Atlanta novelist Creston Mapes is thrilled that a recent weekend of free Kindle downloads gained him legions of new followers. That despite some negative reviews of his book, Nobody.

"I've always wanted my books to be seen by thousands, and now they finally are," said Mapes, who gave away nearly 60,000 eBooks after his 2007 paperback generated only modest sales.

And those negative reviewsMany had to do with readers' failure to click on links that revealed the Christian identity of Mapes's protagonist. Wrote one: "I have nothing against religion, but there is a place for it, which is not in a good fiction novel."

Before the giveaway, Colorado literary agent Rachelle Gardner warned in a blog that if Christian authors fail to mention their books' faith-based content, they are in danger of receiving nasty reviews. "The star ratings on [sites such as] Amazon and Goodreads do influence how people look at the book," she said.

An underground controversy over the practice has raged the past two years, since Christian publishers discovered free eBooks could increase author awareness, said Gardner.

Mark Kuyper, president of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, says it's hypocritical to complain that a book has a Christian worldview. After all, he says, Christians who pick up a general market novel don't receive any warnings of potentially objectionable worldviews.

"In the marketplace, the reader is not always going to be aware of or happy with your content," he said.

Many critics of James Rubart's 2010 Rooms—given away on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com—failed to notice clear references to its faith elements. "It surprised me how many people must have downloaded the book without bothering to read the description," said Rubart. "I understand it was free, but wouldn't they at least want an idea of what they were getting?"

However, dealing with heated reader reactions is part of life for modern-day authors, said Jennifer Butenschoen, director of digital content for Harvest House Publishers.

"The ability to offer comments and feedback in a nonpersonal, anonymous environment leaves folks feeling free to speak their mind when they wouldn't otherwise," she said.

Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor for Publishers Weekly, thinks clarity is wise for Christian writers, especially those new to online publishing. "Authors don't necessarily have to label it 'Christian,' but they should include some mention of 'faith' in the description," she said.

Mapes remains undeterred. "I would do it again in a heartbeat," he said. "It was not our intent to fool anybody, but if it did—hey, it was free."


Related Elsewhere:

Previous Christianity Today articles on publishing include:

Discipling the Dragon: Christian Publishing Finds Success in China | Despite stringent controls, 1,300 Christian books are now available—legally—inside the communist country. (January 20, 2012)
Natural Length Reading: Christianity Today Launches eBooks | The magazine is now essential in another way. (January 6, 2012)
HarperCollins Buys Thomas Nelson, Will Control 50% of Christian Publishing Market | Where will Thomas Nelson fit in Murdoch's empire, which already includes Zondervan? (October 31, 2011)
Profiting from the Past | Will Christian history books ever sell? (March 22, 2011)
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