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 is 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).

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Writing the Crossover Book

I’ll probably get a lot of disagreement on this one, but usually when people tell me they have written a crossover book, their manuscripts have too much faith content for the secular marketplace but not enough for the Christian market. In short, it is trapped in no-man’s-land, where nobody wants it.

I believe it is necessary to choose a side, then write the book in such a way to cause people on the other side of the fence to cross over and read it too. But how do we do that?

Maybe the answer comes from a program I do called “Writing to Reach the Unbeliever.” Writing Christian fiction, authors need to decide whether they are writing for the faithful, or writing to reach that person who needs to hear the message but will not read a “Christian” book.

Trying to do both takes us into the no-man’s-land again. If Christian readers don’t find faith content and inspiration early in the book, they are likely to feel it isn’t what they want to read. But heavy faith content at the front of the book will surely cause a nonbeliever to put the book down. These two sides are written 180 degrees differently from each other. That’s why I say one book can’t do a good job of doing both. The book has to be aimed at one or the other, then hope to pull from the other side.

Why do nonbelievers fight that faith message so hard? A dyed-in-the-wool atheist proactively disbelieves, but there are many more agnostics, people who don’t believe yet don’t disbelieve either; they just don’t know what they think about faith. For these people, hitting faith content very often has the effect of allowing the Holy Spirit to go to work on them, and the next thing they know they are under conviction. Being under conviction is not comfortable for believers who understand what is going on. Think how it is for those who are being made uncomfortable by what they are reading yet but don’t understand what is making them so uncomfortable. They put the book down.

The goal in trying to reach the nonbeliever is never to allow our faith to be in the book. If we do that we are talking directly to the readers, we are preaching, and they are sure to put it down. Instead the interaction of the characters has to deliver the message, some having faith and some not. That is not threatening to the readers because it isn’t aimed at them, and we have to trust the readers to draw the parallel to their own lives. They will.

We also withhold any faith content until we are sure they are invested enough in the story that they won’t put it down when they encounter it. And finally the amount of faith content needs to be appropriate for the story. It is unlikely that an author will be able to save someone with a work of fiction. There are sowers and there are harvesters, and our job is to sow those seeds, get someone thinking about it and open to talking with someone.

Some stories will carry a stronger message than others. How do we know? The message cannot overpower the story in these type books or the reader becomes aware of what is going on and again we are in danger of the book’s being put down. If a stronger message works in the story and doesn’t stick out, then it may work, otherwise we need to dial it back to where it does not overpower the story itself.

Can we write a crossover book? I don’t believe such a thing exists. Can we write a book that will cross over? I think so. If you don’t hear the difference between those two statements, however, you may not be ready to get it done.


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