Allen Arnold

Allen Arnold is Publisher and Senior Vice President of Thomas Nelson Fiction. Having launched the Fiction group in 2004, Allen's goal is to deliver the best stories to the broadest possible audience in the most entertaining, relevant, and God-honoring way possible. Current authors include Ted Dekker, Lisa Samson, Stephen Lawhead, Colleen Coble, Denise Hunter, Homer Hickam, Neta Jackson, Robert Liparulo and many others. A veteran of the publishing industry since 1992, he's overseen the marketing and branding campaigns of many best-selling Christian authors utilizing the skills learned while working for some of the world’s largest advertising agencies. His favorite way to spend the day is with his wife and young children - preferably with a C.S. Lewis book or Superman comic close at hand as well!

The Future Of Fiction

Christian fiction tends to be primarily guilty of putting message over story more than other worldview writing.

Tough economic times. Discretionary spending down. Traditional publishing models turned inside out with new technology.

At a time when many in the publishing industry see their glasses as half empty, I lift mine in a toast—to a very bright future in fiction.

As Thomas Nelson’s fiction publisher, I’m invigorated by the growth we’ve seen since launching a 24/7 fiction division four year ago. During that time, I’ve found several simple principles that together have contributed to Nelson’s growth in the past four years. If you’re in the book industry (especially fiction) as either a writer or publisher, I invite you to gather around the table with me so I can share a few things I’ve learned that keep my glass half full all the time.

1) Live from a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity. When something is good, it’s all the more reason to find new ways to give it away. The more people try great things, the more people will want to buy it. Don’t feel nervous about giving it away. And don’t limit the giveaway to a chapter. Heck, in fiction, give away half a novel—or in some cases, a whole novel. This is especially easy electronically. If it hooks people, they’ll return for more. Same goes for good ideas and credit—give both freely and watch what happens.

2) In story, Christian worldview trumps preaching every time. Every novel has a worldview— regardless of the section of a bookstore it’s in. But Christian fiction tends to be primarily guilty of putting message over story more than other worldview writing. Preaching or agenda-driven messages are great for nonfiction. But for novels— real novels—we need more artists who breathe the art of story, who live to create. Let the story be the story. And be confident that God will work through it. Don’t shy away from issues of faith and salvation—it will come through if it’s inside you—and if you get out of the way!

3) Your primary customer is the consumer, not the retailer. How many of us in publishing really know who buys our books? My guess is very few. We spend more time getting to know the gatekeeper, or retail buyer, than the reader. By all means get to know both, but spend the most time with the fans, the readers of your authors. Understand them: who they are; what they want; where they buy. The retail side of the equation will be much easier when you know each author’s hot buttons and fan base and can amass them at will when a new novel arrives.

4) Reader buzz trumps the marketing budget. In fact, a story that doesn’t have a “Wow!” factor or that doesn’t emotionally engage the reader is destined for a quick death—regardless of the marketing budget. If a reader can finish a novel, yawn, and put the book on his/her shelf without sharing the story or experience with anyone else, the novel has failed. But if everyone who reads the novel raves to two friends who each buy the novel and rave to two friends who . . . well, you get the picture. Some novels have it. Some don’t. Can you tell ahead of time which of your stories have “it”?

5) Christian isn’t the same thing as G-rated. I’m not sure who started using “Christian” as an adjective, as in “that’s not a very Christian thing to say, do, etc.” When it comes to story, the Bible certainly deals with themes and issues that aren’t always G-rated, safe, or sugary sweet. Those are not even the main attributes God lists for his followers. The Bible paints a dangerous world that’s in a spiritual war, with followers of Christ dying to self and learning what faith is and how to love unconditionally. People die. Evil thrives. Things get messy. But lives are transformed in the midst of that. And God and good do ultimately win. We need more stories that deal with real life and epic good vs. evil. It’s fine for some novels to end with the perfect couple riding off in the sunset hand in hand, but let’s not feel compelled to see that as the only—or even the best—story.

6) Sell-through is always the true test, not sell-in or first printing. Yes, books have less time to make a splash than in decades past. But I’ll take any day the novel that has a long, slow burn and builds than one that’s a quick flash and disappear. And I’d rather sell-in fewer initial copies per store but see them all sell-through with reorders than have a huge sell-in followed by equally huge returns a few months later. We need to all be less impressed by large sell-in stats or first printings and more impressed by the long-term success and sell-through of novels.

7) Partner with those who share risk and reward. In publishing, it’s not all about the biggest advance. It’s about a fair advance that can be earned out so that royalty can kick in. After all, an advance should be just that—an advance on future performance. Our best relationships are with creative storytellers who thrive on partnership, are hungry to learn together, and are short on ego. When a book is successful and things are going great, both sides are quick to point out the other’s role. And when things go less well, both parties are quick to look inward first. When you find that kind of writer or publisher, keep them for life. Those driven by ego or insecurity, on the other hand, tend to deal equally unwell with failure and success. Choose wisely!

Thomas Nelson