More Wisdom from a Fiction Publisher
October 27, 2007 | Written by admin
So long as I’m talking with fiction types, I figured I should contact the guy who bought my first book (lo, these many years ago). Dave Horton is one of the good guys in the industry, and a longtime voice for quality Christian fiction. He has successfully discovered and published numerous authors, and now he’s going to be stepping into a new role at Bethany House Publishers. We exchanged emails recently to talk about the industry and the changes going on…
Dave, what do you see that is working (and not working) in fiction for Bethany House?
"I’m often asked why historical fiction works so well at BHP. Part of the reason for its ongoing demand is that so many reader got into the habit when Christian fiction offered little else. And habits, once formed, aren’t easily broken. In addition, while other publishers have been in and out of historial fiction, we’ve never waved inour commitment to it. Retailers and readers know who to call (and what to expect) when they want historicals.
"Even though historical fiction has succeeded marvelously at Bethany House for nearly three decades, we’re experiencing sales success with contemporary titles, too. In fact, the latter group figures among our bestsellers every year. There are growing numbers of readers who didn’t come of age in the glory years of Janette Oke and Bode Thoene, or who simply have other preferences, and we’re working hard to offer them options. Do those options work as well as historical fiction for us? Not all, but some certainly do. Actually, it’s probably an unfair comparison, even in the general market. Historical fiction is a broad category, and we often try to compare it to categories that are quite narrow by definition. In any case, we’re making some encouraging headway in suspense, women’s fiction, books geared for men, and others, and we are committed to maintaining breadth in our fiction line."
You’ve been in the industry since, um, the Harding Administration, I think. What changes do you see going on in Christian fiction these days? And is there anything about the future you can tell us about?
"Yeah, me and Warren G go way back. One change I’ve noticed is that the Christian fiction ‘box’ has expanded a great deal, especially in the past ten years. Make no mistake about it, we’re not generally ‘outside the box’ yet, but in terms of genres (or sub-genres), time periods, settings, character types, subject matter in general, and writing quality, things have changed considerably. Christian fiction is harder to define (or completely dismiss), its realitic intended audience is broader, and the number of writers being published successfully has increased dramatically. Recent encouraging signs: Fantasy fiction has a small but growing audience, historical fiction no longer has to be deadly serious, and wildly imaginative work is making inroads where once it was completely marginalized.
"Another change I’ve seen over the last few years is an increasingly cinematic orientation in the author community. Movies are more talked about than books, or so it seems. There is a big push to write ‘cinematically,’ and the cultural validation that presumably comes with having a novel adapted for the big screen or DVD seems more and more to be the brass ring. But we may be losing sight of the fact that the novel is its own art form. It’s not a movie. It need not — in fact, cannot — replicate a movie. Of course, novels can be adapted into movies, but a screenplay is never the same as a novel. Among the so-called ‘faith- based’ movies, the screen adaptations seem significantly inferior to the novels, in terms of the faith element, as well as in terms of the story itself. Hopefully the situation will improve, but writing a novel with a movie in mind, or writing a novel based on a movie concept, doesn’t seem to me to be the best way to serve readers.
"We seem to go through phases of expansion and consolidation in publishing. Success in ficton (or with a particular genre) incites others to jump on the bandwagon. There is an ensuing flurry of publishing activity, followed by a few successes and more failures. Changes are made. Companies are sold. Editors are laid off or reassigned. Authors are displaced. Novels are orphaned and fade into oblivion.
"Nobody is perfectly able to forecase the future, and who can blame someone for wanting to pursue a publishing model that seems successful? But the ramifications for authors of this ‘now-we’re-in/now-we’re-out’ industry see-saw are particularly difficult. I worry that writing careers may get off on the wrong track, or get sidetracked altogether, because some publishing executives mistakenly think fiction publishing is easy money. "
Though it has had a track record of big success, your own company, Bethany House, was sold a couple years ago to the Baker Group. Can you tell us what is happening with your role during all these changes?
"You’ve probably heard that Gary and Carol Johnson will be transitioning to part-time roles here at Bethany House in March ’08. I’ve been asked to step into Carol’s current role (Vice President, Fiction Editiorial) at that time. Following in her footsteps would seem daunting to anyone, I’m sure, but it helps a great deal that I’ve worked with our gifted, experienced editorial staff for nearly a decade already. Given the strong foundation Carol and Gary have established here, I thnk we have a lot to which we can look forward. "
My thanks to Dave for stopping in to join us. Interesting stuff on the "cinematization" if fiction, as well as his thoughts on career-building for authors. Let me know what you think.