When I first started asking for feedback on my book, I was told to tell my story, to put myself into it, and that’s what I did. For some people, that seems to be a problem.
Last year I posted the first 5 chapters of my book on Authonomy.com, a website where writers post their work and get feedback from other writers. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the top 5 rated books at the end of the month, you make it to the Editor’s Desk and have your work read and critiqued by professionals. My manuscript initially attracted some attention, and I soared into the top 1,000, but the reading pubic is fickle, and before I could break into the big time, I fell to 2,400th place and have bounced around in that neighborhood ever since. It takes a lot of time and networking to attain and retain one of the coveted top spots, so I turned my short attention span to other pursuits. My chapters are still posted, however, and I still get an occasional comment. This is a recent one:
This is a very positive book…The pitch appeals to a wide market, but I think that at times the tone is a little bit Christianese and might tend to limit your market to a Christian bookstore audience. I think this can be rectified and easily broadened because the themes have universal appeal.
Have I mentioned that I don’t take criticism very well? My first reaction was What the heck is wrong with Christianese? Does anyone tell a writer on women’s rights to tone down the feminist rhetoric? Does anyone tell a writer on governmental issues to tone down the political references? Yeah, probably. After all, publishing is a business, and the purpose of a business is to make money.
My next reaction was What’s wrong with a Christian bookstore audience? I went on-line where a search for Christian bookstores in Dallas yielded 5 top finds and 92 other local references. Not a bad audience if you ask me. In addition, I’ve found Christian books on Amazon.com easily enough, and all major bookstores have a Christian book section.
Then I went to my main source on such matters, my son the writer. He agreed that there are a lot of readers in the Christian market.
“If a book really catches on, especially as a guide or inspirational book for study groups or support groups, you might sell millions of copies without ever making the New York Times Best Sellers list. On the other hand, if someone offered me a contract that would put me on Wal-Mart shelves across the country, I’d have to give it some thought.”
Today John Fischer’s blog The Catch was about a talk he gave in a college chapel service. His thoughts seemed to speak to my issue:
…it was now up to them to enter the world as Christians in culture, not as cultural Christians. The use of the word “Christian” as an adjective is now a liability in a culture that thinks Christians are judgmental, pushy, anti-homosexual, and hypocritical.
I pointed out to them that as Christian musicians, we never proved ourselves on the world’s stage. We only excelled in our own separate Christian market where it was easy to be somebody with limited competition, like playing in our own sandbox.
I am amazed that they are receiving this and accepting the challenge to prove themselves in the world and bring the gospel along with them. The world never needed Christian anything. It needs Christians taking up their place in it.
I thought about what it means to be a Christian in culture instead a cultural Christian. Then I thought about Dale, a friend of Christian and Amy’s I met last week. He was doing some tree trimming and clean-up for them and was still around at dinner time one evening. Amy invited him to join us, and he accepted. When we sat down to eat, we followed their family tradition of going around the table with each person saying what he or she was thankful for. We ended by saying in unison, “Thank you, God. Amen.” Dale participated in the thanks as well as the meal.
I didn’t think much about it until later in the week when Christian and Amy were in Las Vegas. Dale came in for a glass of water one day while I was fixing lunch. I invited him to join us, and again he accepted. While I fixed the sandwiches, he stood at the pass-through window and we chatted. Since our common point of interest was Christian and Amy, and since their lives revolve around church and related activities, the conversation naturally drifted in that direction. He told me he wasn’t a Christian, and I told him I was a Southern Baptist, and neither of us ran screaming from the room. Later, we sat down to eat and David offered a traditional prayer of thanks for the food.
“We’re a little more traditional about grace than Christian and Amy,” I said to Dale.
He seemed cool with it, and apparently enjoyed his sandwich and the meal-time conversation. This is what I think of when I read John Fischer’s words “Christians taking up their place in [the world]” – Christians being who they are wherever they are while leaving others the space to do the same.
That’s also how I look at my book. After reading the comment about toning down the Christianese, I went back and read a few chapters in my book. Yes, there are references to faith, church, and prayer, but it’s not preachy. It’s a story about a Christian and a Christian family. I think I’ll leave it as is for now, without toning it down and without apology. But if my agent shows up with a contract that includes Wal-Mart…