Why bother with Christian publishers?

Over on Mike Duran’s blog, he asked, Do Christian publishers know how to market to men?

This is part of an ongoing debate that Christian speculative fiction writers have. They’re writing about space ships, aliens, fantasy worlds and magic. Whereas the Christian market is geared toward middle-aged women who are primarily interested in romance, particularly anything set in a Little House on the Prairie setting, or among the Amish.

Needless to say, aliens and epic fantasy don’t sell well to that particular demographic.

So Mike said,

Because Women’s / Historical fiction is the wheelhouse of the CBA, publishing houses are now designed to crank out this product. A new title rolls in and the marketing department just rearranges all the typical pieces: bonnet, covered wagon, parasol, petticoat, doe-eyed lass. Check, check, check! It’s a quick cut-and-paste affair. The economy has forced Christian publishers into “safe mode.” So when a horror, crime, fantasy, literary, or sci-novel rolls in, it’s the equivalent of adding a fifth wheel to an assembly line of carriages.

They don’t market to men hardly at all. They throw their male audience a few bones now and then with the likes of Ted Dekker and his copycats. But that’s about it. Cue lots and lots of hand-wringing among the Christian spec-fic writers, who can’t find a market for their books. There’s lots of strategy about how to break into the Christian market.

But I think the whole debate is mistargeted.

I’ve been researching audience and market and all that jazz for months and months now, trying to figure out where I’m going to slot my books in. The Christian market is for middle-aged women who like bonnets and buggies. And that’s fine, because that’s that particular niche. Why should we try to change that?

If we want a market for Christian-oriented spec fic, we’ll have to go out and create the market ourselves.

I’ve been following the wide, weird world of YA, and man, they MAKE this market. They buy and read gobs of YA, talk about them, give them away, write more, and buy/read it. It’s a circle, and like a giant Katamari book ball, it gets bigger the farther it rolls.

Christian spec fic is still in its infancy, and trying to shoehorn it into a market that doesn’t want it isn’t the way to go. I think we need to make our own market. Buy books. Read them, review them, give them away, and write more. Out in YAland, they do this in enormous quantities. There’s been small-scale attempts at this with blog hops and things.

But you know, when I first started looking for Christian spec fic, I couldn’t find a darn thing. So I just went to the library and yanked titles off the shelves. Guess what! Most of these C-spec-fic books don’t end up in the library because they’re through indie publishers. If you want ’em in there, you have to request the library buy them.

I’ve run across lots of Christian speculative fiction out there in secular book-land. The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, Harry Potter, and The Dragon’s Tooth come to mind. And I doubt anybody would even catch on that that’s what they are. Because the authors are very tasteful and don’t hold an altar call. They just tell a good story. That’s all Christian spec-fic is. Good stories with a Christian worldview.

And trying to mash those sorts of books into a market oriented toward middle-aged white evangelical women isn’t the way to go.

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Play table

Over the weekend, my parents-in-law came by to pick up some of their furniture in storage. They brought us a few things, including this great playtable.

Playtable!

A friend built it for my husband when he was little, and they’ve saved it all these years for the grandkids. And boy, does it make a great place to draw pictures and build legos!

Happily pointing at the camera right as I snap the picture.

The behbeh loves my camera. She’s always trying to steal it, and she can’t hold still when I’m trying to take her picture. She’s also not interested in walking. Crawling is good enough for her, and she goes like lightning.

Pondering publishing

I’ve been bouncing back and forth for a while about how to publish Spacetime. Self-publish? Indie-publish? Traditional-publish?

I’m not helped out by articles that argue very persuasively for each side.

Like the Indie Author’s checklist, and its second part. Major success stories like this one.

Then you hear about the downside, like “There will be no more professional writers in the future“. And the downside of, well, actually reading a self-published book.

Then there’s articles like these, that talk about getting signed with a publisher, and how much work their editors made them do on a book they thought was okay. But you know what? Their book was readable afterward. Like, by human beings. Like, by human beings who would pay money to read it.

So as I bounce around, reading all of these conflicting elements, I’m beginning to distill a few things out of it all.

First: The people making money self-publishing are people who have been traditionally published, and are trained by their editors to self-edit. Most greenhorns just starting to write don’t have that kind of training.

Second: If your first book doesn’t get edited, it won’t make any money if you self-publish. Rejections are a sign that the book needs editing.

Third: I don’t want to be that shmuck who goes through an indie publisher who gives my book a once-over and declares it good, only to have nobody read it because, heavens, look at all those grammar errors on the first page!

Fourth: I need the training an editor can give me.

Fifth: But I have to finish the book first. It always comes back to that, doesn’t it?

So those are my thoughts, as I’ve been bouncing between the two camps. And it is a war between traditional publishers and self-publishers. But you know, even the guy who wrote Wool (that post-apoc book) didn’t publish his first draft, I guarantee it.

Me and my dragon, part 2

Still chewing on this concept. Been brainstorming different things a person might do with different kinds of dragons.

If one had a swimming Nessie kind of dragon, one might hang out in the water all summer:

If it was a smallish, dog-kind of dragon, you might play fetch …

This one turned into a pterosaur because pterosaurs make such far out dragons. It’s holding a toy out to its disinterested master, trying to coax him into playing.

Then I went and looked at sculptures of skinny, snaky Chinese dragons. They were about the size of a horse, so you might do horse things with one.

I like the idea of it having horn-like spikes that it moves around like eyebrows. Like a four-legged cockatoo.

I’m slowly closing in on ideas I’d like to actually finish.

My love list

Today I’m participating in the YA Highway Road Trip: My WIP Love List! It’s from a nice lady named Stephanie Perkins, who said this:

Whenever I begin a new project, I also begin a list called “What I Love About This Story.” I start by writing down those first ideas that sparked the fires of my mind, and then I add more ideas to it as I discover them during my push through early drafts.

It’s a fantastic idea. It’s also so much fun to visit all these people’s blogs and see if the things they love about their work are things that I love, too. It’d be great if lists like this appeared on the backs of books, because then we’d know if we wanted to read those things.

Here’s my list for my current Spacetime story:

Fast cars
Throwing fireballs around
An Indiana Jones whip made of lightning
Werewolf angst
Deathwalkers
The chained blackwing angelus
Brother and sister relationship, mostly friendly
The cute catgirl with the overprotective grandfather
Other worlds
The wrong side of the law
Doing the right thing and being punished for it
Secret pact with Dad
Heroes who look at the facts and draw the wrong conclusions

Gosh, it makes me excited just writing it down. I want to go write some more!

It occurred to me that I can write a similar love list about my life in general. So here it is:

The laughter of children
My son’s dawning realization that he can both read and do math
My daughter writing her name for the first time
My husband’s smile
Brownies
A fresh, cool morning
Gorgeous, puffy tropical clouds
Approaching fall
Pumpkins
Dinner simmering in the crockpot
Long pants
Getting to wear my fingerless gloves again
Walks to the park

Some of those are still in the future, but it’s nice to look forward to them. September is next week!

Just me and my dragon, part 1

There’s a dragon club on deviantart having a contest. The theme is “Just me and my dragon.” The trouble is, pretty much all the entries so far look like this:

A human, usually a girl, with a dragon all coiled around her, friendly-like. (Mine is actually feeding the dragon, which is slightly different).

So I’m trying to think of something different. What kind of activities might you do if you and your dragon just hung out together? And I don’t mean flying, because person riding a flying dragon pics are a dime a dozen. At least pics with Temeraire, Laurence could be shown reading him a book, because that’s pretty much Temeraire’s favorite activity ever.

First day of school

Today was our first day of homeschooling, and it went great. I forgot how tired my brain gets, though. Since I forgot to take pictures, here’s some pictures of a few weeks ago.

Sidewalk art by the oldest munchkin.

We started off with Bible time. We have a zillion childrens’ Bibles, so I tried out a new one this morning. It has awesome pictures. Then we did some math, and swapped over to our reading comprehension (Beatrix Potter with questions afterward). Then Munchkin 1 got to sit and draw for a bit while I drilled letters with Munchkin 2. She does best just singing the alphabet song.

Youngest munchkin watering the plants.

Then Munchkin 1 and I reviewed all of his vocabulary words we collected this summer, and I declared us finished for the day. It was about an hour and a half of non-stop work. I know if I was doing a real kindergarten, we’d break out the gluesticks and glitter. But I don’t have that much stamina.

A kitten was discovered. Three of them, actually.

This morning I wanted to make something special to have for a snack. So I tried to make blueberry muffins with my stored-up cherries. They came out kind of goopy. I declared them turnovers.

They tasted wonderful and we’ve devoured nearly all of them. I might have to make another batch tomorrow.

So that was our first day of school! Thank goodness for naptime. 🙂

Horseback rider sketches

I’ve been trying to do more sketches the last few days, but it’s just been one thing after another. Then I reinstalled Windows and you know how that goes. All your stuff is still there, but Windows doesn’t know about it, so everything gets a reinstall. Everything’s sure fast now, though.

I’ve been wanting to sketch more people on horseback, because it’s so funky to draw. The human body kind of settles into the horse’s back. I need more practice, but this was all I was able to squeak in before small people got in my lap.

Tomorrow I start school with the munchkins, so we’ll see how that goes. They’re very excited. I’m sure they’ll want to do school the instant they wake up in the morning.

Author interview: Jess Owen

I loved Song of the Summer King so much (the griffin book), I asked Jess Owen if she’d do an email interview. And she agreed! Here it is, complete with some of her artwork, plus the book cover spread at the bottom.

First, tell us a little about yourself. What got you interested in writing?

Jess: Reading probably got me interested in writing. I’m one of those who’s “been writing since I could hold a pencil.” Mom and Dad read to my sister and me, and I think that’s how a lot of people fall in lovewith writing. My first story was when I was six, about Buzzie the Bee (I guess I’ve always loved animal fiction?) I have always, always written stories. It’s only been in the last five years or so that I took a true, professional interest and really worked to make my writing “good.”

Gryfons and wolves. Why gryfons and wolves?

I’ve always loved wolves. They were an obsession when I was a teenager and still are. As a fantasy creature they’ve got everything-beauty, loyalty, ferocity and a wonderful animal mysticism. Gryfons are an incredible creation–sort of the centaurs of the animal world; caught
between heaven and earth. When people ask what ‘animal would you be’ I could never chose between eagle or lion. With gryfons, you get both!

As far as the combo…I have a series of drawings I made when I was about twelve that involves gryfons and wolves in some sort of rivalry. Those images came back to me one slow day at work–one of a gryfon and wolf battling to the top of a cliff (sound familiar?) This idea got me asking all the writerly “why” questions and I realized it could be great ground for a story. The world and the war and the ideas came to me. Then I found Shard.

Did you expect to exceed your kickstarter goal the way you did?

I had a secret little hope that I would. I’m really optimistic most of the time 😀 And it’s a good thing I exceeded it because with shipping and costs, the funds are turning out to be Just Enough! It was really amazing, and exciting. Still is. I’m planning to run another one for book 2, next year.

I loved the differences between the Aesir and the Vanir tribes. Eagles and falcons, respectively. How did you come up with them?

I knew they had to be very different. I drew the names and essence of Vanir and Aesir from the old Norse legends (I didn’t want to go with typical English/Welsh based fantasy names). The Aesir I saw as conquering Vikings in a way, and they had to be bigger, stronger and fiercer. The Vanir are quieter and more closely knit to their past and the earth, but they had to have great strength too. So they’re more like sea birds, smaller and faster, but still powerful raptors.

I thought the wolves had a bit of Native American inspiration to them, especially as Catori wore feathers in her neck. Is that what you intended?

Yes! With all the respect to the real, living people, I used the Hopi Native American tribes as a launch point for the wolf culture.They’re an intrinsically peaceful people, close to the earth, and that was how I saw the wolves. I say “launch point” because there are obviously
things that are my own creation, just like they aren’t truly like real wolves, and I’m well aware of things that aren’t realistic about the pack. But it’s fantasy, and they had to have their own culture.

I see the wolf packs and the Vanir of the Silver Isles interacting the way the Inuit tribes and early, more mellow Viking settlers did (there’s record of their interaction!). To each their own, sort of thing. Then the Aesir came.

Do you have a sequel in the works?

Summer King will be a trilogy. The second book is slotted for next fall (2013), with hardbacks out by Christmas (2013).

Without giving too much away of Summer King, will the sequel involve dragons?

“One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of
firing it.” ~~Playwright, Anton Chekhov

The Silver Isles were a fascinating setting, filled with surprises. I loved the Daynight, and the caves, and the volcano where the Aesir burn their dead. How did you come up with all that?

The Silver Isles are based heavily on the geography of Iceland. It’s an incredibly diverse and fantastic landscape. When we were closer to the earth, our culture, beliefs and habits were built around the geography we came from. These animals are completely a part of their natural element so their behaviors have to match it. As I built the history and the cultures of the gryfons I also had amazing writer friends who suggested that they needed specific burial rituals and connection to their dead and so on. So you play with what the setting gives you.

Have you done artwork of your gryfon characters? I’d particularly love to see what Stigr looks like. Or Sverin in full war regalia.

I have old pictures of them. But I want to do new ones before anyone
sees the old ones 😉

Thank you so much for participating in this interview! Any last tips for aspiring authors?

Finish your book! Then write another one.


Song of the Summer King illustration by Nambroth