How Christian is your Fiction?

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

I suppose it’s fair to say the majority of writers who regularly read this blog write what the publishing world calls “Christian Fiction.” I recently submitted a request for a BookBub promo on their website. They ask you to pick what genre you write in. More than a dozen to choose from.

Oddly enough, they lump all the fiction written by Christian authors into one category. You guessed it, Christian Fiction. Even though we write in just as many different genres as they do. What sets us apart, I guess, is the Christian theme that appears in our books.

But as Christian authors, we have another issue to consider besides what genre we write in. That is, how much “Christian” should we put in our Christian fiction novel? It’s a subject every Christian author must wrestle with as they craft their stories.

Do you include a lot or a little? Do you see the writing task as a call from God to preach the gospel to unbelievers through your fiction stories? Some writers do. Others are concerned unbelievers will be turned off (even some Christian readers will be) if the novel gets too preachy. I’ve read many Christian readers complain about this on Facebook groups.

For the sake of clarity, I think we can put the kind of books Christian authors write into 2 distinct categories:

  1. Message Novels
  2. Worldview Novels

By a Message Novel, I mean one where the writer is clearly looking for a way to present the gospel message, or some other overtly Christian theme, through their story. Hopefully, they do it in a way that doesn’t come off as overly preachy. But even if well done, they want the message to be strong and clear.

By a Worldview Novel, I mean a book where the Christian message is more subdued and less obvious. Perhaps some of the main characters are Christians, but they don’t seek to deliver any specific Christian message as the story unfolds. When issues of right and wrong or morality are shown, they are presented from a Christian (versus secular) point of view. A Christian message may not even be central to the story (think clean entertainment).

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Out of the 19 novels I’ve written (20 including my WIP), about half are Message Novels and half are Christian Worldview. I don’t have enough time here to say which ones are in which category, or why I write both kinds of books. I don’t believe one type is more right, or better than the other. Usually for me, the story itself favors one approach or the other.

Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to write the “perfect blend novel.” One that has just the right amount of message and just the right amount of worldview to make everyone happy. Readers’ expectations of what they hope to see in a book are all over the map (including many Christian readers).

Consider my Jack Turner Suspense Series (the first three books are depicted here). These are not Message Novels. My goal in writing them was to create a clean, somewhat romantic, very suspenseful set of stories, not unlike the big secular thrillers people read; only instead of having the main characters sleep around, swear profusely and display rebellious attitudes, I wanted to show how credible Christian characters might handle these same kinds of intensely suspenseful plots and situations.

Thankfully, for the most part the reviews have been outstanding. But a few Christians have complained that the Christian message isn’t strong enough for them. In these novels, it never will be. They’re not Message Novels. If these readers read my Message-type Novels, they’d think they were wonderful, as is.

I hope I don’t come across as mocking here. I believe Message Novels have their place in Christian Fiction (why I write them also). But I want to end this column with something I’ll pick up again next month, and elaborate more fully. That is, I’m not sure it’s a realistic goal for a Christian author to think they can write a strong Message Novel that will appeal to a huge unbelieving (non-Christian) audience. I believe the Bible would even speak of some built-in obstacles to such a “Crossover Hit.” It can happen, but I think it’s rare.

When I write Message Novels, my intended audience and even my goal somewhat, is to strengthen and encourage Christians in their faith. I don’t see it so much as effective evangelism. If I’m able to win some converts to Christ, I’d be thrilled.

More on this next month. So, how about you? What kind of Novels do you write? How much Christian do you put in your Christian Fiction?


Saving Parker

After years of abuse and neglect, Parker is found chained in a junk-filled backyard after a drug bust. The little guy is terrified of people. Officer Ned Barringer brings him to a nearby shelter for medical care. When Ned learns how hard it is for dogs like Parker to get adopted, he decides to take him in. He’s also instantly taken with Kim Harper, one of the shelter managers. She offers to train Parker for free and Ned instantly accepts. That same day, he meets his next-door neighbor, a ten-year-old boy named Russell. Russell tries to hide a black-eye, compliments of two bullies at school. This angers Ned. He was also bullied as a child, the main reason he became a cop. But, really, what can he do? A series of tragic events occur. What vital role does Parker play in bringing these three lives together?

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 18 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 4 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years. You can find more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

Make Eye-Catching Ads on the Cheap

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

As I write this, the holiday season is definitely happening. For me, the Christmas season starts on Thanksgiving Day. I just can’t get excited before then. No matter how many people or stores put up Christmas decorations in October or early November.

One aspect of the holiday season, of course, is shopping. People buy lots and lots of gifts this time of year. And thankfully, books make great Christmas gifts (which is what got me thinking about this topic for my December column).

As many Novel Rocket readers know, I transitioned from being traditionally published to publishing my own novels 3 years ago. That began an adventure that added a lot of new hats to my wardrobe. One of the biggest is marketing. My publisher had an entire department devoted to this. At Bainbridge Press (my imprint name), there’s only me. And very recently, my wife has jumped in to help.

Early on I realized I needed to learn how to create eye-catching ads to use on places like Facebook, Twitter, my blog, and newsletter. All the social media studies I’ve read said people will scroll right past even the best-written text unless it’s accompanied by a great looking graphic. I knew this was true because I do the same thing.

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The problem was, I didn’t have any money to hire a graphics expert. It was either me, or it wasn’t happening. So I began to investigate. Everyone was saying I had to get Photoshop. It’s the gold-standard for graphics software. So, I did (the cheap version you can rent one month at a time).

I’m SO glad I didn’t buy the whole thing.

It didn’t take long to realize this program was WAY too complicated for me. After watching about 50 YouTube videos, I was still miles away from figuring out how to make good-looking ads (I think it was less frustrating learning how to play golf).

Then I remembered when I was a pastor, I used to use PowerPoint to make nice-looking graphics for my sermons and Bible studies. I updated MS Office to get PowerPoint’s latest version and started playing with the art tools. Only instead of making overhead slides, I began working on ads for my book promotions. The program was so simple. Really, if you can use any Microsoft Office programs you can use PP. After a little experimenting, I was soon turning out some very satisfying ads.

Besides the art tools, there are all kinds of free graphics (backgrounds and clip-art) you can download off the internet (make sure you don’t copy licensed or copyrighted graphics without paying). I use different ones for every season or holiday. You can easily insert jpgs of your books and resize them, as needed. Add shadows to make them stand out. Then create the text for your ads in a variety of font styles and colors. They’re so easy to move around on the colored background.

When you have the ad just the way you want, use an app like “Snip It” for PC’s or “Grab” for Macs and select the Ad right on Powerpoint, then Save it as a jpg that can easily be uploaded to the internet. The Christmassy-looking ad for my brand new book, Saving Parker, was made using Powerpoint in about 30-45 minutes.

PowerPoint also makes for a great place to store your ads. As you create more, you can easily find the previous ones on the left margin. To save lots of time, I often copy and paste specific ad features from previous ads to make brand new ones.

Once your ad is finished, the next step is to create the Ad Copy that goes above it. I’ve included a recent one I put up on Facebook and Google-plus. I actually used the same ad copy for Twitter (though I had to trim off much of the text). Don’t be intimidated by this task. You’re a writer. You can do this part. You’ll probably even find it easier than creating the graphics.

Make sure to use the colorful Emojis FB offers now (I often create my ad text on FB, because these little graphics copy and paste well in other apps). And don’t forget to add hashtags at the bottom. Although they’re more often associated with Twitter, people are used to searching for topics and themes using them and they work just as well with other social media apps.

Well, that’s it for me. I’m sure others reading this have found some additional creative ways to make book Ads on the Cheap. If so, please share them with us.


Saving Parker

After years of abuse and neglect, Parker is found chained in a junk-filled backyard after a drug bust. The little guy is terrified of people. Officer Ned Barringer brings him to a nearby shelter for medical care. When Ned learns how hard it is for dogs like Parker to get adopted, he decides to take him in. He’s also instantly taken with Kim Harper, one of the shelter managers. She offers to train Parker for free and Ned instantly accepts. That same day, he meets his next-door neighbor, a ten-year-old boy named Russell. Russell tries to hide a black-eye, compliments of two bullies at school. This angers Ned. He was also bullied as a child, the main reason he became a cop. But, really, what can he do? A series of tragic events occur. What vital role does Parker play in bringing these three lives together?

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 18 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 4 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years. You can find more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

Don’t Say It’s Over

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

Last month, I submitted Part 1 of a 2-part column about The Power of the Review. I highlighted some exciting news that one of my novels, Rescuing Finley, had just passed the 800-review mark on Amazon (while keeping a 4.8 Star average). A month later, it’s added an additional 113 new reviews, most of them 5 Stars. And–supporting my premise that strong reviews boost sales–the novel is still selling very well.

I ended the column talking about endings. Specifically, how important great endings are in motivating readers to WANT to write a great review. I was freshly reminded of this dynamic this week, as my wife and I watched yet another potentially-great movie on Netflix that we had previously never heard of. Don’t recall ever seeing it in the theaters and have never heard anyone ever talk it up (like friends, for example). It had brand name actors, a great premise for the story, great production values, and kept us on the edge of our seats the whole time.

Well, not the whole time. But for at least 97% of the time. Then guess what happened? We watched THE ENDING. And we instantly realized WHY we had never heard of this movie before.

The ending STUNK!

We were angry, both of us. That whoever had produced this film had the gall to ruin it with such a dismal and dumb ending. That we had wasted 2 hours time watching it. The movie instantly went from receiving a 5-Star review to 1-Star in the last 5 minutes. This has happened SO many times. But it doesn’t just happen with movies but also potentially great books.

What do you think the chances are that a reader will want to take the extra time to post a great review of your novel if they hated the ending? Or even if they didn’t hate it but found themselves frustrated, bored or indifferent about the story when they finished the final page?

I’d say the chances are slim to none.

The good news is…the opposite is true if you take the time to craft a great ending for your book. Readers will often, totally on their own, want to give it a great review. Or if they’re not thinking about it, they might easily be encouraged to do so after reading one of your back pages inviting them to (with a link).

The late bestselling crime fiction author Mickey Spillane said, “Your first chapter sells your book. Your last chapter sells your next book.”Which provides a great segue to my first suggestion: Spend as much time crafting your novel’s Ending as you do its Beginning. Don’t leave anything to chance (even if you’re a pantser). Take the time to think it through. Don’t just hope it all comes together, because without serious effort, it may not.

You want readers’ reaction to be what I’ve used as this month’s Title: “Don’t say it’s over.” You want to create a growing, intensifying climax over the last 75 pages or so, forcing the reader to keep reading at a frenetic pace (because they must, to find out what’s going to happen). Then you want the ending to be thoroughly satisfying, so that now they’re sad it’s over.

But see, that kind of sadness is a good thing. Because it quickly converts to total delight. And the reader’s next reaction is to find out if this author has written any other books. And even if they got that book for Free (or seriously discounted), they’ll be willing to pay good money for the next one, and the next (assuming they’re all written equally well).

I know this is true, because that’s what happens to me, as a reader. And that’s what dozens of other readers have told me they do when I ask them about this when I speak about Writing Great Endings.

And…I follow this strategy myself, with every book I write. Including the one I recently finished, Saving Parker, which is available for pre-order now and releases on November 15th.

Why not share some of the better book and/or movie endings you recall (as well as some bad ones that totally ruined the experience for you).

TWEETABLES


Saving Parker

After years of abuse and neglect, Parker is found chained in a junk-filled backyard after a drug bust. The little guy is terrified of people. Officer Ned Barringer brings him to a nearby shelter for medical care. When Ned learns how hard it is for dogs like Parker to get adopted, he decides to take him in. He’s also instantly taken with Kim Harper, one of the shelter managers. She offers to train Parker for free and Ned instantly accepts. That same day, he meets his next-door neighbor, a ten-year-old boy named Russell. Russell tries to hide a black-eye, compliments of two bullies at school. This angers Ned. He was also bullied as a child, the main reason he became a cop. But, really, what can he do? A series of tragic events occur. What vital role does Parker play in bringing these three lives together?

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 18 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 4 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years. You can find more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

The Power of the Review

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

This past month I reached a new milestone with one of my novels, Rescuing Finley. It broke the “800 mark” on Amazon, meaning it had received over 800 customer reviews. And it did so, maintaining a 4.8 Star average. It’s particularly satisfying for two reasons. First, the book has been out for less than 2 years. And second, it was the very book my publisher had rejected (after publishing 12 others), saying they didn’t think the story would sell very well. And the book which solidified my decision to start writing as an indie.

But this post isn’t about me or some important personal milestone. It’s about the importance of customer reviews for authors. And why you should actively seek to increase yours (but only if they’re good ones). I am convinced, they are a big factor in growing book sales.

I mentioned my decision to start writing books as an indie. One of the reasons I did was to be able to market my books more creatively and effectively. To have the freedom to try things my publisher wouldn’t do. Which introduces my first suggestion or tip. I’m a big advocate for the importance of Back Pages. For anyone who doesn’t know what these are, I’m talking about the pages that follow after the reader finishes the last page of your story.

To me, these pages should be all about keeping your reader engaged with you while their level of interest is high. If they loved the book, and you make it very easy, many will do things like leave a positive review and/or read a sample chapter of your next book, and order that one, too (if they like it and there’s a link provided right there). So, one of my FIRST back pages is titled “How You Can Help This Author.”

On that page, I take a few paragraphs to thank them for reading the book and explain how important reader reviews are to book sales, and how important book sales are for me to be able to keep writing more books. Then I politely ask them to consider writing a brief review (even a few lines will help) and provide a link for them to click on, so they can do it now (again, while the interest is high).

Does this work? Apparently so. Rescuing Finley is Book 1 of a 3-book contemporary series. Book 2 already has over 200 reviews 11 months after its release (also averaging 4.8 Stars). I started a second series in 2015 (romantic suspense – a brand new genre for me). Book 1 in that series, When Night Comes, has received 529 reviews so far, and Book 2 has 457 reviews. Book 3, Unintended Consequences, just came out in May and already has 88 reviews (avg 4.8 Stars).

Now, in an effort toward full disclosure, I must admit…many of my traditionally published novels have received over 400 customer reviews, some over 500. They don’t have the back pages in place I’ve talked about. But this is also true: those novels have been out for 5-7 years, or more. My indie novels (with the back pages) have been out for less than 2 years. I think this idea of a specific page asking readers to write a review really matters.

Why is this so important? Because readers PAY ATTENTION to these reviews in a big way, especially when evaluating a book by an author they don’t know. I know I do. I don’t read them all, but I always read at least a dozen or so reviews to help me get a sense of whether this book will be a good fit for me, before I click on “Add to My Cart.” And I don’t just read reviews of books, but everything I buy online. Recently, we were shopping for a spa to help my wife with chronic lower back pain. I must have looked at 15-20 spa models online, and the decision about which one to buy (as well as ones to avoid) was heavily influenced by reading reader reviews.

Another thing I do (besides the back pages), is to always include a graphic that highlights these reviews in any ads or promos I create (see the jpg I created for Rescuing Finley). And I make a big fuss about reaching these milestones on social media.

The final tip I’d like to offer is this: The best way to insure a reader will want to leave a positive review is to work hard to craft a great, climactic ending for your book. Nothing will generate strong motivation to leave a good review than a good book with a great ending. But I’ve run out of time to explain anything more.

I’ll pick up here next month.

TWEETABLES

The Power of the Review @DanWalshAuthor on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2yfHOMv

Consider using a Back Page to ASK readers to post a review – AND give them a link @DanWalshAuthor @NovelRocket http://bit.ly/2yfHOMv

Readers pay attention to reviews, especially evaluating authors they don’t know @DanWalshAuthor @NovelRocket http://bit.ly/2yfHOMv

____________________________

Unintended Consequences:

Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 18 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 4 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years. You can find more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.