Friday, January 18, 2008

"Christian" Publishing - The Pared Down "How to get Published"

Excuse me while I smack my forehead with the palm of my hand
No, it's not that I "could have had a V-8", it's just that I'm trying to remember when the word "Christian" became an adjective.

Hmmm. . .

The last time I checked "Christian" was a noun (although, truth be told, I'm trying to make it a verb in my life - but that's another issue).

We have "Christian" everything these days. Someone asked me if I had plans to go to the "Christian store" on the weekend. I gave her a blank look and asked if they were having a sale on Christians. She gave me a blank look in reply. Apparently they aren't.

But, if I were to go to this Christian store, I would find all sorts of Christian things. Wall hangings, music, posters, nic-nacs and doodads of all kinds. And books. Shelves and shelves of wonderful books. "Christian books" published by "Christian publishers".

Recently, I enrolled in an online discussion with several Christian publishers. They discussed what they are looking for in a book proposal (they discussed fiction and non-fiction). What I came away with from that discussion was that "Christian publishers" are publishing books for the same reason secular publishers are publishing books: to make money.

That's it. No loftier goal in mind. They have to make money.

"Oh, sure," you say. "But their real goal is to spread the Gospel."

Probably many of them do, but the whole horse and pony show swings on the hinges of making money. I'm not saying this as criticism. Just stating the facts.

So, in order to make money, publishers are looking for certain things in a proposal.

Get a pen.

Go on, go find one. I'll wait.

Got one? Good.

Here is the secret to getting published:


Seriously, I think you should write this down.

Here it is: Be amazing.

Okay, go pick up that pen you just threw across the room. You'll want it. Honest.

What a publisher is looking for is someone who can be excellent at the following things (this goes for agents as well):

1) Knows how to research specific publishers to find out what they are looking for. This is important. Really, really important. Write it down. You need to know how to research specific publisher's needs and then tailor your proposal to fulfill their requirements. You also need to know which publishers NOT to send your proposal to. Don't send you sci-fi thriller to a publisher specializing in Mennonite romance novels. Do that a few times and you'll end up with a reputation - not the kind you want.

2) Knows how to write a proposal. This is an industry unto itself and you can't figure it out by yourself. You MUST go get resources about proposal writing. If you write fiction collect resources that show you how to write fiction proposals. They are different from non-fiction. You must couple this skill with the first point (above). Now, go get your resources. Go on. I'll wait.

3) Be famous already. Painful as it is, publishers are jumping to publish people who are already famous (for something - not necessarily for writing). Not famous? Go get yourself some fame. It's called a "platform" and its the single most important selling point to getting published these days. How do you get famous? Hard work. Get online, get blogging, join groups with common goals that will allow you to showcase your work, build an audience locally, and spread out. Also, use your field of expertise (do you have a degree? have you worked in an exotic local? do you have a rare skill that others will find useful? do you have a position or title? Do people hire you to speak at events?) to play up your 'sale-ablity'. Basically, you are saying, "People will buy my books because I'm amazing and they love me!"

4) Know the rules cold - so you can break them. You need to be original in order to get noticed. But you can't simply go off and be kooky original with your proposal or your fiction. You need to demonstrate that you know the rules of writing so well that you can break them - and when you do the result is fantastic. It works. So, this step requires both a slavish dedication to the rules of style, voice, POV, characterization, plot, and all the rest, AND a distinctive flare. One could call this the perfect marriage of substance and style. You need both. Not sure you have them? The first part is time consuming, but easy enough. You can take writing classes, workshops, read books, and do research. In time you will improve. The second one is a bit trickier, as it involves both talent and personality.

5) Be interesting. It's not enough to be an excellent writer. You have to have an excellent story to tell. Yes, often the story is in the telling, but there are so many books published every year that the market is clogged. You need to be able to take readers where they haven't been taken before. Exotic locals, inside secret organizations, behind the scenes, inside the mind. Show the publisher that you have a unique perspective that is fresh, exciting, and intriguing.

6) Don't preach. The term "show, don't tell" applies to more than just a style of writing. It applies to the whole novel. If you have a message (be nice, don't lie, grace is for everyone, Jesus forgives, green beans are best, etc.) show your message by unfolding the interesting details before your reader's eyes. Publishers don't enjoy reading someones preaching.

7) Have a killer opening line. Lean how to craft excellent opening lines for your novel (and your proposal). You need to start your story in the middle - get to the point right away. Don't save your best stuff for later as a "nice surprise". The publisher or agent won't read that far down the page. You have less than a minute to grab them by the shirt front and thrill their socks off.

8) Know your genre. Sure, your book is one of a kind, no one has ever written anything like it. Get over it. It has to fit in a category. All publisher's are category driven. You must know what it is you're writing, where it fits, and who else is writing in the genre. Simple explanations of your work are the best. As one publisher I listened to put it, "Beaches in South Africa" says so much. Right away the publisher knows its a friendship story, someone will die, and it's set in exotic South Africa. A winner!

9) After doing all else, be persistent. Persistence is great - but it shouldn't be your first step. First, be amazing, then be persistent. Don't allow rejection letters to stop you from shopping your novel. Much of this is about being in the right place and the right time with the right manuscript. That takes persistence, and perseverance (The Left Behind series was rejected by publishers)

Ok, off you go. There's much to do.


The Koala Bear Writer said...

And that's all there is to it - simple. :) Obviously we have a lot of work to do as writers (why do non-writers think it's so easy?). Thanks for the good info here. Have you read or heard of any particularly good books on writing book proposals?

Bonnie Grove said...

Yep! Easy as pie! :)
Yes, "How to Write a Book Proposal" by Michael Larsen is great for non-fiction proposal writing. I used this book as a guide for my successful proposal to Beacon Hill Press (I currently have a contract with them).

Also, I've just ordered a book called "Give 'em What they Want" by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook. I'm planning to use this book to help me write my fiction proposal. A major publishing company has just requested a proposal for my novel Talking to the Dead (Hurray! I'll be blogging this soon) and I want to be sure I "give 'em what they want".

Both these books are available at,, or through Writer's Digest.