f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Narrowing the Definition

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Narrowing the Definition

I’ll pick up more on the articles posted by Christianity Today later in the week because I like a lot of what the guy says, and much of it applies even if he’s talking about film and we’re talking about fiction.

Today I want to get back to the actual task of defining Christian fiction (whether it needs to be defined or not) and look at it from a more practical business level. I’m sure the Christian film studios have the same exact conversations but I personally know nothing about Christian film studios and so we’ll stick with publishing. In fact we’ll stick with my publishing house. More specifically we’ll stick with the fiction wing of our publishing house.

There are stories—some true, some apocryphal—about Christian publishing houses writing down, in a list, the things that can and can’t be said in their novels or the thematic and plot elements that must be contained in each book. Such a thing make us “writers” jittery, but there are days (and there have been many lately) when I wouldn’t mind such a list in house. If nothing else, it’d make my job easier. I could just buy a big red stamp that says, “RFVSCR” (Rejected for Very Specific Content Reasons) and just go town.

That’s not the case here, however. We’ve decided to take each story as a case-by-case basis, mostly using historical precedence as our guide and occasionally going out-on-a-limb using informed guesses about what the market will tolerate.

What this has meant lately is a number of conversations revolving around respectively: market tolerance, literary merit, the value of entertainment, the implied brand of our publishing company, and the expectations of our readers. These are all pretty important issues when running a publishing company. You won’t get very far if you simply ignore them.

The easiest book for us to sign is one that, if you look at our list from yesterday, actually fits all those factors (including, quite possibly, the big head cover). We’d like a Christian author writing a noticeably Christian story that will find its way into a Christian bookstore under our label and affect people in their walk with God. That covers a lot of books, friends. An industry full.
As you know, from this site and other chatterings, writers are flexing their muscles a little and readers are getting more demanding. So there’s come a point when, in house, we’re reevaluating #2 on that list—message—and in turn #6, what readers are getting from our books.

Where has it gotten us? Further in some ways than one might expect. We’re looking at a broader range of books, I think, than ever before, and we’re looking at titles with a subtlety of message that we’ve previously considered “too quiet.” I’ll be more excited when we move forward with such books, but we’re getting closer.

So where’s does that leave us?

I’ve you’ve made it this far you’ve read just under 500 words about a definition for Christian fiction without actually reading the definition itself. I’m not just spinning my wheels or filling up space. I don’t get paid by the word and I don’t think I’m quite at the (fill in loathed politician here)-like ability of being able to just blabber without saying a thing.

I’ve been vague because I don’t want to limit you. We’ve talked about this before—the more rules you’re faced with, the more decisions you’re going to have to make in terms of the shape of your story. I don’t want to bog you down unnecessarily with more. I think we all know the general confines of CBA fiction. That’s is our playing field, and it is a field to which we continue to add territory.