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The Numbing Nature of Numbers

by Allen Arnold
Senior Vice-President, Fiction
Thomas Nelson, Inc.

We live in an industry with instant access to data. Numbers sorted in endless graphs, grids and pivot tables to tell if a novel, an author, a genre or the entire Christian Fiction category is rising or falling.

And the numbers change constantly. The cycle starts to feel like a dog chasing his tail.

Don’t get me wrong, numbers are necessary. They measure where we’ve been…as well as the wisdom of a deal. They serve a purpose.

But numbers can numb you if we look to them to determine what to write next – or to determine the value of your calling as a writer.

Because while numbers measure the past…they are woefully inadequate about shedding light on what tomorrow’s surprise bestseller – or next year’s hot genre – will be. Does the God who created everything really call writers to churn out Christian versions of the latest general market bestsellers?

More important, numbers are not an indicator of God’s calling on your life.

I believe God calls people to be writers – and then breathes life into their stories. If you’ve been called to write Christian Fiction, then write the stories that He gives you. Don’t chase the hot trend of the moment…and don’t obsess over your Amazon ranking or units sold. Really. Don’t.

Keep your eyes on Him…and treat your story as an offering to God. If it sells well, that’s a bonus. If it never sees the light of day, perhaps God simply wanted to share that time with you to draw you closer to Him. Write as long as He gives you new stories. For some authors – that may be a single novel. For others, it may be thirty novels. Don’t write because you need the next advance. Write because He is giving you more stories.

Anchor your identity in God. Remember He gave you the gift of story. Your identity is in Him. Not the most recent bestseller list.

Pursue holiness and wholeness by spending more time with Him and His Word than in a fictionalized world. Really.

This may sound odd coming from a former Christian Fiction Publisher. But as I near the end of my 20+ years in the industry (and head to the mountains of Colorado for ministry), I’m more convinced than ever that the eternal value of a story only happens when God calls a writer and the writer responds by hungering after God more than hungering for success.

Do that and you’ll savor your calling in a way that mere numbers and rankings can never measure.


Allen Arnold loves great stories, passionate conversations and authentic living. As Senior Vice-President and Fiction Publisher at Thomas Nelson, he spends his days acquiring, reading and publishing world class adult and young adult fiction written from a Christian worldview.

A veteran of the publishing industry since joining Thomas Nelson in 1992, he initially oversaw marketing and branding campaigns of many best-selling Christian authors, utilizing skills learned while working for some of the world’s largest advertising agencies. Tapped to launch the Fiction division in 2003, his publishing program is filled with New York Times, ECPA, and CBA bestsellers, representing every genre from romance to fantasy, historical to suspense.

Allen’s favorite way to spend the day is with his family – preferably with a C.S. Lewis book or Superman comic close at hand.

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14 Responses to The Numbing Nature of Numbers

  1. Fay Lamb says:

    Thank you, Mr. Arnold, from someone who recently put the numbers in God’s hands. Brought to my knees over the worries of marketing which are far beyond my control, I gave them over to Him. The numbness cleared, and I was able to move on to the next project He has for me. A very timely post for me, and I appreciate it very much.

  2. Jessie says:

    Remarkably refreshing to read. Thank you. I am saving this piece to pull out at particularly discouraging times. May we all keep the focus of our passion on Him and fully understand His passion for us. With that in mind, there is no number, no discouraging day, nor rejection that could sway our “offering” to God.

  3. Anna Labno says:

    Hi Allen,

    Colorado is a beautiful state. :) I’m planning to move to the west someday as well.

    What conferences do you like to attend?

    Blessings,

    Anna Labno

  4. Allen, Thanks for sharing your wisdom. So very sorry that you’re leaving TN just as I’m signing on, but all of us who’ve been touched by you in some way appreciate what you’ve left behind. And I look forward to seeing you one last time at this fall’s ACFW meeting.

  5. Wow. Like, totally and completely WOW. I mean that in the context of the original Greek. This was a kick in the pants AND an affirmation to keep writing. The second affirmation/kick in the pants in as many days.

    I should apologize for umm, never actually never once hearing, or reading, your name. But I only recently joined ACFW, so… yeah, we’ll go with that.

    Thank you for your wise words and don’t forget the sunscreen and water up in the high altitudes.

  6. Beautiful reminder. Thank you!

  7. Beautifully written with a heart convicted by God’s calling. “I?m more convinced than ever that the eternal value of a story only happens when God calls a writer and the writer responds by hungering after God more than hungering for success.”

    Thank you for showing me that even those at the top see the eternal value of books, beyond their profits and losses and that seeking God’s heart is more important than seeking His hand.

  8. “Anchor your identity in God. Remember He gave you the gift of story. Your identity is in Him. Not the most recent bestseller list.

    Pursue holiness and wholeness by spending more time with Him and His Word than in a fictionalized world. Really.”

    I love this thought. Thank you for the reminder of where our identity needs to be. As we seek God first, everything else will fall into the proper place.

  9. Becky Wade says:

    I agree with you 100%! Thank you for the inspiring reminder.

  10. Cara Putman says:

    It was inspiring. Blessed to have people like Allen willing to pour into us.

  11. JoAnn Durgin says:

    As a new author with a small, independent publisher, I try not to look at the numbers on Amazon, but it’s hard not to do that very thing. Thanks for the reminder it’s not the numbers of books sold, but perhaps reaching that one lost or hurting soul with the love of Christ that needs the message in our book. It should be our passion and our personal mission as Christian authors to love Him wholeheartedly and let that love be revealed in our words. Thank you for your wonderful words of inspiration and blessings to you in your new endeavors in Colorado.

  12. May be a little bit silly, but I was moved to tears by this. This is exactly where I am at as a writer. I’d been a singer my whole life and last year, God took my lyrics and turned them into novels that managed to be penned by my hand but came from a Savior that wanted to teach me the perfection of His grace. Thank you for the wonderfully refreshing perspective and reminder that He is why we write and He alone is the author of our dreams.

    Thomas Nelson was lucky to have you!

  13. Wonderful post, Allen, and what you have always told all of us who have been privileged to work under your tutelage. I will miss you SO MUCH, Big Guy! Love you!
    Colleen

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