If you enjoyed learning about former Thomas Nelson fiction editor Allen Arnold in the October issue of ACFW Journal, here is the first of two blogs that contain more information from that interview.
In this segment, reporter Christa Allan and Allen Arnold explore the development of Thomas Nelson’s fiction line in more detail.
CHRISTA: After working with advertising agencies like The Richards Group and Ogilvy & Mather, what intrigued you about the publishing industry that led you to join the Thomas Nelson team?
ALLEN: I’ve always been intrigued by the power of advertising to draw someone to a product. Quite an achievement for something that interrupted the show they were watching. Over time, I was no longer satisfied creating campaigns to sell sugar water (soft drinks) or fast food. We lost our biggest account and the agency said I could stay if I would help pitch the state lottery account. I couldn’t do it. I wanted to promote something with eternal impact. That’s why-and when-I transitioned to Christian publishing.
CHRISTA: What were some of your greatest challenges/fears/successes/frustrations/joys as head of the Fiction Division during those eight years?
ALLEN: My greatest desire was to tell God-honoring stories that had eternal impact in the lives of those who read the novels. I loved pursuing this calling every day. Meeting and nurturing storytellers was such a joy. Our internal team (editors, marketing, and cover designer) is world-class. I really didn’t have any greatest fears. God tells us not to fear so I tried to lead well by following God well. Looking back, it was an epic journey filled with more than 500 novels. Many of our best stories weren’t ones on a shelf but the ones we lived each day working as a team to discover new authors and new ways to engage readers.
CHRISTA: I love the story of the Thomas Nelson receptionist being enthusiastic about an advanced reader copy of a novel released by Westbow Press (the self-publishing division of TN) which led to the author being offered a contract in the fiction division instead. Does this route to publication, trusting and respecting her opinion, make TN an anomaly in the publishing world?
ALLEN: We are huge proponents of discoverability. We want our novels to have that in their DNA-that something special that leads others to not just read it but to rave about it. Sometimes, the discoverability process begins with someone stumbling onto a first draft long before the book is published.
A good percentage of each year’s high-buzz novels come from first-time authors. They may not be technically as skilled in their craft as someone who has written 10 novels, but they have this incredible story burning to get out. Someone once said that if you want to find the best novel from an author start with their first one because that’s the book no one asked them to write or paid much to publish. That was the novel they simply had to write. We look to everyone in our company to help us discover tomorrow’s best-selling novel.
CHRISTA: What unique vision do you think you were able to bring to Thomas Nelson in its quest for titles and authors?
ALLEN: My vision was to build a world-class fiction division known for great stories, great freedom, and great integrity. One that didn’t follow the same, tired, man-made rules for Christian fiction and that didn’t try to play catch-up to the trend of the moment.
We sought out authors we enjoyed talking to and working with. No matter how good a story may be, life is too short to be in a high-demand relationship. From there, our goal was to tell stories that didn’t just entertain, but that inspired and even more importantly, that honored God. I hope I created an environment where great people and great stories could flourish. I hope our stories made Jesus smile.
Christa Allan writes Southern fiction that is not afraid to answer the tough questions. Walking on Broken Glass, released in 2010, The Edge of Grace in 2011, and Love Finds You in New Orleans in 2012. Look for Threads of Hope (Abingdon) in March. Christa lives in Louisiana, teaches high school English, and is mom of five, Grammy of three.