Bonnie S. Calhoun is
the Founder and Publisher of Christian Fiction Online
Magazine . She is also the Owner and Director of the Christian
Fiction Blog Alliance which is the parent organization for
Introducing Terry Burns, the Western Writer!
This month I'd like to introduce you to my agent and Western writer extraordinaire! Take it away Terry!
It’s hard to sell an acquisitions editor a Western these days. Is the Western genre dying out?
Walk up to any book rack, particularly in a chain store, and the offering in the Western section will be as high as 80 percent Louis L’Amour, if they have a Western section at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking him, I love L’Amour and always have. I have the full leather bound set of his books and often reread them. Anybody who can dominate a book rack twenty years after his or her death is doing something right. And what he is doing right is telling a good, simple story and telling it well. He connects with the reader on a level they can relate to.
Having said that, I wonder, “Is he still such a big seller because of public demand, even so long after his death? Or is the public demand there because his books continue to be what is primarily offered?”
Oh, I know it’s very much to the publisher and the distributor’s benefit for him to continue to be such an icon. It saves any publisher a ton on publicity going with name authors rather than trying to establish a replacement for them. But when do we reach the point where every reader of Westerns has all of his books and no longer wants to buy one? What happens then?
Or have we reached that point already because booksellers failed to offer titles by other authors, so readers simply switched genres, which was immediately interpreted as a drop-off in Western readership? To what extent is the tail wagging the dog here? How often have public reading habits changed, and how often have acquiring editors decided that when a book fails to do well it means readers have tired of the genre and dropped it? Readers can’t read books that aren’t offered to them. Sometimes this situation becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Then again, maybe the Western isn’t falling off as bad as many think. Maybe part of it is that it is simply “diversifying.” By that I mean many books have moved away from the “Western” label and have published as historical romance or historical fiction, or some like my Mysterious Ways series were listed as “Inspirational Fiction set in the late 1800s.” My Western writer friends call them Christian Westerns. Are these other genre designations adding to the strength of those new genres and further promoting the idea that people aren’t buying Westerns anymore?
The notion has been widespread that the Western was passé in print and in TV and movies. Yet the few Western offerings that have been produced have always found a significant audience.
Will stories of King Arthur and Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table ever die out in England? I don’t think so. People will always need to read about men who valued honor and respect and who were a little larger than life. That period of time for our country was the old West. Whether we read
gritty tales of men and women fighting the elements and seemingly insurmountable odds, or the larger than life cowboy or lawman who stands up to any challenge, they are stories to offer escape from everydayness. They are stories that uplift us and reinforce the pioneer spirit that lies within us.
I love Westerns because I grew up on them. I played a major role in helping Roy and Gene clean up the West every Saturday morning. I also had a part-time gig aiding those in Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel and The Rifleman. I wanted to grow up and be a cowboy. I wanted to continue helping to tell their story.
Kids today didn’t get that introduction. My new young adult book coming out from BJU Press is a delightful Western. Of course, the only difference between a young adult and an adult book is the age of the central character. Adult readers will thoroughly enjoy it as well, and hopefully, it will introduce new readers to the genre.
America has always been in love with the old West, and a generation is waiting to discover it. The Western genre per se has always been cyclical, maybe more so than other genres. I believe this new generation is buying the L’Amour books, because we lifelong, dedicated readers of the Western already have them. So instead of just producing titles for the new readers, why don’t we produce a larger fare for that substantial base who have always bought Westerns, and the new readers will buy them as well.
And in today’s difficult economic times, don’t we need to read some stories that remind us how our ancestors faced much worse adversity, and did it with grit and determination?
Did I get to be a cowboy? I’ve worked on ranches and farms. I’ve fixed fences and worked cows, been with the rodeo, and done some windmill repair. I’ve also been a chamber of commerce manager doing PR and promoting the communities I’ve lived in. But I still want to tell those stories of the great American West.
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