CHRISTIAN PUBLISHING AND THE PERILS OF PEER REVIEWS
Right off the bat I have to tell you that I have a book coming out this summer published by a real publisher, Darton, Longman and Todd in the UK. I’ve published four on my own, but this feels completely different. I’m excited about it.
I’m looking for strong endorsements.
Some people say endorsements are meaningless. I agree that they can be and I’m going to discuss this below. But, if done with integrity, they can alert people to the value of an important book.
Here’s the thing: I’ve had strong endorsements in the past. Many of them won’t endorse my book now because of the scandal I’m blamed for initiating in the emergent or convergent or progressive camp. Understood.
But, I want an endorsement from someone who actually reads the material and recommends it because of its contribution to the conversation or because of its value to people. I want someone with influence to say, “You’ve got to read this book. It’s important.” Not, “You’ve got to buy this book. My friend wrote it.”
Some reviews are so over-the-top that you really wonder if it’s just one friend scratching another friend’s back. Now, there’s nothing wrong with getting a friend to endorse or review our books. But empty praise isn’t helping anybody.
Peer reviews can be useless. Did you read the news that broke on March 27 this year? “Major publisher retracts 43 scientific papers amid wider fake peer-review scandal.” Here’s the killer paragraph:
”Peer review is the vetting process designed to guarantee the integrity of scholarly articles by having experts read them and approve or disapprove them for publication. With researchers increasingly desperate for recognition, citations and professional advancement, the whole peer-review system has come under scrutiny in recent years for a host of flaws and irregularities, ranging from lackadaisical reviewing to cronyism to outright fraud.”
The publishing company discovered what it calls a “peer review and citation ring”. That is, if you have the pull or the cash, there are people, including fake people, who can be relied upon to give a positive review.
I would suggest that the same thing is happening in the Christian publishing world, but in a more personal way. That is, it has its own peer review and citation ring… their circle of mutually published friends. My friend Caris Adel wrote a post yesterday touching on this issue that you should read. Here, we witness the same increasingly desperate need for recognition, citations and professional advancement. There’s a lot of recognition to be enjoyed and money to be made in publishing, public speaking, teaching, coaching, consulting, and events. The more you can get your name out there with the help of your powerful friends, the more successful you are guaranteed to become. It doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad your book is, as long as you get those endorsements, it will fly. We now know that a Christian author can buy his or her way onto the New York Times bestseller list.
Barth tells the story about how his remarkable commentary on The Epistle to the Romans dramatically changed the theological and ecclesiastical conversation. He said he was like a boy climbing the bell tower in the dark, tripped, and accidentally grabbed the rope that rang the bell that resounded around the world. He didn’t try to do it, but his theological hunger along with the church’s theological hunger fused to make it happen.
What if we aspired to this?
I want to read excellent books that actually say something, that challenge my paradigms and renew my mind. To be honest, it is getting more difficult.
I also want to write excellent books that actually say something, that challenge paradigms, and that change minds. To be honest, it is difficult. I’m insecure about it. I wonder if I can do this. Am I able? But, if I am, I want someone with influence to say so. If I’m not, I don’t want my benign book sent out there fueled by vacuous reviews and empty endorsements.
Let’s be frank: There’s nothing wrong with writing books. There’s nothing wrong with marketing them. There’s nothing wrong with selling them. There’s nothing wrong with making good money from a successful book. For me, the issue isn’t quantity, but quality. Sure, I would like to increase my income by the success of a book, but I want to be proud of the book that earns it.
What if we agree to only endorse that which is good and send us back to the desk if it’s not? I want to read important books. And, yes, I want to write them.