Welcome to a new dimension of my blog: interviews. I’d love to highlight friends of mine who’ve written some fantastic books, books I can wholeheartedly recommend to you and your friends. As you know, I believe in clean and meaningful Christian fiction, so I’m careful about who I endorse.
My new guest is Deb Brammer, an author friend I’ve known for several years. Without further ado, join Deb and me as we sip our coffee and chat about Christian publishing.
So, Deb, how long have you been writing for Christian publication?
How many books have you written?
I’ve had eight books published.
Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World and Two Sides to Everything are written for preteens and involve cultural changes made by an American in Taiwan and New Zealand. Moose is fiction for teens written about a Montana Bible Camp. I used a pen name to write a book about a sensitive ministry. These are all published by Bob Jones University Press.
Edges of Truth is the true story of Mary Weaver, an innocent caregiver who was accused of first-degree murder of a baby who quit breathing in her care. My husband and I wrote a companion Bible study for that book, I Survived! Five Bible Characters Who Survived Disaster. You, Adam, edited Edges of Truth, which gave us the confidence to publish the book, even though it was our first self-published endeavor.
Regular Baptist Press published an ESL Bible study book of mine.
And I’ve just published my first novel for adults, Broken Windows. I’m working on the sequel for that now.
You can find out more about these books on my website: www.DebBrammer.com.
How has Christian publication changed in the thirty-five years you’ve been writing?
I tend to think of this in decades. In the 1980s I started writing articles for publication on my typewriter. Much of the time I aimed at one article a month. I found a publisher that liked my articles and quickly built a foundation of published articles and stories.
Christian fiction was very limited before 1980, but Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly changed everything. It astonished Christian editors with its unexpected overnight success. Suddenly Christian publishers were hungry for fiction, especially prairie romance. Some were putting out new titles every month. In the rush to publish, quality fiction was mixed with inferior fiction. Readers slowed their buying, and some writers got stuck with manuscripts they’d been asked to write but couldn’t sell. Great opportunities to publish opened up in the early eighties but dried up quickly halfway through the decade. Publishers turned to other genres like mysteries and fantasy, and writers tried to follow the trends. Manuscripts started flooding the desks of editors.
Moving into the nineties, most Christian publishers were refusing to consider manuscripts that didn’t come from agents. Now writers were concerned not only about good writing but also about marketing their books to agents, who would then try to market them to editors.
I had written a book in the eighties that I had had professionally critiqued with favorable comments. I kept revising and submitting the book, without success. Those were the days of printed manuscripts and envelopes and stamps. With each submission I had the long waiting period of sending manuscripts one by one and waiting for replies. In the meantime, I wrote Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World. This kids’ book was easy to write because I was basically living the book on an adult level. BJUP bought it and published it in 1994. I only had to worry about the writing of that book. Publishing and marketing were completely out of my hands. The book sold well, better than any of my other books have. It has now had been printed seven times.
By 2000 we had the Internet, and writing for publication was changing quickly. The tragedy on 9-11-2001, for reasons I don’t understand, really hit Christian publishers hard. Readers quit buying as much Christian fiction, and publishers couldn’t take the risks they had taken before. It became harder even to find an agent who would consider your book. At the same time, it became far easier to self-publish. The stigma of self-publication began to fade as some well-known authors turned to self-publication in order to gain higher royalties. Soon the success of a writer started depending less on his writing ability and more on how well he did social media and marketing.
BJUP published Two Sides of Everything in 2004 and two of my other books in that decade, but I could see they were slowing down, too, in what they would accept, even of my books after they had already published four of them.
Today anyone can publish his own book. Many new authors publish, not because they are ready, but because they can. Vast numbers of writers write one book. Some of these are poorly written, but a few of the author’s friends buy his book, and he can say he’s a published author. Self-publication can work well because it pays much higher royalties than traditional publishers and gives control over the book’s content completely to the author. The author doesn’t have to spend years trying to find an agent for his book who then has to market it to a publisher. On the other hand, the author loses the safety net of an editor who helps him hone his work until it becomes good enough to sell. Today’s writer’s job is not finished when he finishes writing the book. Now he has to market the book. He needs a website and a blog, and he needs to keep up on several forms of social media so readers can find him.
In December of 2010, I first heard Mary Weaver’s story. I felt it was a story that needed to be told. I returned to the States in 2011, wrote a book proposal, and attended a writer’s conference to try to find an interested editor or agent. When I told Mary’s story to people in general, I sensed huge interest, but every editor and agent refused to even consider it. They all agreed on two things. The story happened too long ago, and Mary wasn’t a celebrity. Sensing God leading us forward, I knew it was time to consider self-publication. Now I’ve self-published Mary’s story, a companion Bible study book, and just recently, my first adult fiction book, a cozy mystery called Broken Windows. Now I’ve joined the ranks of writers who are forced to continually grow in social media and marketing skills. I don’t know where I will go from here, but I’m trying to establish a foundation for selling adult fiction so that I can continue to write well into retirement.
What advice would you give to beginning writers who want to write and publish Christian novels?
2. When you want to begin writing for publication, target several publications you’d like to write for. Get the writer’s guidelines from their websites. Study the stories or articles they use. Rather than writing what you feel like writing, try to write to fit the needs of that publication.
3. Always continue to improve your craft. You’ll find many articles on my website to get you started. For learning how to structure novels, I recommend Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. Get the print book, mark it up, and use it as a checklist to evaluate your novel.
4. Keep up on what is happening in Christian publication by attending writers’ conferences, taking online courses, or following knowledgeable writers online.
5. Don’t let your inner critic defeat you. Allow yourself to write freely without constant evaluation. Write what you want to write and what you would like to read. Do your best work. Get honest feedback from other writers. Then evaluate and rewrite until you feel that your novel is the best you can make it at that point in your writing career.
6. Don’t let the success stories of others discourage you. Writing is hard work. A few authors write bestsellers, get rich, and talk about how easy it is. But most of us won’t come close to making minimum wage for the hours we put into a book. We write because we love to write, and we want to use it as a ministry to honor the Lord. We take the huge risk of spending a year or two on a book, not knowing if we’ll ever sell it or, if we self-publish, whether we’ll make our money back. We put it out into the public arena and see what the Lord will do with it and how he will lead us after that. We may not make much money, and we may not see, in this life, the help it gives to readers. But we keep doing it because we have that urge to write that few others understand.
What unique qualities characterize your novels and how do they reflect your personal life?
Whether you meet me in person, visit my website, or read my novels, you will notice these two recurring themes: missions and ministry. My father was a pastor. I helped him start churches as a teenager. I served in churches throughout Bible college. And I’ve served with my husband as a missionary in Taiwan and New Zealand as well as travels in the US since 1978. It’s no surprise, then, that my novels deal with cross-cultural and ministry issues. They emphasize faithfulness in long-term ministries rather than wild “success” stories, because that is what has characterized our ministry.
What do you think the future holds for Christian publication both by traditional publishers and self-publication?
Only one thing is for sure: No one knows what will happen. The rules about Christian publication have radically changed since I started writing for publication. Even experts have found book sales wildly unpredictable. Today we have amazing publishing opportunities that didn’t exist twenty years ago. Of course, when you publish a book in any form, you can’t guarantee the outcome.
On the other hand, if you can write a good book, you can guarantee publication. For an investment of a few hundred dollars, you can publish a quality Kindle book. For less than a thousand dollars you can publish a quality print book. After publication it will take hard work to market the book. But if you’re willing to invest a little money, write a well-written novel, and work on marketing, your novel can stand on equal footing with those from traditional publishers.
Though we can’t know the future of Christian publication, we can prepare for it by growing our writing and marketing skills in today’s world. Then when new opportunities arise, we will be closer to being ready to step into those opportunities. Writers who refuse to change and grow will be left behind.
Do Christian novels need to have a strong message, or do they merely need to entertain?
Novel readers read for enjoyment, to be entertained. If a novel doesn’t tell a great story, it becomes a sermon. Most readers don’t like preachy novels. Sometimes even unbelievers read Christian books because they are looking for clean fiction. As a Christian writer, however, I feel I’m wasting my time writing if my book is no more than clean secular fiction. I want my story to have a strong message as well. I want to pair a strong story with a message that is going to help my readers.
I am often disappointed with Christian fiction today. Many Christian novels, well-written or not, have characters who lack integrity and don’t see the need to change. While Christian novels may not contain graphic sex scenes, some lead the imagination down paths that are counterproductive to a pure thought life. Some use swear words to make dialogue “more realistic.” Many depict “mature” Christians who fall in love and almost marry someone who is an unbeliever or a believer with little integrity. Then, at the end of the book, the unbeliever suddenly gets saved, and they get married. These romances are usually based on physical attraction more than on godly character. Yes, characters need to have flaws, but I believe Christian characters either need to have integrity and discernment or see the need to change.
Where can readers find out more about you?
Website and blog: http://www.DebBrammer.com
I have lots of resources for writers on my website. My blog includes subjects of interest to writers as well as people in ministry.
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Deb-Brammer/e/B001JP2QM0
About Broken Windows
Broken Windows is a light-hearted mystery. Jordan Axtell, an aspiring artist searching for a new beginning, escapes to Idaho. He hopes to put failure behind him and carve a respectable career out of the rock hard art community. But a black shadow girl with a red balloon warns him that his past refuses to stay where it belongs.
Strange things disappear and peculiar crimes point to Jordan’s guilt. Meanwhile, Alison distracts him from his goals. Zophie drives him crazy with her expectations and questions. A Bible Zone boy pulls at his heartstrings, and his roommate forces him to enter a new world of wheelchairs.
Has the most annoying graffiti artist on the planet followed Jordan to Idaho? Or is a copycat intentionally committing weird misdemeanors just to ruin his reputation? Jordan must find the identity of the perpetrator or lose his integrity as an artist. His new friends try to help, but with friends like his, his enemies can go on coffee break.
Want to Win a Paperback Copy of Broken Windows?
What do you think about meaning in Christian fiction? Do you believe Christian fiction needs to “say” something? Why or why not? Share your opinion by leaving a comment with your e-mail address. I’ll choose a winner on September 25.
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