On Writing Christmas Novels

by Dan Walsh

As the 2016 holiday season began, I released my 5th Christmas novel, called Finding Riley. I’m not sure how many NR writers have ever considered or even attempted to write a Christmas novel before, but for those who have, I thought you might benefit if I shared some of the things I’ve learned along the way. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve definitely had some real success with my Christmas books over the years.

The fact that this newest one is my 5th Christmas novel should be a clue (would I keep doing something over and over again if it flopped?). The truth is, my Christmas novels have been some of my biggest bestsellers. Which may seem odd, considering the window for selling them is only about 3 months out of the year.

I don’t know about you, but come January 1st, something strange happens (apparently not just to me but to almost everyone in the country). During the holidays, most of us love all-things-Christmas. Christmas music, Christmas movies, Christmas cookies, Christmas decorations (in the stores and all over town). And Christmas books. Millions of people love to read Christmas books; stories set during “the most wonderful time of the year.”

But right after New Year’s Day, we’re all done with Christmas. Totally and completely done.

In retail bookstores, Christmas books come off the shelves. There are no shelves in online stores like Amazon, but sales of Christmas novels plummet in early January. No one is in the mood to read them anymore. This sales slump on Christmas novels generally continues for the next 9 months.

But guess what happens after that? That’s right, it’s Christmas time again. And suddenly, millions of people are in the mood to read Christmas books once again. This pattern repeats itself over and over  every year. My first novel, The Unfinished Gift, was a Christmas novel. It came out during the holiday season of 2009, and it sold extremely well (even won 2 Carol Awards). It’s fair to say, this book launched my writing career. But in January 2010, it came off the shelves. It sold poorly from January and all through the spring and summer months. Then it came back again the following October and for the next 2 months sold even more copies than it had the year before.

It has continued to sell very well every holiday season since. As have all my other Christmas novels. Which is why, this year, I’ve written and published another – Finding Riley. Already it is selling very well and getting great reviews.

So if you’ve been thinking about writing a Christmas novel, you can see I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit. Here are a few things to consider before you jump in:

  • If you aren’t someone who already loves the Christmas season, you might want to skip this idea. I think the best Christmas stories are written by people who absolutely love Christmas. Their stories become the overflow of the joy and excitement they feel when Christmastime is here.
  • As with any good novel, a Christmas story needs to have all kinds of conflict and struggle woven into the plot. The characters must be people the reader will care about from the very first chapter. But it’s imperative, no matter how much tension and peril you put into the story, the climax should lead to a happy and hopeful ending (preferably on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning).
  • One nice thing about Christmas novels is they can typically be shorter in length. My 5 average between 50,000 to 65,000 words, whereas my other novels are more like 80,000 words or more. But usually, you can still charge the same price.
  • Writing Christmas novels, I think, takes an extra measure of creativity and imagination. Mainly because, you will likely have to be writing it during the late spring and summer when you’re not in a Christmas mood (and neither is anyone or anything else around you). I’m not sure why it works out this way, but every one of my Christmas novels was written in the hot summer months (for me, in Florida).

As you can see, I’m a fan. A big fan of Christmas and Christmas novels. If you’ve written any, I’d love to hear your story. If you’re thinking about writing one and have any questions, feel free to ask. And…if you’re looking for a brand new Christmas story to read this year by an old Christmas storytelling veteran, may I recommend…Finding Riley!

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Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Reunion and When Night Comes.
He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times) and 3 Selah Awards. Three
of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year (RT Book
Reviews). Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his
wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take walks and
spend time with their grandkids. Click here to connect with Dan or check out his books.