Now the interrogation begins!
1) Thomas Nelson doesn't accept unagented submissions. We have a strong readership on Seekerville of unpublished authors. So is the only path to Thomas Nelson through an agent or are their other ways? Do your editors ever judge contests or accept manuscripts submitted at conferences?
Our editorial team does judge contests and review manuscripts at conferences like ACFW. But the absolute best chance for an unpublished author to be published through Thomas Nelson Fiction is through an agent. Besides acting as a quality filter for publishers, good agents bring tremendous value to the process by critiquing the manuscript, shaping the proposal and then pitching it to the right potential publishing partners…not to mention overseeing the lengthy contract negotiation process should a deal happen.
2) Thomas Nelson publishes a wide variety of books. Legal Thrillers, Amish romance, suspense western romance, romantic suspense, Sci Fi/Fantasy and on and on. Do you search for a balance between all these genres? Are there a certain number of slots to fill every year in each genre?
While I believe Thomas Nelson Fiction’s program offers the most diversity across genres of any Christian Publisher, our goal isn’t to attain a perfect balance between all the genres. We’re open to all genres since the genre at the bottom of the list today is only one surprise hit away from being tomorrow’s next hot genre!
We approach acquisitions with a two-fold goal. First, we’re keenly aware of what’s working best in the marketplace based on what Christian Fiction readers most want to read. A successful publisher learns quickly not to publish solely for his nightstand (personal tastes)…but rather to publish the best stores in the genres readers are most excited about at that time. Currently, the greatest heat is with Amish, romance and historical novels.
Second – and simultaneously – we’re always searching for the best stories regardless of genre – because nothing trumps the power of a fresh story hitting all the right marks. And you’ll never come up with “the next big hit” by only looking in your rearview mirror and doing what worked great yesterday. Sometimes, readers don’t know if they’d like something new until they see it. It’s up to the publisher to “see if first – even before it exists” and then bring it to market.
3) I love the history of Thomas Nelson. Founded in 1798. That's so impressive. You've been a company in four centuries now. Do the roots of the company affect you in any way today? It seems like a big responsibility to continue the work when the history is this rich.
I agree – and absolutely love being a part of a 212 year-old publishing heritage. I often think about rich heritage and am motivated by that significant responsibility. Our company was founded in Scotland by a real man named Thomas Nelson. He was an incredible innovator – from creating major breakthroughs in the printing press to hiring the publishing industry’s first traveling sales force. At the end of the day, my goal is also to be an innovator. Someone who leads with ideation and publishes the best stories to the broadest audience – always from a Christian worldview. In times past, Christians often led in areas of the arts with story, music, plays and sculpture. Somehow in recent decades, there’s been a shift where Christians now simply try to mimic what’s hot in the secular world – with a light Christian twist. This drives me crazy! We follow a God of ultimate creativity and we should be the ultimate creators this side of heaven. So part of my mission is to usher in a creative renaissance where once again Christian storytellers are leading the way in the arts. More than a dream, this can happen…and is happening!
4) You and Karen Ball talked at the ACFW Conference about making your publicity efforts into a party. It was a really good program and even though my brain is pretty full, I believe I tucked some new knowledge in there thanks to you and Karen. We like to think Seekerville throws a pretty fun party every day and we have a lot of fun doing it. Have you got advice for us?
It’s simple. The people who host the best online parties will attract the most involved followers. The most value an author has to a publisher– next to great stories – is a loyal, growing, interactive, rabid fan base. And that really is something the author needs to nurture and grow. Publishers should take the responsibility of introducing new readers – but authors are the gatekeepers to existing fans. And there’s no way to keep those fans happy than hosting the best party. A misnomer is that this takes way too much time for an author. But it shouldn’t once it is up and running. Once you create the gathering place for them – you can step out of the way to some degree. Just like at an in-person party, the host would start to become irritating if they felt they had to be in every conversation. Let like-minded fans hang out and drive the conversation – you focus on hosting and keeping new and exciting content in front of them. Fans will keep the party going! And here’s a hard reality – if an author can’t generate enough fan interaction and excitement at their online party – how much confidence should a publisher have that somehow once they print their novel that readers will react with any greater enthusiasm in the real world? Read Seth Godin’s short book Tribe for additional insights on this topic.
5) What does it take to make you enthusiastic about a book. What are you looking for?
I’m looking for great writing and a distinctly unique voice. A lot of authors say they are the next Ted Dekker or Karen Kingsbury or Beverly Lewis. Well, those authors already exist – we don’t need an imitation of them. Those authors hit it big because they had a unique, fresh voice. We need the next unique, fresh voice – regardless of the genre. And we need an engaging author that we’ll enjoy working with. Relationship is so important – and even if you’re writing world-class fiction, we’re still not going to sign you if we don’t look forward to our conversations and the process. Life is just too short to do otherwise.
6) Give us an idea about a day in your life. What is your involvement in a final decision about offering a contract? Is the decision yours? Do you have final veto power or is it a vote between all your acquiring editors?
Here’s my motto (taken from Gladiator): “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” I really do start each day with deep passion and gratitude for what God allows me to do. I absolutely love my role in bringing stories of salt and light, epic good and evil, loss and love, etc. to people. Nothing I’d rather do. Period. And every day is filled with asking two big questions: 1) What If? This leads to doing things different and fresher than others. 2) What Can We Do to Make it Better? Whether the title, cover, plot point, format, etc…how can we make something good even better. And in terms of contracts and acquisitions, we have a very democratic process filled with vigorous conversation. And we have some of the most seasoned, wise, passionate editors in publishing (Christian or General Market). But yes, at the end of the day, there has to be one person accountable and driving the ship and that is me. I don’t see that as a source of power but rather as a way to best serve my team and our authors.
7) I was at a book event in Omaha, NE last spring called Mayhem in the Midlands and I was on a panel with a young man who writes murder mysteries. Then, I was in Denver and saw you in the crowd and almost went up to you to say hi, because you look so much like that man, who, I admit, I only met that one time several months earlier. You don't write murder mysteries under a pseudonym by any chance do you?
If he said brilliant things and wowed the crowd, I’ll claim him as the twin brother I never knew I had. ; )
I'll understand if you deny it. And no, I don't think I'll tell you his name. What if you don't think he's good looking? I can't handle that kind of pressure.
No pressure there. I don’t really ever think any man is good looking…including me. Men are at their best when we’re living an adventure rather than primping in front of a mirror checking to see how good looking they are!
Thanks for being on Seekerville, Allen.