98. Should Christian Creators Abandon Secular Fiction Markets? | with Thomas Umstattd Jr.
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Let’s bust a myth today. Among some Christians eager to engage stories in the real world, it’s a big myth: Long ago, Christians and publishing companies lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when evangelicals got fearful and/or legalistic, so they chose to leave the big publishers and start their own Christian publishers. Only the coming Avatar of Christian Creativity, master of all fantastic fiction elements, can save the world. (Because he isn’t a Christian author, he’s just an author who happens to be a Christian!) Our next guest, Christian creative pro and novel marketer Thomas Umstattd Jr., helps explain why Christian fans (and Christian creators) need to fix this fantasy with reality.
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- This episode glimpses behind the scenes of Christian professional creativity.
- We’re not a Christian publishing show. Thomas Umstattd Jr. already has that!
- We’re also not a novel marketing show. Again, Thomas runs that podcast.
- However, it’s important to know these books’ fairly recent historical origin.
- See Thomas’s interview with Les Stobbe, and our talk with Daniel Silliman.
- We also need to bust myths (including some legalism) among Christians.
- To appreciate Christian-made fiction, we need to engage the real world.
- So we must reject sentimental myths about general and Christian markets.
- Do some Christians fear the world? Sure. But don’t project that everywhere.
- Finally, we might speculate on critics’ motives, but as gently as possible.
Introducing Thomas Umstattd Jr.
Thomas Umstattd Jr. built his first website at age thirteen and taught his first web design class at only age 16. Since 2009, his websites and resources have helped support authors. In 2014, Thomas has been marketing director for Enclave Publishing, and in 2015 Thomas became an author himself, publishing the nonfiction book Courtship in Crisis. As a podcaster, he hosts the Novel Marketing Podcast, and the Christian Publishing Show. Thomas still serves as the CEO of Castle Media Group, parent company of Author Media. He lives in Austin, Texas with his beautiful wife and children.
1. What myths do fans and authors spread about Christian publishing?
- We may hear these from “exvangelicals,” oversheltered, and embittered folks.
- Carefully spoken: some aspiring authors can’t help sharing these notions.
Examples of these myths in the wild:
- Christian authors are almost always too poor in craft and/or narrow-minded.
- In the past, too many Christians abandoned their posts in general publishing.
- Instead, they wanted to set up their own copycat evangelical industries.
- That’s why Christians have lost influence in our culture and creative arts.
- But we don’t need “Christian creators,” just creators who are also Christian.
- If Only we recover kindness/creative excellence, we could win back the world.
2. Why did Christians leave general markets in the 20th century?
From Where Christian Publishing Came From with Leslie Stobbe, Sept 2021:
Thomas Umstattd Jr.: “Now, you were talking about secular publishers, and I want to ask this question. ‘Cause it’s a question that’s come up on the podcast before. And that is: Why have Christian publishers at all? Right? ‘Cause there was a time when there was just publishers. Gutenberg was the first publisher. … He published the Bible, he published indulgences, and he published gossip. … At one point did it start to separate, where you had Christian publishers and Christian retailers?”
Leslie Stobbe: “That started probably in the 1940s because back in the late 1950s, we already had several Christian publishers, including Moody Press. Actually, Moody Press goes all the way back to D. L. Moody, with his Colportage society. And in 1941, it became Moody Press. And Fleming H. Revell existed, would you believe it, in the time of D. L. Moody. And he was a brother-in-law to D. L. Moody. And they reached an agreement: D. L. Moody would publish the paperbacks, the little ones that you sold for 20 cents or 15 cents, and Fleming H. Revell would get the hardback rights. That didn’t change until the 1930s. …
“So, Christian publishing was really struggling to get into the system of bookstores and all the rest of it. You know, the [Christian] Booksellers’ Association was not formed until the 1950s.”
Umstattd: “So if I understand correctly, Christian publishers were being excluded from traditional bookstores. This is an important piece of history that I think a lot of people didn’t realize. We didn’t leave because we wanted to leave. We left because we were pushed out. And instead of going home, we created our own separate economic structure. Everyone listening, hear this. Because we’re going through this again. We’re getting pushed out again, of various online places. And the generations that have come before knew what to do.”
(italics emphasis added)
3. Why do Christians feel myths about general markets are true?
- Younger Christians may feel these myths are true based in their own histories.
- They’re grown up in churches/families/schools where they feel awkward.
- How much more might their love of fantasy bring raised eyebrows or worse.
- Then along comes a myth about Christian publishing being fake/inferior.
- This (along with other church-critical memes) seems to explain those feelings.
Next on Fantastical Truth
‘Tis the season for love, in reality and in our favorite stories. This means we can enter “safe” and “family-friendly” territory, right? Ha ha! In fact, romance tales raise all kinds of controversies and temptations, including but not limited to a certain new movie that offered onscreen sensual content (such as undressed persons) in a “redemptive” way. We’ve already talked about the problems with exploiting actors for visual stories, but what about sensual stuff on the page, not the screen? Our inside agent in the romance industry, Parker J. Cole, who can help us explore mail-order brides and monster myths, rejoins Fantastical Truth to help us waltz right into these slippery issues of sensuality in stories.
Explore the best Christian-made fantasy, sci-fi, and beyond, and apply these stories' meanings in the real world Jesus calls us to serve.
What say you?