leafed through others at bookstores, and still I'm on the hunt for good, modern-day authors. Needless to say I've gotten my hopes up several times along the way, due to some very clever advertising. In this series, I'd like to present some tips for advertising discernment, both in what to look up and what to avoid. I will be naming names, and I hope not to tread on any one's favorite while doing so. Forgive me in advance, please.
Tip #1: Do Give it a Try if the Atheists Don't Like It
Sometimes we forget this handy tip when reading book reviews. Someone from the opposite worldview may give it just as stellar a recommendation by bashing it--after all, if an atheist hates it because of its Christian content, then it might be worth giving it a try. This particular technique didn't hold much success for me the one time I tried it, but I'll definitely be considering it again.
I first developed this tip when looking up Code Blue, by Richard Mabry. I had a spare couple of hours to leaf through the offerings of a Christian bookstore, and this was one of the titles that caught my eye. Christian medical mysteries written by a retired doctor: has potential to be interesting. When I got home I looked up reviews on Amazon, and read again and again "It was a great book until Mabry got to the God stuff". Multiple reviews by non-Christians were saying the same thing. This gave me an indication that Mabry might have something going for him, so I ordered the book from the library. Funny thing was, it was neither the typos, the medical suspense, nor the Christian themes that caused me to call it off.
It was the groaningly handsome ex-boyfriend that rescued the FMC in the car crash on the first page.
That time I struck out. But when I see atheists going out of their way to write bad review of Christian fiction, then I'll sit up and take notice. Because for most of our books they don't even bother to comment.
Tip #2 Do Try an Overworked Plot if it Looks Original
Let's face it: the Amish plot is well past its prime. "Bonnet fiction" in the Christian realm does not refer to Jane Austen; it means historical/Amish romance. While treading cautiously here, because I really don't mind if people like them, I would say that the market is over-saturated, and we've had enough. However, not being one to stand on my dignity if I think another good book might result, I wasn't afraid to look one up a few weeks ago: The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club, by Wanda Brunsetter. That plot looked so original. An older Amish lady who advertises that she's hosting a quilting class, and who shows up but a troubled highschool student, a Hispanic father of a two-year-old, a pastor's wife, a fighting couple, and a tattooed Harley-Davison biker. I was looking forward to this one (albeit a bit doubtfully), because I love a cast of really unique characters, and I thought this would be fun. It wasn't. *spoiler alert* The fighting couple got back together, the biker turned out to be this sweet and long-lost father of the highschool student, and to top it all off, the Amish widow got married. *end of spoiler* All my castles tumbled one by one, the characters were not memorable, and all the cliches that could be packed in were. I forgot that Wanda Brunstetter will be Wanda Brunstetter no matter what plot she's given. And I'm not trying to put down the lady; I certainly don't mind if other folks like her, even though I've never been able to. What really irks me though, is a really good plot, and a really good cast gone to waste. I mean, how can you mess up something that original?
Tip #3 Know the Workings of the Publishing System
Publishing Houses are out there to sell you something. Or maybe not. What they're really after is selling 40,000 copies of any particular book to the audience who will buy it. If you're not part of that 40,000, then they really don't care. Think of it this way: that's .004% of the population of New York City. If you don't fall into that small percentage, then that's okay. They're not going to be the worse in their pocketbook. The whole publishing industry bases itself on a very small percentage--in other words, it really doesn't take a huge amount of sales to make a book a raging success. Publishers will offer what the .004% are buying; not what is necessarily good literature, or what people of taste would buy. It's counter intuitive, as they really limit their audience, but that's the way it works in today's book field.
Tip #4 Don't Reject a Book Just Because It's Popular
Even books of worth sometimes make the New York Times bestseller list. It would be prejudicial to avoid a book that looks good simply because everybody likes it too. For instance, when Eric Metaxas' book on Bonhoeffer came out, it looked great. But I didn't avoid it just because it got a favorable review in the paper. On the contrary, that was one of the clinching indications for me.
Tip #5 Do Get About Three Indications That It's Going to be Worthwhile
When I look up a book, I try to get several recommendations: for instance, if it looks especially good in the catalogue, then I count that as one. Then I look up Amazon reviews, and if they're pretty favorable, then I count that as two. Finally, a blog review or a mention in the paper, or perhaps a word-of-mouth recommendation by a friend will be the clincher. Three recommendations doesn't always mean that it will still be any good, but that's a good indication. (And of course, this is a suggestion, not a rule).
Have any of these tips proved useful in your reading? More next time!