Authors, Markets, and What to Read Next
November 1, 2007 | Written by admin
We’ve had a bunch of questions submitted lately about authors and the market. So, even though I’m sick with the flu and feeling lousy, I’ll soldier on. ("What a trooper the man is! What dedication! What sacrifice!")
Jim wrote to ask, "What novelists would you suggest I read to get more acquainted with fiction in the Christian market?" He then asked me to stay away from the top names (Kingsbury, Dekker, Peretti, Jenkins), since he feels bestseller status allows those authors to pretty much do anything they want.
Some suggestions: Read Quaker Summer and Tiger Lillie by Lisa Samson. The former is a great look at modern Christianity, wrapped in the warm confines of a "Christian women’s novel." The latter was a seminal book for Christian fiction. You can also try Serenity Bay or A Season of Grace from Bette Nordberg. For more along these lines, try a novel from Siri Mitchell or Mary DeMuth or Susan Meissner’s Seahorse in the Thames. Or, to get in touch with women’s novels, I’d encourage you to check out something from Bev Lewis, Cindy Woodsmall, or Francine Rivers. Ginger Garrett’s Chosen is a wonderful read. And if you really want to see where that market is going, check out Kimberly Stuart’s Bottom Line or Rene Gutteridge. (I represent some of these people, so I"m biased.)
For men’s books, definitely pick up one of Brandt Dodson’s Colton Parker books. James Scott Bell is another good choice, as is Randy Singer and Tim Downs. Charles Martin is one of the best novelists in the country, in my view. So is Penelope Wilcock, and you should try her Hawk and the Dove trilogy. Someone who hasn’t been discovered yet is Elizabeth Musser, but her Swan House is a fine read. Another good writer who flies under the radar is Chris Well — try Deliver Us From Evelyn. Wow. Too many names right off the top of my head — I’ve probably left some out, but this should get you started. Feel free to post suggestions in the "comments" section of this blog.
Ashley wrote and said, "I’ve noticed that Charles Martin and Lisa Samson are considered ‘literary novelists.’ In your view, what qualifies someone as a ‘literary’ novelist?"
The term "literary fiction" came into vogue about 25 or 30 years ago, as a way to distinguish what academics and editors considered "serious" books from the more popular "commercial" books. The advent of paperback novels turned everyone into readers, and people wanted the sort of things they could see on television: action, big story, easy-to-understand characters, and the whole thing wrapping up nicely in a few hours. That’s commercial. So while there’s no agreed-upon definition of literary fiction, it usually includes an emphasis on great style, deeper character, and some sort of exploration of the choices people make when faced with the big questions of life (without there being a lot of teaching or pedantry). So think serious-minded stories offered by writers with some sense of moral conviction.
And if you’re interested, humorist David Lubar has suggested that literary fiction is best summed up by "crumbs-in-the-butter" stories — i.e., two people are having tea somewhere, when one notices there are crumbs in the butter, leading her to realize this is a metaphor for life. (He also suggests that having a butterfly die halfway around the world in the next chapter helps, so long as we’re all left clueless about the ending.)
Tiffany wrote to ask, "Do you think we’re going to see less Christian content in novels, and more redemptive books that don’t have clear Christian content? The reason I’m asking is because I’m a charismatic, evangelical, Bible-thumping believer, but I tend to focus on books that are redemptive but not preachy."
I’m not a charismatic. I’m not a Bible thumper. I doubt I qualify as an evangelical. But I suppose I’m as good as any person to answer this question, since I work in the industry and help produce books that reach both believers and non-believers… I think we’re seeing more "generally redemptive" novels, though with the growth of religious fiction in the past couple of years, you’d be hard-pressed to say we’re not still seeing a lot of clearly Christian books. Maintream bookstores have discovered that Christians like (and buy) fiction. Has that led some authors to tone down the religious rhetoric in their novels? Sure it has. But I don’t think we’re seeing people water down their faith. In fact, I’d argue that my experience at Time-Warner proved to me that publishers and readers are willing to accept clear faith content, so long as it’s well done. Like with most things in life, people want clarity.
And Ben writes, "If a manuscript doesn’t fall exactly in a standard CBA novel category, but comes close and may provide a bridge between genres, does the book stand a chance? I ask because I’m writing a novel set in 16th Century Japan, but it’s more of a male action-adventure, and the market for swordplay and history in CBA seems mostly channelled through romance novels."
I’d say you’ve got an uphill climb trying to sell a historical novel aimed at a male readership to a CBA house. There’s certainly an audience for it in the general market (think of the Patrick O’Brian or Bernard Cornwell series), but CBA’s male readership seems mostly focused on contemporary stories.