Indie authors face a lot of challenges, not least of which is getting their book noticed. Authors of Christian literature face the additional hurdle of targeting a very focused market with limited consumers.
Over the past decade, numerous contests have emerged to help (at least in theory) indie authors gain publicity. There’s no doubt that many scams have popped up as well as many genuine contests. One such competition is the #Booklife Prize that has the weight of Publishers’ Weekly behind it.
For those of you that might not be familiar with BookLife, here’s a quick bit of history. BookLife is what I call the “independent author arm” of Publishers’ Weekly, a leading trade magazine that’s been in operation since 1872. BookLife offers a host of services to indie authors including the opportunity to submit a manuscript get a free review from Publishers Weekly itself.
I discovered BookLife in 2019 and have enjoyed their services—until now. Here’s why I lost faith in the BookLife process and believe that Christian indie authors may want to consider possible alternatives.
First, let me clarify. I don’t take exception to BookLife itself but to the BookLife Prize, a fiction contest geared to supporting indie authors.
As the president of Lancaster Christian Writers Association I’m always on the lookout for possible opportunities to recommend to Christian writers, especially those who are independently published. So, I opted to enter my title In the Dead of the Night into the BookLife Prize contest. Yes, winning $5,000 as a grand prize would be nice, but the real goal was to understand how the process works and if this might be a good fit for Christian authors.
The result? I was greatly disappointed.
Major flaw in the BookLife Prize contest
The BookLife prize does not allow for genre-specific selection beyond General Fiction, Mystery/Thriller and a few others. There are no sub-delineations such as Historical Fiction or Inspirational/Christian Historical Fiction. Essentially, authors of Christian lit are competing against a giant pool of authors.
Besides being surprisingly unorganized, the major flaw in this system is that a Christian author’s work can well be evaluated by someone who has no experience with the genre at best—or is flat-out biased against it at worst.
Case in point: In the Dead of the Night received an overall scoring of 3.5/10.
My initial thought upon receiving the critique was, did this person even read the book? 🙂 Once I got my ruffled author emotions under control, I began to look at the critique more objectively. And that’s when the truth really stood out.
The reviewer of this novel had let personal bias influence the rating of the novel.
“…It [The novel] embraces tropes typical of the genre, rather than attempting to subvert them.“The BookLife Prize
No author gets golden scores all the time—I get that. Frankly, I think the negative reviews are what helps an author earn his/her stripes. After years of being a journalist, manuscript evaluator, and book contest judge, I know that there are times we miss the mark.
But I’m also aware that there is a point where the personal biases of reviewers can hinder their enjoyment of the novel overall. I’m therefore very concerned by a contest that does not effectively match judges with genre-specific works.
The question to consider is:
why would a Christian author attempt to “subvert” the belief systems of a Christian book?
This implies that the only books that BookLife considers worthy of high ranking are those that subvert Christian beliefs, a thought that is more than a little disconcerting given the fact that they are backed by an established literary organization.
Let me be honest here. The same would be true if I were an evaluator of something I don’t read. My personal preferences would make it very difficult for me to objectively critique a manuscript about Amish vampires in space. Judges and manuscripts must be matched in order to have the most objective (and valid) outcome.
I therefore urge Christian indie authors to exercise caution when considering BookLife’s services as there is the potential for reviews that are less than objective.
Some possible alternatives for possible exposure are to request reviews from Publisher’s Weekly directly, the ALA (Booklist) and other literary magazines. Contests such as the Christy Awards and ACFW’s Genesis contest offer reputable value/feedback for authors of inspirational literature.
Readers Favorites may not have the prestige of those already mentioned but they do offer genre-specific ratings as well as feedback.
Authors of Christian literature should use caution when entering the BookLife Prize as the current setup does not allow for curated evaluation which can engender bias against the submitted work.
P.S. I did share my thoughts with BookLife and their reviewer has agreed to take another look at In the Dead of the Night. My hope is that the feedback and pressure will encourage BookLife to establish a system that is fair to all.