Thursday, April 15, 2010

Non-fiction Topics in Fiction

I’ll blame this on Chip MacGregor. I’m sure several people have said it before him, but someone mentioned that Chip MacGregor said that we sell fiction by talking about non-fiction themes. This works in whatever method you use to communicate, whether it is speaking at book clubs, on the radio or through a blog. Since most of the people who read this blog also have blogs, let’s focus our attention on blogging, looking at why and how it works.

Why It Works

By far, the book that has been the easiest for me to sell has been Church Website Design. The main reason for that is that when my target audience goes online to find the information they need they find my book. The title is one of the search phrases they might use when looking for a book on the subject. Essentially, I positioned the book in such a way that my target audience is looking for it, instead of me looking for them. We want to do something similar with fiction.

With fiction, our target audience seems much more scattered. With non-fiction, people seem to congregate. A book on writing, for example, is easy to sell just by showing up at a few writers’ conferences and putting it in front of people. If you have a book on church growth, you might take it to some pastors’ conferences. If you are trying to sell it online, you might mention it on a few websites that the target audience visits and you would talk about the subject on your blog, so that the search engines will take people to your site when they are looking for related information. But with fiction, even two sisters may disagree about whether a book is good or not. I’ve had people on the other side of globe enjoy my novels. My audience is very scattered. So what we’re looking for is something that links these people. The story itself won’t provide the link. For a well known author, the author may be the link, but most of us are looking for another link and that link is the non-fiction theme. When people search for information related to that them and find us talking about it, they will also see a novel with the same theme and they may have enough interest to read the novel.

We are more likely to read a novel if it includes things we are interested in. Residents of a small city mentioned in a book, for example, are more likely to read the book than are people who know nothing of the city.

How It Works

On our blog, we may be tempted to just type “Buy my book,” over and over, but it won’t help much. To attract readers within the target audience, we instead talk about the theme of a book. That means that you have to know what the theme of your book is. Every book has a theme. If you don’t know what yours is, you just haven’t found it yet.

The easiest way to look at how this works is to look at an example. My latest novel is titled And Thy House. The title is taken from Acts 16:31, which you will recall is part of the account of when Paul and Silas were in jail. The jailer rushed in after the earthquake, the prisoners told him not to kill himself because they were all there and he asked, “what must I do to be saved?” To that they answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and though shalt be saved, and thy house.” But the book isn’t about Paul and Silas or the jailer. From the title, we can assume that the theme has something to do with salvation, but it isn’t just salvation. This book deals with the subject of a father trying to win his family to the Lord after having taught them to reject the Lord.

As a blogger hoping to attract people who may be interested in this book, writing about writing is probably not the best choice. It would be better for me to write an article about families in which the wife is a Christian, but the husband is not or about families where the parents are saved, but the children are not. If we look at the B-plot, we also find a situation in which the child is saved, but the parent is not. My goal should be to draw in people who are searching for the answer to the question What can you do when you know your children are going to hell? or How can I win my lost family members to the Lord? In keeping with the intent of the book, I would want to address the issue of parents who come to the Lord later in life, when their children not as easily persuaded by the beliefs of their parents. Is there hope then?

I once heard of a family in which the parents had two children when they were young and two children later in life. The parents came to know the Lord after the first two had moved out. The older children were lost, but the younger children also accepted Christ. That story trigger the thought pattern that initiated And Thy House. If I could attract the attention of families in a similar situation, then I am also more likely to attract the attention of people who feel a special connection to a story of this type. But what is my admonition to people in this situation? Don’t give up. It may seem like the loved one is most assuredly will end up in hell, but as long as they draw breath, there is a chance that they will repent.

Potential Problems

There’s always the chance that the topic is too close to home for some people. If people are suffering through a similar situation, they may not want to read a novel about people who are also suffering. People who have suffered through a nasty divorce, for example, may not want to open a book about someone who is going through something similar.

Another problem is that while we may find people looking for a topic related to the theme, they may not want to read about it in novel form. But as always, we are trying to make the people who are most likely to be interested in our book aware of it rather than trying to get everyone to buy it.