Today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is books we wish had more/less of something in them. And of course, I’m going to tweak that just a bit 🙂
In June last year, I did a post about Why I Love Christian Fiction. It’s still one of my most-read posts, and every once in a while someone new discovers it and it makes the rounds again. I love it! Because I DO very much love Christian fiction and all its great subgenres.
And while I am perhaps its biggest champion (in body and in spirit!), I am also not blind to the areas where it could improve. The things on my list today are challenges/reminders (not criticisms) for me, as much as they are for the industry and other readers. It’s come a long way, baby, from the earliest days of Christian fiction and I see great days ahead in its future.
There is absolutely still a place for Christian fiction that is written for Christians for whom faith is neat and tidy – or for those who wish it were. But there is also a much-needed place, a craving even, for Christian fiction that isn’t afraid to face the messiness of faith head on. To tackle the sins that no one else writes about. To address the doubts and struggles that we’re sometimes afraid to voice. To expose the grittiness of grace and the marvel of redemption. I’m so thankful for a handful of authors who are already doing this so well – Jennifer Rodewald, Kristen Heitzmann, Katie Ganshert, Cynthia Ruchti, Pepper Basham, and others. Jesus died a messy death for our messy sin… and even though we’ve been covered in His grace, life IS still messy because we live in a messy world. If Christian fiction is going to be relevant to the hurting people who live and breathe and cry and laugh in the mess, we need to show how to find joy and peace in the raw reality of walking in faith despite our struggles.
“Red, brown, yellow, black and white… They are precious in His sight.” True. Yet they don’t show up in Christian fiction all that much 😉 This is something I’m just starting to become more aware of, as I don’t really pay attention to the ethnicity of characters when I read. BUT I recognize that it’s an imperative issue in our world today, and as Christians we need to reflect Jesus in our approach to current events as much as our approach to history. I’m privileged to be part of a new blog that just started up – Diversity Between The Pages – and I’m hoping to expand my own understanding of and sensitivity toward ethnic diversity in the process.
Maybe this is one that I’m more sensitive to because of my work with internationals, but y’all. For those of us who live in the United States or Canada or Great Britain, the world has come to our door. And books (of any genre), particularly those set in any large city at home or abroad, that don’t reflect a diversity of religions are not reflecting an authentic view of the world around us. Now please hear what I’m saying and what I’m not saying, because I realize I’m opening a can of worms with this one. lol. I’m not saying that we need stories about converting your Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu or atheist neighbor, in some sort of fiction-driven revival of the crusades 😉 I’m also not saying that the main characters in Christian fiction should be people of other faiths. But I am saying that a little diversity – not just of the ethnic kind – in our fictional neighborhoods and communities and cities and schools would better represent the world we live in today. ❤
Like… Canada! (Ok, that was just for Melony Teague lol) But seriously…. not everything has to be set in the US or Great Britain. While I love those settings, I also love learning about places I’m not familiar with and may never get to travel and see. Let’s have some more Christian fiction set in China, Japan, Korea, India, tropical islands, Australia (can I get an amen from my Aussie friends?), New Zealand (love you, Kara Isaac!), South America, Africa, and yes… Canada. 🙂 Let’s not have it all be missionary stories either, please? Those are fine but diversity is on my heart lately, so maybe we could mix up the type of stories we set in other places too? Europe makes for excellent stories (France!!! Sweden!! Italy!! Spain!!) but I’d love some more contemporary ones set there, not just historicals. (I’m not being demanding or anything, am I? LOL)
This one may seem redundant after the previous four, but my heart behind this particular suggestion is really more directed at publishers and agents. I’m part of a Facebook group for Christian publishing industry peeps, and – well, first, they are SUCH a blessing to me every day. But they’ve also inspired a lot of this post, and during one of our discussions, we were talking about wishing that the Christian fiction industry would take a risk. As one author put it, “Leap to where the market hasn’t been.” Ohhhhh yes please!!! Let’s risk a little pushback by daring to break away from the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality. Let’s take a chance on authors who want to write messy faith, subtle faith, diversity, etc. Of course this is an industry like any other, and certain business practices make the most sense. I get that. But sometimes the greatest successes happened because someone took a leap of faith.
Now I want to talk to Christian Fiction READERS!
In preparation for this post, I asked authors on Facebook what they wished Christian Fiction readers would do more often. Here’s what they said:
I’m guilty of not doing this, too. It gets comfy inside our comfort zones (shocking!) and we like our fave genres and authors. But I am discovering that the more I step outside that reading comfort zone, the more fave genres and books and authors I discover. Case in point – I never liked first person POV… until I started reading Dawn Crandall and Varina Denman and several others who have mastered this. Now, a well done first person POV is one of my favorite perspectives to read.
So, my challenge to CF readers is this: Try a new author this month. Try a new genre. Try a new publisher. Try a book that doesn’t have the most professional looking cover. Don’t stay stuck in a rut! You might find some delightful new friends along the way 😀
There are, thankfully, Christian fiction authors (and Christian authors of fiction) who are writing novels of excellence that take risks – novels that focus on messy faith, novels that look a bit grittier than your mama’s Christian fiction, novels that incorporate less obvious/more subtle nudges of faith, novels that don’t seem to have any faith markings at all. As author Rachel McMillan (Herringford and Watts series) said, “understand that just because a book doesn’t spout overt evangelism, doesn’t mean a christian worldview wasn’t carefully and symbolically interwoven into its fabric.”
Lenora Worth, author of the Men of Millbrook Lake series added, “be kind” in the context of leaving reviews (which I’m going to talk about in a moment) but I want to focus on that under this topic too. If you read a book that’s too risky for you (i didn’t say risque… though I guess that applies here too lol) or too gritty or not overtly spiritual enough for you….. if it uses slang you don’t prefer or more PDA than you’re comfy with …. if the author (gasp!) crosses over into the general market …. you are certainly entitled to your opinions but as followers of Jesus we are also called to be KIND to each other. Friends, there’s just no excuse for the hateful reviews I’ve seen for books by some of these dear and brave risk-takers. Reviews that have little to do with the book and are instead full of vitriol about the condition of their souls. There’s no room for that in God’s family. None. Don’t make me break out my “teacher eyes” or my purse-whomping purse, now ❤
This category is one that I might not have included had I not asked the authors themselves for suggestions. Most of the others I’d already roughly sketched in, and their ideas helped me solidify what I wanted to say. But this one – while it seems so obvious now – might have slipped by me unnoticed.
First – follow your fave authors. Follow new-to-you authors. Heck, follow authors you’ve just barely heard of. Follow them on social media, of course, because that often gives you a really fun and personal glimpse at their books and their lives. But there are also many other ways to follow an author, including their newsletters! Heather Gilbert, author of Forest Child and Miranda Warning, encouraged, “sign up for the author newsletter so you can stay up with all their latest, follow the author on Amazon, Bookbub (for alerts of deals), Goodreads, and elsewhere.”
Second – reach out to an author whose books have meant a lot to you. Most have contact forms on their websites or an email address listed there. Use it to send an encouraging note, a special Bible verse, or just to tell them how much you loved their book or a certain scene or a certain character or two. If you’re part of a book club, arrange a phone call or Skype chat with an author. Cynthia Ruchti (Song of Silence, Restoring Christmas) said, “Readers sometimes think authors are too busy or aren’t interested in hearing directly from their readers. Most of us LOVE IT! It’s fuel and comfort, encouragement and affirmation, and makes a connection that we long for when we write our stories!” Many authors indicated that they keep their favorite emails from readers as encouragement during the tough writing days. Author Sondra Kraak (Such a Hope) also suggested, “Many Christian authors consider writing a ministry. Intercede for them. Ask if they have an influencer team you can be on, which probably doubles as a prayer team. Ask them how you can pray for them. Kingdom building work happens together.”
(A side note: This does not mean that you send the author an email which details everything you don’t like about them or their books. Or every nitpicky detail you found issue with in their latest release. I mean, please. I shouldn’t even have to say this because … BE KIND … but you wouldn’t believe the emails authors have shared with me.)
Third – buy their books! Now, authors totally understand that trade paperbacks aren’t cheap. Neither are some ebooks. They get it. But, as Victoria Bylin (Someone Like You) expressed, “Occasionally buy a new copy of a new release. I love libraries and Half-Price Books, but buying a new book is a little like casting a vote with the publisher.” Cynthia Ruchti explained a little bit more about sales and publishers, “…publishers depend on number of books sold–versus number of books read–when deciding whether or not to offer another contract. So sharing is wonderful, truly wonderful. But sharing a book with six of your friends rather than buying them gift copies or encouraging them to buy a copy may mean the author isn’t given a contract to write more.” And Liz Johnson (Prince Edward Island Dreams series) reiterated buying books as gifts. “We know money can be tight, but if you’re already planning to purchase a gift for someone, consider a new copy of a book that you’ve loved. It’ll support the author and make for a great conversation piece between friends.” If you get the first book in a series free during an Amazon promo, consider buying the following books. As Heather Gilbert said, “This is what pays authors’ bills!”
This suggestion was second only to “leave reviews” (which I’m covering next, I promise) in the answers I received from authors. Most libraries have a suggestion form that you can use when requesting that they carry a certain book. Make sure you follow their rules, though. In my library system, for instance, we can’t request a book that’s newer than a year old. Otherwise, my library is very generous in ordering the books I’ve asked them to carry.
Liz Johnson explained why this is such a big deal – “…asking local libraries to carry the book is a great way to support authors. Especially when the library system is large. Some cities have a system with fifteen or more branches, so when they order a book, they may order 5 or 10 copies, so there’s almost enough for every branch.” And author Sally Bradley (Kept, Homestands) added, “It’s another sale that helps us keep writing, and it helps readers find us too.“
Amazon is fabulous. I love Amazon. Last year, Amazon Prime saved me $250 in shipping alone. But, Susie Finkbeiner – the author of A Cup of Dust – said when you’re considering where to make a book purchase, “Amazon is all right but a brick and mortar store is better.” This is particularly in relation to bestseller lists’ which help with exposure which then leads to more sales which then leads to publishing contracts.
Overwhelmingly, the single most popular answer I received from the authors who responded was “LEAVE REVIEWS“. I mean… it got rather humorous after a while lol. But this. Y’all. You don’t have to review like I do. In fact, if you don’t have a blog with white space to fill, don’t review like I do.
DO leave a short, sweet, to-the-point sentence or two saying if you liked the book or not. Maybe even mention a favorite quote or favorite character. DON’T copy or paraphrase the book summary. People can read that for themselves (Picture Will Smith teaching Kevin James how to dance in Hitch – “They don’t need pizza, they got their own food.”) DON’T give away spoilers!!! Closely related to that – DON’T summarize the entire plot, including the ending. And more than anything, DO be kind. As Lenora Worth said, “Accept that writers are human. We sometimes make mistakes or take the story in a direction you might not like. Forgive us, please. This is a great job but it’s very taxing mentally at times. It’s an emotional job and we try to get it right. Be kind, please.”
But reviews aren’t the only way you can talk about your fave book or author. Heather Gilbert had some awesome ideas – “…put the book on the correct Listopia lists on Goodreads (like a card catalogue for books), ask about becoming an influencer for that author … nominate the books you love for reader contests (like the INSPYs)… I’m sure you all know this, but many don’t think of Listopia or contests and those are nice boosts for an author.“ Liz Johnson also elaborated on something that a lot of authors agreed about – “I love when readers share pictures of my books out in the wild. Sometimes it’s on a bookstore shelf. Even better when they spot someone reading a book in public. Most authors I know have never seen anyone they don’t know reading one of their books, but it’s a bit of a dream. If you see someone reading one of your favorite author’s books, ask if you can take a pic and send it to the author. It’ll make the author’s day!” Courtney Walsh (Paper Hearts, Change of Heart) encouraged readers to share about the books on social media, and Kathleen Fuller (Amish of Birch Creek series) said, “Recommend, recommend, recommend. Word of mouth is the number one way people find out about books.”
In closing, I think Heather Gilbert really summed it up best:
What about you? Is there an author whose books have especially touched you? I’m making it easy on you right now – use the comments today to write them a quick note of thanks! I’ll let them know it’s there 🙂