Biblical Fiction: Dead or Alive?

At the writers conference I attended in March, I had an opportunity to meet with someone who is the head of a Christian agency and well known in Christian publishing. I didn’t go with the plan of talking with him, so was pretty proud of myself for taking the plunge. I knew it would be a good experience, both to speak with him and to hear his thoughts on the book I’m writing. Now, I was not expecting much–no, I really didn’t think I would tell him about my story, he would respond with delight, and hand me a contract on the spot. The dream is there but I was feeling pretty realistic. However, I have spent a bit of time thinking over some of the things he said, and I have to admit, I am still puzzled by his attitude.

His first response to my pitch of “I’ve written an historical novel about Solomon growing up in King David’s palace,” was “People aren’t reading Biblical fiction. That just doesn’t sell, and no one is publishing it.”

I was stunned and, yes, I’m a bit of a slow thinker, so it wasn’t until I was back in my hotel room that I thought: “What about Tessa Afshar? Ginger Garrett? Connilyn Cossette? Francine Rivers? Jill Eileen Smith? Stephanie Landsem? Mesu Andrews? These writers may not be on the New York Times bestseller list, but they are all publishing Biblical fiction and doing reasonably well. I am currently reading Tessa Afshar’s Land of Silence, am enjoying it, and believe it is very well written. 

Did I misunderstand him? No, the conversation went on from there as he explained the ups and downs of Biblical fiction and told me why no one was interested in that any more. Of course, I tried to tell him that my book was special and many people would be interested in it and love to read it. Well, I didn’t exactly say all that, but I did spend more time telling him of my story, but I did not leave with a positive impression.

Looking through the authors I mentioned above, I found they were published by six different publishers, so there seems to be quite a few publishers still interested in these books.

So, am I wrong, and is he right? Are people not interested in reading Biblical fiction? What about you? Have you read any of these authors lately? Have you any others to add and recommend?

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The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers–Betsy Lerner

forest for the trees

Writers, Agents, and Editors! Oh, my! Different animals that work together to bring forth stories, articles, and books.  As a writer, I know I need to understand what agents are looking for (as well as publishers) and how exactly editors can be helpful to my writing. It is easy when you are struggling to be noticed and published to see these animals as the enemy that must be overcome and appeased, but it is much better to look at them as those who are working in the same game that you are, and who are wanting to help you achieve excellence in writing.

In the July/August edition of Poets & Writers, I read an article by Betsy Lerner in which she discusses being a writer, an editor, and an agent (all titles she has held and can proudly claim). She discusses the three different occupations–their differences and yet how they work together.

Enjoying the article, I found her book, The Forest for the Trees at the library and brought it home. The chapter titles themselves were intriguing: “The Ambivalent Writer”, “The Self-Promoter”, and “The Neurotic”; to name a few.

Working as an editor for many years, Lerner has a great understanding of writers and their many neuroses and phobias. I found myself laughing at something in every chapter; and though she is probably using humor deliberately, I’m afraid she is also very serious.

Among my favorite quotes:

“Try to remember that the time before you publish is the only time you will ever work in complete freedom. After you’re published you will be forced to contend with the shockingly real voices of critics, agents, editors, and fans. You never get to be a virgin after the first time, and more to the point, you never again have the luxury of writing in total obscurity. But like the married person who bemoans the loss of freedom from her single days, the published author who longingly recalls her past obscurity is a little hard to sympathize with. Though you may suffer from loneliness after you’re married, it’s bad form to complain about it to your single friends.” (“The Ambivalent Writer”, p. 29).

“Some of the most gifted writers I’ve worked with were also the most self-sabotaging. Lack of discipline, desire for fame, and depression often thwart those whose talents appear most fertile, while those who struggle with every line persevere regardless.” (“The Natural”, p. 33).

“Whoever you are, whatever your bizarre behaviors, I say cultivate them; push the envelope. Becoming a writer never won anybody any popularity contests anyway. And most writers couldn’t win one if they tried.” (“The Neurotic”, p. 101).

“Like finding a tennis partner whose ability is a notch above your own, you will play better if your partner’s game challenges yours. All you really need during those long years when rejection may get the better of you is one friend with whom you can share your work, one fellow writer with whom you can have an honest exchange.” (“Rejection”, p. 169).

This is a book I know I need to read more than once–for enlightenment, wisdom, and encouragement. Not only does it help to give me a better understanding of myself as a writer (and my fellow writers), but even more it gives me insight on those creatures known as editors, publishers, and agents.