Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books, Fiction

Want Different Books? You May Have to Do Something Different

A few conversations among fellow Christian Fiction readers urged me to post this post. 🙂

Whenever someone asks ChristFic readers what we wish to find more of in the genre, or what we think is missing, I hear a good bunch of recurring answers in every conversation.

Many ChristFic readers want books that address more tough, real-life issues. We want flawed, relatable characters and plots with realistic outcomes. Romances that aren’t too fairytale-ish or cookie-cutter. Faith elements that go beyond trite religious platitudes or too-easy fixes. Etc., etc.

I agree with so many readers I hear from–including those who point out that a lot of the different ChristFic books and topics we say we want are, actually, already out there. Written, published, and waiting for us. We just haven’t found them all yet.

And, yes, many of the books we haven’t found or don’t hear as much about are indie: independently published. So they’re not being promoted by mainstream Christian publishers, and most of them aren’t showing up on bookstore shelves along with Christian books from “the big guys.”

On my part, I often say I’d like to see more diversity in Christian Fiction, and it makes me glad when I hear other readers say it as well. At the same time, there are many authors, myself included, who are already writing diverse books, but it can be hard to get our books seen by the right people. Or, in my experience, it seems it can be common for our books to be seen but passed over, even in a forum full of avid ChristFic readers.

I’ve been realizing that “different” books often require something different from us. An author has to step out of the norm and take a chance to write/publish/market something different, and a reader has to step out of the norm and take a chance to find/buy/read something different. If the usual ways we find books haven’t given us the kind of selection we want, we may have to go beyond our usual ways. We may have to tweak our habits.

For me, that means I need to be more watchful as a reader. It’s super easy for me to find mainstream ChristFic books like I’ve always read, especially in Christian bookstores or in the Christian Fiction sections of secular stores. But to find some different ChristFic books, it means I need to visit a different book blog now and then, or a different book group on social media, or take a chance on an author I haven’t previously read or heard of.

When it comes to websites like Facebook and Goodreads, and the blogs and blog topics I follow, it oftentimes means I have to “slow my scroll.” Instead of breezing past that less popular author or otherwise “unknown” book in order to jump to an author or publisher that’s more familiar to me, or to jump to the next big release that everybody’s talking about, I may have to slow down and take a closer look at something that I haven’t seen or heard a lot of buzz about.

And if I read and like a book, I’ve gotta tell somebody! Write a review, let other bookworms know what I’ve found, keep my eyes open for more books by that author, and all that. I do what I can to make “unknown” books more known, so that the authors have a reason to keep writing ’em.

This certainly doesn’t only apply to Christian Fiction. Anyone who wants to find different books may have to do something different, no matter the genre. ChristFic just happens to be a big area of bookish interest for me.

Fiction Finder is a great place to search for Christian Fiction by author or genre, or even by specific issues we face in life. Books from traditional publishers and independent authors alike can be found on the site. (And if you, dear author or publisher, haven’t listed your ChristFic books there, you can register to do so.)

Indie Christian Fiction Search is a good place to check out some indie ChristFic authors. I’d recommend using this site on a desktop computer for the best view/navigation.

I’m a part of a group called Clean Indie Reads. CIR authors specialize in Flinch-Free Fiction in a variety of genres, including ChristFic.

Diversity Between the Pages is a great place to discover and discuss diverse Christian Fiction.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of helpful sites, but if you want to find some different books, start looking in some different places and taking new chances!

(P.S.–Of course, you’re probably not going to be a fan of every new-to-you author or different book you take a chance on. But don’t make the mistake of prejudging all new-to-you authors or books by the one or two you didn’t like, and thus conclude that “taking a chance” didn’t work. Keep searching, and you’re bound to find gems you’ll enjoy.)

 

Advertisements
Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books

Dear Authors and Readers: It’s Not About “Us” vs. “Them”

Authors and readers. Wielders of the mighty pen, and turners of the wondrous page. We’re all a part of the same book world, here.

Dear Authors. Dear, dear fellow authors:

We all know from Day One that not everybody is going to like our books, that no author can please every reader.

And, sure, the age of the internet and social media has familiarized us with internet trolls. People who post negative comments that nobody needs. Cyber riffraff who seem to have nothing better to do than to say bad stuff about stuff.

Then, up pops a new review for one of our books. Yay! Oh…wait a minute. Not so “yay,” this time. The new review is cutting. The reader did not like the book. The reader does not recommend the book. The reader rated the book with two stars or less. So, because of the undeniably negative, not-so-“yay” effect the reader’s cutting words and low rating have on the author, that reader must be a troll with nothing better to do than to say bad stuff about something the author worked hard on. Right?

Well, not necessarily right. A reader’s cutting review and low star rating do not automatically make that reader a troll.

But what about readers who post totally irrelevant reviews, with complaints about retailer shipping, customer service, or other things that have absolutely nothing to do with the author’s writing? Readers like that are trolls, correct?

Okay. This might be a good time to advise that an author shouldn’t be so quick with the gavel and the “troll” label. Don’t forget what a troll actually is: a person who is intentionally antagonistic online. Someone who makes disruptive attacks on purpose, merely to cause trouble and to get a rise out of folks. Yes, book reviews are a huge, important deal for us authors, and since our books and reviews are constantly on our minds and we know how reviews should be, knowing what or what not to include in a book review may seem like basic, universal knowledge to us.

But, dear authors, most readers aren’t living in our author universe. Or, maybe better said, our author bubble. Most people aren’t thinking about book reviews all the time. They’re not looking for ways to become savvy or expert book critics. They’re just decent, everyday folks, taking a little everyday time to post something online. Not being up on Best Book Reviewing Practices or Customer Review Guidelines does not mean that a person is intentionally antagonistic toward authors.

Likewise, expressing cutting opinions about a book doesn’t make a reader an attacker. Yes, authors, our work is deeply personal to us, so, naturally, it’s hard not to take reviews about our work personally. Still, it’s wise to recognize when a reader is making no personal attack on anyone but is simply saying what they think or how they feel about something they’ve read. Just as we authors are free to write the books we want to write, despite who may not like them, readers are free to choose what they read, free to think or feel the way they do about the books they’ve chosen, despite who may not agree with them.

And, trust me, we would not want to live in a world where only our professed fans would be allowed to buy and read our books, and no one else could have access. A world where people would only be allowed to say when they like something, where all negative opinions would be unwelcomed, censored, or silenced.

Dear Readers. Dear, dear fellow readers:

The age of the internet has made a lot of stuff more accessible to us. It’s even become easier for us to get books right on the spot, without having to wait around or go anywhere, thanks to the invention of ebooks and instant downloads. Yay!

Oh…wait a minute. Not so “yay” all the time. While some of us have totally fallen in love with the convenience and efficiency of digital books, others of us still don’t consider digital books to be real. We can’t really hold ’em in our hands. We can’t smell ’em. We can’t display an ebook on our bookshelf or pass the copy around to as many of our friends as we want.

Since an ebook doesn’t quite seem real to us, we might not be as ready to pay for one as we would a “real” book. Despite the fact that it takes an author just as much time, effort, blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice to write an ebook as it does a print book. Despite the fact that an ebook still needs an editor, a cover designer, someone to format the files, and whatnot. Despite the fact that it takes finance to market and advertise a book, no matter what format the book comes in. Despite the fact that when traditional publishers publish an ebook, they still have to pay everyone on their publishing staff, pay their company bills, pay royalties to the author, and all that. The cost of printing, warehousing, and shipping a print book is only a fraction of what goes into that book’s retail price.

No, ebooks are not cost-free to produce and publish just because they’re not made of paper. Yes, an author still deserves to be paid for the work they’ve put in and for the art–the words–they’re sharing with the world, even if a reader can’t hold those words in their hands.

It’s much like when we pay to go watch a movie or to see a play in a theater. Or when we pay to attend a concert. To browse around a museum. To see a ballet, a tennis match, or a basketball game. We can’t hold a concert, a ballet, or a basketball game in our hands. But we still pay for the experience, for what people in their profession are sharing with us.

Whether a book is published physically or digitally, the author’s words are there. That’s what a book is really about: getting someone’s words out there to other people.

Besides, whether we like it or not, the world we live in is becoming increasingly digital. Book publishing can’t survive if we, dear readers, are willing to download digital books but are unwilling to pay for them. An author or publisher isn’t being mean, greedy, or unreasonable when they charge us to access an author’s words, just like a host of other kinds of artists and professionals charge for their work.

Now, there are plenty of other points I could raise on this author and reader topic, but my main point is this: we shouldn’t make a habit of thinking the folks on the “other side” of a book are out to get us, to cheat us, to make our life as an author or as a reader more difficult. Authors should extend consideration and respect to readers, and readers should extend consideration and respect to authors.

Don’t let it become about “us” vs. “them.” Authors and readers need each other to keep the world of books turning. So, we may as well read and write, buy and sell, give and receive reviews, and enjoy this book world we share with as much grace as possible.

 

Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books, Films

Will TVs, Movies, Gadgets, and Gizmos Make Books Obsolete?

I suppose my short answer to the question at hand is: no. No, TVs, movies, gadgets, and gizmos will not make books obsolete.

And to explain a bit…

With the way technology is advancing and media is shifting nowadays, people have increasing options for entertainment, and plenty of folks don’t do much book reading unless they have to. Sure. Nevertheless, increasing options for entertainment isn’t a new phenomenon.

Take motion pictures and television for example. When the television was invented, people worried about what would happen to motion pictures. Why would anybody take the trouble of going out to the movies anymore when most of those people would have screens to entertain them right in the comfort of their homes?

Yet, for some odd reason, people kept on going to the movies anyway.

And now, even with the availability of YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, DVD and Blu-ray, the ability to watch movies on our TVs, tablets, and smartphones, movie theaters still have yet to become obsolete. We have more options, but those who enjoy going to movie theaters still go.

Has technology changed things? Absolutely. Filmmakers knew they’d have to raise the bar on their art because people would have the option of staying home to watch this new thing called television, if the movies coming out weren’t any good. So filmmakers did just that, raised the bar, and the “silver screen” lived on and still lives.

Yeah, most movies don’t remain only in theaters for as long a time anymore. Subsequent DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix releases follow original releases sooner. Yet, going out to the movie theater still gives people an experience they can’t get by watching a movie on their tablet or phone.

I’m of the same mind as fellow bookworms I’ve heard from who believe that people who truly love to read books are going to read books. It gives us an experience we simply don’t get from TV, movies, video games, social media, and other forms of entertainment. Besides how enjoyable they are to read, books help us to strengthen our reasoning and critical thinking skills, to keep our imaginations sharp, to become more empathetic human beings, to see and consider ideas from different angles, and to become better at expressing our own ideas through words, when we need to write or articulate.

That’s not an exhaustive list of the benefits of reading, by the way.

As entertainment options increase, though, it becomes more important for readers to deliberately stress and demonstrate the value and importance of books, especially to generations coming up behind us, in the age of all things digital. When I was growing up, my parents made sure my siblings and I had a TV and movies we could watch. They bought us toys and sporting equipment and video games. And they bought us BOOKS. They made sure we had library cards and took us to the library. They started a reading club where the whole family participated. They sat down and read in front of us, so my siblings and I saw our parents reading, not just telling us that we kids should do it (“Go read a book, kid. Get out of here.”) while the two of them vegged in front of the TV all day. 😀 Our parents constantly kept the option of reading before us, and even with all the options my sibs and I have for entertainment and learning now, we still read books.

So, fellow authors and publishers–or “book makers,” if you will: we have to be intentional about keeping our art excellent and improving our craft, as past filmmakers did in their changing times. Book lovers who know the importance of reading have to be intentional about conveying that importance to other people, knowing that there are more entertainment options available, and the options will likely increase with new technology.

Naturally, people who just aren’t into books can’t be forced into loving them. While, of course, everyone should be literate, literate folks are still entitled to whatever methods of entertainment and information consumption that suits them best. But don’t be fooled. Don’t see all the TVs and movies around and people fiddling with their digital gadgets and gizmos, be fooled into thinking it’s impossible for anyone to love or focus on books anymore, and throw up your hands and say, “Welp. I guess books are over.” I might not have discovered my love for books, especially not so early on, if somebody hadn’t deliberately stressed and maintained the awesome “option of books” to me.

And let’s not even go into all the advantages that digital gadgets and gizmos have brought about for books, or we’ll need another blog post to expound.

Books will only become obsolete if book lovers and devotees somehow let it happen. And I don’t think we’re going to do that.

 

Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books, Reading

Publication Year and Relevance: Why I Review and Recognize Older Books

“Older books.” A relative term in itself.

In publishing, it often doesn’t take long for new books to become old news, so to speak. A book may only receive “new release” recognition or be eligible for certain new release promotions within 14 or 30 days of its publication. “See What’s New!” a sign in a bookstore or a public library will urge readers with excitement, spotlighting a special display of titles. But ultra-visible placement only lasts a short time before most books are put up on the regular shelves with all the others, usually with just their spines showing. And library and bookstore shelf space is limited, so books that don’t garner enough interest fast enough will be replaced with different books.

Book contests and award organizations tend to accept entries or nominations for books that are not yet published or that have been published within the organization’s current calendar year. Any other books are, well, too old.

Oh, a single book may have multiple releases, in a sense, particularly if the author is popular. A publisher may release a hardback before the trade paperback edition of a book is released, and then a mass market paperback may follow some time afterward. The audio and ebook versions of that book may also become available at different times. Multiple formats releasing at staggered times might help a book to remain “new news” for a longer stretch.

Yet, not every title is an award winner, becomes a bestseller while it’s new, or is written by an award-winning or bestselling author. It may only be a matter of months from the time when a book is released to the point when the publisher stops buzzing about it. I don’t blame publishers for that. If they spent all their time and money trying to actively market every book on their ever-growing backlists, there wouldn’t be enough time and money to push the newer books they’re continually putting out.

Even so, I know that a relevant book doesn’t lose its relevance just because it hits the six-month or one-year mark since its publication. I know that a meaningful novel doesn’t lose its meaningfulness just because the “new release” sparkle has sparkled off. I know that a well-written and profound story doesn’t cease to be well-written and profound just because the initial marketing has ceased or the initial buzz about the story has died down.

Yeah, a book may only have a short time to prove itself in sales and reviews and such before publishers are moving on and promoters/advertisers are looking for the next new thing. But, hey, I won’t even get into all the works through the years that may not have had the best reception or may not have become instant hits after their original releases, but audiences have come to recognize the merit of those works after all.

So, I don’t only seek out and read new, recently published books. I don’t only review new books. I don’t only share and recommend new books. New books aren’t the only ones that show up on my annual book award lists. Yes, I even share my enthusiasm about books that are out of print, and interested readers may have to buy or borrow a used copy, as I did.

A book might have first been published yesterday, or it might have first been published hundreds of years ago. If that book is meaningful, relevant, and well-written, then that’s what it is, regardless of its publication year.

An author may only have so much time or finance to promote their own books, and no author will be able to promote their work forever. But other people—especially readers—keep books circulating, start up new buzz, wield word-of-mouth power to get more people reading and benefiting from an author’s words.

Whether a good story is old, new, or somewhere in between, it takes a community of book lovers to keep that story alive.