Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thoughts on the Bestselling Christian Books of 2008

Yesterday, Michael Hyatt blogged about The Bestselling Christian Books of 2008. It sort of relates to what I’ve been talking about this week, so I thought I’d go ahead and mention a couple of thoughts I had when I saw his list, as sort of a bonus post.

The Disconnect Between Christian Fiction and Non-fiction

In looking at the list, 15 Christian non-fiction books made the list and 1 novel. If you factor in the paperbacks, you can count four more novels. A 5:15 ratio is still a dismal showing for Christian fiction. There are many possible reasons for this, but one thing that I noticed is that the doomsday stuff is missing, with on exception. The books on the non-fiction list appear to be uplifting, as do the five successes in the novels. Now, scan the list of books from yesterday. Many of those books aren’t uplifting at all. Many of them are down right depressing—at least they are when you read the product descriptions. Is there a link?

Non-Fiction is Easier to Sell

Non-fiction is easier to sell than fiction and that might have something to do with the missing novels from the list. For that matter, most of the skilled Christian writers with a platform are writing non-fiction rather than fiction. That in itself could have something to do with why one did better than the other, so don’t go out and write an uplifting Christian novel and expect it to fair much better than the books that are currently being produced.

People are Tired

People can only endure bad news for so long before they must seek escape. Books are one means of escape. If most people are like me, they have grown tired and they don’t want books that just add more bad news on top of what they have already been hearing. I may be wrong about other people, so don’t go changing what you’re writing unless you really want to. But as for my own work, I would like to see it move more toward the uplifting and away from the killing fields that much of Christian fiction appears to be at the moment.

As an added bit of information, Rose Fox of Publisher's Weekly has an article that suggests people are looking to escape through reading in hard times. The article suggests that people either want to escape to a world that is better than what we see around us, or they want to see people in worse circumstances who overcome. I would say that in either case the reader is looking for hope of some kind.

What's Wrong With These Product Descriptions?

Product descriptions are a problem for books. As I was working on yesterday’s post, I noticed that many of the product descriptions that the publishers are putting out there aren’t very helpful. With some of them, it took me over a minute to figure out what the book was about. Considering that customers spend about eight seconds looking at the product description, that is a problem. I know I struggle with writing product descriptions, so I thought it might be good to consider how we might improve some of the product descriptions out there. Rather than pick on an author because of a horrendous product description, I have selected the books with the best premise from each of the three publishers I picked on yesterday.

One week from tomorrow, at precisely 6:11 in the morning, the rapture or apocalypse or Armageddon or whatever else it is you’d prefer to call it, is going to occur. But only in Goodland, Kansas. The Hendersons are caught in the middle as the town—and the family—divides between belief and unbelief in this satirical and illuminating apocalyptic novel. (The End is Now, Rob Stennett, Zondervan)

This is one of the better product descriptions from among the ones I looked at. It gets to the heart of the story and we know what the book is about. Other than the lengthy aside taking the reader away from the action, there isn’t much I don’t like about this product description.

Sometimes dying with the truth is better than living with a lie.

After a car accident puts Shauna McAllister in a coma and wipes out six months of her memory, she returns to her childhood home to recover, but her arrival is fraught with confusion. Her estranged father, a senator bidding on the White House, and her abusive stepmother blame Shauna for the tragedy, which has left her beloved brother severely brain damaged.

Leaning on Wayne Spade, a forgotten but hopeful lover who stays by her side, Shauna tries to sort out what happened that night by jarring her memory to life. Instead, she acquires a mysterious mental ability that will either lead her to truth or get her killed by the people trying to hide it. In this blind game of cat and mouse that stares even the darkest memories in the face, Shauna is sure of only one thing: if she remembers, she dies. (Kiss, Ted Dekker & Erin Healy, Thomas Nelson)

Why so much yellow? This book appears to be an out of the bottle plot in which an accident victim gains an ability to steal memories from other people. Do you see that in the product description? No. What we see is a story about a woman who is struggling with family problems and memory lose. There’s nothing wrong with that, considering that there are hundreds of books that deal with that subject. The problem is that the product description highlights the ordinary aspects of the book and ignores what makes it special. It’s like saying that Cinderella is about a girl who stuggles to live with her stepmother after her father leaves. No! Cinderella is about a girl attending a ball and winning the prince with the aid of her fairy godmother. Focus on the spectacular.

A Powerful Drama of a Mother's Unfailing Love

Alisa Stewart feels like she's lost two sons: her youngest to a terrible tragedy and her eldest, Kurt, to a life ruined by addiction. But now Kurt has checked himself into rehab and found a healing faith that seems real. It's like he's been raised from the dead. But then a detective arrives at Alisa's door asking questions about a murder--the death of a drug dealer before Kurt entered rehab. Alisa fears losing her son again, and when she finds evidence linking him to the killing, she destroys it. Her boy is different now. He's changed and deserves a second chance. But when another man is charged with the crime, Alisa finds herself facing an impossible choice: be silent and keep her son or give up everything for the truth.

“A powerful drama?” Might I suggest, show, don’t tell. The readers get to decide if the story is powerful, not the publisher. And do we really need to know about both sons? That’s part of the back story, but this story doesn’t appear to be about the younger son at all. The statement about it being like he’s been raised from the dead is extraneous and grossly corny. The statements about her boy being different are out of place as well. In the product description they come across as preachy. The book must prove these statements rather than simply stating them as fact.

If you happen to be the person who wrote one of these product descriptions, I would love to hear from you about why you agree or disagree with my assessment.