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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Critical Thinking


We had a special writers’ group last night. Our fearless leader invited an editor for a major Christian publishing house to speak. The audience was all women, most of whom wrote fantasy and/or romance and/or historical. If you’ve considered publishing in the CBA (Christian Brokers Associations), you’ll find some good stuff here. If not, you may find some good stuff, anyway.

(Please note that by “Christian” I mean the conservative Protestant market. Not that there’s anything wrong with the other markets; that’s just who he happened to work with and the short-hand terminology that was used.)

When my friend announced the editor was coming, I jokingly said, “Great. He can tell us how awful the industry’s doing in person.” Both she and her daughter piped up, “Yeah, but he’ll be really nice about it!” And he was. He said that as an editor at a publishing house, he feels that his #1 responsibility is to his authors—those he’s signed and even those whose submissions he’s passed on. Loyalty to the company is in there, but he first and foremost wants his authors to succeed. To that end, if he doesn’t think he can make a book successful, he won’t take it, even if it’s the best book in the world. It’s not to the best interest of the author or the book.

Someone asked about platform—blogs, Twitter, “finding your tribe.” He said it is essential to “find your tribe,” but he wasn’t enthusiastic about blogs, and he wasn’t sure about Facebook. We were pretty much at a loss as to where this mythological “tribe” might be. New Guinea, perhaps? Not much internet, there. But, at the end of the day, word-of-mouth trumps every other platform. And this includes saturating your local bookstores (“local” meaning within a several-state radius), and talking to them personally about your book.

As an editor, his job used to be to find really great authors who knew their craft. Now it’s about landing the next big name. He literally said, “It’s about finding the next Joel Osteen.” That didn’t sit well with us, as you can imagine, and it doesn’t sit well with him, either.

Here was something that personally shocked me. I thought the whole thing was a lot more passive aggressive, but it turns out to be very straight-forward: if a Christian publisher is finishing up a book that has the slightest bit of edge to it, they will take it to Lifeway (the bookstore branch of the Southern Baptist Convention) and ask if it’s okay. They will then go to the author with Lifeway’s comments and ask the author to make the changes. The CBA market (Lifeway, Family, and Mardels, to name the biggies) make up 35% of retail business for Christian books. Amazon and Walmart are growing, but the CBA market still rules the roost. The key question always on the minds of bored publishers is: “How far can we push the envelope and still sell to Family?”

That’s a big question with a lot of little answers. Dragons are okay; brownies are not. Thriller, even horror, is all right; sci fi doesn’t work (try Marcher Lord Press). Regional, historical romances are in like Flynn; female reverends who serve the sacraments, not so much. Oh, and Christmas-themed books are fine, but retailers will yank them off the shelves come the first of January.

What they do need: books for tweens that don’t kill brain cells. Strong YA fiction that intrigues the readers with relevant topics and doesn’t freak out home-schooling parents (no one’s talking about you, Vidad!). He contrasted what the secular YA market offers (vampires, werewolves, and…vampires) and what the CBA market offers (slowly growing out of brain-killing boredom). And the age-group are voracious readers, so they need a lot. (Who has that Nicki, monster-slayer series going? Get that thing written!)

It’s also about the trilogy. We were allowed to ask one question or give a pitch. In response to several pitches, he asked, “Do you have an idea for a trilogy?” (My answer: “I could come up with something…”) Christian book retailers want to know that more will be coming. They like consistency. Hence all the Amish romances (or “bonnet-rippers” as my friend calls them).

In the end, the CBA market is just as confusing as the secular market. He’s seen Thunderbird, and apparently had no comment. I pitched another YA, anti-Twilight, Jane Austen-adaptation, and he said, “Cool,” with slightly glazed-over eyes. When my friend-the-author prompted me, I pitched my 8-yo-boy-goes-into-space-and-learns-about-jet-engines-and-rockets story.

He said, “Send it to me.”


I soooo do not get publishing.

Kersley Fitzgerald just remembered she has half a cookie in her purse. And will be editing Joshuwu tomorrow.

She will be editing
Joshuwu tomorrow. The cookie offered, but she ate it.
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