Backfires and Books


Those of you who watch the news probably know that Northern California has been coping with an incredible number of wild fires, some threatening areas known for their pristine landscape. Recently I saw a news piece about one effort to contain these fires. The method of choice was the backfire.

I remember when I was young hearing about firefighters intentionally setting fires, and I was somewhat horrified. The concept of fighting fire with fire didn’t register as particularly wise. Not to mention, that those backfires looked dangerously closer than the wildfire.

Of course I’ve learned since just what the purpose is for these backfires—to eat up the available fuel before the out-of-control conflagration reaches whatever line firefighters have determined must not be crossed.

What does any of this have to do with books?

As I’ve thought about some of the most successful books—Left Behind, Harry Potter, Shadowmancer, and now, The Shack—it seems to me there is often a wildfire feel about the books, with a backfire kind of response. The result appears to be more flames and more smoke. In the book business, this is all good because the smoke and the flames mean the book is getting noticed.

The thing about wildfires is, something has to ignite them, in ample dry tinder. Continuing with this as an analogy for book sales, I suggest the publicist might be considered an arsonist, intentionally sparking the fire. But fires also start because of lightning or downed electric wires or a cigarette tossed out a car window. They can start by the wind catching a spark from a campfire or a car backfire. These accidental, unpredictable, unexpected beginnings of forest fires catch us off guard.

But here’s where the analogy falters. In the book business, there does indeed seem to be a backfire response to some books that seem to be uncontainable, but the backfire itself adds to the flame and the smoke and seems to become a part of the conflagration, not something to eat up the available fuel.

I’ve said before, controversy sells books. But can controversy be manufactured? Maybe for a one book length of time a la Shadowmancer. But in the end, there has to be substance to the original fire, or the backfires simply aren’t necessary.

Much like natural fires, the progress of a book-fire is in the hands of God. I may not understand why one fire starts and is immediately snuffed out or why another takes off and burns thousands and thousands of acres.

However, I do think it’s important not to go around setting unnecessary backfires. And I think it’s important not to go around setting imitation fires. 😉

As an author, I want my book-fire to be as big and out of control as it can possibly be. There are some things I can dictate. Where I start the fire, the strength of the flame. But winds, humidity, firefighting resources, those are things beyond my control. Not beyond God’s.

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Two weeks to go before Donita K. Paul’s DragonLight blog tour. 😀

Published in: on July 7, 2008 at 10:59 am  Comments Off on Backfires and Books  
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