Not an easy blog to write…

By , 27 February 2009 6:59 pm

There’s a lot of things I would like to discuss rather than this but I thought I’d better write what I have to say here for the simple reason I want advice from you, readers. The basic fact is that it has been obvious for some time that the Lamb Among the Stars trilogy has not been selling at all well. You don’t have to be a genius to read the Amazon sales figures, and although the reviews are splendid (thank you all very much), when your book drops down to around 300,000th place on the charts you know that things aren’t good. You also know it when you don’t hear from your publisher from months on end.

Anyway about ten days ago I e-mailed my editor asking basically what was going on and whether they were thinking up any innovative solutions to the sales situation. I will simply say it took a week to get an answer and only then by dint of contacting the author liaison person. (I now know what leprosy feels like.) The answer was not at all encouraging. Hardback sales are bad, science fiction and fantasy worse. Any plans to do the series in paperback (‘softcover’ Americans call it) have been scrapped. In other words, frankly it’s the end of the line.

I feel pretty unhappy about this. The books had a ropey start with a teen fiction imprint of the publishers that soon went belly up. It didn’t do anything for sales and simply gave them that damning descriptive label ‘youth fiction’. (I know I should have refused the offer when they said ‘it’s our new youth fiction imprint’, but I was anxious to be published). I’m grateful that, when the the youth fiction venture folded, the books were remarketed for adults, but I think by then the damage was done. Significantly, the books have never been reviewed by any formal reviewer and certainly never made it into the substantial fantasy world. Enough said.

Anyway, dear friends, readers and supporters, what do I do? The present trajectory is plain. The books are no longer in shops and presumably I may expect ever diminishing sales until at some point I get some pathetic letter that says that they will no longer be held in the inventory. (I wanted to get some of the extra copies from the States, but the postage is astronomical because US mail services have stopped shipping by sea.) And that is that.

My problem is not, I think, simply personal pride, let alone greed, but irritation and frustration. Some books deserve to fail. I do not think from the reviews that these do. I know there are many people out there who would love to read them but do not even know that they exist. So what do I do about it? Several possibilities are kicking around in my mind but I have no clarity on any of them. Do I try and get the rights back and find someone else who will publish these books? (I could tidy them up into a cheap single-volume massive paperback.) Do I try and get them electronically published? Volume 1 free as an iPhone book?) Do I scream and shout to other contacts in the publishing company that these books have never ever had a chance? Or do I do shrug my shoulders and ‘say so be it’ and let the series die. I do have to say that I am very negative now about Christian publishing and fiction. (And please don’t talk to me about Left Behind, The Shack and This Present Darkness, etc: such books sold in large numbers not because they were stories but because they were believed to be revelations into spiritual reality.)

I really don’t know what to do. I would be grateful for your prayers: you can probably imagine my frustration and dismay. You can always e-mail me with contacts and bright ideas, if you have any.

With every blessing
Chris

16 Responses to “Not an easy blog to write…”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I read them.
    I liked them.
    Thanks for writing.

  2. Joyce in Idaho says:

    I hope you will try to find a new publisher that will re-issue the books as a set, & go to the effort of doing some real publicity. I only recently found your series @ our local library, & now plan to buy the set to have to re-read. I recommended them to my Mom, a real sci-fi buff, who has also bought the books.

    What would be great would be a re-release AND a movie deal!

  3. Edvard says:

    I’ve been reading your blog of a while now (and have already finished the series), though I’ve never posted a comment. I think now is as good a time as ever.

    First, thank you for writing them. I can’t imagine how much time and thought you put into creating the series, but I feel it was all well worth it. Like many others before me, your stories have definitely had an impact on my life (I had been dealing with a lot of what Merrill was in book 3). I feel that alone is well worth the read, but the great story line and writing definitely added to it. Your writings have actually given me inspiration to write my own series.

    As to your concern on what to do next, my personal opinion would be to get the rights back seeing as your publisher has more or less given up on the series. After that I’d look around at some publishers to see what they’d be able to do differently then Tyndale, and if there seems to be nothing they can do I’d offer it as an e-book.

    Best of luck. I’ll definitely be keeping you in my prayers!

  4. Devon says:

    Are you interested in writing more books? Perhaps you could use some kind of a new business model to create a stir and bring attention to your existing series.

    For example – say you used a ransom model. You solicit donations from the community. Once a certain amount is reached, you write the book and give it away (electronically) for free to everyone.

    The new model itself may bring press about you and what you are doing. Perhaps this will introduce people to your existing series.

    If this isn’t feasible, maybe someone else who reads this can think of a better idea.

    I agree that these books deserve more exposure than they have received. They are wonderful stories and intelligent books for intelligent people. But publishers just don’t seem to market intelligent Christian fiction here in the US.

  5. Katharina says:

    There’ve been many days I’ve been tempted to leave a comment, but frankly, your thoughts are so incisive and your writing so to the point that I felt I would not have much to add. Except praise and accolades, and tales of how much I’ve been impressed, encouraged, and CHALLENGED by your writing…. And I guess I should indeed have mentioned that before!
    Now that you ask for feedback more urgently than ever, I do have to tell you that I sympathize very much with your irritation and frustration. Some books deserve to fail — but yours definitely don’t. There’s SO MUCH there — in style and in content–it’s a shame that a wider audience hasn’t been made aware of the Farholme saga.

    So I want to say, please don’t give up!! Use whatever contacts, whatever ideas, whatever “ploys” you can come up with to repackage and re-market this series. Youtube (in the U.S.at least) seems to be an unlikely ally in getting a lot of people and ideas before the people — maybe something can be done in that arena? I find the iphone book idea intriguing as well. I for one love good old fashioned ink on paper, but there’s a definite market for digital writing. My husband is a new fan of the kindle device and reads everything from newspapers to biographies on it — yes, even the Bible. If it takes a different format to get the Lamb Among the Stars among the people, so be it!!

    I don’t know how much effort and money all this might take, and I sure wish I had either contacts or money (or both) to help out with, but I can only try to encourage you and say I will pray you will succeed — you’ve got something of real value in your stories, and it’s only good stewardship and, in a sense, good ministry, to make it more widely known!

    May God give the increase!!

    In His Service,

    Katie in California

  6. Chris says:

    ‘Great stuff!’ as we say in the UK. I will consider these carefully.
    Thanks for posting
    Chris

  7. Stephanie says:

    I definitely agree that this is a series that doesn’t deserve to fail. It is an intelligent, well-written story that has fired up my imagination and challenged me in my walk with God. And it’s inspired me to write more – a sure sign of a good story. :)
    As far as marketing and such is concerned, I don’t really have any ideas apart from what’s already been suggested. I’m hoping and praying a good solution will present itself soon.

  8. Anonymous says:

    simply put,
    get out. Talk to people.
    Bryan davis made his, quite simply in my view, atrocious books sell by going out and talking to schools.

    You have to advertise.
    Anonymous Prodigy

  9. Catherine Brislee says:

    I would suggest you look for an agent or a publisher who does not deal just with Christian books. Plenty of non-Christians would love your books, if they knew about them.

    Lots of science fiction writers challenge their readers to think seriously about spiritual and philosophical issues – perhaps it goes with imagining other worlds! But non-Christian readers tend to avoid books specifically marketed as Christian because they assume they will be narrow and dull rather than challenging. And I have only ever seen your books in Christian bookshops.

    Find someone who will market your books as science fiction, or even better, as “spiritual” science fiction (then you get all the New Agers!)

  10. JBlocki says:

    Chris,

    I also am a fan of Lamb Among the Stars and am saddened to hear of declining sales.

    I could not agree more with your analysis of Left Behind, and I think therein lies part of the explanation to your problem: people read fiction to escape, and while the yarn you spin in the series is certainly entertaining and suspenseful, its underlying message is one of admonishing Christians to get motivated about building the Kingdom (“Thy will be done on earth…”). This contrasts sharply with Christian fiction in which the characters experience God “redeeming” them from their earthly responsibilities.

    Have you ever heard of lulu.com?
    It’s a self-publishing firm that allows authors of offer their books on-demand to buyers. Customers order via the website, and the actual books are printed only on an “as-requested” basis. Maybe this would be an option if you are able to regain publishing rights.

    God Bless,
    Josiah (in Michigan, US)

  11. Christian Artists Ministry says:

    Let’s see – if Chris could be our commanding officer, and mobilize his legion of loyal fans – perhaps we could get the word out more! I truly think the world would benefit greatly to read more of Chris – especially his home country – and I really wish there was something we could do to help. My suggestion would be to get with a different publisher. Also, authors like Donita K. Paul seem to have a pretty nice web-site for their fans to interact. Maybe this would help.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I agree with Anonymous of Feb 27th! Loved your books – thank you for writing them.

    So sorry to hear about the publishing woes you’re having. As I said, I have read your books-personally own all three of the ‘adult’ titles. I also made sure that the library system I work for purchased copies. Turns out we have copies of the 2 YA editions and all 3 of the adult titles.

    But the current economic firestorm is hitting the public libraries as well as everyone else. I’m not sure that we’ll be able to add many titles this year no matter how deserving the authors. I’ve been a professional librarian for many years and I’ve never seen problems like we’ve been having for the past 2-2 1/2 years.

    The suggestion of getting the rights back and going to an on-demand published may be a good solution. That would at least keep it available!

    Kathy in Fort Lauderdale

  13. Boaz says:

    I’ve hesitated writing because I wasn’t sure what to say. For one thing, you don’t say what your ultimate goal is (Increased book sales? Better Christian Publishers? Something else entirely?), and without knowing where you want to go, no-one knows what advice would be useful. With that huge caveat, let me plunge in:

    I have to agree with Catherine and JBlocki: you should have more exposure, and that almost certainly means dealing with one of the major publishers (like Tor or Baen), or one of their subsidiaries (if nothing else, this would get you an additional editorial viewpoint, which could be very valuable). The other thought I have (that I think I mentioned quite a while ago) is bringing this to the attention of people who like science fiction and fantasy at various conventions. I know that in the Seattle, Washington area (where I used to live), there was a Christian group that would go to the conventions (complete with services at the large one over Easter weekend). I have no idea if there is anything comparable in the Austin, TX area. (I am hesitant about going myself because I have immersed myself far too deeply in such things in the past to the detriment of my walk with Christ.) The main point is to go from preaching to the choir and instead get out in the marketplace of Athens where they even worship ‘an unknown god.’ And that shouldn’t just be for Paul, but for all of us.

    I offer what blessings and encouragement I can.

    Boaz

  14. Mickey Gallagher says:

    I also want to begin by thanking you for 3 wonderful stories set in a fully realized universe. I’ve just started Infinite Day; I’ve had it for a couple of months, but I wanted to savor Dark Foundations so much that Ive taken my time in reading it! (You know how it is with stories that are so good you just don’t want them to end.) In any event, this suggestion may not be practical, but have you thought about contacting a graphic novel illustrator to see if Lamb could be turned into a series of graphic novels? I’m a public librarian in Washington state, and graphic novels just fly off the shelves, so it would not only be a good way to keep them in print, but the books could find a whole new audience in that format (and not just teens, but adults as well).

  15. Anonymous says:

    I don’t have any specific suggestions, but I hope that you find a way for your books to continue to be available to new readers. They have challenged me to think deeply about how I live and follow the Lamb.

  16. auxilio ab alto says:

    I know that this is a little late, but I absolutely LOVE the series. I read the first book, and re-read it a few days or so after finishing it. Then I forgot about it, and my friend showed me the next few and I fell in love with it. Sadly, I never bought the rest of the books, but borrowed them from my friend.
    I am VERY sorry to hear about the issues that you’ve been having. Now that I hear how badly they’re doing, I am definitely going out and buying the books before I can’t.
    Thanks for writing, I absolutely LOVe it.

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