Monday, February 18, 2013

No Ambushes Here

The Angler Fish--one of nature's best ambushers.
"Quit trying to ambush your audience with the Gospel. Either proclaim your work's genre loud and proud or write something else."

I can't take credit for those words. They are a quote from a book review on Amazon by a writer friend, Katherine Coble. They are wise words, I believe. And words that have inspired this blog post--a post that will look at them from more than one angle.

Something I have proclaimed for a long time is that Christian fiction isn't just written by Christians, it's written for Christians. As Jeff Gerke has said time and again:

So, who is the market for Christian books? By and large, it is white, American, Evangelical women of child-bearing, child-raising, or empty nest years. This is the demographic that walks into Christian bookstores and the Christianity section in secular bookstores.

You see, that is where Christian books are sold. And generally, only Christians enter Christian bookstores or the Christian ghetto section of bookstores like B&N. Yes, I know, they are also sold online through Amazon and such, but they're still segmented. They're sold on exclusively Christian websites like Or they're sold on Amazon under the label of "Christian fiction."

And they ought to be. That, I believe, is one thing Katherine meant by her remark up there. If you are writing Christian fiction, label it as such. For one, the demographic above is searching for that and often won't pick up your book if it's not labeled. And two, the ones who don't want those kinds of books, well, don't want them and if you don't label then you're not being honest.

Oh, yes...I forgot. There's the evangelism card. Putting Jesus out there in your book to reach the unsaved, which means putting Christian content into a book that slickly doesn't include any hint to that content in the description. Right. Sigh.

True evangelism through fiction may happen here and there, and if you are one of those lucky few authors who actually manages to reach an unsaved soul with a Christian novel, then I accede to your amazingness. I am not being sarcastic--I mean it. That is truly awesome! It's just that the numbers show that your REAL audience is vastly made up of people who don't need that message and who are only going to pick up your book if it's labeled "Christian fiction."

Go find some books that are overtly Christian but were picked up by non-Christian readers who didn't know. Even if it was the reader's own fault for not paying attention to the labels (which is another problem entirely), there is one commonality: anger. Why has this author tricked me? Why have I picked up a book I thought was a "suspense" only to get preached at? To be suckered into reading a cheesy altar call?

You see? That's why Katherine used words like "ambush" and "loud and proud." If you write sneaky-sneak Christianity, who are you fooling? Are the readers who find your book going to come to your site and see no sign of your Christianity because you have to hide it out of fear of scaring them off?

The other side of the coin: Christians who write stuff that's not so Christian.

That is actually what popped into my head when I read Katherine's words. Because that's me!

You see, I don't hide the fact that I'm a Christian. Any amount of searching on this site will yield proof of that. Search my Facebook feed, and you'll find evidence. Am I preachy? I don't think a single one of my friends would call me that. It's very much *who* I am, not what I spout.

Which is why I have to be careful not to ambush my readers, and why I need to be loud and proud on both the fact that I am, personally, a Christian. And my writing, generally, is not. There are themes, but all fiction has themes. And I do have exactly one overtly Christian short story--which was published in an online magazine that publishes--get this--Christian short stories. Yeah, I know. Imagine the logic.

I'm not ashamed of my faith. (I'm sometimes ashamed of the fact that there are those who supposedly share my faith and use it to hurt others, but again, a-whole-nother topic there.) And I'm not going to try and "sneak" it in. But I'm not going to bash you over the head with it either. I try to be Christian and write from my heart, period.

I'm also not ashamed of the non-Christian-ness of most of my writing. I write fantasy, which includes magic and mythical creatures. I write horror, which includes blood and spookiness and down-right meanness, and is often seen as something Christians just don't do.

Again, don't "ambush your audience." And, "Either proclaim your work's genre loud and proud or write something else."

So there you have it. I'm a Christian. ME! Yes, I'm a Christian! But I don't often write Christian-y stuff. You will find magic and mystery, death and vampires, and mean little bully-killing girls in my writing. No surprises, folks. No ambushes here.


Kessie said...

*applauds* And good for you! I've had experience with writing both ambush-evangelism and just a plain old good story. The plain old stories impacted people much more than the stealth-evangelism stories. Imagine that! (I've met people who refuse to read anything I wrote because they encountered the preachy stuff and assumed that was all I wrote. Oh, the shame.)

Mean little bully-killing girls. Oohh, the Bad Seed!

Kat Heckenbach said...

I had a friend read one of my first drafts of Finding Angel. He said there's two ways to get your message across: the subtle way and the truckload of bricks way.

That really stuck with me. I made major deletions, specific scenes that had never really set well with me anyway. I discovered I really am much more a naturally subtle writer.

Sharron Cosby said...

I've always appreciated the subtlety of your messages, Kat. Keep up the good work.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thanks, Sharron!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kat! I love this post and especially your last paragraph with the "so there you have it" statement. I often write about and talk about the importance of letting people know where we stand as Christians. As my friend RV Brown describes it, I was once a "wimpy Christian" who was afraid to let people know. I can see how I had to go through that part of my walk. As people read posts like yours, they will be encouraged to step up and step out and make a bold statement. Thank you! Rick Christensen

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thanks, Rick :).

Carol Linsky said...

That's why you're successful in your writing. You know who you are, what you believe, and what God put you on this earth to do. So proud of you and love you with all my heart.


Kat Heckenbach said...

Thank you, Mom :).