f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005

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

Friday, April 29, 2005

Day 5 of Book Covers: Market

America and the UK are, if you weren’t aware, two different places. They say “lift.” We say “elevator.” They make a great “Office.” We make a mediocre one. Each country feels the need, apparently, to inflict separate book covers on its populace.

I really don’t have much to say about this except, I suppose the comments that most readers like the American versions makes sense given they were designed for American readers. That’s comforting.

I find looking at book covers from other countries fascinating. The book covers for the German versions of Harry Potter, for instance, kick ours all over the place. And I like Mary GrandPre’s illustrations.

All to say, and this is going to be the most blatantly obvious unhelpful thing ever written, while you may not be able to tell much about a book from its cover, you can make some pretty decent guesses at the men or women who are supposed to like it and buy it.

We got only a couple examples of favorites.

Kathleen Popa named Nicholas Christopher’s A Trip to the Stars.

Mark Bertrand mentioned Jean Giono's The Horseman on the Roof. And you need a little story too, because his choice doesn't translate all that well to the screen..
"It's the original North Point Press paperback of Jean Giono's The Horseman on the Roof, a burnt-orange dust jacket on a white paperback. I'd never heard of the author or the book at that time, and I found it on a remainder table in a Chicago bookstore, nestled among the glitzy former bestsellers. The color caught my eye, the austerity of the design made me curious, and when I saw that it was a dust jacket and the same text was printed in faint gray on the white cover beneath, I had to have it. Turned out to be a wonderful book, and then a film was made of it in France and the new edition has movie stills on the cover! Alas.... "

Some favorites of mine are:

A (notice it?) Chip Kidd cover for Jim Knipfel’s memoir Slackjaw. (Look close at the embossing.)

Will Self’s Great Apes.

Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

And this one.

(I wanted to spend an entire day looking at pulp covers because I think they, perhaps, understand their audience better than anyone. But alas the week is over.)

Next week, maybe, Gilead. (And speaking of Marilynne Robinson, I love the new repackage of her book Housekeeping. I need to write a book 18 years from now and get cool new covers on my books, too.)

More Book Covers

Someone is making it easy to see the covers of the books featured in the NYTimes. Appropriately enough the blog is called: Book Covers from the NY Times Book Review.

Your Favorite Covers

If you email me between now and, say, 4:30pm central time today with a link to your favorite all-time book cover, I'll post a list. (Not your own book, please, if you're published.)

Edited to say that I'm an idiot and put up a broken link. Not sure the list is going to happen, but if you want to email me favorite covers, go ahead.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Day 4 of Book Covers – Choosing an Audience

There seem to be two schools of thought in publishing.

The first school says that literature, at its best, is written to cross demographics and psychographics. Great stories find the universal truths in our world and explore them in a way that’s relevant to men and women, all races, many ages, and often even people throughout different time periods. That’s why we still read Jane Austen and why people in 150 years will still read Mark Bertrand.

The other school says that’s pretty idealistic and its only the smallest amount of books that fulfill such expectations. Other books need to be pitched to specific audiences. It could be spooky horror covers, sensual romance covers (often using erotically positioned fruit), or stark westerns.

Yesterday’s covers were books I think you could generally call “women’s fiction.” Genre lines are blurring for me these days, so I don’t know where “literary” stops and “general fiction” starts. And if either features primarily female concerns does that make them “women’s fiction”?

Regardless of those answers, a few of yesterday’s covers seemed specifically designed to attract females readers’ attention. And judging from some of your comments, they worked. Good Grief, besides reminding one of Charlie Brown with its title, indeed points at hope beyond loss, all through bunny slippers. Jodi Picoult is one of the premier “women’s issue” novelists writing today and so The Pact is as much about her name as it is the cover. Still, a couple canoodling generally gets women’s attention more than men. Man Walks Into a Room is a female novelist with a male-centric story and thus a genderless cover.

The best example seems to be The Art of Mending. At least from the few folks who seemed to really like it. I credit the designers; they seem to have hit something. That said, personally, I can’t imagine a less enticing or intriguing cover. Want to know that the world doesn’t revolve around you? Look at a book designed with someone else in mind. I would never pick Elizabeth Berg’s novel up. But neither am I supposed to. I am incidental in Random House’s promotion of this title.

It’s always a bit scary for me when a book leans so heavily on one audience, but that’s because in my heart I like to think of books as something that can cross gender and race. The business of it says something else and it’s better to greatly appeal to one audience than leave everyone going, “Eh.”

Today's covers:

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (US)
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (UK)

The Finishing School by Muriel Spark (US)

The Finishing School by Muriel Spark (UK)

Last Orders by Graham Swift (US)

Last Orders by Graham Swift (UK)

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (US)
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (UK)

Bookends by Jane Green (US)

Bookends by Jane Green (UK)

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (US)
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (UK)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

For More Discussion of Book Design

Here's a blog: Foreword. Professional designers, I think, commenting on book covers from many, many different publishers. A Lisa Samson cover once made it in here.

Day 3 of Book Covers: Follow the Leader

When a book is successful, not only will the story and/or genre be duplicated but the cover will as well. You see this in the limes and pinks and “girlie” colors that are dominating much of the chick-lit out there. You see this in the “British royalty portraiture” covers hitting the lists from Philippa Gregory. You see it in ABA and you see it in CBA.

The books we looked at yesterday really didn't have a thematic or literary link. A few of you noted that there were stylistic similarities though. And it turns out they do have a design link.

Meet Chip Kidd one of the most influential book cover designers of working today. A Penn Stater—and therefore summarily awesome person—Kidd has designed TONS of the covers you know. Jurassic Park, with the looming TRex skeleton? Elmore Leonard? James Ellroy? David Sedaris? Augusten Burroughs? These are major, major names and Kidd has designed for all of them. It’s an inordinate amount of power placed in one man’s hand because when he designs bestsellers he shapes the face of design in the industry.

The five covers we looked at yesterday all show his use of similar elements. The strong image, often truncated. Negative space. Strong horizontal breaks. Straight-forward fonts. No filters or layers or washes. Just straight-forward. How can the same “design styles” work for such different books? Can you sell a book on the basis of a single, unadorned image?

This is where I stop having answers. I think all the covers work. Lying Awake seems perfect. The Abomination is succinctly warped. All the Pretty Horses promises “stark” very well, if not “literary western.” Donna Tartt had all sorts of issues going into book 2, so it really wouldn’t matter what went on her cover. And The New Testament was just to show that Mel wasn’t the first person to “cash in” on Jesus’ blood.

I don’t really have a huge point here. Just that there are only so many designers out there…and if one hits big you’ll start seeing her work in a lot of places. And she might repeat some things. And then up-and-coming designers may repeat those things. And suddenly you have the design trends that pop up every now and then.

Here’s today’s covers:

The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Man Walks Into a Room by Nicole Krauss

This Life She's Chosen by Kirsten Sunberg Lundstrum

The Art of Mending by Elizabeth Berg

Good Grief by Lolly Winston

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Day 2 of Book Covers: Promise

When we talk about covers in-house we talk a lot about the promise they offer a reader. That is, when you as a reader look at a book cover, you feel an implied message about what the book will offer you, and in what manner.

That is: kooky, lime-green covers promise something different from dour charcoal covers.

The problem is who gets to say what a cover’s promise is? And how close does the promise have to hew to what the book actually delivers?

A lot of things tie into these questions. Title can’t be separated from cover, although they’re separate issues. Author name often implies something for those writers who’ve written a second book.

So in the case of the books yesterday, I look at Perez-Reverte and Arthur Phillips books’ much differently than the other two…because I know those authors and what their previous work promises.

If you’re unaware of Phillips, however, The Egyptologist (I think) offers the least specific “promise” of yesterday’s four covers. The other three with their focus on books and/or literaria in the title are “literary/academic thrillers.” And you probably know whether you like those sorts of books or not.

The Egyptologist…ask 100 different people and you might finally get on the trail of what this cover is offering. To me, it’s pretty striking though and I might pick it up from a table and take a look.

So with that, let’s take a look at some more covers.

Lying Awake by Mark Salzman

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

The Abomination by Paul Golding

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

The New Testament translated by Richard Lattimore

Monday, April 25, 2005

Day 1 of Book Covers: Ignoring the Cliche--"Let's Start Judging Some Books By Their Cover!"

I’ve had nothing but blank space for about fifteen minutes here and the end of the day is drawing nigh, so I thought I’d get us started on a topic I don’t understand.

Book covers.

There are many things that seemed to blend art and science in this world, and book covers are definitely in that camp. We think of them, often, as art and yet, in purest terms, they are commercial. They are packaging designed to capture a buyer’s attention and make them pick the book up.

To be a good acquisitions editor I feel like I need to understand more of how book covers work on the shelves and tables of Barnes and Noble. What is it that great book covers have in common? Bad book covers? How do we make a decision in-house in the cases of having ten differing opinions?

I think to make this week work, we’ll spend each day looking at three or four different books. Some you may have heard of, others should be unfamiliar. If you’re willing, I’d love for you to post your thoughts about the covers, either here or, for longer thoughts, at the discussion board.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips

Let's Read Gilead

C'mon. All the cool kids are doing it. If you have $15.64 of disposable income, buy a copy at Amazon, (Or better yet, spend a little more at your local independent book store. Seriously. They need your help.) and join us in a discussion next week.

This thing has gotten the best reviews of any book I've seen in a LONG time. And supposedly it's Christian. Those two things, well, they're usually like oil and water, so let's dig in and discover what it is about Gilead that's making people hand out awards.

One caveat: there's a chance this discussion may end up being delayed. By my intention is to begin next Monday.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Will There Always Be “Us” and “Them” ?

Right now, nearly every CBA publishers are holding firm to the established content rules that seem to be the line of demarcation between “non-CBA” titles and “CBA” titles. Some, in fact, are entrenching more deeply on the side of CBA.

Meanwhile, book by book, most every other area is growing blurred. CBA fiction spans nearly all the genres. There are excellent selling novels from CBA publishers that barely have any explicit Christian content. There are novels gaining unanimous praise for their craft. Some of the taboos have fallen. Drinking is no longer verboten. Smoking occurs. Given what’s going on in nonfiction, I’m guessing there’s going to be an increasing openness to sympathetic characters from mainline and orthodox Christian traditions. Class and race and geography shouldn’t be a problem.

So when all those things happen, is there still going to be a dividing line? Are we still going to be talking about CBA novels?

I think we need to stop, even now. The term has already lost its usefulness. Because right now it applies to every novel that comes out of a CBA publisher. The industry is too broad and too deep. As I said the other day, "We are large, we contain multitudes." (It's the only Whitman quote I know.)

Lisa Samson’s The Living End.
Tim Downs’ Chop Shop.
Karen Kingsbury’s One Tuesday Morning.
Kristen Billerbeck’s What a Girl Wants.
Chris Well’s Forgiving Solomon Long.
Ray Blackston’s Flabbergasted.
Dale Cramer’s Bad Ground.
Karen Hancock’s Arena.
Jerry Jenkin’s Soon.

Reconcile this list. Because, right now, I can’t. You might like some of them. You might not. As I see it, the only thing these books have in common is that there’s no explicit sex, no swearing, and a Christian worldview of some sort. What an odd group of correlatives.

That’s the stamp of approval thought that makes these books a genre, though. And a particular set of readers who need that assurance are the driving force for us maintaining the CBA label. So long as that readership is vocal in its insistence of those standards “Us” and “Them” will remain.

Very likely, though, you’ll begin seeing “us” and “them” within publishing lists. Books designed to go to the very heart of CBA readership and novels for which a separate, less particular, readership exists. Hopefully, when that happens, the boundaries won’t matter as much. Great writers will tell their stories both in and out of CBA fiction. Readers will find their books. And we will laugh at those years when it seemed we could only do one or the other.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Common Ground

In the end, we could spend all day, all year, all our life arguing over the points brought up the last two days. I will not convince you that an Episcopalian priest can be presented as a man of faith and you will not convince me that the presence of a “damn” or “hell” makes a book “unchristian.”

So we have to decide whether the arguments are even worth having anymore. Why are writers of such different persuasions even placing themselves in the context where these things comes up.

And here we come to our shared common ground. These are the things I think all of us, whether we’re writing Steeple Hill romances or trying to win the Paraclete contest, treasure. These are the areas we’re passionate about…and why there’s such a territory battle when others make claim for the same turf. (And, yes, I’m a sentence away from a Bloods/Crips reference.)

1. Jesus – His life, death, and resurrection; His humanity and place among the Godhead; His words and deeds; His meekness and power. Why are we doing this if not for him?

2. Faith – Our bumbling attempts to make sense of life in the shadow of the cross. That thirsty urge to share what little we know of it. Perhaps writers are weaker than others, that we find incomplete satisfaction a with a God who knows us fully, that we need also to be understood by man.

3. Story – Words. And the smell of old books. The conversation of characters inside your head. I don’t think it’s possible to get into this business with a heart dead to all that. There’s just easier—and more reliable—ways to make a buck. Now, once we’re here it can lose the mystique and the pleasure. But I hope some small part of us enjoys the weight of a book in our hand, particularly if it’s one of ours. A new book about to find readers.

That, in language far poofier than I normally use, is the ground we share. I think that’s it. But what I’m hoping that we don’t look at this list and say, “It’s only three things!” Those three things are vast and complex enough to contain Whitmanesque multitudes. Both Anne Lammott and Jerry Jenkins. Me and Flannery O’Connor. You who go to Art and Soul and her that goes to ACFW.

Which brings me to my final place of common ground.

4. The People – I’m not just a disembodied voice orating from the internet. Ask the folks I met down in Houston. I exist. Too often we take advantage of the digital space between us, allowing it to separate us from those with whom we disagree. I’m at fault for this as much as anybody. When that space disappears though and you meet people face-to-face, you realize we’re a lot more alike than different. And that there are tons of great people with whom you vehemently disagree about some issues. That will not change. That has to be okay. It’s not allowing the space, the separation, to matter that’s important. It’s remembering the people on the other end that’s crucial. Because paper burns at 451 degrees and we’re really all that makes a lick of difference in the world.

End of goopy sermon. I’ll try to make a joke or two tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Half the World

There's a 193 countries in the world, give or take a few depending on the week. My stats keeping software places visitors to the site in 103 countries so far. That's pretty fun.

The Problems With CBA Fiction

To begin: please, please, please read Monday and Tuesday’s posts first before you read this post. It needs to be looked at in its proper context.

Second: as I approach writing this post it’s interesting to me that the criticisms between CBA and Non-CBA are so wholly different. Critique of non-CBA books is mostly philosophical, rooted in worldview. Issues with CBA fiction are often practical, focused on the practice of writing itself. You can intuit that this is because critique of CBA is actually a critique of "specific products" whereas there are far fewer examples of non-CBA Christian novels and so it’s the idea that’s under fire.

This is how the argument sets itself up, however, I think we’ll find both sides are debating about a theoretical/hypothetical product that stands for the whole. And therein lies much of the problem in the debate.

Third: To reiterate from yesterday, these arguments are not mine. I’m trying to gather up the most common complaints about the "other side" and line them up in a row to analyze.

Fourth: Remind me if I've forgotten some. But play nice. The best place to chat may be at the discussion board. Also, this may be a good time to try on someone else’s perspective and think through the legitimacy of these complaints.

1. Our books are too accepting of their place as popular fiction and don’t strive for "art."

2. The craft of our novels is weak.

3. Our books actually drive some people away from Christian fiction because they are first and foremost sermons or propaganda, dressed up in a novel.

4. The spiritual resolutions—be they enlightenments or conversions—are too often trite, which amounts to a kind of "cheap grace" being expounded.

5. By conceding to CBA content standards, the books automatically become unrealistic and sanitized. In the real world, people curse, drink, divorce, fornicate, and sin, often simultaneously, in a myriad of ways. Just mentioning something doesn’t equal condoning it and ignoring such things completely is dishonest to life as most of us live it.

6. There’s a repetition of themes, settings, and plot arcs.

7. We are not reaching out to "general" readers. Instead, our books are merely entertainment for insulated Christians. We have backed ourselves into a ghetto of faith.

8. Despite their great abundance, our treatment of spiritual things is still surface level, easy-to-understand for the ease of typical CBA reader.

That’s a list that wasn’t fun to write. To me, it’s a list that’s at once condemning (my two novels are CBA fiction that succumbs to many of these problems) and insulting (I can think of numerous excellent CBA books to which many of these don’t apply.)

The largest issue I think is that the complaints are being spoken by, for the most part, ignorant voices. And by "ignorant" I mean "uninformed." CBA is too big and broad for sweeping generalizations anymore and yet that’s all we’re left with.

Some guy in the Mars Hill Review denounced all of CBA fiction on the basis of one book--my novel Ezekiel’s Shadow--which is generally treated elsewhere as a book which ISN’T a typical example of CBA fiction. What do we do with that? What value is that critique?

On the other hand, I don’t see an overwhelming amount of constructive criticism within the industry. And there’s a knee-jerk reaction against most ANY criticism. "Why" it is asked, "is it necessary for one brother to tear down another brother’s work?" That’s a Catch-22 of a severe order. Those that end up criticizing the industry don’t know the industry and those that know the industry aren’t allowed to critique it.

And so here we are. Depressed and/or generally pissed off.

But fear not, for rainbows only come with a little rain. Tomorrow let’s begin searching for common ground and the unimpeachable positives that each area offers to the greater world. Sound peachy? Good. Sound impossible? Very likely. Sound important? I think so.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Problems with Non-CBA Christian Fiction

So, I’m hoping to summarize the critique that non-CBA Christian fiction has often received from folks within CBA. Remember this isn’t me speaking. It’s my coalescing of the overall prevailing criticism that I’ve seen or heard over the years.

If I’ve missed some, feel free to add them. (I added one Wednesday morning.)

1. Such books and/or authors are too wrapped in earthly standards of “good” writing rather than caring about eternal impact.

2. We’re ignoring the Bible’s command to watch out for the weaker brother. When our fictional characters act inappropriately, it may serve as a stumbling block to others.

3. We are ignoring the Bible’s command to focus on whatever is pure, lovely, or admirable when we depict acts of sin, use coarse language, or otherwise cross established CBA boundaries.

4. We’re watering down the Gospel. The world is full of naysayers. This is a time to lift up God’s word, not cloak it in characters who doubt and struggle.

5. We’re ignoring storytelling and plotting for well-crafted sentences and plots that readers don’t care about.

6. We’re willfully ignoring the reading desires of an established group of readers.

7. Every time a boundary is pushed, that’s just one more foothold the world/the Devil has in an otherwise godly industry. Those that promote it may unwittingly (or intentionally) be wolves in sheep’s clothing.

8. Often explore, sympathetically, theological viewpoints or traditions (i.e. Catholic, Orthodox, Quaker, even Pentecostal) that don't seem to meet evangelical standards of "Christianity."

I think that’s most of them.

Frankly, these arguments don’t get voiced very often. Every once in a while someone like Reed Arvin or Andy Crouch or PW comes along and voices a public opinion that criticizes CBA fiction and these are the more popular retorts. Otherwise, there’s no “group” at which to aim complaints.

That’s changing a bit now. More and more voices are expressing a willingness to at least explore the notion of change in CBA. And within CBA, there’s now such a variety of writers across the spectrum that opinions vary wildly about what the future of Christian fiction should and will be.
The debate seems to be gaining momentum. I hope it’s not merely polarizing people on the issue. Given a debate, the easy answer is to simply choose a side and dig a trench.

Some of these critiques are incredibly valid, however. And so how does the “edgy” writer address them? Such answers are the key to the next phase of conversation.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Perils of Christian Fiction: Two Sides

My job is odd. Any position that manages to take you from mainstream CBA writing conferences to places like Art and Soul at Baylor is bound to give a person a bit of literary schizophrenia. (In its non-clinical, non-DSM-IV definition.)

Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve seen the lines drawn in the sand on this debate and, as always with Christians, it seems to boil down to control. We want to be in control of what gets labeled “Christian.” We’re eager to brand things blasphemous or unorthodox or heretical. I don’t know if it’s the power of being exclusionary or the comfort of defining ourselves by what that with which we disagree, but it’s a tactic you see often in all kinds of Christian circles. You’re tiptoeing to the very pits of hell because you believe….

Nobody ever takes it that far is this debate, but I think those twitches, those urges, are there. I figure there’s no point in being coy about it. We might as well throw open the doors and just hash this sucker out. Tomorrow and Wednesday I’m going to summarize what I see as the two competing views of the OTHER side. The cons, in other words.

Thursday and Friday, I’d like to focus on the PROS each side should focus on and what those of us stuck in the middle ground can do. Because I think that’s where a lot of us are. Dodging the slings and arrows as we try just to write out the stories we think God wants us to as best we can.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Built-In Audience

Yesterday I wrote the term “built-in audience,” as one of the things I’m looking for in a book. This term has caused some consternation. Let me clarify or redefine.

As a publisher we need not only to like your book but to think we can SELL your book. Yes, this is a business and we like to try and make at least a little money.

The easier it is to figure out who your audience is and where readers are going to come from to buy your book, the better.

Thus, a published author who sells between 30,000 – 25,000 copies of her first five novels is easy to think through. Most likely her newest book, if it is similar in quality and content to her first five, will sell approximately the same.

First time novelists bring no such numbers (unless you are famous) and thus we have to look at a few other factors.

  • Is your story in a particular genre for which there is a healthy and interested readership?
  • Will your story be timely for some reason?
  • Is your own life-story interesting enough that we can sell you as well as the book?
  • Do you have credentials or contacts in places that will gain attention for the book?

If you say “No” to all those questions that still doesn’t mean we won’t publish your book. At that point, though, it has to be the strength of the manuscript—the story and the writing—that carries the day. Lots of literary fiction is published this way. Much of it slips off the radar with a whisper. A few, for whatever reason, find the acclaim and publicity they need to catch readers.

Hopefully that clarifies things a bit.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Books Themselves

You are new. You are reading this site trying to figure out if your book might be of interest to me and to Bethany House. To make it simple, here’s what I’m seeking:

1. Gripping story.
2. Superior to excellent writing.
3. Writers with a built-in audience that will help sell books.

The problem is that every publisher in the world is seeking these things. So I’ll come at you in another way.

My job is built on filling acquisitions needs in two areas.

The first is mainstream CBA fiction.

Bethany House is a very reputable and successful publisher of CBA fiction. We bring years of expertise to this role. If you have an ORIGINAL, well-written, and mostly completed book, I’ll talk to you about most anything. Probably not end-times fiction. Probably not hard-core science-fiction. Biblical fiction is tough.

My particular areas of acquisitions tend toward the genres: suspense, mystery, thrillers, men’s fiction, romance, fantasy, plus general and literary fiction. Women’s fiction historical and historical fiction, I’ll always read, but may pass you to another editor down the road.

The second area is emergent or crossover or postmodern Christian fiction, or whatever the new term is for the branch off this main trunk.

This is the writing that leaves the mainstream and ends up on the margins. There is no definitive line for when that happens.

They can be—in theme, structure, or craft—different or more challenging from the norm. They should not be as much about providing definitive answers to questions of faith, as simply raising and thinking through questions of faith. They can with intention and purpose, push and/or examine some of the content boundaries infamous in CBA. Though they need to be Christian, they can be written from a perspective outside American evangelical Christianity. They can be urban, multi-racial, international, or anything outside our somewhat homogenized fiction offerings.

They are the Gileads, the Peace Like a Rivers, the Godrics. The Lying Awakes and the Saint Maybes.

Frankly, they face a tougher road and need to be even better written and more compelling than those straight down the heart of CBA. They may be stories we’re still not able to pick up. But given BHP’s devotion to Christian literature and Baker Publishing Group’s greater devotion to providing quality books to the widest variety of readers, there are now far broader opportunities within the company as a whole to approach titles that might not otherwise seem like a match with Bethany.

For more questions, feel free to email me. I’m working through a backlog at the moment, but I’ll get to you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Out at the Margins

Welcome to faith*in*fiction!

Readership for this site has grown. I’m not threatening InstaPundit or Wil Wheaton or even most of the sites that post steamy pictures of Jessica Alba…but for a topic as unsexy as Christian fiction, this thing has grown.

So I thought it’d be a good time to get back to where we started from. Reintroduce the site for those who may not know or have ignored the lure of the archives.

When I first started writing back in November 2003 I was not a full-time editor. I was an advertising copywriter who was told he could spend a portion of his week seeking books that were different from the mainstream of what we published. I had little opportunity to travel, no money to spend, and few contacts, so the best place to raise my voice seemed to be on the web. Blogger offered a free space and here we are.

Since that time I’ve acquired some very talented authors in some widely divergent genres; I’ve been rewarded with a full-time editorial position; I’ve met some fantastic people through the blog; and I’ve probably started fires on at least a few bridges, though hopefully none have burned irreparably.

In all that, the focus of faith*in*fiction really hasn’t changed.

Faith*in*fiction is still a place where I’m hoping to find, introduce myself to, and correspond with writers who have ideas off the mainstream of what’s being done in Christian publishing.

This is a branch of what Bethany House is doing in fiction today. A small branch, frankly, off a very large and healthy tree. It is not intended to be the death-knell of current CBA publishing. That’s ludicrous. Instead, it’s designed to be an expansion of the vision for what Christian publishing—perhaps reaching readers who’d heretofore been ignoring the genre.

I read mainstream CBA fiction. I enjoy CBA fiction. As a full-time editor I now acquire CBA fiction. I’m happy to talk mainstream CBA fiction ideas at conferences and through email or chats with your agent. But not here. Faith*in*fiction will continue to focus on the margins. It’s going to talk about ideas that might chafe a little bit. It’s going to talk about the small branch, rather than the tree.

I’m looking forward to what comes next. If that is only meeting more of you and discovering kindred souls in every state of our country, that’s more than reason enough. I hope most of you will continue on. The margins may not be that popular a place, but they’re fascinating.

Art and Soul Report

Because of the excellent work put in by Stan Shinn and Mark Bertrand, posting my own thoughts about Art and Soul would be redundant. Granted, that wouldn't normally stop me, but being away from the office for half a week has buried me so if you'd like to read about the conference I'll point you their direction.

A few interesting tidbits:

1. Leif Enger is well on his way into his second novel.

2. Paraclete, according to Lil Copan, will be running their fiction contest every two years--coinciding with Calvin's Festival of Faith and Writing, I assume. The winner of the first contest is now out. It's called Life With Strings Attached and it has a puppy on it. I have a colleague who read it and liked it.

3. John Wilson of Books and Culture has "actually liked" some of the CBA fiction he's read recently, at the behest of his daughter. He did not list titles.

4. Kaye Gibbons is writing a sequel to Ellen Foster. Also, she's one of those writers with the kind of insanely traumatic life that make you think compelling fiction most often comes out of going through things most of us would simply rather avoid.

5. Conferences about humor...yeah, not so funny overall.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Art & Soul

I'm madly preparing to be out of the office for a few days, so I've no time to post. I'm hoping to get the chance at Baylor however.

To those whom I will meet throughout the weekend, please lower any expectations. Even if they were pretty low in the first place. Make pretend you were expecting to meet Alec Baldwin and got Billy instead. Perfect.

Till we chat again....

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Fight: From the Publisher Side

The odd, and somewhat unexpected, thing I’ve realized anew in editorial position is how often the writer/publisher relationship becomes adversarial.

The funny part is that I shouldn’t be surprised because as an author I went through deeply adversarial stretches…with my own co-workers. It was fun. You should try it some time.
Not that much of the frustration was blatant. Much of it was grumbling under my breath and a fevered desire to test the tensile strength of my office’s sheetrock. But as a publisher we go through blips and hiccups with nearly every writer.

It’s how those hiccups are handled that really speaks volumes about the relationship between a writer, his/her work, and his/her relationship with their publisher.

There are writers who refuse to hear criticism of any kind. They hold the truths of their manuscript to be self-evident and chafe at any interference. This may sound extreme, but it isn’t too far off the mark. Publishing a book with such a writer always comes from the adversarial position. Whatever benefit they bring is always weighed against the emotional cost of interacting with them. Don’t be one of these people.

A second type are the writers who go along pretending as though everything is peachy and then, finally, explode when the inevitable dromedary-crippling straw hits their back. It could be a marketing thing. An editorial thing. A bad cover. Frankly, these relationships are scarier than the first, because you can never predict them and often the fallout is disastrous. Trust is lost, poof, and writers often seem to think its easier to escape to a new publisher—one who hasn’t betrayed them.

Finally, there are the most common group of writers. The ones who can see things from perspectives outside their own. The ones who are intentional in what they do, understand the meaning of compromise, but also understand the importance of fighting for things in which they truly believe. We’re blessed here at Bethany House with many of these writers. We may argue and bicker and debate back-and-forth, but the relationship isn’t adversarial. It’s not, "I win, they lose." It’s, "Our goal is the same: great book to the most readers."

No matter what anyone tells you—any bitter writer, any frustrated agent—publishing houses aren’t out to screw you, aren’t out to warp your idea to their own twisted means, aren’t out to ruin your career. We’re here to do what we do every night…to take over the world, Pinky!...ummm, I mean, to find great books and get them to the most readers. I’m not a sociopath. I’m not writing this blog just to lure innocent writers to my lair where I can stab them repeatedly with my red editing pen. (Although, any one who wants to run with that as a mystery/suspense, go for it.) I’m here because I think you’ve probably got a terrific story that I’ll love and love helping you get out. Okay? Good.

Now step into this dark corner. I’ve got a surprise waiting for you.

Gilead, Again

This time Gilead wins a little award called the Pulitzer.

Monday, April 04, 2005


What a weekend.

A good Pope died. My oldest daughter saw her first movie in the theater. (Pooh's Heffalump Movie--a delight). Baseball season started. My youngest daughter threw up for no apparent reason and then wanted PB&J.

Oh, and the Gold Medallion Awards were announced. Here are the fiction nominees.

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Down, Neta Jackson, Integrity Publishers
Rejoice, Karen Kingsbury with Gary Smalley, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Reunion, Karen Kingsbury with Gary Smalley, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Second Touch, Bodie & Brock Thoene, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Oceans Apart, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan

Without besmirching any of the titles on the list above, I want to go on record as saying I'm not sure you could create a more useless award if you tried. Seriously. Who cares?

Friday, April 01, 2005

Exciting News!

Three projects we’ve recently signed here at Bethany House I wanted to alert you to:

1. Ann Coulter’s first novel, Traitor With the Six-Pack Abs ! Very excited about this. It’s a chick lit book about Aubrey Lawson, a single, lovelorn, brassy DC commentator whose next door neighbor is a drop dead hunk—but also page for, you guessed it, Senator Clinton of New York. Can Aubrey convert the young man before the 2008 election? Not much Christian content but she’s a Republican, so that’s good enough, right?

2. We’ve had Left Behind. We’ve had The Last Disciple. Now Bethany House takes its bite out of the eschatological fiction world with Wednesday, March 22, 2006, 7:15pm, Central Time. All I can say is, "Be ready." And "Crap, it’s going to interrupt Lost."

3. And Bethany House is expanding into the toy business. We’re going after a piece of the Chronicles of Narnia pie that’s sure to explode after the film is released this winter by producing tie-in products. These include Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan action figures, magic wardrobe doll sets, wind-up mechanical badgers, and even a scale Stone Table where kids can crucify their own plush Aslans.