Beyond the Smoke
Terry Burns

Terry Burns is an agent with Hartline Literary as well as writing inspirational fiction. As a writer he has over 40 books in print including 10 novels. He has a new 4 book series from Port Yonder Press entitled “The Sagebrush Collection” of his collected short works and the first released March 2010 entitled “On the Road Home.” A Young Adult entitled Beyond the Smoke won the Will Rogers Medallion and a new book “A Writer’s Survival Guide to Publication” also from Port Yonder Press was developed out of the month long course he held for ACFW. A popular speaker at workshops across the country, a bookstore of his available works as well as a regular blog can be found at As an agent Terry says "I'm looking for a good book, well written in a unique voice, aimed at a market that looks promising, and where I feel I have the contacts appropriate to be able to sell the book in that market. I’m pretty open as to genre but I don’t do children’s, sci fi or fantasy. He’s a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR).

Hartline Literary
Visit our blog From The Heart

Answers From The Agent

Using Fiction to Spread God’s Word

The most popular sessions at conferences are agent and editor panels where people get to ask specific questions. 

This column is going to respond to such direct questions, plus questions that come from the Hartline blog and 

other sources. I’d love to hear from you.

Christian fiction is modern-day parables. I have some friends who said, “Our books are clean enough to go into a Christian bookstore, but they don’t. What makes a Christian fiction book?”

I told them that it’s not what’s not in the book (language, sex, or gratuitous violence) that makes the difference, but what’s in it: some degree of faith content. There are also two types of Christian fiction: those that encourage and entertain the faithful, and those that are for nonbelievers and to possibly plant a seed. The second case is what I want to talk about today.

There is a difference between a calling and an offering.

There are two ways to write for the Lord: to be called, or to choose to write, in which case it is an offering. If we are called to write, God will prepare us, but it will happen in His time. Not only will He prepare the story, He will prepare the author. If we have decided to do write, we will do it out of our own ability, and our works will be well received if we do them right and if our intentions are something He approves of.

There is a difference in writing for consumption by the faithful and in trying to reach an unbeliever.

In the first case, the faith content should be strong and broached early. In the second case, the goal is to get readers hooked into the story before showing faith content. Coming under conviction is a difficult thing even for believers. It can push nonbelievers out of a story and make them put down the book. That content should never be aimed AT them, but they should be witnessing what you want them to see in the interaction between the characters.

The story is king.

Parables were entertaining. The object was to interest the hearers until they figured out what they meant. The object of Christian fiction is the same. Whether we are entertaining or encouraging a believer, or trying to interest an unbeliever and get them committed to reading the story before they realize there’s faith content, the story has to pull them in and keep them reading. The message should never overshadow the story.

Keep our faith to ourselves.

The reader should never realize we are sharing our own faith. That’s for the more overtly religious books: devotionals, commentaries, studies, witnessing, and so on. If our goal is to reach out to nonbelievers, we should not be in a hurry to share that faith. I’m not talking about misleading them but to get them committed to the story before we start showing faith content so they will keep reading. The degree of content is

another thing. No matter how much we might want to do it, we are not going to take someone from no faith to a decision for the Lord in one little story. If we overdo it, we will probably push them out of the book. There are those who sow and those who harvest, and it is very rare that those of us who write get to be in on the harvest. Most of the time we are planting seeds that someone else will nurture and still someone else will harvest. But it takes all three.

How about quoting Scripture?

Of course if it fits the story. But there aren’t that many people

who know Scripture word for word and can give the exact chapter and verse, right? People who talk about Scripture in conversation paraphrase it, don’t they? Then when somebody is actually reading Scripture, I make it word for word with the chapter and verse. That makes it far more realistic, although some publishers differ with me on it. but not to the point of changing it, however.

What is our goal for writing?

A secular writer who doesn’t have sales in the five figures doesn’t have a successful book. A Christian writer who sold only one book but it changed somebody’s life is a success. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to sell more. We all want our books in as many hands as possible, and I’m sure all of us would like to have a little financial reward as well, but for most of us, money is not the primary motivation. In order for us to have the greatest possible witness with our words, it’s necessary for us to be very businesslike with our approach to getting those books out, even if money is not our primary motivation.

Must a book absolutely have a message?

No. A first book probably does for a writer to get established as a Christian writer. Once established, books can have varying degrees of faith from a very strong message to none at all. We need good Christian entertainment too.

The last thing I want to mention is God’s timing. If God has called us to use our writing for Him, then it will be done in His timing. Sometimes it can take longer to get published if we are writing under a calling than if we are trying to do it as an offering. Why? If it is a calling, He is going to prepare us and help us, but until our writing is what He wants, and until we are what He wants us to be, publishing is not going to happen. Hey, after all, every one of the significant people in the Bible, including Jesus Himself, were prepared for the task God had in mind for them before they went to work. Why would we expect to be any different?


Survival Guide