We’re Talking Promotion, Really

I’ve been corrected in the past about misusing the term “Marketing.” I believe what I’m actually advocating is that writers and readers PROMOTE the good CSFF fiction we love. In so doing, I believe these things are likely to happen:

    1) More readers will find out that CSFF exists
    2) More readers will buy CSFF
    3) Publishers will contract more CSFF authors

This last point depends in part on changing the perception that Christian readers won’t buy Christian science fiction and fantasy.

To accomplish this, I think we need to debunk the myths which I have tried to do in previous posts. Here’s another effort.

Myth: Realms, an imprint of Strang dedicated to Christian science fiction and fantasy, was a failure.

The Truth: Realms books actually made the publisher money. That the person now in charge at Realms chooses to publish supernatural suspense instead of fantasy or science fiction does not mandate the conclusion that the CSFF books were not financially successful.

There ARE other reasons for going a different direction. Since I trust the source who saw the numbers and stated that the books all earned out, I must conclude that there is something other than a financial reason for the change.

The unfortunate thing is that the myth that Realms failed financially is being repeated, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Myth: respected houses don’t want Christian science fiction or fantasy.

The Truth: Respected houses with fantasy authors under contract include AMG (Bryan Davis), Barbour (R. K. Mortenson), Bethany—Dave Long’s employer—(Karen Hancock), Harvest House (George Bryan Polivka), NavPress (Sharon Hinck), P&R (L. B. Graham), Thomas Nelson (Wayne Thomas Batson), Tyndale (Chris Walley), Water Brook (Donita Paul), and probably others. Many houses may not be actively seeking new fantasy authors, but that’s not the same thing as saying they don’t want it.

Myth: fantasy means allegory.

The Truth: Very little allegory exists. Allegory is a one-to-one correspondence of an image with what it represents throughout the story. Few writers can sustain such metaphorical writing and few even try. What I suspect someone like Chip MacGreagor means, in stating as Dan Edelen reported that “allegory is a hard sell,” is that the use of transparent symbols makes the work a hard sell. The use of transparent symbols is a matter of craft, not of genre, and poorly crafted work should be a hard sell.

Myth: something isn’t working right in the publishing business.

The Truth: As near as I can tell, the publishing business is working like most other capitalistic endeavors. Right now publishing favors the “buyer,” the publishing house. They can pick and choose what manuscript to purchase based on their own standards. I may not like these circumstances, but unless someone is advocating the overthrow of the capitalist system, these are the circumstances we’ve got.

Rather than appearing broken, the system is working to the satisfaction of the publishers. Until recently CBA (actually the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, ECPA) saw the aging middle class woman as their target buyer. This was someone unlikely to buy fantasy or science fiction. Consequently CSFF authors either quit, went to secular houses, or shelved their work for later.

What changed was declining book sales, except, apparently, in the CBA. Secular publishing houses wanted a piece of the ECPA pie and began buying up Christian publishing houses and running them as imprints of the parent company.

Was this what gave ECPA books wider distribution? Perhaps. Many more novels are on the shelves of CBA stores but also are on the shelves at Barnes & Nobel, Borders, Wal-Mart, and so on. With wider distribution and an awareness that the aging target audience is … well, aging, the publishers have become more active in their efforts to sign authors writing for the twenty-something reader.

The point is, the business is in flux. What was in 2005 will in all likelihood no longer be true in 2007.

Here’s an example. I received this very nice rejection notice in May, 2005:

I’ve taken some time to review The Chronicles of Efrathah and we’re going to have to pass. We’re still a bit gun shy about the fantasy genre.

Less than six months later, this same publisher contracted a fantasy trilogy. Was this editor lying to me? I know the man and I don’t believe that for a moment. The fact is, their perception of fantasy changed. Either their perception of what constitutes fantasy or their perception of the market that exists for it.

Myth: fantasy isn’t well written.

The Truth: I can’t prove this, but I think just the opposite is true. Because fantasy authors have been shut out of publication for a number of years, we have had time to work on our craft. I think CSFF as a general rule is the best Christian fiction I’ve read. I’d take Hancock, Hinck, Ingermanson, Mackel, Mortenson, Olsen, Owens, Paul, Rogers, Tyers (and I’m undoubtedly leaving out some that could easily be included) over any other ten CBA writers.

Can the writing improve? Of course. I’d like to see us deepen our characters, make our plots more complex, our themes less transparent, but I see that happening. With perhaps only one exception that I can think of, CSFF writers continue to improve their craft. That’s as it should be. Can we ever say, This book is perfect? Not this side of Heaven. So that means there will ALWAYS be room for improvement.

I, for one, don’t plan to wait for those perfect books before I start promoting the very good ones that will help change the perception of CSFF.

Published in: on December 29, 2006 at 1:31 pm  Comments (9)  

Best of the Rest, 2006

This would be my top three Christian fiction books, not in the fantasy genre.

Again the disclaimer. My reading is fairly limited, though certainly expanding when it comes to Christian fiction, so I am not pretending this is the Final Word. Other books I have not yet read might be just as deserving. Or not. I have no way of knowing about those I have not explored.

Some are in the Not-Now-Or-Ever category, meaning they don’t appeal to me for one reason or other, so I have no plans to read them.

Some are in the I-Read-and-Wish-I-Hadn’t category. You probably won’t hear about those books here. There’s even a fantasy or two on that list. I’m not into dicing a book up for the fun of it, and since someone else might like what I hate, I don’t see a point in it.

Some are in the Others-On-The-Stack-Are-Above Category, meaning I plan to read them, but others have taken priority, either through a blog tour, a commitment to review, or by sheer longevity in the stack.

Of course there are also a host of books in the I’ve-Never-Heard-Of-It-Before Category. Dave Long, of FIF fame, is constently referencing books I’ve never heard of before. Obviously, those books won’t make my list either.

So you see, this is one person’s opinion, mine, based on my limited reading.

Having given you the disclaimer, I feel like I may have discouraged you from caring what books I put on the list. I hope not. I’ve done enough study about literature, formally and informally (that literature major/writer combination), that I think I have some grasp of what a well-crafted story should look like, and I think there are three solid choices I can post without reservation.

Again, in reverse order:

Number Three: Violet Dawn by Brandilyn Collins (Zondervan). This first installment in the Kanner Lake series is a fast-paced suspense that will keep you entertained—and awake—from start to finish. Collins is doing something more in this series, however. She is developing an entire community of characters which will play a greater or lesser role in the ensuing books. It lends more depth to the characters, I believe.

Number Two: Waking Lazarus by T. L. Hines (Bethany). This was a tough call. In my review of this book, I named it a Must Read, one of only two I put in that category, and the other had a qualifier. So why not put Hines’ debut novel in first place? A silly reason, really. He already made a much more important list, Library Journal’s Best in Genre, whereas my other top pick did not. So, to sort of even things out (AS IF 😉 ) I put this outstanding novel in the number two slot.

Number One: The Secret Life of Becky Miller by Sharon Hinck (Bethany). Perhaps because this is Christian mom-lit, this book is not receiving the literary acclaim it deserves. Few other books have such fine crafting. The characters are well-drawn, the story is far from predictable. Conflict of the believable kind infuses every page. The theme(s) is/are woven into the story seamlessly. The entire drama is so beautifully tied together with humor and wit and imagination. Not to mention that Hinck’s use of language is powerful if not beautiful.

In my review I said this was a Must Read for Christian women and Highly Recommended for Christian men. Those qualifiers are there because I don’t see non-Christians or men seeking this book out, though the theme is universal. The Christian church community setting may make the book seem inaccessable to non-Christians, the focus on the female character may make it seem uninviting to men. However, these elements do not make the theme less true or less widely applicable.

At any rate, I encourage you to consider all three of these books along with the three recommended fantasy novels. And the sooner the better, because the crop of 2007 books won’t be far behind. 🙂

Published in: on December 28, 2006 at 1:39 pm  Comments (8)  

A Tribute—the Greatest Generation

I’m taking a detour from my normal subject matter. Maybe because of the approach of 2007 or maybe this is just what writers do—I’ve been thinking. Seems a lot of my thoughts have been about people of the Greatest Generation.

Yesterday President Gerald Ford passed away. He was 93, born in 1913, the same year as my father.

And yes, as Christmas rolled around, I couldn’t help thinking about my deceased parents. Mom would have been 92.

I also saw a week or so ago the greatest college basketball coach of all time, 96 year-old John Wooden. Not in person, but on TV, first at the Pond in Anaheim (I forget what the new corporate name is) during the Wooden Classic, then at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood when UCLA played Michigan. What a remarkable man even more than a remarkable coach.

But the capper for me was on Christmas Eve day as I was walking to church. Yep, walking. Our church is renovating some areas of the property, including the parking lot. In order to accommodate all the cars, the church obtained permission to use several neighborhood lots, including a school some three blocks down the hill.

It was from the school that I was walking. As I headed across the street, an elderly gentlemen waited for me at the corner to allow me to precede him on the narrow sidewalk.

We began to chat, and when possible, he moved beside me—street-side—but dropped back whenever a branch intruded into the way or departing folks needed to pass. In other words, he managed circumstances so my short hike was uninterrupted.

I learned that this man routinely walks a mile a day, but not on Sunday, so when the information came out about the options for parking, he eschewed the opportunity to park some place closer or in the lots that provide shuttles, choosing instead to walk so he has some exercise on his off day.

I also learned that his wife is about to celebrate her 80th birthday. The occasion seemed right, so I asked him what birthday he’d be celebrating. He said he’s now 89.

Then there are my uncles—Uncle Allen who will be 89 in March, Uncle Sam—still working out in his gym three days a week or so—turning 88 in July. Uncle Dave and Uncle Jim are the youngsters at 80 and 75, and Uncle Jim claims THIS year he will actually and completely retire.

I can’t neglect my Aunt Doris and Aunt Jean, both 83 years young. Aunts Mitzi and Ann are still in the range where they may not think kindly of my posting their age for the public. 😉

But here’s the point. It’s not the longevity of these folks I’m celebrating. It is their example of living. I realize, of course, that these are generalities, and not all members of the Greatest Generation lived life in an admirable way. Perhaps believers set the tone. I don’t know.

I do see wisdom and endurance as hallmarks for the people I know or know about. They went through the great depression and World War II and the Cold War. They saw more changes in their lifetime than anyone could imagine. From horse drawn carts to iPods. It’s amazing how they have adjusted and adapted and even led the way.

But the thing is, they have that sense of propriety, of right and wrong, of order and justice and graciousness, of kindness and the need to offer a helping hand. They are less apt to be boastful or self-oriented, more apt to be neighborly. Less apt to be frivolous in their thoughts, more apt to think beyond their own world. Less apt to indulge in indolence, more apt to push past pain.

Maybe it’s just my family, but they also have a sharp wit and a great sense of humor. Would that my generation, or even just me, could live as they do.

Published in: on December 27, 2006 at 12:35 pm  Comments (2)  

CSFF—2006 Best Books

Well, I feel like a bit of a fraud making up a list because, of course, I haven’t read all there is to offer. For instance, I didn’t find out until sometime this summer that Tyndale had a fantasy author—Chris Walley. What with my fall schedule, I have not taken time to check out The Shadow and the Night (October, 2006).

Austin Boyd is another example. I think he has a winning premise, and I want very much for his trilogy to succeed. Problem is, if I have the choice to read fantasy or science fiction, the latter inevitably takes a back seat. So I am not choosing his latest Mars Hill book simply because I haven’t read it, or the earlier ones, yet.

There are also numerous self-published authors, some belonging to CSFF Blog Tour and some I’ve only heard of through review sources, whose books I haven’t explored.

All that to create this disclaimer: the list is my opinion based only on what I like and what I’ve been able to read. Given that I’m a slow reader, that means, not much. Also given the fact that I’ve read a number of books NOT released in 2006, the number of great CSFF books I’d heartily recommend is not what I wish it were. So, without further adieu, here are my top three, in reverse order.

  • Number Three: Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum by R. K. Mortenson (Barbour). To be honest, if I had read Wayne Thomas Batson’s The Final Storm I have a sneaking suspicion that it might beat out Landon Snow, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet.

    Snow wins over Rise of the Wyrm Lord (Tommy Nelson), also a Batson 2006 release. Both books are wonderfully packaged. Their publishers took time to find out what appeals to kids and did a superb job creating attractive products. This third book in the Landon Snow series, from an author who is a real wordsmith, is definitely Mortenson’s most complete story. I can only wish for more of it.

  • Number Two: Trackers by Kathryn Mackel (WestBow). I can only wish that I had read Outriders first. I had friends recommend that I do so, but I was slow to it. This is flat out one of the more inventive, well-written stories with all elements—characters, setting, plot, and theme—well-crafted. My only regret is the report that there will be no book three. And that is a SIGNIFICANT loss to the CSFF collection.
  • Number One: DragonKnight by Donita Paul (Water Brook). This is simply Paul writing better and better, in my opinion. The characters, strong and interesting in her earlier works, become engaging and memorable in this third in her DragonKeeper Chronicles. The plot is focused, not wandering, and it is my kind of story. I love journeying and questing that feels fresh. This certainly does. Not a “Must Read,” (except for fantasy fans) but just a tick below it.
  • The really good news is that there should be an even stronger lineup of CSFF books in 2007. Karen Hancock’s final Guardian-King book is due to release as is Sharon Hinck’s debut Restorer book, Paul’s fourth DKC, Harvest House author George Bryan Polika’s first novel in the Trophy Chase Trilogy, Chris Walley’s next installment and more.

    The genre is showing signs of promise.

    Published in: on December 26, 2006 at 12:12 pm  Comments (4)  

    Marketing Miscellany

    What great comments to yesterday’s post. Special thanks to the authors who stopped by: Bryan Davis, Sharon Hinck, and Wayne Thomas Batson. It’s always good to hear from those in the thick of publishing. I’m especially encouraged by the comments about supporting one another.

    I might also mention that all three of these authors are either members of or have expressed interest in the CSFF Blog Tour, so their support is not limited to just a handful of close comrades.

    I’m also grateful to Mirtika Schultz for the reminder about her October post at Speculative Faith discussing the issue of CSFF readers and writers bonding together to create a more powerful voice. She made some wonderful suggestions in that article.

    In her comments here, Mir also asked,

    Are they [the successful series I mention in the my posts] all geared to youth or young adults?

    Is there any truly successful adult SF novel or series in the CBA?

    I think these questions are significant. First, yes, the successful series I referred to are geared primarily to young adults.

    The next question is harder to answer: are there successful adult CSFF books? Before you can ask that, you need to ask, Are there adult CSFF books?

    Honestly, I tried to think of titles other than the ones by authors I mentioned yesterday. There are some science fiction authors, some romance authors who wrote fantasy romance. But epic fantasy? None I know of. (One author I know of started such and did not continue. His choice, not the publishers.) Urban fantasy? No.

    Robin Parrish’s Dominion Trilogy, which might be characterized as magic realism but is marketed in another category, is one to keep an eye on, but right now the first book would not qualify as “successful” a la TitleZ‘s interpretation of the numbers (though in all likelihood, if it does do well as a series, it will not affect the perception of adult fantasy).

    I have to say, the track record for the sales of adult CSFF is not impressive. Still, it is noteworthy that Karen Hancock, after finishing the Guardian-King series for Bethany House Publishing, is working on her next book, somewhat more like Arena (science fantasy), I understand, than straight fantasy. Also, her numbers recorded by TitleZ are a tick above the “not bad” category cutoff, so I wouldn’t write her work off as “unsuccessful.” How can you when she has won four Christy’s with four novels?

    Here’s where I’m going with this:

      1) There are few adult fantasy titles published by Christian houses.
      2) Older teens who grew up reading Harry Potter are now in their twenties.
      3) The “typical” CBA reader is aging.
      4) It makes marketing sense to reach out to twenty-something adults to establish new readers.
      5) A good number of those twenty-something adults are fantasy fans.

    In this situation, I think NavPress is the visionary publishing house by signing Sharon Hinck. From what I’ve seen, Restorer, with a planned release date next spring, is an adult fantasy. It sure has a great cover, it has the ability to draw readers from Sharon’s mom-lit following as well as from fantasy lovers, and, if the writing is close to the quality of her Becky Miller books, … well, those are the earmarkings of success, I would think. (All from the human perspective, don’t forget. Even today, I do not know what God’s plans are. 😉 )

    As with YA fantasy, one or two successful adult series will begin to change the perception about CSFF.

    While I understand the economic reasons for all this, I still wish Christian publishers were bold, visionary, willing to step out in faith in the effort to lead the culture rather than to sanitize it. So when I get my publishing house … 😀

    For now, I will continue to pray, continue to buy, continue to tell others, and I know many of you are doing the same.

    – – –

    So Merry-Christmasing is in order. I’m planning on being away from the computer Monday, and I’m guessing most of you will be as well. May God go before you, especially as you travel, and may your thoughts never be far from the Savior who gives us life. May you each enjoy Him and rejoice anew as you celebrate His miraculous insertion into the world.

    A very merry Christmas to each of you.

    Published in: on December 22, 2006 at 2:08 pm  Comments (6)  

    One More CSFF Marketing Letter

    Picking up where we left off yesterday, I suggest you read the comments to An Open Letter to CSFF Writer Dan Edelen first, then proceed here for my response to Dan’s thoughts.

    – – –

    Dan, I appreciate you interacting on this topic.

    By countering your comments about the state of CSFF in yesterday’s Open Letter, I did not mean to give the impression that I think all is fine. I do find it baffling that Thomas Nelson isn’t planning to publish Mackel’s third Birthright Project book. I find it baffling that a talented writer, an award-winning writer, like Karen Hancock doesn’t make the list of CBA best-sellers.

    Viewing this from the human perspective (because at this point, God hasn’t clued me in to what He’s planning 😉 ) the lack of huge success is not due to poor writing, so it is either that there is only a small audience for their kind of story or that there isn’t sufficient marketing to get the word out.

    My answer, as I stated yesterday is this: there definitely IS an audience for their kind of story, as the successful series show. By the way, I did not include either Peretti (who writes supernatural suspense, not fantasy) or Dekker (because anything he writes, even if it were a paraphrase of the yellow pages, would sell at this point in his career 😉 ).

    You, as others do, point at Realms switching exclusively to supernatural suspense as evidence that CSFF does not sell, and that is an erroneous conclusion. I am not making up the fact that all four of the books earned out. This was directly from an insider who has seen the numbers, who knows those books all made money.

    If you talk to many people in the publishing business, you learn that most new authors will not sell more than 5000 copies of their novel. That the Realms authors, including the first-time novelists, ALL earned out, while publishing under a brand new imprint, whose founder and champion no longer worked there, should be viewed as a tremendous success, not a failure. It all depends on your presuppositions, though.

    You mentioned Dave Long and Chip MacGregor as two insiders who know the business. What you may not know is that both of those insiders, men I have learned a great deal from, openly acknowledge their own preferences do not include SFF, of any stripe.

    I had the privilege last spring to hear Dave Long side by side with Jeff Gerke, a proponent of CSFF, in an editors’ panel, and the perception was far different from the one you received at the 2005 ACFW conference. This year in Dallas, I also met a number of editors, including Andy Meisenheimer, Amanda Bostic, and Stephanie Broene, who said they personally enjoy SFF. All that to say, a perception is just a perception. It is not reality. I might perceive by talking to one or two people, maybe three or four, that CSFF is about to balloon. It does not mean that it will. In other words, our perceptions are not evidence.

    However, perception does influence, and this is one reason I feel so strongly this perception that CSFF does not sell needs to be countered.

    Which brings us back to marketing. I believe marketing can make a difference in sales, but that does not mean a book without the backing of big publisher dollars will fail.

    First, as I mentioned yesterday, industry wide, A-list authors WILL get the lions’ share of the marketing dollars. That B-list authors are feeling a pinch kind of makes me think, Welcome to the real world.

    Of course it would be nice to be a writer who spends the day doing nothing but honing my craft and creating a world and developing characters and showing conflict, all the while someone hired by my publisher is beating the bushes to let people know about my soon-to-be-released masterpiece. 🙂

    Truth is, that only happens for a very, very small number of writers, let alone Christians publishing in the CBA.

    Bryan Davis is successful, as Nick pointed out, because he works hard at getting the word out about his books. He does it on his own dime, not with the full backing of a powerful marketing machine.

    What I’ve learned watching Bryan a little more closely than some (because I edited four of his five novels), is that, yes, it may be hard for a newcomer, but it does not have to be fatal.

    But I want to advocate that we should not have to do this alone. If just the published authors banded together and pulled for each other, you’d have, what, ten CSFF writers with all their contacts drawing in readers for your books. As opposed to you alone drawing on your own contacts.

    You might be thinking, Why would a published author tell readers about someone else’s book? Strange as it might sound, most readers don’t read just one or two books a year. 😉 By NOT telling a reader who likes Bryan Davis books or Donita Paul books about other stories he might enjoy, an author is likely to release that reader to secular SFF. Or to another genre.

    Now add in unpublished writers telling about these books. Why would they? Because the more readers who know about CSFF, the more the demand for CSFF will grow. The more the demand, the more CBA publishers will seek out authors for this genre.

    Dan you said: “But WHY don’t they sell? Whose fault is it? The authors? The market? The editor? The publisher? If CSFF is going to sell, then someone has to answer that question. I just don’t see anyone doing so.”

    I answered this yesterday, but perhaps not in the way you hoped. The books don’t sell because readers don’t know about them.

    Whose fault? No one’s. It is the economic realities of our day.

    That’s like asking, Whose fault is it that Denver is socked in by a blizzard? Someone may point to global warming or lack of preparedness by the political powers in the region, or poor airport equipment or a host of other possibles. The truth is, that’s the way it is. A traveler trying to get home for Christmas and delayed because his flight was to take him through Denver isn’t helped with someone’s fault-theory. He needs to know what to do about his present circumstance.

    So with CSFF writers. Here are our options

  • We can quit.
  • We can go to the ABA and see if the water is any warmer there.
  • We can do something to change the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
  • What can we do?

  • Pray.
  • Work on our craft.
  • Change the marketing realities.

    If we aren’t doing all three of those things, I don’t see CSFF taking off, even though our culture is eating up fantasy (see Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 8). Look at how all things Narnia are still selling for an indication that Christians, too, long for good fantasy.

    And speaking of Narnia, I think there is a mistaken belief that this is an allegory. It has allegorical elements but is not an allegory.

    The only problem with allegory is if it is done poorly. Then it becomes transparent, predictable, shallow. This is something to fight—not the type of writing but the execution of it. And the word “nonsense” just should not be put in the same sentence, because that is like saying there’s too much of this romance nonsense or too much of this mystery nonsense.

    As to your comments about literary fiction selling well … I suggest you don’t make that claim over at FIF. 😀

    By the way, Dan, you didn’t tell me what the last CSFF book you read was. I have a bit of a problem discussing the quality of the genre with someone who doesn’t read it. You may have read a poorly crafted CSFF sometime in the past, as I have. But that should not color your perception of all CSFF.

    I’ll admit, there are some writers who are better than others, as in all genres. I read some books and wonder where the editor was, what the pub board was thinking in accepting that project. But there is a good beginning of quality writing in CSFF that I can unashamedly support. I’m not winking at a flat version of the real thing. I wish there was more. I wish there was more Tolkien-esq (symbolic, rather than overt) CSFF. But it’s a start. One needs to become two before two can become four. Hmmm. I might have said that already.

  • Published in: on December 21, 2006 at 1:24 pm  Comments (15)  

    An Open Letter to CSFF Writer Dan Edelen

    First, you can still leave a comment to yesterday’s Open Letter. As important as it is for us to do things like write publishing houses and tell our friends about the CSFF books we like, it is more important that we let our requests be made known to our good and wise and all-powerful Father. Not everyone will feel comfortable announcing that they are so praying, and that’s fine too. I know other people are praying who have not left comments. I find encouragement, however, in knowing that other believers are united with me, praying for the same cause, but that’s me.

    Today’s post is actually a response to a comment, but not one left here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. Instead it is one Dan Edelen, DLE, left at Speculative Faith after my interview with Harvest House Senior Editor Nick Harrison.

    I wanted to address a number of the issues Dan raised, but decided this venue was better than two days after the fact tucking it at the end of a string of comments where no one might read it. With that said, below is my response.
    – – –
    Dan, I have some disagreement with the views you expressed in your comment at Spec Faith.

    For starters, I hardly see a call for readers to spread the word about CSFF books as “evidence” that Christians are not buying speculative fiction. As I read Tina’s post at the CSFF web site, it spurred me to think about my own responsibility in supporting top quality authors.

    Your points in answer to “What then to make of the issue?”—I take “the issue” to mean, Christians are not buying speculative fiction—apply to a misperception.

    Fact: all four of the Realms (Strang’s CSFF imprint started by Jeff Gerke and left in limbo since he moved on) CSFF novels “earned out,” meaning that they made their publisher money, even though three of the four were first-time novelists.

    Fact: at least 3 current CSFF series are performing in the 10,001-50,000 or the 50,001-100,000 Amazon rankings over the lifetime of the books as recorded by TitleZ. Their interpretation of these figures for the first category is “A successful book by most industry standards” and for the second “Not bad.”

    My contention is that readers buy good CSFF books when they know about them.

    Your comments about marketing dollars points out a reality about the publishing industry, not something exclusive to Christian fiction and certainly not exclusive to CSFF, namely that the books by name authors—the ones sure to make dollars for the publisher—are the books that receive the most marketing support.

    The public WILL buy Ted Dekker books, for example, so all the publisher has to do is put the word out that Ted Dekker has a new book releasing on such-and-such a date. The dollars spent that way are guaranteed a return.

    However, dollars spent letting the public know that Joe Ivenever Heardofyoubefore has a new release, may be good money after bad. In other words, it’s a risk. That’s the economic reality.

    Authors, believing in their writing, in the power of their story, want publishers to take that risk. But publishers have seen too many books not do well and want to minimize the financial loss so they have money to invest in the next author. Who can blame them?

    When starting a new venture, it’s wise to start with a good product and better to have a good product that lots of people want. Publishers need to be convinced that lots of people really do want CSFF. Sales of current titles will do that.

    Harvest House, I’m guessing, would have been much more reluctant to pick up its first fantasy title if no other books in the genre were successful.

    Addressing another of your points, Dan, the idea that Christians reading secular SFF must do so because they want graphic sex and violence is harsh at best. I’ve heard from a number of adults who say they read YA fantasy for the very reason that a) there is no Christian fantasy and b) the YA stories don’t have the extremes of the objectionable material.

    Saying that readers are tired of all the “spiritualizing and allegorical nonsense” in CSFF makes me wonder what CBA books you’ve read. Not to mention that allegory is far from nonsense when done in a fresh way. It’s why John Bunyun’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic. I’m honestly not sure what you mean by “spiritualizing” because we live in a spiritual world, as well as a physical one. To your thinking, is drawing attention to that fact somehow undesirable?

    Dan, you also said, “But with the rise of all these Christian imprints within secular publishing houses, even the slightest hint of Christianity in a novel gets it shunted from the secular imprint to the Christian one.” Can you give us examples of this happening? I’m aware of several books in other genres, such as Peace Like a River and Gilead, with considerably more than a hint of Christianity which were not shunted to a Christian imprint or shelved in the religious section of bookstores.

    If you want to write stories FOR Christians, the CBA is certainly the best. If you want to write a story with a Christian theme that Christians can pass on to their non-Christian friends, I think CBA is the best as well. In my thinking this is the only way to achieve a true “crossover.” But if you want to write a story exclusively for non-Christians, then an ABA house is the best. This, in my opinion, will not cross over, however, because it may never catch the attention of Christians. Not unless you market to Christians.

    And here we are, back at marketing.

    So what’s a writer to do, you ask? Pray first. Ask God what He wants you to do with your writing. Ask Him to open doors for CSFF in both the ABA and CBA. Ask Him to show you what your part should be in the process of opening those doors.

    Many times when I’ve asked God to provide this or that, He’s given me the nudge to be the instrument to accomplish the thing I’ve asked of Him. It’s the principle demonstrated in Luke 9: 2, 3—”Pray for workers because the harvest is plentiful,” then “Go, I send you out.”

    I’m praying and I’m going, because that’s what I believe God has me doing. The more, the merrier, I say, in my best, cliched way. 😉

    Second Open Letter to CSFF Readers

    I’m a “save the best ’til last” person. The only problem with that is, the best might appear to be tacked on. In some cases, you might even run out of time and have to rush through the best. But it’s really the way fiction works. And a lot of music. There’s an impressive opening perhaps, but the bulk of the work builds up to a grand finale.

    I’m hoping you’ll see today’s post as the grand finale to this topic of readers participating in the marketing of CSFF books. Though in saying that, I am not intimating I won’t continue to talk about the subject. I have nothing planned for the moment, so where I sit, this is a finale. And it is grand. The GRANDEST.

    OK, before I delve into it, I suggest you read Wayne Thomas Batson’s comment to yesterday’s post. Wayne is the author of the highly successful Door Within Trilogy, the subject of January’s CSFF Blog Tour. Because these comments are extensive, I’ll aim to keep my post relatively short.

    What is the grand finale of, what CSFF readers can do to help market the fiction they love? Pray. Yep, pray. It is the most powerful, effective tool Christians have. If our intention is indeed to bring attention to God-glorifying fiction, then it seems to me we are in agreement with God, because He wants His glory known.

    I will say, prayer is not us trying to talk God into doing what we think is best. It is not us putting our request into the all-powerful vending machine of heaven and, as long as we’ve provided the sufficient amount of faith, getting what we want.

    God, being sovereign, will do what He knows is best and as a result does say no at times to things we ask. However, He also makes it clear in Scripture that He wants us to be involved in the process of His provision, and that prayer actually does make a difference.

    How, is beyond me. Beyond us all, because prayer is something God provides for us as well as commands of us. I know there’s a lot of theology we could dig into here, but again, I don’t want to digress. Instead, I want to suggest some specific things we can pray for together:

  • CSFF writers will glorify God in their writing
  • those CSFF writers under contract will continue to work at their craft to produce the best quality they can
  • those CSFF writers not under contract will do what they can to improve their writing and to support the books already on the shelves.
  • encouragement and perseverance for authors, both those not published and those published but not seeing the sales they wish for or the contract they need.
  • agents willing to take on new CSFF writers
  • publishing houses willing to start or expand their list of CSFF books/authors
  • marketing people who will have a vision of reaching the 20-something readers, men and women, with CSFF
  • sales representatives who can get CSFF books in the most strategic places
  • bookstores eager to include CSFF in their inventory, willing to feature the books, and to work with authors in the promotion
  • readers, especially readers who will pass on the joy of what they have read to others
  • Now that’s something all of us can be involved in. Maybe we can agree to do this together. If you’re interested, let me know in the comments that you’ll be praying for the next however-long—week, month, six months—and every however-often (every day, every Friday, every five minutes 😉 ).

    I’ll start. I plan to pray every Friday for the next six months for the various people involved in CSFF fiction. Who else?

    Published in: on December 19, 2006 at 12:35 pm  Comments (6)  

    An Open Letter to Christian Fantasy Readers

    Two years ago I walked into my local Family Christian Store looking for a copy of Karen Hancock‘s Light of Eidon as a gift for a friend. When I didn’t find it, I asked the clerk why they didn’t shelve the books of a three-time Christy award-winning author. She registered shock. “Oh, I didn’t know!” I ordered the book and since then have had no trouble locating Hancock’s books at that store.

    The point is simple: people don’t buy good Christian fantasy because they don’t know about the books or where they can buy them—not because of an aversion to the genre or because of poor writing.

    In a discussion in the ACFW forums Stuart Stockton informed us of a web site, TitleZ that keeps track of Amazon sales rankings over long stretches of time and claims to reflect how a book is selling industry-wide. If this is true, the sales for some of the best Christian fantasies are not good. And yet, when comparing them to some of the “bright lights” of Christian fiction, the sales don’t seem to be all that far apart. Of course, if this were translated into dollars and cents, I might view it differently.

    Still, not that much seems to separate the better fantasies from some of the better other-genre books (with Ted Dekker being an anomaly 😉 ). Why is this?

    Have the fantasies not found readers? That’s not true, because there are a couple series doing quite well—better than some of the other-genre books that have received a significant marketing push from their publishers.

    Are the readers who find the good fantasies hoarding them—not telling their friends or buying the books for their relatives, because they feel like they belong to a secret club and want to keep it that way? Possibly.

    Or do the readers take the books for granted, assuming that if they found them, others will too in good time? Hmmm. This might be true.

    Still, I am befuddled. Some beautifully-packaged books are selling well and some beautifully-packaged books have disappointing sales, at least judging by TitleZ’s claim that these Amazon figures reflect sales at large.

    Can we who love SFF make a difference? I have to believe so. Blogging, in my view, is the written form of word-of-mouth, so our views ought to start people looking at the books we believe in.

    But this past week heard another fact—a recent survey revealed that only 18% of readers visit a publisher’s web site while 23% visit an author’s site. That makes me realize, blogging alone is not enough, especially by unpublished writers like me (23% of 0 being what it is! 😉 )

    What am I driving at? We readers/fans/writers of Christian science fiction or fantasy need to do more to spread the word about our genre. Here are some ideas:

  • buy at least one CSFF book for a Christmas present
  • ask at least one local bookstore to stock books by a CSFF author you see missing from their shelves
  • write a publisher of one of your favorite CSFF books and thank them for giving you the kind of book you love and ask them for more
  • write a list of your favorite books and authors and give that to a local library asking them to add those to their buying list
  • mention said list in your Christmas letter
  • too late for the Christmas letter? send another one in January all about fantasy and why you love it and what authors you would recommend
  • send same information to your e-mail contacts
  • post a list of favorite authors on your blog
  • invite friends, family, church acquaintances, school contacts, business collegues, neighbors to read your blog, especially during CSFF blog tours
  • not participating in the tour? Sign up at CSFF Blog Tour
  • I’m sure there are other things we can do if we brainstorm a bit. Of course, not everyone is able to do all of these, but if you managed only three, starting with the first one on the list, that can begin a wave that will grow geometrically. One doubled becomes two. Two doubled becomes four. Four doubled becomes eight. How many steps to a million? Not as many as you might think, but it will NEVER happen if one doesn’t first double and become two.

    The bottom line for me, however, is not simply sales. Rather, it is this: our culture loves story and right now is drinking in fantasy. Fantasy, a genre built on the struggle of good versus evil, can and should reflect God and His work in the world. What a great opportunity to be Paul on Mars Hill saying, I notice you’re worshipping an unknown god. Let me tell you a fantasy that will show you who He is. Might not Christian fantasy be the new evangelistic crusade?

    I know I’ve triggered a few knee-jerk reactions with that last line (stories should NOT preach), and I don’t want to digress into a discussion of well-crafted theme versus preaching. No matter what you believe about that issue, I think we can agree that Christians should glorify God. It’s why we are. So a Christian who writes science fiction or fantasy should glorify God. In turn, do not those of us who read these writers want to point others to this work in order that God’s glory can be spread farther, wider?

    Marketing shouldn’t be about garnering fame or dollars but about giving others the chance to see God through the writing we love. We can play a small part in this process—one becoming two.

    Published in: on December 18, 2006 at 6:00 am  Comments (16)  

    Not a Post #2

    I don’t post on Saturdays any more, so this is not a post; it’s an announcement, just an announcement. 😉

    I have two blog articles that I write on Mondays and, shock of shocks, I have both prepared for December 18. Please take time to stop by Speculative Faith on Monday and read my interview with Harvest House Publishers’ senior editor, Nick Harrison, about their fantasy due to release next spring. It’s a great opportunity to give feedback and support for this project, and to let him know we want this and more.

    Commenting to Nick at Spec Faith will also fit into the post I’ve prepared for this spot. Consider it on the list of things you can do. I trust that will make more sense after you read the Open Letter to Christian Fantasy Readers. Please be sure to stop by here on Monday.

    God’s care. May your weekend be filled with joy this Christmas season.

    Published in: on December 16, 2006 at 12:29 pm  Comments Off on Not a Post #2  
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