On New Year’s Eve my wife and I saw the movie “Secretariat.” I had heard it was good and to my surprise, it was good. (People had said the same thing about “The Blind Side” and I really didn’t think it was all that great).

There is a strong message for writers in “Secretariat” and I encourage you to catch the movie while it’s at the local theatre if you can, or wait until it’s on DVD.

To be honest, the movie is more about Penny Chenery Tweedy, the owner of the horse, than it is about the horse itself. When her mother passes away and her father is no longer capable of running the family’s race horse farm, Penny steps in and takes charge. In so doing, she steps on a lot of toes and must sometimes put her husband and children second as she does what she can to keep the farm. Eventually she’s even put in the awkward spot of having to turn down an enormous sum of money from a man interested in buying Secretariat. At almost every turn she faces resistance and rejection. Still she plows on with her father’s words ringing in her ears, “You never know how far you can go unless you run!”

Writers will immediately pick up on the need for persistence in spite of the objections (and rejections) incurred in the process of moving ahead. In Mrs. Tweedy’s case, she succeeded wildly. The truth is they only make movies about those who succeed. For every Mrs. Tweedy there are a thousand who persisted, but never went as far as they’d hoped and dreamed they would. But at least they ran the race and found out how far they could go. I think a writer has to have the mindset not that they WILL succeed, but that they will RUN. How far they run will depend on many things, such as what they write, how well they write, and God’s plan for their success.

I hope as you watch the movie you’re inspired to run long and run well. Leave the results to God.

On another matter, I’ve already received the first few one-sheets in my offer mentioned here. You only have the month of January!

I sure hope I find a couple of gems. 🙂

The new year is upon us. Will 2011 be your breakthrough year? Will it be MINE?

Folks, I want to close out 2010 with another word about the possibility of self-publishing, particularly for those of you who have a message burning within and are frustrated by continual rejection. You really should at least investigate self-publishing. In the current issue of Publisher’s Weekly, we read that six of the top 100 Kindle bestsellers last month were by self-published authors. The climate for self-publishing has never been better—IF you’re willing to promote your self-published book. If good sales follow, you will likely have editors like me and others pursuing YOU, instead of the other way around. The caveat is in the word “promote.” You do not want to self-publish and have a garage full of unsold books. Begin to lay out a publishing plan in advance and then follow through.

In addition to the article in PW, I’m reminded about self-publishing again this week because I just received in the mail a book that I had pitched hard to our publishing committee only a few short months ago. To my regret, they said no. So the author wisely found a self-publishing company that was able to get his book out quickly. This author does have a nice platform and a small but loyal following. The book is well-written and I hope it becomes a bestseller.

As 2011 unfolds, keep looking for a good agent, attend a writer’s conference, watch for fresh book ideas, write daily, read the writing blogs, and consider ALL your publishing options, including self-publishing.

Finally, several have asked me about how to subscribe to the blog. From my web guru, Erin:

To subscribe to your blog, readers have to have a feed reader already set up. Blogger has a free one, so does Google Reader, Netvibes and many others. Then they click on the RSS feed button, either in your sidebar where there are buttons, in the URL (on the right, a little orange box) or set it up using your address from their end on their reader. Using any one of these methods a reader can read your blog remotely and many probably already do.

The phrase “You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed” will subscribe a reader to the COMMENTS on that article only. To subscribe to the posts on your blog, readers will need to use one of the methods I listed above.

If you have any more questions, there is a little video here:

Thank you Erin.

Happy new year to all. And may 2011 bring us all the success we’re working and praying for.

I don’t have much to say today, except Merry Christmas!

I’ll add a few more of my favorite writing quotes to keep you inspired.

“As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing it till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall.” Virginia Woolf

“I write in order to attain that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved, which a cow enjoys on giving milk.” H.L. Menken

“It is just as well that it came to an end. The endless cohabitation with these imaginary people had begun to make me not a little nervous.” Henrik Ibsen

“There will be a couple moments during the process of writing a book when I will really feel an encounter with God. And I’ll know that what I’m writing is something that he’s showing me, and that’s why I write.” Francine Rivers

Two quick commercials before the good news. First, please take a look at my homepage and consider giving one of my books as a Christmas present to someone on your list this year. Promises to Keep: Daily Devotions for Men Seeking Integrity is great for any son, father, husband, brother, uncle or any other male on your list. My other books are also likely appropriate for someone you know. You can order from me, from Amazon, or from the publisher.

The second commercial is primarily for fiction writers. Please read Brandilyn Collins’ excellent article here. Very, very useful information.

Now, let’s talk about 2011. The present year is history. For both fiction and non-fiction writers, it’s time to look to the next twelve months—and PLAN!

Here’s what I want you to do. Print out the list below and use it (with any necessary adaptations and additions) and post it somewhere near your writing place. Every so often, take a look at it and see if you’re on track. When necessary, recast the list to match your progress.

Okay, here we go…

1. I want you to commit to finishing one book next year if you’re writing fiction. If you’re writing non-fiction, I want you to have three complete proposals with three sample chapters each. It might be helpful for you to do a short one-paragraph summary of those books and keep it with this list.

2. By January 31, prepare three one-sheets for other possible books you want to write.

3. Identify three specific things you will do in 2011 to build your platform for promoting your book. Begin implementing them.

4. If you do not yet have an agent, make it your goal to secure an agent in 2011. Research the agents’ websites and try to find an agent who is selling what you write.

5. Identify at least one writer’s conference you will attend next year.

6. Purpose to read at least three (hopefully more) books on writing in 2011.

7. By April 30, have at least one solid book proposal (with three sample chapters) ready to submit to an appropriate publisher (either by your agent or through your chosen publisher’s guidelines–usually posted on their website).

8. Follow through. Submit the proposal! (And then begin your next project while waiting for an answer).

9. Pray daily for your writing. Seek God’s direction and His open (and closed doors).

10. Start a fresh writer’s notebook on January 1. In this notebook, you’ll jot down notes, ideas, and surprising insights that you cannot trust to your memory. (Take this notebook to church with you. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll hear something said in church that will be useful in your writing life).

To recap, by December 31, 2011, I want you to have:

* an agent

* attended a writer’s conference

* one complete book manuscript (if you’re writing fiction) or three complete proposals (if you’re writing non-fiction).

* three one-sheets for additional books

* several rejections (it’s part of what we do as writers—collect rejections)

* read three books on writing.

* clarity from God on what to do in 2012.

Now, here is the good news. I’m going to open one door for you. Look at number two above. During the month of January, I’m going to invite you to submit up to three of your one-sheets to me for consideration at Harvest House. If I like one or more of your ideas, I’ll invite you to send a full proposal. If I like the proposal, I’ll take it to the committee. (Although we won’t accept a novel for publication until we’ve seen the entire manuscript, if I like your one-sheet, I’ll then invite you to send three sample chapters and I’ll either encourage you to finish it and submit it to me, or I’ll reject it if I don’t think it’s a good fit for Harvest House).

Two stipulations: BE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR. Visit our website if you’re unfamiliar with our books. Get to know ANY publisher for whom you wish to write. It really annoys me when I meet a “writer” at a conference and they start the conversation with, “So tell me, what kinds of books does Harvest House publish?” The other stipulation is that you understand that if I say no, I won’t be able to offer a critique of why I’m saying no. I won’t have time in most cases. If I do see something promising, but not a good fit for Harvest House, I may offer some advice, but please don’t feel bad if I simply say no.

During the month of January only, you can send these one-sheets to me at Manuscripts@harvesthousepublishers.com

Okay, here’s even MORE help. I’ll even give you some ideas of what I’m looking for. For fiction, I’d REALLY love to find someone who can write fiction with quilting as a backdrop. Amish quilting is good, but not mandatory. Historical is probably better than contemporary, but I’m not opposed to a contemporary quilting novel. Our fiction really must have a warm and fuzzy angle to it. Romance too. If you can come up with a warm and fuzzy fiction concept, I’m open.

It’s harder for me to identify the kind of non-fiction I’m looking for. Especially if you don’t already have a platform from which to promote your book. Just keep in mind that our books sell really well in the rack market. Books that address felt needs in large number of readers work best for us.

I’ll look forward to your one-sheets….in January.

May 2011 bring more momentum to your writing career than you dared hope for!

I’m always a bit sad when someone I know professionally moves on to other things. But in this case, it’s hard to be sad to see Etta Wilson retire. She will now have time to read more, spend time with the grandkids, and perhaps travel. So today I want to take a few minutes and get a last interview with Etta.

Etta has had a wonderful career in books. I met her when she was the editor for the late Jane Peart, a friend of mine. More recently Etta has been one of the excellent agents at Books & Such, specializing in representing children’s book authors. But let’s let Etta speak for herself.

Nick: Etta, you’re a veteran of the publishing industry and are now looking forward to retirement. Tell us first how you came to love books. Were your parents readers?

Etta: My grandmother read nursery rhyme books to me in the preschool years (I have still have those!), and my mother, a teacher, always encouraged reading While in college, I met my husband through a query about the library’s location, and books and reading became an important part of our lives while he was in seminary. Now our collection is like a group of old friends and it keeps growing!

Nick: What were some of your favorites as a child?

Etta: To quote Katherine Paterson, “I feel like an archaeologist as I try to reconstruct the books that shaped me.” But I have to mention the Beatrix Potter books, A Girl of the Limberlost, The Secret Garden, The Yearling, and Aesop’s Fables. I remember reading a lot of the Bible but not from a story book.

Nick: What led you into publishing?

Etta: Purely grace! I was doing free lance work on a Strong’s Concordance rush project one summer at Thomas Nelson and they asked me to take an editor’s position in the trade books department. My very first assignment was editing Ten Fingers for God, a biography of the great leprosy healer Dr. Paul Brand, by Dorothy Clarke Wilson (no relation). I was hooked.

Nick: I’m not going to ask you the expected “how has publishing changed since you began?” question, but since you’ve most recently been interested in representing children’s book authors, how has publishing to children changed? This question comes as I recently re-read the Little House books and wondered if they could be published in their present form today. I also was browsing on Amazon and looked up another favorite series of mine, the All-of-a-Kind-Family books by Sydney Taylor. It seems to me books like those are harder to find a publishing home today. Have you found that to be true?

Etta: Absolutely. I think children’s books are caught in the midst of a cultural storm. We’ve had so many changes in parenting roles, in rising costs of color printing, in technological development for dissemination of content, ie., computer, smart phones, etc. The one area of books for children that’s doing well is teen books and many of their sales are to young adults, not children or young teens. I think that speaks to two things–the lower educational and reading levels in the US, the general lack of sensitivity to what’s beneficial for children and teens to read, and the elevation of entertainment as a goal as opposed to the development of moral values. It’s very hard now to sell a manuscript of the Little House type, but the ongoing recession may open some doors and help publishers be more willing to take risks.

Nick: It seems like only a couple of decades ago there were far more children’s books being published in CBA. My daughters grew up with the Elizabeth Gail books by Hilda Stahl and The Peppermint Gang books by Laurie Clifford. Have CBA publishers stepped back from publishing widely to the up and coming generation of Christians?

Etta: Yes and no. If you’re talking about publishers with denominational ties or strong church affiliation, they have generally stopped publishing children’s books for the trade, such as the titles you mention above, but increased their publishing of children’s curriculum. If it’s done right, curriculum may be exactly what’s most needed now. Other CBA publishers have either stopped publishing for children altogether or they publish books for children written by authors who already have a large following in the adult market. The decline of the Christian bookstore and hand-to-hand selling is also a factor. Consumers buying for children off an Internet site may have a hard time knowing the reality of the product. Some sites can be trusted such as Karyn Henley’s.

Nick: What advice do you have for Christian authors who have a passion to write books for children?

Etta: Write them! And look for possibilities to work with another person or entity that combines personal selling with online selling. We never know what God has in store.

Nick: Who are some of the authors you’ve had a close working relationship with? Any special memorable stories you’re at liberty to share about a particular book or author you worked with?

Etta: Here’s just one–While an editor at Abingdon, I went to the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy, and bought the US rights for Mem Fox’s classic Possum Magic It was her first book to be distributed here, and is still distributed. She later came to Nashville and wrote another book for me, With Love, at Christmas. It has been wonderful to see her many books published in the US since then and to hear her strong advocacy for children’s literacy. Before moving to Australia, Mem’s parents were missionaries in Africa, and some of that early influence is evident in her books.

Nick: It’s surely disappointing to see high quality manuscripts for which you know there will be no home. How have you handled disappointments when an author you dearly love is hard to place?

Etta: First of all, I never know there will be no home for a high quality ms. I’ve certainly been discouraged by repeated declines, but what won’t sell today may sell next year when a new publisher opens up. I’ve often said that publishing is providential, ( I’ve also said it’s a crap shoot) so we never know what’s coming down the pike. When an author’s work is declined, I encourage him/her to write in other genres and attend conferences to look for other possibilities. Recently I’ve tried to convince them that it’s absolutely necessary to have a web site and become Internet savvy.

Nick: If you had one wish for the future of CBA publishing what would it be?

Etta: That we could more creatively combine the unchanging truth of the Gospel and its efficacy for the needs of our rapidly changing culture. Here at Christmas I’m struck by children’s lack of understanding about shepherds, the first to see the star and follow it to God’s Son.

Nick: What are your retirement plans?

Etta: Relearning the piano, fuller attention to my church responsibilities and my grandsons, travel in the US, some writing, and reading, reading, reading!

Nick: What will you miss most?

Etta: I’ll miss all my wonderful clients, the connections with so many publishers, and my dear friends at Books & Such. They have all been much like family.

Nick: Thanks, Etta, and enjoy your retirement!

Folks, I’m still working on a surprise I hope to announce in the next week or so. Stay tuned!

We’re back from a wonderful (but cold) Thanksgiving in Minnesota. My daughter and son-in-law had dutifully checked out the local thrift stores for me and the quilt shops for Bev. We traveled there by train and flew home. On Monday we visited our friends at Bethany House Publishers. All in all, a great time.

I know some of you participated in NaNoWriMo and I’d love to hear the results. Did you start and finish a complete draft of your novel? Did you start, but not finish your novel? I’d like to give it a try sometime—I really do believe in the concept of getting a very rough first draft finished before polishing—but I can’t keep up the pace. I go home from work every day having expended quite a bit of creative energy on the manuscripts of others (authors we’re publishing at Harvest House) and I have very little left in me.

But what about you? How did it go? Fess up now. Who tried and what were your results?

In my next blog, I plan to announce what I hope will be exciting news for aspiring writers. Stay tuned!

I had hoped to blog again before leaving for Thanksgiving, but it’s not going to happen. We leave by train tomorrow for Minnesota. We’ll be visiting our daughter attending seminary near St. Cloud and returning home November 30. On Monday the 29th I’ll take visiting Bethany House in Minneapolis. My friend Andy McGuire (an editor at Bethany House) will be showing me around. His books for children would make excellent gifts for that preschooler on your list. I love Rainy Day Games, one of the very few children’s books I’ve acquired for Harvest House.

While I’m gone, keep writing. A writer is always on duty, even on holidays. You’ll always observing and absorbing. Everything is grist for the mill.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes to keep you on track. If any strike you as particularly noteworthy, add your own comment.

“People read fiction for emotion, not information.” Sinclair Lewis

“One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment.” –Hart Crane

“I start with a tingle, a kind of feeling of the story I will write. Then come the characters, and they take over, they make the story.” Isak Dinesen

“You can never know enough about your characters.” Somerset Maugham.

“I suppose I am a born novelist, for the things I imagine are more vital and vivid to me than the things I remember.” Ellen Glasgow

“You lose it if you talk about it.” Ernest Hemingway.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! (And when you’re thinking about all the things you’re thankful for this year, be sure and thank God for your desire to write).

As promised, today I have an interview with Jeff Gerke, one of my favorite people in our industry. Even if you don’t write speculative fiction, you need to read this interview as part of your assignment to keep up on what’s going on in the publishing world.

Jeff has been called the de facto gatekeeper of Christian speculative fiction. After his own six novels were published (under the pen name Jefferson Scott) and his time spearheading the launch of a fiction imprint dedicated to Christian speculative fiction at a major Christian publishing company, Jeff branched out on his own to launch Marcher Lord Press, an Indie publishing house billing itself as the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. His popular fiction how-to book The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction is available through Amazon or Marcher Lord Press and his new craft book from Writer’s Digest Books, Plot versus Character, released in October 2010. Books Jeff has edited, acquired, and/or published have won the Christy Award, the ACFW Carol (Book of the Year) Award, the EPIC Award, the Indie Award, the INSPY Award, and the Foreword magazine Book of the Year Award. Jeff was one of three finalists for the 2010 ACFW Editor of the Year Award. Jeff lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, teenage daughter, 10-year-old son, and 2-year-old adoptive daughter from China.

Nick: Jeff, you’re passionate about speculative fiction and yet many readers don’t know exactly what it is. Could you define it for us?

Jeff: Speculative fiction is an umbrella term that includes a number of subgenres like science fiction, fantasy, time travel, vampire, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, supernatural thrillers, superhero, horror, alternate history, and urban fantasy. Or, as I like to say, anything weird. Christian speculative fiction is anything weird from the Christian worldview. Christian speculative fiction adds two subcategories not included in secular speculative fiction: end times fiction and spiritual warfare fiction.

Nick: Speculative fiction is a hard sell in CBA. Is it because, as publishers fear, the market is small? Or is the market there, but publishers are just failing to reach that market?

Jeff: The market isn’t small. Every time Ted Dekker comes out with a Christian novel, it sells 100,000 units. And of course there were the millions who bought the Left Behind books. Same potential audience. But these readers don’t always identify themselves as fans of SF or fantasy—they just know they like Ted Dekker. So between Dekker releases, they’re not scouring the shelves for other books like those but from different authors.

The audience who normally reads Christian fiction is not the same audience who reads Dekker and Peretti and Jenkins. Christian publishers have done a great job reaching the core fiction demographic, the dear ladies who love their bonnet and buggy fiction. But Christian publishers have, perhaps understandably, not devoted much energy, time, or money toward developing other audiences. You can’t put an ad for a vampire novel in Just Between Us magazine and have a good response.

Nick: Some publishers seem more willing to take on speculative fiction if it’s aimed at the YA market. Is it true or a myth that to be successful with speculative fiction in the CBA market, it must be aimed at younger readers?

Jeff: It’s true that, to have your best shot at getting your fantasy published, it had better be YA. YA is sort of reaching the home school market, but only with fantasy. Other Christian speculative fiction, even if it’s YA, will not be well-received.

Home schoolers love Christian fantasy. If you go to any Christian writers conference that has a teen writers track, and you ask the teen writers what they’re writing, they will unanimously say, “Fantasy.” I like to say that this is the generation that is going to save us (well, those of us longing for Christian speculative fiction). Because in 10 years they’re going to be running Christian publishing companies—and they’re not going to be publishing Amish fiction.

Nick: Is there something that can be done to change the future for speculative fiction in CBA or will it always be this way?

Jeff: So long as traditional Christian publishers are allowed to exist with their current publishing model, CBA will not change. For them, it’s all about the bookstore-publisher dyad. Whatever the women who walk into Christian bookstores want is what traditional Christian publishing companies publish. Those dear ladies want Amish, so publishers keep giving it to them, and rightly so.

But bookstores are dying. Not coincidentally, the traditional Christian publishing model is dying. Traditional Christian publishing companies are shrinking and scaling back and trying to wait out the recession. But I believe it’s not just the recession causing the diminishing of this model. I believe it’s a model whose time has passed. There’s no weathering the storm and then going on like usual afterward.

We’re in the age of the small press, the micro-publisher, the niche publisher, and the self-publisher. The Internet has transformed how we think. It used to be that if we had an idea for something (book, car, restaurant, knowledge, etc.), we’d ask the people we knew if there was any such thing. We might even go the library. But if we couldn’t find it, we’d figure it didn’t exist, and we’d settle back to hope someone created it in the future. Now, we’re pretty sure that whatever it is we’ve thought of, someone else has thought of it, made it, and is offering it online. Google is 100 times more powerful than a visit to the library—and 1,000 times more convenient.

Gone are the days when people think, if they’ve never heard of a Christian science fiction novel exploring what would happen if sharia law dominated the future, that such a thing simply doesn’t exist. Now they keep searching online until they find something like that (A Star Curiously Singing by Kerry Nietz). We’re pretty sure we can find whatever it is we’re looking for. And if we can’t find it, we feel like someone needs to do it—and maybe it should be us.

A large percentage of Christian fiction readers don’t want to read about Hannah’s secret love for Josiah the Amish carpenter. They want to read about mutant alien vampires who will eat your brains. Or they want to read Christian military thrillers (Operation: Firebrand by Jefferson Scott). Or they want Christian literary fiction. These people, this majority of Christians, are not being served by traditional Christian publishing. That’s the kind of situation that is not going to last. An artificial imbalance like that will be naturally self-correcting in time. That’s what we’re seeing now.

After Marcher Lord Press rose up and showed people what a small, indie press dedicated to Christian speculative fiction could do, several other similar presses have sprung up to help meet the needs of that demographic. Similar presses are rising up to fill other niches, like Christian poetry, true crime, military/men’s, literary, and more. All the dispossessed authors and readers are beginning to walk around in the sunshine and find each other. And that’s only going to increase.

It’s a great day to be a writer and reader of a kind of novel that has previously been squelched by the traditional Christian publishing paradigm.

Nick: You struck out on your own with Marcher Lord Press in an effort make speculative fiction more visible for Christians (and presumably non-Christians too) who enjoy that genre. When you began, were you confident you’d succeed?

Jeff: I was certainly not confident MLP would succeed. I was under so much stress the six weeks before the launch that I thought I wouldn’t survive. It didn’t help that I had titanic problems with the online storefront/shopping cart software right up until the night before the launch.

The good news was that I hadn’t exceeded my conservative budget parameters. I also knew I was going to be able to break even on any given book with only a handful of units sold. Whereas traditional Christian publishers need to sell ~12,000 units to begin to break even, I knew I’d break even on about 300. I was hopeful I could sell at least that many. But I was not remotely sure I would. We’d spent the previous 12 months spreading the word about the impending launch, and we had a big prize giveaway contest going for launch day, but even so, I had no idea if it would fly.

Praise God, we’ve been in the black since day 1 and continue to be there. It’s a very lean model that is pretty much designed to exist and even flourish in a recession and with a niche audience, and of course to scale upward if the recession eases.

Nick: You’ve received several good reviews in Publisher’s Weekly. That must be gratifying.

Jeff: It’s been amazing to receive positive reviews in PW. For a small press, we’ve been mentioned in PW an inordinate number of times—4 times in 2 years—with a similar number of mentions in Library Journal. It’s incredible for a small press to be able to put a positive quote from PW right on the front cover of one of our books. The front cover quote for König’s Fire by Marc Schooley includes the phrase “gold mine” from PW. Very cool.

Nick: In addition to speculative fiction, there are other genres in CBA that don’t fare as well as in ABA. What advice can you give writers who are writing in a genre that’s currently out of step with the market?

Jeff: Anything that does not appeal to the core Christian fiction demographic will note fare well in CBA. That’s simply a consequence of what that readership wants. Christian publishers would actually be unwise to publish books their constituency doesn’t want. That’s a good way to go out of business. It’s hard enough finding a hit without producing books you know won’t appeal to your market.

My advice to those of you/us who don’t write fiction that appeals to that market is to keep writing and to keep looking to the horizon. Your help draweth nigh. You may have to give up on the old publishing dream of massive advance, multi-city book tour, and tremendous marketing support. But in the age of niche publisher, someone is going to think your “off-beat” book is the very thing they got in to publishing to publish. Just ask Stuart Vaughn Stockton, author of Starfire, a far-future non-earth SF about computer-using dinosaur people. No one in CBA would touch that. But I did, and it was up for ACFW Book of the Year this year.

We’re on the very threshold of the heyday of the obscure novel genre!

Nick: Do you have any advice for publishers who are scratching their heads over failed attempts to publish speculative fiction?

Jeff: Yes: stop doing it. Every other one you put out will fail too. It’s because soccer moms and grandmoms don’t want SF or fantasy or horror. They want bonnet girl meets Amish boy. Give them that, and stop trying to give them what they don’t want. How many times do they have to say no before we get it?

I personally think CBA houses should choose to redefine themselves now, instead of waiting to be redefined (or deleted) by the market forces that are only going to squeeze harder in the months and years to come. They should get rid of all but about eight people—most of them editors, with maybe 1 sales guy and 1 marketing person. They should break into 3-5 versions of Marcher Lord Press, each one serving a niche they’re known for. Go small, save money, be king of a niche…and prosper.

But people in traditional Christian publishing houses have everything to lose by the paradigm shifting, so they may be tempted to just plug their ears and keep doing what they’re doing until they finally have to close their doors.

Unfortunately, the world will not long mourn the demise of what has been the norm for decades. So long as people find ways of getting what they want—and they will now, more than ever—they’ll be happy.

Nick: Jeff, can you name some names of those who are doing it right in CBA? Is there an editor or publishing house that “gets it?”

Jeff: I always think Thomas Nelson seems to be the most willing to try new things, especially with their fiction line. I almost always like what Michael Hyatt and Allen Arnold come up with. Zondervan’s last round of layoffs and hirings seemed to indicate they were moving toward e-publishing aggressively. That’s probably good.

But I think it’s the new, small houses that truly get it. Houses like Splashdown Books and Written World Communications and Port Yonder Press and, if I can include my own company, Marcher Lord Press. These and others like them will be the leaders for the next 5-20 years.

And watch out for those new presses that will spring up under the guidance of now-adult home schoolers. Those will be the real leaders for the next generation of Christian fiction publishing.

Nick: Do you have any additional plans for the future you’re at liberty to share?

Jeff: There’s a change in the works that, if it happens (and it very well may not), would be a game-changer for MLP. It would allow me to do more books per season, branch out into YA, explore graphic novels and computer games and blended media apps, maybe look into Christian film, become kind of a patron for other small Christian presses, do a lot more marketing, and get back to my own fiction and screenwriting.

If that doesn’t happen and we continue just motoring along as we have, I’ll be fine with it. Hopefully we will continue to win major awards and steadily establish ourselves as the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction.

Nick: Who are the authors you enjoy reading, and what’s on your nightstand right now?

Jeff: People are always amazed to hear that I don’t read fiction for pleasure. I’m interacting with it about 70 hours per week. And even though I love it, in my down time I want to do something else. I play games on the PC or the PS3. On the nonfiction side I’m re-reading Search for Significance and the excellent little summaries I get from getAbstract.

Thanks Jeff. This was very informative. I passed around the following quote to my colleagues here at Harvest House and got some interesting responses.

“A large percentage of Christian fiction readers don’t want to read about Hannah’s secret love for Josiah the Amish carpenter. They want to read about mutant alien vampires who will eat your brains.”

A great note to end on.

The past several blog entries have been in response to questions you’ve asked. Today I’ll answer the final question. This one comes from popular author BJ Hoff, whom I’ve had the honor of editing for the past few years.

BJ asks: I think it would be interesting–especially for the writers you work with–to learn more about your own personal reading preferences. (Yes, I already know Amish fiction won’t figure high on the list!) Maybe even a mention of some favorite books, but more on your likes–and dislikes.

[Before I offer my answer, I do want to say that although I really enjoy the authors I edit, I’m going to disqualify any of them from appearing in my answer below. I think it would be something akin to a conflict of interest to mention them]

Nick: Suspense author James Scott Bell and I have done some workshops where he takes the side of plot-driven fiction and I take the side of character-driven fiction (although we both acknowledge the need for both strong characters and a good plot). It will come as no surprise then that the fiction I like best is primarily character-driven.

My tastes in fiction do change—much to my surprise. As a young angst-filled college student in the 1960s, I loved J.D. Salinger. Franny and Zooey and the whole Glass family were wonderful characters. And I thought his short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” was wonderfully depressing. But a few years ago I tried to read Franny and Zooey again and it was like the time a few years earlier when I had tried to read The Hardy Boys again.

There are exceptions though. For instance, I’m in the midst of re-reading the Little House books now and am enjoying them as much as I did as a child. Most people don’t know that in the past I owned a children’s bookstore. I do love kiddie lit. I would love to have had such a store in the 1950s and 60s before children’s books became so dark. I would have a hard time owning a children’s bookstore today. On my pile of books to read there are several children’s books I’m anxious to devour. Mostly, they are older books from the 1950s and 60s.

I’ve always had a liking for southern fiction. Some of Flannery O’Connor (but not Wise Blood) and much of Eudora Welty. Miss Welty was from my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi and once, several years ago I got to meet her. I wrote an article about that experience that is still probably my favorite piece of writing. I recently tried to read the current bestseller The Help because it takes place in Jackson shortly after the time I was a child there. However, I did not like the book. In fact, I couldn’t finish it.

I still like Sherwood Anderson quite a bit. Winesburg, Ohio is still a favorite, though that too is a rather depressing book. Not so depressing is the wonderful P.G. Wodehouse. His Jeeves books are a hoot.

Though I don’t care much for genre fiction, I love (and own) all the Philo Vance mysteries by S.S. Van Dine. Also the Lord Peter Wimsey books by Dorothy Sayers.

A non-fiction author I enjoy is Christopher de Vinck. I happened onto him years ago when Publisher’s Weekly sent me galleys of his new book to review. I was reading it over breakfast in a restaurant and quickly found that tears were falling onto my pancakes. That book was Simple Wonders. I’ve enjoyed several of his other non-fiction books as well. The other non-fiction books I love are older authors such as Andrew Murray, Watchman Nee, and many of the authors in my books Magnificent Prayer and His Victorious Indwelling (see those on my homepage. They make great Christmas gifts!)

Saving the best for last, my all time favorite fiction author is the late British novelist Barbara Pym. I reread two or three of her books every year and am likely to do so for the rest of my life. She creates a fictional world I really enjoy revisiting. And her humor is in sync with mine. Searching the internet, I came up with this example, perfect for readers of this blog:

“Once outside the magic circle, the writers became their lonely selves, pondering on poems, observing their fellow men ruthlessly, putting people they knew into novels; no wonder they were without friends.” — Barbara Pym (Jane and Prudence)

The simplest way to describe the books I like is to say that I want the author to introduce me to characters I like and transport me to a setting where I can happily visit with these characters for a while.

Next time I hope to have an interview with one of my favorite people in our industry. Keep checking back.

Jan Cline asked a bunch of questions about writers’ conferences.

Jan: What is the process you go through when attending writing conferences? Specifically, how do you pick and choose which ones to go to and what is the overall experience like for you?

Nick: Editors, agents, and published authors are usually invited to writers’ conferences to meet with potential authors and to teach workshops. I think most of us editors receive more invitations than we can accept. I know I do. I have a few conferences I go to every year because they’re useful in finding new authors and they’re personally enjoyable. I like meeting and encouraging aspiring authors. I also enjoy reconnecting with some of my colleagues at other publishing houses, along with agents and authors I know.

Jan: Does Harvest House foot the bill for your conferences or do you charge a fee?

Nick: Usually the conference offers to pay travel, food, and lodging.

Jan: Do you find many “jewels” from talking to authors at the conferences?

Nick: I wouldn’t use the word “many.” Actually, I find relatively few that go on to publication. But that’s enough to make it worthwhile. Some of my best acquisitions have been a result of writers’ conferences. Most of the “jewels” I find at conferences are jewels of friendship with authors we may never publish at Harvest House.

Jan: Are there certain things that bug you about conferences?

Nick: I can’t think of anything right now. If something about a conference bugs me, I likely won’t return to that conference in the future. But that has rarely happened.

Finally, let me add that as we approach 2011, I really do encourage everyone reading this who wants to succeed as a writer to attend at least one conference next year. Depending on how far along you are in your writing career, the expenses may be tax deductible. Check with your tax preparer to be sure.

I also want to add that I’m sure one of my favorite conferences next year will be this Mexican cruise where I’ll be teaching and meeting with writers, as will the bestselling author and good friend of mine, Cec Murphey. Please check it out. We’d love to have you aboard.

Thanks, Jan for the question. The next and final question is from BJ Hoff, one of the best fiction authors I’ve had the pleasure to edit.

She asks: I think it would be interesting–especially for the writers you work with–to learn more about your own personal reading preferences. (Yes, I already know Amish fiction won’t figure high on the list!) Maybe even a mention of some favorite books, but more on your likes–and dislikes.

I’ll answer that question next time. Stay tuned.