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Devil's Diary: The Coming
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Bloggers' Corner > The Catastrophic Thunderstorm of Christian Fiction

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Anthony Howard (blackfox) | 9 comments Beyond the Bible, do spiritual and Biblical Christian stories sell? As we are now being pummeled by several powerful hurricanes and tropical thunderstorms (Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Jose), I couldn’t help but see a metaphor as I write this, as I see cities being devastated, and lives being tragically lost. According to weather experts, there are three key ingredients in the creation of a catastrophic hurricane. Similar elements are alive in the Christian fiction arena, and have a similar effect.

In an online Christian magazine Relevant an author titled his article: Where is all the great Christian fiction? Basically, the author of the article is disappointed in the state of Christian fiction, indicated innovation is needed and specifically “Christian fiction authors need reprisal”. It was interesting no one had written a response to this article, not even one comment on the popular website. I don’t have the golden solution, I do have some ideas. More importantly, I wanted to open a conversation that’s currently not being had. It’s uncomfortable for many to even talk about this. There are rules. There is a wall of silence and conformity. This is the first step in the tropical thunderstorm: Convergence. In this stage, a low-pressure area must have formed in the low levels of the atmosphere to start winds converging. This is a metaphor for the reason of the current state of Christian fiction. To many folks, the fiction that Christian authors are putting on shelves and marketing as Christian fiction isn’t great art; it’s popular, genre fiction. What causes this state is the Christian Fiction paradigm, or thunderstorm, that many authors get caught in. The book that got me my first book deal was Devil's Diary: The Coming. With the civil unrest going on now, the novel is about what would actually happen if the Lord returned tomorrow. How would we receive Him, and what would His enemies do? The publishing house decided to come out with the spy series (The Invisible Enemy: Black Fox) first as a business decision, because of my background with technology, the Dept of Defense, plus the degrees and awards behind my name. I speak at technology conferences on a regular basis but I wasn’t a famous ordained minister, nor did I attend seminary. In their minds, I didn’t have a guaranteed platform to generate book sales. The spy books hit two bestseller lists, so in hindsight, they weren’t necessarily wrong. Click here to watch Black Fox movie trailer.

However, because of the spy series success, I ended up having to start my own publishing company to put Devil's Diary: The Coming out, and have it edited by the Harvard Divinity School. The point is, even though they knew it was great work (we know this because that’s the book that got me signed), it was considered too much of a risk in the end. There are simply not too many folks with the ready-made platforms (guaranteed book sales) publishers want to see to get the great Christian work out there. This is the convergence of the storm. Convergence onto profits, and onto mass media behavior - serving up readily available fast food dogma, easily consumed, economical, profitable, but not much nutrition. One of the key purposes of literacy is to bring people to something new. Something great. One of my goals in writing is to broaden the experiences of my reader community and add to the literary art form. It’s key to not only present a fascinating story to the reader, but to bring value to the reader aside from entertainment.

I thought I was a Christian author. But that has very specific man made rules (such as no aggression, no kissing below the neck, etc). Many of the rules prevent an author from being different, or fascinating. Then I became an author who is a Christian (which is different from a “Christian Author”) so I could keep writing fascinating stories and bring the Word to everyone. I believe this is one of the key differences of my style of Christian writing.

This creates component #2 of the hurricane: Impermanence. In other words, low stability or volatility. In a hurricane, this will allow deep convection or cumulonimbus clouds to build to great heights in the atmosphere. Because of this decision to keep writing fascinating stories, I was banned from Christian bookstores and Church bookstores. This poses the question: If you are ONLY writing for the Saved (as the Christian Author rules dictate) – who are you ministering to? One of the primary purposes of ministry is to spread the Good News. The rules make many books in Christian fiction very similar, and less popular to wider audiences. I’d rather not be the same. This causes a disequilibrium, taking the storm to new heights. I write to take the reader deeper. Topics where you finish the book and want to know more. If a writer isn’t different, why should anyone invest the time to read the book? Christian writers can not continue to recycle what is already out there as Hollywood does.

This brings us to the final conundrum. Divergence. Air Divergence in the upper atmosphere intensifies the storm. When publishers and many audiences are focused on books like the Da Vinci Code, divergence comes to life. The Da Vinci Code touched on religious history (okay, some say pseudo-history), and was an interesting story (I read the book, never saw the movie). Though Christianity was discussed, there was no ministry or spirituality in the novel, nor discussion of salvation. It was popular because it was controversial. It even challenged the Vatican in some ways, and disputed traditional Christian history, which also highlights the volatility storm element (#2). If you want to sell, be different. With the divergence factor, the success of these kinds of books push publishers to look for more novels like this (no ministry, no salvation, etc), and inspires writers to create book like this to try and be popular and gain a following. This creates the perfect storm. Convergence, Impermanence, and Divergence. So what’s the solution? My particular solution was to start my own publishing company to release Devil's Diary: The Coming, put my own capital behind it, and produce my own cinema trailer (click here to watch Devil's Diary: The Coming Goodreads trailer). I encourage others to do that. If I didn’t, the book may never have seen the light of day, even though it was great enough to land a publishing deal, which is no small feat.

We have to be different if we want the Christian fiction genre to thrive. Just as hurricanes take lives, think of those who will not pick up Christian fiction, even by chance, because the rules in place don’t make them relatable to readers outside the church, which limits ministry. As a teacher of the Bible, this storm is serious, and takes lives in the way of those who don’t reach salvation, because they never picked up the book. Let’s have a discussion.


message 2: by Janet (new)

Janet Stobie | 6 comments Hi Anthony, I too am a writer who is Christian and I believe that I write Christian fiction that carries God's message of love for all people. My website is www.janetstobie.com I have written and published 6 books. My seventh a children's book titled "Elizabeth Gets Her Wings" will be available by November. My second novel will be out by spring. As a retired ordained minister it is my ministry to spread God's Word through my writing. Yes, we certainly do need more Christian fiction that leads people to see that faith is very relevant in our lives today. Blessings Janet


message 3: by Joel (last edited Sep 29, 2017 08:52PM) (new)

Joel Thimell | 11 comments Anthony, I agree wholeheartedly that there is a scarcity of great Christian fiction in the market today. Part of the problem is most Christian publishers are afraid to take a chance on anything different from the same old, same old.

I wrote Long Road Out of Ur to tell the backstory of Abraham and Sarah. Think of it as kind of a prequel to the Genesis narrative filling in the first 75 years of Abraham's life. Sounds pretty vanilla doesn't it?

BUT I'm not interested in retelling the familiar Sunday School version with alabaster saints and fearless heroes of the faith. I wanted to show "real" people with real struggles.

So I told the story through the voice of Lot, who many Christians feel is either a villain or a fool, despite the testimony of Peter who calls Lot a "righteous man" who was "tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard."

And I structured the story as a "film noir" style murder mystery involving tomb robbing and palace intrigue with poor Lot stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, the major Christian publishers I queried responded that it didn't "fit their formula" (their words).

Now, I could understand if they had actually read a chapter or two and decided that my book was poorly written or otherwise unmarketable, but to simply reject it because it didn't fit their round hole?

Happily, I decide to self-publish and Long Road Out of Ur has gotten excellent reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.

Christian fiction is also declining because of a lack of faith on the part of Christian publishers. Several have sold out to non-Christian mega-publishers (think Thomas Nelson and Zondervan), others are dropping fiction to focus on non-fiction (think Moody and Abingdon) and those staying in are printing fewer new novels each year. This problem has been compounded by the recent failure of Christianity Today's "Books and Culture" magazine which was the most prominent reviewer of Christian fiction.

In fairness to the publishers, they are simply printing what sells for them. The reason they have dozens of new Amish and Western romances each year is because those titles have consistently sold well.

Many Christians, especially men, do not read fiction at all and those that do read more secular fiction than Christian. My book, which as an adventure story ought to appeal more to men, has been bought primarily by women.

How do we reverse these negative trends and forces? I have no silver bullets to offer. I do think it begins with authors who have something important to say finding a way to work together and support one another's work.


Anthony Howard (blackfox) | 9 comments Janet wrote: "Hi Anthony, I too am a writer who is Christian and I believe that I write Christian fiction that carries God's message of love for all people. My website is www.janetstobie.com I have written and p..."

Hi Janet, thanks for responding. How specifically have you dealt with the Storm. Did you decide to self publish -- or did you decide on another route?


Anthony Howard (blackfox) | 9 comments Joel wrote: "Anthony, I agree wholeheartedly that there is a scarcity of great Christian fiction in the market today. Part of the problem is most Christian publishers are afraid to take a chance on anything dif..."

Joel, thanks for taking the time to respond with your insightful post. You notice the same things I do, and provided even more background. I agree with all your points. As a fiction writer, I have found men a more difficult target to reach overall. I myself used to be part of the problem because I had never been to a book singing before I became an author. Your book premise sounds intriguing. It is no surprise it was rejected by Christian publishers (who in the recent events you describe seem to be losing their own footing in the market). Printing what sells well is a business decision anyone can understand...but as we know what sells well in 2010 might not sell in 2017, and vice versa. Times change. Printing presses can not sell the same soup reheated indefinitely and hope to succeed, and I believe that is part of why we see a decline in the market. There is simply nothing new, innovative or fresh. The Indie market has changed this, but now readers must search among the rough to find a diamond they enjoy, as unfortunately not every author spends the time or capital for proper editing and design or their book.
How do we reverse the negative trend? I don't think there is a silver bullet. I believe readers are now more powerful then they know, as what they buy will now dictate the literary trend, instead of some random gatekeeper at a major publishing house. When readers put their dollars behind what they want to read (and not just react to a trend), this will send a powerful message to the market. I also think authors connecting with each other (as you just did) will help as well, so we can see what's working in real time.


message 6: by Janet (new)

Janet Stobie (goodreadscomjanetstobie) | 9 comments Hi Anthony, I have totally self-published all but Fireweed. It was partnerpublished with Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson. That was an expensive lesson. I learned three things:
a. Doing it myself means I make money and sell lots of books.
b. Westbow does nothing unless paid large amounts of money. When you sell a book they take most of the profit.
c. Just because Thomas Nelson publishes Bibles does not mean they are not out to make money.

I have my own publishing company for just my own books. I always employ a professional editor and graphic designer. My books are high quality, well-written, and they carry a solid message. That's why they sell well.


message 7: by Anthony (last edited Nov 14, 2017 12:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anthony Howard (blackfox) | 9 comments Janet wrote: "Hi Anthony, I have totally self-published all but Fireweed. It was partnerpublished with Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson. That was an expensive lesson. I learned three things:
a. Doing i..."


Janet, thanks for sharing your experiences! I agree with a, b & c. I take your post to heart and paid special attention, because I once considered publishing Devil’s Dairy: The Coming with Westbow Press. I didn’t understand exactly what it was until research. Their sales rep seemed pleasant enough, and at the time I hadn’t heard of them. They just used the “Division of Thomas Nelson” to get me on the phone. I am not surprised to hear the experiences you shared. Though nice, the sales rep was very pushy, literally calling endlessly. Red Flag. I must be in some database because they are still calling me 2 years later (different sales rep), even after I told them I’ve already published Devil’s Dairy: The Coming. Congratulations on forging your own path, Janet. Thanks for helping to put literature out there. What marketing tactics have you found worked well for the Christian market? I'm wondering what other authors have found useful.


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