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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News You Can Use – Oct. 4, 2011

The Future of the Book – An essay by the atheist and bestselling author Sam Harris. Do agree or disagree? His thought are provocative.

Things We Know and Don’t Know About E-books – A brilliant assessment by Mike Shatzkin.

The Future of Books – a Dystopian Timeline – John Biggs writes this depressing prediction of the demise of books for TechCrunch. Do you agree that all publishers will die in 2019…a mere 7 1/4 years from now?

How Amazon Controls the Entire Publishing Industry – If you’ve been following this topic the article isn’t news. But if you haven’t “pay attention.” We are.

The World’s Smallest Book – See the picture at the end of the tweezers. And the publisher printed 300 of them? Really?

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Bestseller List News – October 3, 2011

Some of our authors have recently hit the bestseller lists! Congratulations to all.

Harvest of Grace by Cindy Woodsmall hit #22 on the tradepaper fiction New York Times extended bestseller list for August 28st. And is #2 on the ECPA “Multi-Channel” bestseller list for October.

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee (Center Street) hit #17 on the hardcover fiction New York Times bestseller list for October 2nd and will be #31 on the extended list for October 9th.

Log Cabin Christmas an omnibus of novellas (Barbour) hit #34 on the tradepaper fiction New York Times extended bestseller list for October 2nd. The collection included our clients Kelly Eileen Hake, Liz Tolsma, and Deb Ullrick.

Still House Pond by Jan Watson (Tyndale) is #10 on the ECPA Christian Fiction bestseller list for October.

A Whisper of Peace by Kim Vogel Sawyer (Bethany House) is #15 on the ECPA Christian Fiction bestseller list for October.

Double Trouble by Susan May Warren (Tyndale) is #16 on the ECPA Christian Fiction bestseller list for October.

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Always Learning

During the Summer of 1978 the #1 hit on Christian radio was the classic “He’s Alive” by Don Francisco (click here to listen). That same Summer I attended a Christian music festival in Estes Park, Colorado and decided to take a class on songwriting being taught by Jimmy and Carol Owens. I settled into my chair near the back of the room with notepad ready.

Just as the class was about to start a bearded man slide in the chair next to mine….notepad at the ready. To my astonishment it was Don Francisco. (I recognized him from his album cover.)

Here was a singer/songwriter who had the number one hit in the nation…taking a class on songwriting! What did he think he needed to learn?

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Loving to Laugh


At least once a week I’m asked if romantic comedy is currently marketable. While sometimes this category seems hot and then cold, I’d say that sharp, witty, well-executed romantic comedy can find a good home no matter what the publishing season. Note that I take the adjectives I used seriously. This is not a category that most writers can whip off with little effort. Successful writers of romantic comedy are gifted with the ability to find humor in everyday situations and the talent to share that humor in an entertaining way. The writing must fly like a magic carpet. The reader is looking for a fun story.
One successful writer of romantic comedy is Gail Sattler. Here is a great tip from Gail:

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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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News You Can Use – Sept. 27, 2011

Why You Still Don’t Have a Literary Agent – A good post about query letters by Jeff Rivera

The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Received – by Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz)

The Power of a Book Bargain – Atlantic Magazine explores the effect of ebook pricing on the prices of all books. Do you agree or disagree? Sounds like fodder for a future blog post.

Ten Questions a Writer Should Ask BEFORE Quitting Their Day Job – from Writer’s Digest

33 Tips for Bloggers – Good stuff!

Changing Our English Language – Infographic (If you can’t see it, click through to the blog for the image.)

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ACFW 2011 Report

This past weekend nearly 700 novelists, editors, agents, and industry professionals gathers in St. Louis for the 10th annual American Christian Fiction Writers conference.

It is always invigorating to be with so many highly creative people and to be a part of the discovery and development of tomorrow’s bestselling authors.

I had over 30 one-on-one appointments and editor meetings, taught three classes, and had dozens of “hallway” meetings of all kinds. Our agency had 47 clients in attendance too. This was the first time Karen Ball, Tamela Hancock Murray, and I were together at the same event since they joined the agency. What a blast! It is so great to have them as a part of our agency.

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