Meredith Efken is the owner of the Fiction Fix-It Shop, exclusively serving writers of adult and YA fiction. A multi-published novelist as well as freelance editor and writing coach, she is passionate about great stories and about empowering other writers to reach their full potential. Actively pursuing that desire, she started Fiction Fix-It Shop in 2006 where she has helped many fiction writers achieve their personal and professional goals. Her clients include award-winning Christian fiction authors such as Deborah Raney and Randall Ingermanson. She is also a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers as well as Word Sowers Christian Writers – a local group she has cofounded. Meredith currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband, Jason and 2 lively daughters.
Of Buggies and Bonnets
A certain Christian publisher—who shall remain anonymous, so don’t ask—recently put out the word that they are looking to begin a Christian romance line. My first reaction? Good for them! Any opportunity to expand the Christian fiction lineup is good, right?
Until I read the details.
What they are looking for is prairie romances and Amish romances. “A man, a woman, and a buggy.”
They forgot bonnets, so I’ll put that in there for them.
Buggies and bonnets? Is this what our Christian world has shrunk to?
Seriously? I mean . . . seriously???
Here is my rant—in three parts:
First, publishers! Get a life. Really. Just do it. I know you are in this business to make money, but dear publishers, do you really think you will do it by leaping on every fad and trend that comes along? Maybe you will—I’m certainly no marketing expert. But this is just tacky.
Somewhere, at some point, an author like Janette Oke or Beverly Lewis had an idea for a story. It was fresh, then. It was sincere. It came from their hearts. They wrote it and there was an energy there that had nothing to do with the quality of work, nothing to do with the setting of the story, nothing to do with the content at all. It had everything to do with the fact that the author was passionate about what she was writing.
The setting, the characters, the style: those elements resonated with the readers, and they created a new genre. But do you actually think that just recreating and recycling those elements is all you need for a successful book?
You need authors who are passionate about those stories. You need authors who are dedicated to their craft. You can’t just say “give me a man, a woman, and a buggy” and expect the money to start rolling in! That’s disrespectful of the work and the authors that have come before. It’s exploitative.
If you want quality romances for the Christian market, look at more than just the trends. Look for authors who are dedicated to their craft and who have a personal vision and drive for their stories. Sure, you have to set marketing parameters. But maybe instead of just trying to ride the crest of a fad that may already be fading by the time your first book comes out, why don’t you decide who you are as a company and where your passion is. And then stick with it.
There’s no passion in “man, woman, and buggy.” There’s no passion in the idea that all you have to do to sell a book these days is stick a bonnet on the cover. Come on, pubs—you’re better than that.
Writers, you’re next. Same message to you—if you think all you have to do to succeed or get published is to jump on a trend, think again. You only have to look at the chick-lit genre to get a sobering lesson on what happens when everyone bandwagons. Helen Fields, with Bridget Jones’ Diary, hit a gold mine. Her story and her style were fresh. They resonated with audiences. They devoured her book.
Then the rest of the writing world thought that chick-lit pie sounded pretty good, and they wanted their piece of it, too. What happened? The quality of the stories eventually hit subterranean levels, and now most publishers are running, screaming, away from anything that smells remotely chick-lit. We ate so much of it, and so much low-quality junk, that it now makes us rather ill.
The current obsession with bonnets and the long-term obsession with buggies and prairies are tempting to indulge, I know. But the authors who are doing the best in those genres are ones who have a genuine passion for those stories and who are writing them because it’s where their hearts are. I know several of them personally. I knew some of them before they were even published. I’ve chatted with them, prayed with them, and I know that they had no idea they would find themselves in a whirlwind of bonnet-love when they started their books.
Those stories resonate with people because they come from honesty and passion and—in the case of many of the Amish novels—an actual family connection to the story. You can’t duplicate that. You can’t manufacture that. It’s something special and unique to that author.
So forget the fad. Find your own niche. Find your own passion. And be authentic. Elevate your sights beyond just getting published or making money. Make art instead.
And finally, readers—our dear, precious, beloved readers.— You are part of this problem, too. We all have our reading ruts—the genres, the styles, the authors we love. I’m an avid reader, too. I know how it is. I’m not saying this is bad. But even within the genre you love, you find different levels of quality. Most of you can sense that. Your job is to demand the highest quality from us authors. Demand the highest quality from the publishers. I’m not talking about content or setting. I’m talking about passion and writing quality. Insist on it being art.
I’m asking you to read with your brain turned on. I know we read for entertainment, for escape, for pleasure. But train your mind to take pleasure in quality literature—not derivative, mass-produced schlock written by people who are just trying to make a buck.
You are in control here. Educate yourselves to recognize good writing and authentic author voices. And then insist that this is what we publishing professionals offer to you.
And maybe, just maybe, try something new! I know—that’s scary. That’s radical. It’s not comfortable. But somewhere, back in time, buggies and bonnets were new, too. And if no one had ever taken a chance on them, where would prairie and Amish romance be today?
None of us should settle for “a man, a woman, and a buggy.” We are better than that, all of us. The world doesn’t need another mass-produced, soulless book. We need art that uplifts and nurtures the soul.
Personal note: This will be the last “Fix-It” column. I am having to turn my attention to other things in my editing and writing career. I’m so honored to have been part of launching this great Web site, and I thank the Editor and Publisher of Christian Fiction Online Magazine for letting me be part of it. And I thank you, the reader, for giving me your time and your support. May God bless you all and may you fall in love with hundreds of wonderful books.