Writing Holiday Fiction
Welcome back, loyal listeners! This week, Kathy Ide joins us to talk about her new compilation of fiction devotions called 21 Days of Christmas. She also enlightens us on how to write authentically about the holidays without falling into cliché. As always, the show notes are below the YouTube embed. Don’t forget to give us a “thumbs up” and to subscribe to our various channels.
Tell us a bit about 21 Days of Christmas.
21 Days of Christmas is the second book in the new Fiction Lover’s Devotional series. Every book in the series has 21 short fiction stories, followed by brief life applications, and each chapter is written by a different author. Some are best sellers, some are mid-range authors, and some are new writers. Book 1 in the series, 21 Days of Grace, came out in June. It has stories about God’s unconditional love. 21 Days of Christmas has stories about God’s greatest gift: Jesus.
I’m interested in the collection of stories. Can you tell us about the process you went through to solicit submissions and what the acceptance process looks like?
I first got the vision for a Fiction Lover’s Devotional about sixteen years ago. At that time, I talked to some of the authors I’d met at various writers’ conferences I’ve taught at and through my editing business, and I asked them if they’d be interested in submitting stories to the project, even though I didn’t have a contract for the book yet. Their submissions gave me what I needed to put together a proposal … which I pitched to several publishers, but none of them could figure out what to do with a devotional that had fiction in it. Until last year, when BroadStreet Publishing caught the vision I had … and offered me a four-book contract to start the series. Some of those original stories fit into the themes we chose for those first four books, but I needed several more. So I again talked to some of the authors I’d met at conferences and through my editing business. I also put the word out through my social media venues. I received so many excellent submissions, it was difficult to choose just 20 for each book—reserving one chapter for myself.
I’m also curious about how payment works with publication. How are the authors compensated? How big of a portion do you get for the work you do?
BroadStreet Publishing generously offered to send 10 free copies of the book to each contributing author. At a retail price of $14.99, that’s about a $150.00 value. In addition, contributing authors can purchase more copies—of the devotional they’re in as well as any other devo in the series—at 65% off, and then use them as gifts or sell them for a profit. I get the royalties on books sold.
Let’s talk about the nitty gritty–Holiday Fiction. What common elements did you look for when selecting these Christmas stories?
For 21 Days of Christmas, I wanted some fictionalized accounts about the first Christmas, when Mary and Joseph brought God’s Son into the world. And also stories about how we celebrate that miraculous event today. With both perspectives, I mainly looked for stories with characters I could relate to and cared about, in situations that are similar to circumstances I’ve experienced myself. Within the first few paragraphs, I needed to be drawn into the story, understand what the main character wants and why she wants it, and really start hoping she gets it … or doesn’t get it, but gets something else and discovers that’s actually better than what she wanted in the first place. Mainly, I looked for stories that I felt the Holy Spirit speak to my heart through. I figured if the Lord spoke to me through a story, He could also speak to other readers’ hearts.
Okay, but what common mistakes did you see writers making? Is there a way for us to avoid the same mistakes?
I turned down many submissions because they didn’t incorporate strong fiction-writing techniques: point-of-view, show-don’t-tell, story and character arcs, realistic dialogue, use of all the senses, a good balance of scene and summary, etc. When I narrowed down the selection to well-written fiction stories, I looked for clean writing, free of typos, inconsistencies, and errors in punctuation, usage, grammar, or spelling. I did some editing on all of the submissions—even the ones from big-name best sellers. But the less editing I needed to do, the better.
What do you think are the greatest challenges in writing about the holidays?
Most of us have grown up celebrating the same holidays every year, and we all have our favorite traditions and memories surrounding them. It can be difficult to write something that’s fresh and new yet doesn’t contradict what people expect based on what they’re used to.
Writing about Christmas can be especially challenging. I mean, we all know the story. Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem, with her riding on a donkey. No room in the inn. Giving birth in a stable. The extra-bright light in the heavens. Shepherds showing up, and later three wise men. We read about it, we sing about it, we watch movies about it. It can be tough to write about something that’s so familiar to people and give it a fresh perspective.
But that’s what readers want. Every year. Something new, something that will spark the true meaning of the season in the midst of all the usual holiday hustle and hassle.
Writing about holidays also has a unique challenge when it comes to marketing. With most books, authors are advised to begin promoting about three months in advance of the release date. But that doesn’t work for holiday books.
A book with Christmas in the title, or as a major theme, can really only be promoted for about a month, from around Thanksgiving time until a week or so before Christmas. By mid-December, most people have already decided what gifts to give to their friends and loved ones—and if they haven’t, they probably won’t order a book off the Internet, since it might not arrive on time. And last-minute shoppers are more likely to go to a Wal-Mart or the mall than a bookstore, which has a more limited selection. So after mid-December, there’s no point in marketing a Christmas book … at least not till the following Thanksgiving. And by then it’ll be a year old. It won’t be new anymore.
What advantages does it provide?
The most obvious one is that a lot of people are looking to buy books as gifts during the holidays. So you have a bit more of an automatic potential market.
Also, people can give holiday-themed books to friends and relatives who might not otherwise read Christian books. So there’s more opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak to their hearts—especially, I think, through fiction.
Would you recommend using a holiday as the backdrop for all of your fiction?
I wouldn’t suggest writing only holiday-themed fiction, because you’d be limiting yourself too much. You should always write whatever God places on your heart. On the other hand, if the stories you have a passion to write have some connection to a holiday, you can recommend it as a gift when that holiday gets close—hopefully, in addition to marketing it throughout the year.
The next two books in the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series have connections to two holidays. 21 Days of Love comes out January 1st, just in time for Valentine’s Day. And 21 Days of Joy comes out on April 1st, in time for Mother’s Day. But we made the themes of those two books about more than just the holidays. The subtitle for 21 Days of Love is Stories that Celebrate Treasured Relationships. The book is about more than just romantic love. It’s about all kinds of love: parent-child, teacher-student, between friends, even showing love to a stranger. A couple of the stories are about Valentine’s Day. So it’s a great gift for that holiday. But love is something we can celebrate year round.
The subtitle for 21 Days of Joy is Stories that Celebrate Motherhood. So it’s a natural for Mother’s Day. But people can get books as gifts for their moms throughout the year … on her birthday, for example. Or anytime you want to show Mom how much you care about her. Like right after Thanksgiving, to show your appreciation for everything she did to make that holiday special.