Cover Story

TRUTH AND FICTION

"TRUTH AND FICTION" Continued...

Issue: "Summer Books 2004," July 3, 2004

WestBow's experiment

Thomas Nelson is the biggest Christian publisher. Moreover, it is the ninth-biggest publisher of every kind in the world. Currently, over half of its sales are in the general marketplace. The company has just launched a new fiction division, WestBow Press.

Allen Arnold, the head of WestBow, told WORLD that "the days of traditional Christian fiction are over." His plans are to publish authors who write from a distinctly Christian worldview but whose works go beyond the typical formulas and have the potential to reach beyond the typical Christian marketplace to have an impact on the culture as a whole. "We don't publish Christian fiction," he said. "We publish fiction from a Christian worldview."

He wants to free Christian authors, who often feel constrained by secular publishers to tone down their faith and who feel constrained by Christian publishers who will not let them tell their stories.

"We'll only partner with authors who write from a Christian worldview, but the stories will be true to what the stories are about," Mr. Arnold said. "Sometimes faith will be explicit; sometimes more implicit." Just as the biblical worldview encompasses all of life, the fiction he is looking for need not even be conventionally "religious," as long as it embodies the reality that God has made.

This does not mean that WestBow will blindly emulate secular publishers. "Readers should know they need not fear being corrupted by a WestBow book," he said. "We will never publish something that we feel we could not stand with before God." But there will be no predetermined model or list of rules. There will be no attempt to imitate commercially successful patterns. We should not try to copy what the world is doing or what other publishers are doing, he told WORLD. "We should be tapping into the ultimate creator of all-God-the source of true creativity."

WestBow inherited Thomas Nelson's other fiction titles, so some conventionally Christian fiction remains on their list. Mr. Allen stressed that the company will still publish books specifically for the Christian market. But the new division has higher goals. He wants WestBow to become one of the top 20 publishers of general-market fiction.

The vision of publishing high-quality works of art by Christians for general audiences may seem ambitious. But Mr. Allen points out that this is the way it used to be. Christian formula fiction is relatively new, dating just to the 1970s. "Before that, Christian writers wrote for everyone."

WestBow takes its name from the printing press and bookshop operated by the original Thomas Nelson back in Edinburgh in 1798, which was located on a street named West Bow. That shop sold Bibles, and it also sold Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and, later, books by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and other of the best authors of his day. Why shouldn't we have Christian writers like that today? Why shouldn't Christian literature have the cultural influence that it once did?

But God needs to call and equip writers equal to that task. And those writers need to be discovered, mentored, and brought to the public.

To that end, WestBow, in its search for new talent, is working with WORLD in the WORLDview fiction contest. (See the sidebar for details.) If you are a storyteller, enter the contest. If you are a reader, check out the entries that will be posted on WORLD's blog site, giving your feedback and voting for your favorite. Either way, do your part in carrying on the Christian literary tradition.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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