Every author is generally nervous about their books. Not because they might have written something controversial, but because it is an expression of so many things to them - their creativity, talent, beliefs and feelings to mention a few. For writers, it is particularly hurtful when a reviewer says something mean about their books. It's like a personal attack on their character. After months (sometimes years) of slaving away at a book, an author feels beaten down after pouring their heart and soul into it and editing and refining it until it is perfect, only to have someone say "it stinks". This can throw a sensitive artist for a loop and prevent him or her from ever picking up a pen again. The old saying, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" applies here for those of you who review books. If you really can't say anything nice, then tell the author privately and gently as to what you didn't like about the book. Was it poorly edited or did the plot have holes in it? A wise writer will take critical words of wisdom over critical words of hate. Don't blab it all over Amazon about your hate for a book like some reviewers do. That's just mean and uncalled for.
But what if your book is controversial? For instance, as a prelude to his book release of Strange Fire, pastor and author John MacArthur had a conference called "Strange Fire". In the conference (as well as the book) he basically rakes the coals over charismatics. He is brutal in his judgment. He condemns some (not all) to hell by their behaviour in regards to the Holy Spirit. Some things I agreed with, but I think for the most part, Pastor MacArthur has confused Charismatics with Word of Faith people like Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland or Todd Bentley. Whose antics have always been questionable in Christian circles. Instead, Pastor MacArthur has lumped all Charismatics under the same banner. He assumes they do not read their bibles, have no gift of discernment and that they all bark like dogs at their services.
Very controversial don't you think? To dedicate an entire book to attacking fellow Christians in such a way? Yet, his book was so popular when it came out that it had been translated into several languages and published in foreign countries before it came out in North America! And people talked. They reacted and you can be sure they bought his book to find out what all the fuss was about.
The same thing happened with Rob Bell when his controversial book Love Wins came out. Bell's book was popular because as a Christian he basically turned his back on God's plan of redemption by declaring that no one was going to hell and everyone no matter their belief system was going to heaven, thus making Jesus' death on the cross null and void. Talk about controversy! Yet it was so controversial that it became a very popular book at the time.
And what about the book The Shack? The author made God a woman! *Gasp* and well. . .some of the other stuff in it was really out there. . . but it was a self-published book that sold thousands and became a number one bestselling book due to it's controversy.
So, is it worth it to put a little controversy in your book from a marketing perspective? I did it unwittingly in Come to Me. Some Catholics (not all of them) hated me for it because I dared to make Mary human. Come to Me was compared to Dan Brown's the Da Vinci Code by one reviewer, who believed I had blasphemed Mary. In her eyes I had because she was Catholic. But I wrote it from a Protestant perspective. Did her remarks hurt? You betcha! She said some mean things. Did it help my book? Yes. During the first two years of its release, it was in the Amazon Top 100 Bestsellers at least six times. So, in the end, a little controversy was a good thing. Even if it was unintentional.
However, I hate confrontation, so no controversy at all would be fine with me. I also don't like it when people think I'm a horrible person, or I've lost my senses. But, if I am faced with a choice between telling the truth and shading it, I will tell it like it is every time. Hence my nervousness about my latest book. As I expected some people were offended and raked me over the coals. But that's okay. I'll willingly weather the storm if God is glorified in the process. But can God be glorified through controversy? I think so, especially if it means people are picking up their bibles to discern the truth for themselves.
Is controversy necessary for every book or even a movie? Definitely not. Is it good for marketing? Unfortunately, yes it is. It didn't hurt Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. His movie was declared to be anti-Semitic before it even came out and people picketed the movie because of it. However, those who saw the movie, know that it was not anti-Semitic and in the end, it made $400 million dollars world-wide.
I don't think most writers set out to make their books controversial. I know in my case, the research I stumbled on for He Who Has an Ear had to be shared and well . . . it couldn't be ignored. I had a choice to make. Time will tell if it was a good decision or a bad one.