by Karen Ball
Publishing folk are a freaky bunch. They love to think and debate and share ideas and dissect and explore. Get a whole room of editors going and nothing is sacred. At the same time, everything is. At their core, publishing professionals recognize–and love–the power of words. Spoken, written, sung from the rooftops–words contain the power to create and cultivate, encourage and empower…or decimate and destroy. These particular folks also love God and His Word. So their drive is work on books that impact lives rather than books that just entertain.
So, what did they say, these learned, insightful, imaginative folks? At first, nothing. They stopped–really stopped–to consider the answer to whether or not they like the reader. Publishing pros are great at pondering.
I am, of course, a publishing pro. I’m an editor and an agent. But I’m also a writer. And I’m an ENFP, which, according to the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator, means I’m basically a Golden Retriever. So no surprise I can’t ponder long. Or let others do so. My mind always bounces to the next thing to explore, and I find that’s often how you discover answers. So as they pondered I posed another question: “Who is your audience?”
- Predominately female
- Age range: 34-80s
- Over 40
- Conservative Faith/Evangelical
- Most likely Republican
- Mostly stay at home
- Some professional people
- Men, but not a lot
- Usually women bought for the male readers
- Very few in 18-34 age range
From there the discussion morphed into how to reach our current audience better, as well as reaching those beyond:
- the 18-34 demographic
- those who aren’t overtly Christian but interested in spiritual issues
- …and on and on.
Again, ideas flew. From using technology better and more strategically (e.g., e-books, book readers, online downloads), to reconsidering format (imaginative use of packaging, layout, content), to allowing for open-ended books (e.g., story isn’t all wrapped up at the end, leave some questions unanswered). Ideas fairly sizzled through the room.
As I listened, I had–you guessed it–this incredible feeling of deja vu. I’d been in this very dialogue already that year. Twice, in fact. Once at a retreat attended by nearly 100 published authors. The second time at the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference. Editors, writers, even readers…we’re all struggling with the same issues.
Now, don’t hear me saying there isn’t a place for books that primarily encourage and entertain. Books that don’t ask hard questions, but give the reader a wonderful, wholesome story. I don’t think the majority of us want to eliminate those books. Not at all.
But in all these conversations I heard the same frustration of being held back, of not being able to write with authenticity. I’ll never agree that Christian fiction–or fiction written to glorify God–should contain graphic language, sexuality, or violence, but I understand the frustration. Writers, editors, and–from your responses–readers want fiction that digs deep, that challenges and pushes as well as comforts and encourages. All of us want to be iron sharpening iron.
So, you say, why don’t you all follow Nike’s admonition and JUST DO IT? What’s holding us back?
Before I answer, I’m curious what you think the answers are. What do YOU think holds publishers, editors, and writers back from writing the kinds of books they want to do? The kinds of books many of you have said you want?
Look forward to your insights!