Faith writing in fiction is practically worthless…

monkeys_with_computers1I’ve been told that many of my blogs may come across as venting and negative, though I’ve scoured the last year of posts and only found two. Be warned, this may be such a post. But writing can be very therapeutic, and what’s a blog for anyway? It’s no secret to those who know me that I’ve been in somewhat of a slump, possibly even depression, over my writing career. I’ve spoken about this at length with my wife and with some writer friends who feel the same, but I’ve not yet put down exactly how I feel and the things running through my head here on my blog for others to see…namely fans who are wondering why my next book isn’t out yet and other writers who are quietly feeling exactly as I’ve been feeling. And once I’ve said my piece here today, I’ll speak nothing more of it.

The writing industry has changed drastically since my first book released June 1, 2011, and the industry is continuing to change. I wrote earlier this year about how the publishing industry bubble has burst, and indeed it has with the gluttonous excess of books being “published” every day. Supply and demand has devalued writing and writers to ridiculous levels. I’ve even written about what the future might look like for indie writers, if the writing industry follows such trends blazed by the music industry.

Yet while these things weigh heavy on my mind, they don’t tell the whole story.

Writing is hard work. Or at least it should be. The flood of young and eager authors rushing their work onto Amazon would suggest that many are not putting in the time and effort to produce writing of quality. But a person who does it right, even one who is experienced and has been through the game before, could and should easily spend a year on a single project before presenting it to the public. And that’s not just one person. That project should be evaluated by peers, editors, proofreaders, and other such industry personnel needed to ensure the greatest quality possible.

It is hard work. And with the industry changes, there’s little to no reward anymore.

A year’s hard work is expected to sell for less than $10 in paperback and $.99 or even free for eBooks. Anything else is “too expensive.” And with the flood of titles out there now, even those prices may not guarantee sales, much less people actually reading the book. Not to mention, in my experience (and other’s that I’ve spoken to) series books are flopping. Readers may try out the first book, but with so many new choices to experience, why rehash something old?

Here I am on the cusp of book three of a four book series. I had moderate success with book one, book two was almost invisible with probably less that 25% the success as the first. If the negative bell curve holds then book three is sure to release with abysmal numbers, and most people may not even realize there’s a book four until I’m fifty.

There’s my demotivator #1.

But I know what you’re saying. Don’t write for people, write for yourself and for God. Don’t worry about the money, do it for the passion of the craft. And while I would generally agree with you, I also disagree in some respects. I won’t rehash that. Let me take another angle.

I write, not only because I enjoy it, but because I feel it is a gift I should use from God. But to what end? What good is fiction? How does it spread the Gospel? How does it accomplish the work of Christ? Us “Christian writers” have been bashed over the head about not “preaching” in our fiction, to just tell a “good story” and let the examples of the characters and our own lives be the Gospel message because the people who need the message won’t pick up a preachy book. And certainly there’s some legitimacy to that thinking, I would not argue otherwise. But there needs to be a balance, otherwise faith writing loses all meaning.

But in the jungle of so many books and so many authors, nobody cares about the person behind the book anymore. If the author can’t tell their message through their writing, then the reader will never see it. So again I ask, what’s the point? That’s not rhetorical. I really want an answer.

If I write fiction that takes me a year of hard work, goes largely unnoticed by a majority of the reading audience, does nothing to further the Gospel, and has no life-long effect on the reader, then what am I doing? Probably just wasting my time. And I certainly don’t think that kind of effort glorifies God with my talent at all. I might do better using my energy to convert my sermons into devotionals, and I’m perfectly capable of doing that as well. At least then I know there is a point, there is an audience, and there is a message that makes use of my talent to further the Gospel and to please my Lord. As a Christian, my number one goal in life should be to further the Gospel, and if my fiction writing uses all my time and resources to NOT do that at all, then what’s the point?

That’s demotivator #2.

So to sum up…The Christian fiction industry is telling everyone to STOP PREACHING, preventing God-called writers from using their story-telling talents to further the Gospel. Yet even if I did manage to strike a compromise with a publisher and build balance in fiction with the Gospel, my hard work and year-long efforts will largely go unnoticed in this gluttonous market.

I can’t help but feel like there’s a better use for my time and energy. And that’s why I’m having so much trouble getting motivated to write my next piece of fiction.

What about you, author? Do you feel the same way? Or do you have some other perspective on the matter? I imagine I’m not the only one who feels like this, but I also imagine there are authors who have struggled and come to a healthy productive perspective on the matter. I’d like to here from you too.

What about you, reader? Is there any value in fiction at all? Does fiction hold any influence on your theology or relationship with God? Or is fiction merely relegated to disposable entertainment, and the real value lies in well-written non-fiction? If fiction is merely the “candy-bar rack” of the literary world, then I’m not sure I want to be a part of such disposable, forgettable, thankless, and exhausting work,

And a word to my fans. I do fully intend to complete Winter’s story, so don’t worry. I’m just not sure when and I’m not sure if there will ever be anything after that.

After all…faith writing in fiction is practically worthless.

-k

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42 thoughts on “Faith writing in fiction is practically worthless…”

  1. I am both a reader and a [wannabe published] author. I think faith fiction is a bit like a spoon ful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Well written fiction is an escape where I tend to let my fences down and allow the character to speak to my soul uninhibited. I can learn about myself and rethink my perspectives in a way I wouldn’t be as likely to do with nonfiction. I too feel God has given me the talent to write and others have confirmed it, but the way publishing is going, it is a very discouraging world. Who wants to pour their heart, soul, sweat and tears into something that will never be seen and will gather dust? Yet, not writing seems to have much worse consequences on my mental and emotional health.

    And as a future fan, I am hoping that when I see the other side of this major life transition I (and my family are) am in that I can once again purchase books and support the authors who work so hard to entertain and make us think.

    1. Yet, not writing seems to have much worse consequences on my mental and emotional health.

      Yup. And that’s the rub, isn’t it? Hard discouraging work that you just can’t help but keep doing because it’s in your blood. *sigh* What have we gotten ourselves into with this crazy writing thing?

  2. I am also an indie Christian writer, self-published, so I understand what you’re saying. But as a woman, I have a little different perspective.

    “Women’s work” has traditionally been unpaid and gone unnoticed. Want proof? Quick, then, who was Billy Graham’s Sunday School teacher–the one who first helped him understand his need for salvation and ignited his passion for the Lord? Do we remember her name or the name of his mother? Their work was unpaid and unrecognized, yet in touching even one heart it had a lasting eternal effect.

    There is something in all of us that would like to show our gratitude to God by doing something wonderful for Him in return, but perhaps there is a glorious humility in simply doing what He has given us to do and leaving all consequences to Him.

    1. I think you’ve hit exactly on my point. It’s not about the money or recognition, but serving God. But when the current Christian fiction mantra is “less God more story”, I wonder how much kingdom work is actually being accomplished. So what’s the point? Should I write kingdom building non fiction instead if I’m not allowed to pour my faith into my fiction?

      1. For me, the answer was “write both.” I wrote a Texas History curriculum for private and parochial school use. It has a distinct but open-ended Christian worldview. There was nothing like it available, so it has done well, especially among homeschool families.

        My fiction grew out of the many personal stories I discovered during my research. Many of these show the natural consequences of godly choices…or otherwise. The manuscript did well in several competitions. I submitted it to a Christian publisher, and it made it as far as their publishing board, but they declined it with kind advice that “Christian women really just want a sweet, simple romance to read before bed. Don’t try to include too many deep messages.” Like you, I had no interest in writing if I could not share deep messages. So I self-published. I have sold a fair number of copies–enough to have earned out a modest contract for a newbie author. I have given away over 14,000 free copies in promotions. The way I look at it, where would I have had a chance to share a message from my heart with 14-15K people in any other venue? A few have written to share what the story meant to them. I figure what God does with it after that is up to Him, but He can’t use what I don’t write.

    1. I completely agree and have generally developed my innovations on that principle. But easier said than done when you’re halfway into a four book series. I’m committed to completing it before I can jump into new radical ideas. And marketing? Money talks…

  3. Wouldn’t be the first time (nor probably the last) that someone declared something I like, something I love to do, or something that I AM as practically worthless. Thanks for summing it up so well. And people wonder why I have self-esteem issues.

      1. Not sure we ARE in the same boat, Keven. I don’t have sermons I could be turning into devotions, nor would I have any business writing Bible studies, “self-help” or any other kind of Christian nonfiction. So if my fiction is worthless, there’s nothing to fall back on and no way to “redeem myself” with writing.

  4. I am Christian writer, who self-published my first sci-fi suspense novel. I used lots of time and I couldn’t promote it very well, but recently my neighbor bought my book and read it. He doesn’t go to church and probably doesn’t hear the unadulterated gospel very often. If he was the only person to read my book, I would write it again even though it took me 5 years to write it.
    As far as making a living as a writer, I started writing articles on the side. I discovered, that I am good at it, and when I took a journalist course, I was a witness to basically a whole class of atheists. After years of making next to nothing as a writer, writing articles on the side will be an invaluable second job when I start school.

    1. Good for you. Stories like yours makes this worth it. But if the Gospel is 100% stripped away? That neighbor would have gotten nothing. Maybe quality self-publishing is the answer if the gatekeepers continue to scrub God from Christian fiction.

  5. I’m a reader and I love to read fiction books that cause me to drawer closer in my walk with the Lord and books that glorify Him; when I come across a book that does I have been able to use them in my bible study group. There are times when I want to read something mindless, but I really love to read those fiction books that challenge me into a deeper relationship with Christ. Keven, I really love both of your books and I’m waiting for book 3.

  6. Keven, I can so relate especially to what you said about feeling like wasting your time isn’t glorifying God. I’ve never figured out how to put that feeling into words, but you nailed it.

    See, you are a writer!

    Anyway, that is so very, exactly it.

    Obedience glorifies God, of course. But when you’re obedient, and you DO write what you believe wholeheartedly God called you to write, and you put it out there, and….pfffffffft. It feels like, okay, so THAT is what God wanted? To send me on a mission destined to fail? How does THAT glorify HIM?

    It ends up coming across to people as griping about sales and stats and whatnot, but really those are just *indicators* that what we’re doing is actually having an effect–and when those indicators are silent, we feel like we have failed in our calling. That maybe God is saying we got the signal wrong or something.

    You know I’m not one to promote my own blog in comments, but I wrote a post just a couple days ago about my a-ha moment (http://www.katheckenbach.com/2013/08/my-ha-moment-or-realm-makers-part-1-12.html). In which I realized that right now is not about my books and their individual success, but about being a part of what I believe is a burgeoning genre. That Christian spec-fic is going to be taken seriously, and it’s not quite happening *yet* but it *will* and I’m standing side by side with a mass of people who are slowly but surely making that happen.

    You are one of those people, Keven. Don’t give up. We are in this together.

    1. Thank you, Kat. I know you feel the same. I do hope the tide is turning in the right direction. I just need a good kick in the pants right now. This post is helping me put all this angst behind me so I can move forward again.

  7. Hey Keven. Sorry you’ve been feeling so down about this. While I don’t share this exact dilemma, I have seriously questioned the purpose of what I do, so perhaps I know a little of what you’re feeling.

    I have been growing to prefer stories that don’t preach, that are under the radar as far as their Christian content–EXCEPT for the supernatural genre. I mean, it totally wouldn’t work without naming the forces of good and evil. It’s MADE for a preacher with the proper finesse 😉

    So in terms of YOUR writing, I believe it’s exactly on target. And that’s likely a thing we all have to figure out for ourselves.

    1. And that’s what will eventually be the motivating factor in finishing Winter. But what after that? I’ve got a story waiting that I want to write but has little spiritual value. I just don’t know if it’s worth the trouble anymore.

  8. Do it! Don’t devalue that story because you perceive a lack. Sometimes our purpose IS to entertain, to take readers on a journey, to lighten their burdens a little and help them forget their troubles for a while. Seems a worthy goal to me.

  9. Kevin, first, thank you for this heartfelt post. I know how sincere you are and I appreciate that. Just the fact that you’re wrestling with this is inspring to me.

    Rest assured, I’ve been exactly where you are and visit that place every time a royalty statement comes. I wonder if all the sweat, tears, and toil is worth it.

    Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to after much battling with myself and my purpose. My sales may have declined over the years (I write supernatural suspense–or at least used to–and that genre is all but dead in the CBA) and my motivation has really taken some hits. But with each book I put out there I get emails from readers saying how much they appreciated the story and the message, that it made them confront their own sins, or it changed their perspective on life, or changed their life. I’m humbled every time I get one of those emails.

    I believe God has called me to write and given me a gift to write. And if I work for nine months on a book and pour myself into it and give so much to the project and only one person is touched by it, one life is changed . . . man, isn’t it worth it?

    So here’s my exhortation: I know you feel called to write, I can tell by the words you wrote here; I can hear it in your heart . . . so write. Write for that one person. Write to reach one individual, to change one life, to impact one hurting soul. That’s the point. That’s what will make it all worth it.

    1. Thank you for that encouragement. In my heart, I already know that answer. I’m struggling to get my heart and head in the same place. If nothing else, I will write for that the audience of One and that one person that God may speak to…even if that means thumbing my nose at all traditional publishing models that might slight my work. It’s not about money or fame, but about following God.

  10. When the gospel is being neglected in so many churches it’s not suprising that it’s being pushed out of other areas of the “christian” world.

    Keven, continue writing according to your own heart and trust the Lord to provide publishing opportunities and a readership.

    1. Thank you for the encouragement. That is my goal. As a pastor now, I’ve worked hard to make sure the Gospel is at the forefront of everything I do and teach. Now as I evaluate my writing career, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the Gospel should drive that aspect of my life too.

  11. I get what you mean by the $.99 comment, but I don’t think anything above is too expensive. I like the $2.99-5.99 price range depending on the author’s history.

    I had a zombie story set in our world where I stopped because exorcising demons required using Jesus and the Bible as major points in the story’s conflict resolution.

    But, I recently wrote the new ending on my novel and liked the messages of love, forgiveness and self sacrifice of dreams that play out in my faith and life without being Gospel focused (in the story at least). There are plenty of elements in the Gospel that we can highlight in our fiction, feel honors God and which can be fulfilling to experience. I’ve had a good number of friendships develop with non believers through my writing/online presence. I’m happy with my fiction being more secondary Gospel and have my life be loving and patient for those who will ask why I believe what I believe.

    Sorry to hear about the declining sales, Keven. Maybe you should write something different for your next book, if anything, to give yourself a fresh story or whatever.

    1. Thank you. This is exactly the point I’m wrestling with. Is being satisfied with an anecdotal secondary approach to the Gospel worth it, especially when it probably won’t be noticed? Is that what God would have me do with my talent? I’m not so sure. I continue to pray on this.

  12. With how my brain is wired, I can actually learn more from reading fiction than I can from nonfiction. There’s only been 2 nonfiction books I’ve read all the way through (Story: Recapture the Mystery by Steven James and The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel), but it’s because well-written fiction stories can help me understand the world in a more organic way (hence why I also love Jesus’ parables) that nonfiction fails to do 99.9% of the time that I go for it.

    1. I’m basically the same, which is why my heart is in fiction. I’ve often appealed to the parables as Biblical proof of the legitimacy of fiction. But how many people approach fiction like Jesus did? Not many.

  13. Keven, this may not help, but I have repeatedly heard that it takes 10 or 12 books for an author to build a long enough tail to sustain momentum.

    Art is a crazy thing, and writing is an art form. It can’t be dictated by marketing gurus, focus groups or strategic planners. It has to come from your heart.

    I get the point of the people who say preachy fiction won’t reach the unbelievers, because they’ll reject it. I get that.

    But here’s the thing: I don’t write for the unbelievers. I write for dumpy middle-aged women like myself who believe there’s a Creator who loves us and a Redeemer who saved us and a Spirit who guides us, and we want to read stories about what it means to live in a world like that.

    You write stories like that. Winter is neither dumpy nor middle-aged, but I love her anyway. And I know you have lots more characters like her waiting in the wings. Trust God. Tell the stories he gives you. Persevere, my brother.

    1. Thank you. I have many stories I want to tell, and I plan on doing so. I’m just wrestling on how to do that while keeping integrity in my faith. Most of those stories are not nearly as faith filled as Winter.

  14. At Realm Makers, Jeff Gerke offered what I found to be encouraging words: there is no better time to be a writer. Write what you want, and if you can’t find a gatekeeper who’ll publish it, publish it yourself.

    You certainly have the skills, Iguana.

    The market is wide open, with more access to people “like us” than ever before. We don’t have to “get permission” anymore before people read our stuff. Yes, if you want Tor’s marketing budget, you have to play by their rules, but that’s the only reason.

    I’m actually more inspired to write now. I have the skill, I have the desire, I have excellent crit partners, and I don’t have to wait for any arbitrary judge to tell me “yes, but change that first.” I can be as God-honoring, in-your-face-with-Christ as I want and no one but the reader can tell me “no,” but that’s ultimately how it’s always been. The audience decides what sells.

    As far as dimming down my witness, forget it. Jesus is automatically offensive to some people. Doesn’t mean I won’t talk about Him. Doesn’t mean I’ll stick a pastor with a sermon in my books, either, but that’s not the only way to honor Christ in writing.

    1. I can certainly see that point, but that is also one of the things that bother me. With the green light given to bypass the gatekeepers, too many people are rushing their books out before they are ready. That’s why we have the gluttony of books now and serious writers who have slaved to produce the best work possible are getting lost in the jungle. The system isn’t working.

      1. I think that’s because the market changes are still in flux. Whenever any new opportunity comes along, all sorts of people hitch their wagon to a star. Look at other historical opportunities from the New World to the California Gold Rush to the modern home schooling movement. Some have what it takes; some don’t. Eventually those who can’t make it, don’t, and those with skill and persistence enjoy the opportunity. Free enterprise always works, even if it “works” by weeding out, eventually, those who aren’t competitive. (And I’m not saying that in any sort of demeaning way at all. I would not be “competitive” as an Olympic athlete, but I can write the stuffings out of a historical fiction. *wink* The challenge lies in finding what you do best.)

        Even if you HAVE skill, persistence and tons of hard work have always been part of the mix…and God opening and closing doors to direct our path. He wasn’t kidding when he told us to “work heartily.” I’ve had to learn to replace “this is futile” with “this has not succeeded…yet.” If God has put a desire to write in your heart and if you’ve demonstrated a degree of skill at it (and I believe you have), then success may lie just around the next corner.

        To say that a glut of poorly produced indie books limits opportunities for serious writers might be like saying that a glut of poorly homes limits opportunities for serious architects. It takes time for each of us to find our niche and for our niche to find us. Knock and keep knocking. Seek and ye shall find, eh?

        1. Glad if it helped. It’s easy to get discouraged, but God never gives up on us. May it never be the other way around–that we give up because we can’t see Him working. That verse about “don’t flag in zeal” used to make me snicker, but I think that’s what it means. Faith keeps believing in things it can’t see…yet. Doesn’t mean they’re not out there, right?

  15. Glad you posted. I’m a wannabe author who has set aside my first novel attempt, because it felt like too much work and stress, and potentially a complete waste of time. But I miss it. When I was working on it, my connection with God was so much stronger, and I miss that. The story was always in my mind, and with it the ways it tied into scripture and the Gospel. I wish I could be as passionate about God aside from the creative process, but perhaps that is exactly how He has wired me to function. Even if no one else ever reads it, the process keeps (kept) my mind on Him. Also it gave me many opportunities to start conversations with people about what really matters. “Yes, I’m writing a book… let me tell you what it’s about.”

    Lately God has been calling me to evangelism. To talk more directly with people about the Gospel. To hit the streets, walk up to strangers, and ask them if they know what will happen when they die (so far I’ve only talked to two neighbor kids, but I’m hoping for a whole lot more). This feels more vital to me than my story. God wants me to have the courage to speak up for Him, to have an answer for everyone who asks, and to be a city shining on a hill. Should I water down what I say for fear that I might offend? Absolutely not! The Gospel will offend many, that is guaranteed. My part is to present it in gentleness, with love and respect for all. To be blameless, as far as I am able, with God’s help. It’s not me who might be rejected or accepted, but Christ Himself.

    My hope is that when I ignore my fear and speak, God will reward my faithfulness. That the seed of the Gospel will bear fruit, whether or not I see it before heaven. I also hope that finding my voice in person will translate to expressing it better when writing spec fiction; that my voice will be that much bolder. In writing as in witnessing, my goal is to engage, invite, and challenge — not to just have a friendly conversation or entertain. But I want that stuff, too!

    The first step is to stop thinking about doing, and to do. Praise God for what He has allowed you to accomplish thus far.

  16. I am also a wannabe published author. And although I only write nonfiction material. I love reading fiction. In fact I. would love to have the gift of writing fiction but unfortunately that’s not my calling. I believe inspite of how the market seems to be right now, fiction writing definetly does have a place in the kingdom of God. I haven’t read your books myself primarily because I’ve never heard of them or you until now. Which leads me to believe part of your sales problem maybe lack of advertizing. Afterall folks can’t but your books if they don’t know they exist. Hang in there. Maybe it’ll get better soon.

  17. I haven’t read your books, but just happened upon this post because I am wrestling with this topic. I am a non-fiction writer and was challenged by a friend try NanoWrimo this past year and attempt writing fiction- something I thought I’d never do. I’m now 30,000+ words in on my first novel and I love it but it’s serious work! And I really want to put my all into it and write something that is meaningful, perhaps inspiring, perhaps challenging others in their faith. I would hate for all this time spent on this project to be for fluff entertainment. Or for nothing.

    But as a homeschooling Mom of 6 littles, and a former missionary, I’m no stranger to this dilemma. I pour my life into these kids, this home, hoping God will make some future of it… and as a missionary I toiled over learning the language well enough to simply converse and ended up only sharing the Gospel message with two souls before my tour was done- only to have each of them tell me they didn’t need my Jesus.

    I wouldn’t trade my day job, though. Or go back and change my former adventures. I have to trust God is Sovereign, and I guess it goes for my ridiculous quest to write worthy, meaningful fiction as well.

    Good to know I’m not alone.

  18. I wonder how I stumbled on this blog. I have the exact same concerns as you do but nevertheless felt the call to write. Many times I feel like quitting but somehow something just pushes me through. I guess at the end of the day, we wonder if our works will bear fruit and whether we will be able to financially survive.
    I guess it all comes down to this..well at least for me: if it’s truly God’s command to write, then let us not flee from it no matter whether there are immediate readers. As for the gospel sharing part, i believe we must have a striking balance without being too preachy. I think flannery o’connor did it quite well. Perhaps we are to sow the seeds and not get anyone to convert immediately.
    Who knows..maybe our works might reach out to someone long after we’re gone? Didn’t Van Gogh’s arts touch the world only after he was dead? If he had quit because no one appreciated his arts then, we would not have those masterpieces.

    Also, i am looking for a christian fiction that is encouraging and faith building for a young girl around the age of 20. Are your books suitable? I might just place an order or get it somewhere you sell them. I realise a lot of my nieces and nephews do not read self-help books but they read fiction. SO, maybe they could relate to fiction better 😉

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