Picking Books

More and more, readers are faced with Choice. But how do we filter through the thousands of books to find the ones we actually want to read? Spec Faith does not sell books, so this isn’t one stop shopping. It is, however, the place for readers of Christian speculative fiction. But we need your help.

A month ago, we ran a poll here at Spec Faith, asking how you get the books you read. The results are in and by a nose, online outlets beat out the library. (You can see all the results here). At the same time, I ran a poll on my personal site, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, asking what’s changed our book acquisition habits most in the last five years. E-readers nosed out Amazon in that one. (Here’s the poll giving those results).

I find the answers to these questions interesting. The book business is in flux. What was a decade ago, no longer is. What instructors once taught as The Way Things Are Done, is evaporating.

More and more, readers are faced with Choice. But how do we filter through the thousands of books to find the ones we actually want to read?

I’ve seen my own book buying and reading habits change over time. One of the biggest factors was my becoming a writer. When I started writing The Lore of Efrathah, my four-book (yet unpublished) epic fantasy, I immediately stopped reading fantasy. I was too fearful that what I read would bleed into my subconscious and I would end up writing derivative fiction.

Some time later at a writers’ conference, Gary Terashita, then editor at Broadman & Holman (now B&H Publishing), challenged those of us in attendance at his workshop to educate ourselves about the industry we wanted to be a part of. Read, he said. Read the books in your genre so you know what’s being done. Read so you can improve your own writing.

Until that time, I was pretty ignorant about Christian fiction. Yes, I’d read Frank Peretti and a handful of others, but nothing published recently.

I took Mr. Terashita’s admonition to heart and began a quest to read as broad a sampling of Christian fiction as I could. As Christian speculative fiction began its slow growth, I soon focused my reading in my chosen genre.

Over the next few years, Christian fiction expanded rapidly, and I realized I could not read all the books I wanted to. For one thing, I couldn’t afford them and even if I could, I was running out of shelf space on my bookshelves.

More and more independent publishers were cropping up. More and more people began self-publishing. And then e-readers hit the market.

Once I’d had an established hierarchy, choosing primarily to read traditionally published books that had been “vetted” by editors. Of those, I had my list of known authors at the top. These were ones whose books I’d already read, so I knew what kind of writing I could expect.

With my e-reader, however, I now had many more choices. I could download classics for free–books I’d been meaning to read but had never gotten around to them. I could also get freebie self-published books by authors I’d never heard of or new releases by authors looking to get a rating bump with a promotional give-away.

Books, books, books. With e-readers, space isn’t a problem any more, and money less of one.

But not all books are equal.

How do you find the good ones? How do you find the keepers, the ones you want in print?

I find that I still rely on the same influences I did before the revolution.

  1. I read books by authors I know. Some of these are people I actually do know or have met, but primarily I’m talking about “know” in the sense that I’ve read their work before and trust their writing.
  2. I read in my genre. I want to read as many books that come under the Christian fantasy umbrella as possible.
  3. I read books trusted friends recommend. The thing is, “trusted friends” have expanded. Now trusted friends might include people I’ve never met in person but whose blog I may have read for the past three or four years. Trusted friends might also be friends I’ve reconnected with on Facebook or ones I’d previously never thought to talk to about books.

In days gone by, publishers said the best promotion for a book was word of mouth. In that regard, I don’t think much has changed. It’s just that “word of mouth” has expanded. Now we chat about what we read on Facebook or Twitter, we post our reviews at Amazon or Goodreads. Our word of mouth has expanded.

Of course, with this expansion comes the familiar problem–so many voices giving us so much information. How do we know who to listen to?

One professional at a writers conference, looking ahead to the book revolution, suggested that readers would eventually form a type of coop in which they share their recommendations. Spec Faith is just such a gathering. We are, above all, readers, even those of us who are writers.

Thanks to Stephen’s hard work, our 3.0 version is much more than visually pleasing. We now have a viable way of sharing reviews and recommendations with each other. The Spec Faith library is not only a place where you can find book blurbs, but now visitors can find out what readers think of those books.

No, we’re not selling the books, so this isn’t one stop shopping. It is, however, the place for readers of Christian speculative fiction.

Have you read any Splashdown books? What, you didn’t know there was such a publisher called Splashdown? Spec Faith has that information for you.

Publishers, authors, sub-genres, age levels, series, subject matter–you can look for books in the library in any of these categories.

The reviews and recommendations part is where we need your help. We regular columnists will add our reviews as often as possible, but if you’ve been privy to the discussions just this past week, you realize we do not always agree with each other, even when it comes to the definition of Christian speculative fiction or which books are the most influential or the best.

One or two reviews, then, are little more than starters. What we really need are Many Voices.

No time to write a review? I understand. Full reviews aren’t the only beneficial contributions. Anyone can add a recommendation in the comments to a book post.

So which is most effective, a book blurb with no review or recommendations, a book blurb and one review, or a book blurb with sixteen recommendations?

At any rate, we have the opportunity of becoming The Place for readers of Christian speculative fiction. But only with your help. Have you recommended a book today? 😀

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.
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  1. Dana Bell says:

    Family Fiction has a listing of over 120 Speculative Christian writers, many of which are new authors emerging on the scene. Myself included.
    My book ‘Winter Emergence’ picked up by a secular small press called Wolfsinger Publications. (They’re waiting for my next three books.)
    Marcher Lord Press also publishes this genre producing Christy Winners and nominees.

  2. Julius says:

    The only name I’m familiar with at all of all of these is Marcher Lord Press… and them only because there’s been like two or three articles about them/ by the CEO on here. 😛

  3. Jill says:

    I now have 4 Splashdown publications on my e-reader, and I’m impressed by these books (mostly). 

    • Jill, you have just the perspective we need. You’ve read books from a smaller, newer indie publisher–ones lots of readers may not have heard of. Even having them listed in the library doesn’t really help a lot. How are readers to know which of the 400 plus titles we have are the books they want to read? Your review or recommendation might be the tipping point!

      Readers helping readers find the best books! That’s the way this should work, I think.


  4. Bainespal says:

    I appreciate this new review and recommendation system.  I enjoy reading reviews, and I think the CSF community was badly in need of database accepting user-submitted reviews.  I hope to help add some reviews, eventually, but I’m painfully slow.


    Full reviews aren’t the only beneficial contributions. Anyone can add a recommendation in the comments to a book post.

    About how short may reviews be, without being demoted to recommendations? What is the role of a recommendation comment? Simply to give a thumbs-up on a book you enjoyed?


    So which is most effective, a book blurb with no review or recommendations, a book blurb and one review, or a book blurb with sixteen recommendations?

    For me, it would be the blurb with one review.

    • Bainspal, we haven’t put any word counts on what qualifies as a review and what qualifies as a recommendation. The idea is, those that go in the comments will post immediately. Those that are submitted as a review with the idea that they will be featured prominently on the blog will take a little longer before they post.

      When I write my reviews, my last paragraph is always my recommendation, so I’m thinking along those lines. I wouldn’t give a story summary, a listing of strengths or weaknesses. Instead I’d go right to who I think might like this book and to what degree I can recommend it.

      That doesn’t mean everyone has to do it that way, though.

      I don’t think we have this anywhere, but I do hope we avoid spoilers unless they are clearly marked. One reason I avoid Amazon reviews of a book I know I’ll read is because I don’t want to read all the surprises there.


  5. These suggestions are (as of right now) at the end of every title in the Library:

    1. Write a brief comment about this novel.
    2. Write a longer comment with a review of this novel.
    3. Re-post your previous review of this book (just make sure to include the review’s original source).
    4. Or, submit your new or previously posted review directly with our book review submission form. It may appear in our featured reviews, and on Speculative Faith’s front page.
    • Ok, so I’m trying to figure out the best way to bring my reviews over here. Should I fill out the form or just put it in the comments? And what about outside source reviews on books? Should those be brought over as well? Thanks!

      • Morgan: for a longer review, try the submission form. If the review is your own, and previously published, that’s likely the best option. To excerpt and link another reviewer’s work, or for shorter reviews, a comment at that book’s page is best.

  6. Galadriel says:

    Yeah, I wouldn’t say that the internet has changed my suggestion process much, except adding more recommendation sources. TV Tropes, actually, is one of the big ones. I got into Firefly because River Tam was on some of the same pages as River Song.

    • I agree, Galadriel. More recommendations. That’s why I think it could be helpful for us to build a trusted group of people here at Spec Faith whose voices we know. Some people, when they say they like a book or movie, I immediately know I’ll most likely like it too. Others only build my expectations, and then I’m more disappointed than if I’d never read the recommendation.

      I think this incessant product chatter will only grow, and as books also grow in number, given the easy of e-book self-publishing, I think it will be harder and harder for readers to find good books.

      If that happens, then print publishers who will be putting out fewer titles will hold the reins when it comes to what books the public at large hears about.

      But we can create a different way–a reader revolt! 😀


  7. My way of finding books is the same as yours, Becky: known authors, word of mouth, and fantasy.
    As far as reviews, I think I’m going to transfer some of my own reviews 🙂

  8. That’s what I’m thinking about, too, Morgan. That way we can maximize our efforts! 😀


  9. Timothy Stone says:

    I would say that you have hit it on the head, Ma’am. The internet has merely “widened” the traditional “word of mouth” publicity for books, but in a huge way. With me, the internet has been critical. Almost all of the new authors I’ve read the past year or two, that I would actually classify myself as a fan of (secular and Christian both), I have started reading due to reading about them on here or from friends on Facebook.
    Included in this list would be the late Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Donita K. Paul, Kathy Tyers (I knew she wrote some Star Wars that I read when I was younger, but her Christian writings were new to me), and some others. 
    I’m quite verbose, so if my (when I do try to submit a review) if changes are needed, I’ll be glad to make them. I’m excited about this idea. 😀

What do you think?