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.

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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)  
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