Novel Rocket

Monday, July 28, 2014

7 Christian Classics that Could Not Be Published in Today's Christian Market

I guest posted at Speculative Faith a couple years back, and my article Why Fiction is the Wrong Vehicle for Theology garnered some lively, if not predictable, responses. One of my favorite comments was from Melissa Ortega (read it HERE) in which she rattled off "classic novels" that DO contain some heavy theological elements. She writes: 

There are few books that sermonize more than Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables or his Hunchback of Notre Dame. Charles Dickens sermonizes a great deal in A Christmas Carol. G.K. Chesterton’s Napolean of Notting Hill is as Free Will vs. Destiny type of story as one can get. And who can forget his Man Who Was Thursday? with its sermon at the end on becoming, ourselves, the Accuser? The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is an inside-out sermon that preaches on a multitude of sins….from Hell’s point of view, of course. And the Great Divorce steps on very, very specific toes every third paragraph at least.

It's a great comment. While Melissa is spot on about theological themes in classic Christian lit, her observations also show how far we've come in what we call "Christian fiction." 

Many of the books we consider Christian classics could NOT be published in today's Christian market. 

I remember the first time I stumbled upon this phenomenon. I'd just started to pursue a writing career and wanted to familiarize myself with the Christian market. Some of the writers I respected often referenced Flannery O'Connor. I'd never read her and decided to purchase a collection of her short stories. The first Flannery O'Connor story I ever read was "A Good Man is Hard to Find." It stunned me. Why? 

***Spoiler alert*** 

It ends when a shallow, phony Christian woman is faced with her sin -- and possibly converted -- by being murdered by a psychopath. The Misfit, an escaped convict, shoots her three times, puts the gun down, casually cleans his glasses and says, "she would have been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." The End. 


The story seemed so unlike anything I'd read thus far labeled "Christian fiction." Its "theology" was front and center, but the imagery was so stark and the ambiguity so thick, there's no way it could find footing amidst the squeaky clean, predictable, bonnets and romance fare that now dominated the Christian market. (A cursory discussion of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and possible interpretation in THIS Wikipedia article.)

Anyway, Melissa's comment made me think of other Christian classics that would have a hard time being published in today's market. Here's seven of them: 

  • The Man Who was Thursday is sprinkled with mild expletives like “go to hell” (ch. 9), “damn it all” (ch. 2), and my favorite, “You great fat, blasted, blear-eyed, blundering, thundering, brainless, Godforsaken, doddering, damned fool!” (ch. 10). Such language would never see the light of day in Christian fiction. (Note: Christians abhorrence of even mild language in their fiction is evidence of deeply flawed theology.) 
  • A Christmas Carol‘s primary “biblical” lessons are delivered by… ghosts! And everyone knows that ghosts are really demons, right? 
  • The Great Divorce occurs in a sort of purgatorial limbo. But Christians do not believe purgatory is biblical or that souls in hell might get a second chance to glimpse heaven. So strike this as “biblical.” 
  • The Lord of the Rings — Dr. Ralph Wood, Professor of English at Baylor University and a Tolkien expert, in his wonderful essay, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: A Christian Classic Revisited, states that Tolkien, “...called The Lord of the Rings ‘a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.’ Its essential conflict, he insisted, concerns God’s ‘sole right to divine honour’ (Letters, 172, 243).” But despite the author’s stated intent, Wood affirms that “Tolkien’s work is not self-evidently Christian.” In fact, many eschew Tolkien’s classic as “Christian” on the grounds that it employs magic, sorcery, etc. Poor Gandalf. 
  • Dante's Inferno is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Not only might the horrific imagery find resistance in today's market, once again, purgatory is a stumbling block for evangelicals. I'm afraid old Dante must ply his wares in the "secular" classics. 
  • A Wrinkle in Time, though containing many “Christian themes,” has been opposed by many Christian parents on the grounds that it teaches New Age philosophy. And, oh, it has witches. 
  • Flannery O'Connor's works -- Not just language, but the incongruous imagery and ambiguity. Like Hazel Motes, lead character in her first novel Wise Blood, a traveling evangelist who spreads the gospel of "anti-religion," lives with a prostitute (whom he discovers is a nymphomaniac), wraps himself in barbed wire as penance, blinds himself, before killed by an arresting police officer. Signet originally advertised the novel as "A Searching Novel of Sin and Redemption." Ha! Try selling that to today's mainstream Christian readers.

So... what's happened? Why has the Christian market changed so
much? Or is it Christian culture that has changed? And can you think of other "Christian classics" that would find a hard time being published in today's Christian market?


Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


by Cynthia Ruchti

I almost dusted today. Almost vacuumed yesterday. But my deadline for a book releasing next summer is Thursday. So…

I resisted.

Whew. That was a close one.

I've walked past many projects--filing, painting the stool the grandkids use, having lunch with friends, putting clean sheets on the beds in the guest room (they're clean, they just need to be put ON the beds)--because of the deadline. I'm focused. Determined. Researching details. Tweaking. And yes, still writing chapters. Dusting? It's going to have to wait a few more days.

When an acquaintance said "We should meet for coffee" in June, I said, "How about August?" She knew I wasn't kidding. We're only a few days away from that long-awaited get-together. And no, I'm not that much of a slug, avoiding friendships and putting a deadline above relationships. Not always. Travel took me away from home several of the weeks in between. The book I'm working on had a long ways to go in July. My job ramped up in that same time period. And I wanted to use our coffee together as a celebration that I'd made it.

And I have managed to brush my teeth, shower, have the grandkids over, serve at church, make homemade meals more nights than not, encourage others, write blog posts…

But today, I couldn't help but smile…then cringe…over what a deadline can do to a person.

The harsh winter meant that our blueberry crop this summer is suffering. The snow level was so high, the bunnies walked on water--frozen water--to reach the bushes and chewed them down to nubbins. The bushes will bounce back, but the many quarts of blueberries we harvested last summer are small handfuls this year.

In one of my too-rare breaks from the Deadline Computer, I took a short walk outside to see if any blueberries had ripened in the last couple of days. There between scanty bushes, a snake sunned himself. Inches from me.

I checked for ripe blueberries, then turned back toward the house, calling to it over my shoulder. "Yeah, whatever. I'm on deadline."

No time for snake wrangling. No time for caring that a snake was in my garden.


Was Eve on a self-imposed deadline when she sauntered past the blueberries, beets, or beans in Eden, unconcerned that there was a snake in her garden?

I'm willing to bypass dusting and vacuuming and defrosting the freezers when my deadline is so near. But I can't afford to ignore a snake of discontent, or a relationship glitch slithering its way into my home. I don't dare ignore a foul attitude or neglect vital tasks, like filling my soul with God's Word so I can write about God's purposes and with God's passion.

"More than anything you guard, protect your mind, for life flows from it," Proverbs 4:23 CEB.

Until Thursday, and beyond, I'll remain focused on the goal, but not allow myself to become cavalier toward things that slither into relationships or my spiritual health. Too much at stake.

Anything strike you--pardon the pun--in these ponderings?

Cynthia Ruchti is an award-winning author of nine books, including When the Morning Glory Blooms, All My Belongings, and Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People's Choices. She tells stores of Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark through her novels, novellas, devotions, nonfiction, and through speaking events for women and writers. She and her husband of 42 years live in the heart of Wisconsin. or

Saturday, July 26, 2014

10 Things Authors Ought to Know about Book Marketing

Chip MacGregor is the president of MacGregorLiterary, a full-service literary agency on the Oregon Coast. A former publisher with Time Warner, he has worked with authors as a literary agent for more than a dozen years, and was previously a senior editor at two publishing houses. An Oregon native, Chip lives in a small town on the Oregon coast. Chip is also the author of a couple dozen books and a popular teacher on the craft of writing and marketing.

* * * 

Someone recently said to me, "I feel like I keep hearing the same stuff when it comes to book marketing. What would you say are the things we haven't thought of?"

I’m happy to take up that challenge. Here are ten things authors ought to know about book marketing, but many don't...

Don't limit yourself to Amazon
1. When selling your book, don't just limit yourself to Amazon. Sure, they're the biggest ebook retailer and the research suggests they probably sell about 60% of all digital books... but that means 40% of the market is buying their books elsewhere. So get your book onto, get it into the iBookstore, make it available at the Kobe bookstore (which is just starting here in the States, but a big deal in Europe and Asia). If you work with Smashwords, they'll get your book onto all those other sites, by the way.

2. Insert ads into the back of your current backlisted ebooks, promoting your new, soon-to-release title. It's called "cross-selling," and you need to be thinking about it. Sticking an ad for you new book into the back of your current one helps get the word out to people who are already reading you, and build interest in your title as it launches. Most authors won't do this because it's a pain, sticking in a new page in the back of all their old books. But it works - it helps you sell books.

Track your current marketing efforts
3. If you want to become a smarter marketer, track your current marketing. If you keep track of your blog numbers, for example, you'll begin to see what topics generate readers. But many authors never really check to see which marketing is working and which is not. They do the things they are comfortable with, instead of doing the things that their research has proven effective. Does your social media activity generate interest? Does offering something for free on your website generate a bunch of requests? Does having a contest create excitement and sales? In my experience, most authors think they know, but many haven't actually tracked the data to find out what really works when it come to marketing their books.

4. Have a "buy" link for you book on your blog, your website, your social media, and anything that brings readers to you. Giving potential readers a clear path to walk on, a clear method to purchase your book, is part of good marketing, and it's a part that is often overlooked. Many authors want to focus on getting the message of their book out, but they need to also focus on making it clear to everyone who visits how to purchase a copy. Make it easy for them.

5. Try bundling some books for a short time. Take three of your books and sell a three-in-one for the price of one book. Sure, you're giving up money on a couple of sales, but those may be sales you wouldn't make because readers are looking for value. Often "value readers" will buy a bundle because they see it as a deal too good to pass up -- so you've made a sale you otherwise would not have made.

6. Buy an ad. I know... all those Amazon authors have told you that you don't NEED to buy an ad for an ebook. They're all telling you to get onto Facebook and do more social media. But we're still a visual, ad-based culture. So check out the cost of BookBub or RT or BookRiot. Check out the cost of working with Google or BlogAds. Explore what they're doing on One Hundred Free Books. Publicity is marketing that is free; advertising is marketing that is paid for. Sometimes it's worth it to invest in the advertising side of things.

7. Share the facts of your book with your non-social-media
network. Yeah, yeah, you're tweeting and sticking stuff onto Pinterest and you've set up a Facebook page. But what networks do you belong to that might be interested in the fact your wrote a book? Have you had done a talk at your church about your book? Did you send something to everybody in your alumni association? Contact your local radio stations to suggest an interview? Propose a "local boy makes good" article in your local newspaper? Offer to speak to the local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs?

8. Work with other writers who you know are completing books and create a sampler. It will have the first chapter or two of your book, and maybe samples of half a dozen other writers in the same genre. Then you give it away for free to as many people as possible. You could even print up copies very cheaply through Lulu and hand them out. But whether digital or print, make sure you have a clear method for the reader to purchase the rest of your book.

9. Drop the price to 99 cents for a few days. I'm not one who is crazy about giving away a ton of copies any more -- I think there are readers out there with a ton of unread free ebooks on their kindles. But take your ebook and make it really cheap for a few days... so cheap that readers just can't say no. Don't leave it sitting there at one price forever. Do the occasional daily deal. Or do a holiday weekend deal. Mix it up a bit, which will force you to stay on top of it.

Throw yourself a party when you bat .300
10. Throw yourself a party when you  bat .300. (I realize not everybody understands what I'm talking about, so stay with me.) In baseball, every time a batter goes to the plate, they keep a statistic called an "at bat." If a player goes to the plate ten times over the course of a couple games, and gets three hits, he or she is batting .300. That means they failed seventy per cent of the time, but they succeed thirty per cent. Understand the math? Over the course of the season, any batter who gets a hit thirty per cent of the time, and has a batting average of .300 will be considered a HUGE success. A player who batted .300 for an entire career is almost sure to land in the Hall of Fame. In other words, guys who fail seventy per cent of the time at the key element of their sport are considered heroes. (Think about this: The last guy to hit .400 in a season was Ted Williams, arguable the best hitter ever, and that was back in 1941. He failed at the plate sixty per cent of the time... and nobody has been able to duplicate his record in more than seventy years!) So if about 30% of the stuff you do seems to work, throw yourself a party. Don't sweat the 70% that didn't work -- focus on the 30% that DID. Then go repeat it.

There you are. Ten thoughts about book marketing you may not have heard!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Feeling passive?

By Michael Ehret
Go to any writing conference or eavesdrop on any writer’s critique group (both great things for the practicing writer, by the way) and if you hang around long enough, the subject of passive writing will be discussed—and usually with the same conclusion: 

It’s bad. To-be-avoided-at-almost-any-cost bad. 

Well, you won’t get any argument from me that writing in passive voice is best avoided. But how do you avoid it if you’re not sure what it is? 

Active voice

In an active sentence, the subject performs the action.
  • Example 1: Linda dances the samba.
  • Example 2: Bill Withers sings Lean On Me.
In the first example, Linda is the subject and she is dancing the samba, the object of the sentence. In the second, soul singer Bill Withers is the subject and he is singing the song Lean On Me, the object.

Passive voice

Passive voice gets it backward, making the object of the sentence into the subject.
  • Example 1: The samba is danced by Linda.
  • Example 2: Lean On Me is sung by Bill Withers.
Here, the subject has become “the samba” (or the song Lean On Me) and the focus of the sentence has shifted from Linda to the dance (or from Bill Withers to the song).

Prefer the active

Most times, active voice is better. Why? Several reasons:
  1. Active voice sentences use fewer words. “Linda dances the samba” is four words. “The samba is danced by Linda” is six.
  2. Who wants to use weak words? Words like is/am/are/was/were/being/been, etc., are dull. Strong writing includes concrete nouns, powerful verbs, and vivid adjectives.
  3. No one likes confusion. Passive voice is often confusing or unclear.

 Is passive always bad?

You know how it is. Nothing in the English language is always—not even the long-revered serial comma. (Don’t get me started.) But it is good to remember that passive sentences aren’t incorrect. What is true, however, is that passive sentence construction is often not the best way to express your thoughts since it is vague, awkward, and wordy. For examples where passive voice is preferred, visit this page on Grammar Girl’s site.

Michael Ehret loves to play with words as a Marketing Communications Writer for CHEFS Catalog and as a freelance editor at Ehret is the former editor of the ACFW Journal and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Inspiration Fairy (and other urban legends)

by Thomas Smith

It is said to haunt the dark recesses of our reality, flitting in and out just beyond the periphery of our vision. Silent as a shadow, ready to strike full-blown, with little or no warning. Some people wait their whole lives and claim never to have seen it. Others tell remarkable stories about their brushes with the creature, their lives never to be the same after the soul-stirring encounter.

Still others say it’s a load of cow cookies and you should be careful where you step.

Are they talking about Bigfoot?

No. I’ve seen actual pictures of the legendary Sasquatch right on the cover of The National Enquirer.

Could it be the Tooth Fairy?

Not likely. Somebody has to deliver the dimes for those missing molars and bygone bicuspids. And just like a hundred thousand dollar advance check, just because you’ve never seen one, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

No, the fictional creature most likely cooked up when some disgruntled writer received one rejection letter too many is none other than the illusive Inspiration Fairy. Many a fledgling writer has sat staring at a blank computer screen or a blank sheet of typing paper (I’m showing my age here…) waiting for something to happen. Waiting for their muse to send smoke signals above the tree line so that a certain tutu-clad bringer of words could swoop down and whack said writer upon the noggin with the Strunk & White Genuine Official Magic Word Wand (patent pending). Then the words will begin to flow like a NASCAR fan’s kidneys on lap one eighty-seven.


People who wait for this illusive creature are doomed to live a life of unfulfilled dreams and more than a few excuses as to why they don’t write any more than they do.

Thomas F. Monteleone said it this way: “Writing equals ass in chair." The corollary to that singular truth is: Writing is mostly luck: The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Which brings me back to the point. To be a professional writer takes putting hundreds of thousands of words on the page. It takes writing on a regular basis. Writing when you feel like it, and when you don’t. It takes relying on the sum total of your knowledge, your experience, your passions, your boredom, your triumphs, your tragedies, good meals, bad desserts, good friends, bad influences, lazy summer days and frosty winter nights. Faithful dogs, crisp autumn afternoons, sticky red candy apples at the county fair, and mining the whole kit and caboodle for the gems that lie buried within.

In short, writing takes sitting down and plunging in, not waiting for inspiration.
The need to write is inspiration enough. The wealth of living, loving, and life itself stored inside you is more than enough fodder for more stories, articles, plays, greeting cards, cereal boxes, books, songs, and cereal boxes than you can possibly write in your lifetime.

We all have stories inside us. We all have the raw materials needed to translate thought to the written word. We all have the ability to think, to reason, to research, to dream, to take a random thought or idea and turn it into an article, essay, story, play, greeting card, bumper sticker, or novel. And the finished product doesn’t rely on anything other than the God-given talents and abilities you already have within you.

Your challenge is to learn to access the ability at will. And that comes with practice.

Lots of practice.

You don’t need to wait for the Inspiration Fairy to sprinkle inspiration dust on your noggin.

You need to write.

And write.

And write some more.

A writer writes. It’s what we do. We write when we feel like it, and when we don’t. We write in a white-hot torrent of words that seem to come from nowhere and everywhere, and we write when every word feels like you’re giving birth to a Pterodactyl.

My mentor (and close friend for over twenty years), the late Charles L Grant, gave the keynote address at a writers conference a number of years ago, and said some things that shook many of the people in the room either out of their complacency, or out of the notion they wanted to be a writer. He said:

“There is a difference in being an author and being a writer. For the better part of the day I have talked with some nice people about being a writer. I have signed about fifty books, I had lunch with a number of you and listened to you talk about your writing projects, and I am up here now talking about what it is like to be a working writer.
That’s being an author.

“But when I go back to my room tonight, while many of you are hanging out in the lounge talking about writing, or at the open mic session reading your work, I am going to be in my room trying my dead-level best to fix a real mess I have created. I have painted my protagonist into a corner and I have no idea how I am going to get him out of it. But I will figure it out tonight before I go to sleep, because I have to have the book finished by tomorrow night so I can send it to my wife [a professional editor] and have her edit the last three chapters. Then I have to send it to the publisher by Monday. And I am going to wrestle that bear to the ground because I don’t have a choice. I have a house payment and a car payment to make and this is how I have made them for over twenty years.

That’s being a writer.”

You see, people who wait for the Inspiration Fairy tend to publish very little, but they have some great stories … about waiting for the Inspiration Fairy.