Author Karen Ball

What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part Three)


So, there I were, surrounded by publishing professionals, faced with the question of whether or not we liked–or respected–our end consumer: the reader.

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?”

Responses flew:

  • Predominately female
  • Age range: 34-80s
  • Over 40
  • Conservative Faith/Evangelical
  • Most likely Republican
  • Mother
  • 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
  • men
  • Post-moderns
  • …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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part Two)


So what are some of the answers I’ve been given to the question “What makes a Christian book Christian”? Consider the following:

Written from a Christian world view Story offers hope Core of the story shows importance of faith in Christ

Similar to the things you all wrote in your comments (though I think your responses went far deeper.) But I’ve also been peppered with the following critical comments regarding Christian books:

It’s safe It doesn’t challenge the status quo It doesn’t leave anything unsettled, everything’s resolved Quality doesn’t match that of ABA books Easy answers Doesn’t make readers think Affirms readers beliefs and perspective
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What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part One)


I had this discussion over a year ago on my blog, but thought it would be a good discussion for all of you, too. In some ways, publishing is in a state of unbelievable flux. In others, it’s utterly grounded and unshakeable. Good and bad on both sides.

But here’s what I find fascinating–and a bit worrisome. There’s a seemingless endless debate on what makes a Christian book Christian? Is it the context of the book or the faith of the author? What’s in the book or what isn’t? The tone or the specifics? Believe me, when I find myself in this debate, the answers come fast and furious and are as varied as can be. But before I share any thoughts or conclusions, I want to know what you think.

So, as a reader or a writer, what are you looking for in a book from a “Christian” publishing house? Or from a Christian writer.
What do you expect to find.
What do you expect NOT to find?
What makes a book “Christian”?

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En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part Three)

Remember that old adage for retailers, “The customer is always right?” Well, for novelists seeking the perfect title, that should be “The audience is always right.”

Tip #4: Remember Your Audience! Novelists do a great job, on the whole, of keeping their audience in mind as they write. But sometimes when trying to come up with a catchy title or cover image, they go a bit far afield of that audience. The result is that readers who would love the story won’t even pick it up. And those who do pick it up may not find what they expected inside. So as you work on your title, remember who your reader is. For example:

Age range. If your book would appeal mostly to Christian women in their 40s and up, then don’t use a trendy title that will appeal to the twenty-somethings. And watch out for technology phrases. Unless your certain your core audience is familiar with both the meaning and use of something technologial, steer clear. For example, using RAM, bits, bytes, and bauds as words in your title may work for a younger audience, or one that’s technologically savvy, but for older readers? Odds are good you’d lose ’em. (Or have them writing you letters scolding you for misspelling bites.)
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En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part Two)

First, here are the answers to last week’s questions:

Name That Tone!

The Boneman’s Daughters–chilling

Redeeming Love–romantic

The Shunning–Amish

The Riddlemaster of Hed–fantastical

A Vase of Mistaken Identity–whimsical

Without a Trace–suspensful

Three Weddings & a Giggle—humourous and romantic

Name that Genre!

Kidnapped–adventure

Sister Chicks Down Under—witty women’s fiction

The Lightkeeper’s Ball—historical romance

Deadly Pursuit—suspense

The Twelfth Prophecy, A.D. Chronicles—biblical fiction

Okay, now, on to Tip #3 for crafting strong titles. As USA channel puts it, Characters welcome! Ever and always, Keep Your Characters in Mind. Sometimes the best title for a book focuses on the character.

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En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part One)

One of the most difficult—and important—things we did when I worked in the publishing house was come up with titles for our authors’ novels. Sometimes it was a breeze, either because the author’s title was spot-on or because the story lent itself organically to a certain title. But more often than not, it was a long process of back-and-forth with the author, marketing, and sales. So how can you, the author, develop a title that works well? Give the following tips a try.

1. Tone. Be sure your title reflects the tone of your story accurately.

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Show or Tell: How Do You Know?

As we discussed last week, it’s okay to tell at times, but in fiction you want to show the important, emotion-laden scenes. That way the reader gets the vicarious experience along with the character. So how do you know when you’re telling rather than showing? Here are a few tips:

Beware the dreaded –ly adverbs.

“Get out of my novel, you –ly adverbs!” Alice said angrily.

Ah-ah-ah! Any time you use an –ly adverb (angrily, happily, stupidly, etc), you’re telling us what the emotion is rather than showing it. Instead, show the emotion, whatever it may be, through actions or punctuation. In the example above, the exclamation point tells us Alice is being vehement, but it’s not clear if she’s angry or frightened.

Alice stared at the page of her novel, her blood pressuring rising. Thirty-two! Thirty-two –ly adverbs on one page! What was wrong with her? “Auughh!” Her cry still echoing around her, she grabbed the page, crumpled it into a compact ball, and pitched it, as hard as she could, against the wall.

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Show, Don’t Tell

I’m From Missouri—SHOW me!

Okay, truth be told, I’m from Oregon. But in the 30 years I’ve been editing fiction, I’ve discovered a number of issues almost all writers face, regardless of how much they’ve written or been published. If I had to pick the top issue I see over and over, it would be Show, Don’t Tell.

What, you may ask, does that mean? It’s actually pretty simple. It’s the difference between telling us what someone is feeling, and letting us see it for ourselves through dialogue, action, and body language. For example:

Jack was so angry he could kill.

That, my friends, is telling. But…

Heat filled Jack’s face, his chest, his blood. His fingers tightened on the gun. Nobody did this to him. Nobody. His finger caressed the trigger, and he smiled. The fools thought they’d taught him a lesson, but they’d see they were wrong. They’d see it all right…just before they died.

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The Wrong Point-of-View

Last week we identified Point-of-View (POV). This week, let’s consider some common POV misteps.

What’s My Line?: When POV/voice doesn’t fit the character.

Here’s an example. The POV character is male and a construction worker. So is the following appropriate for his POV?

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Out of Their Minds: The basics of point-of-view

Ever been reading a novel, cooking along with the character, when you realize you’re not seeing things through that character’s eyes any longer? Somewhere along the way, something shifted and you’re inside a different character’s head. Jarring, huh? Probably jolted you out of the story, if only for a few seconds while you figured out what happened.

That, my friends, is what you want to avoid at all costs: Bumping your reader out of the story. Because once they’re out, any number of things can pull them away before they get back in.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at Point of view. First, what is POV (point of view)? Anyone? Yes! That’s exactly right. (Hey, I’m a novelist too, remember? If I want to hear my imaginary class answering me, I can.”) Point of view is the “eyes” through which we’re seeing the story.

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