CCWC Faculty Member
As founder and former Publisher of Thomas Nelson Fiction, Allen Arnold was a strong advocate not just for story, but for the storyteller. He has worked with hundreds of authors and published more than 500 novels in his 20 years in Christian publishing.
Allen’s personal ministry is now to nurture the heart and spirituality of the storyteller. More recently, as Director of Content and Resources at Ransomed Heart Ministry, he has been able to expand his reach to help many others—besides just authors—get closer to God and live the story of their life with an awakened heart.
But he still has a special place in his own heart for the storyteller. That’s why he’s such a popular presenter at Christian writing conferences, and part of the reason he received the ACFW Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
Allen will be presenting a five-part continuing session at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference on May 14 through 17 on The Heart of the Storyteller. I caught up with him to ask him some questions about this session and about his passion for nurturing the hearts of others.
Question: If I sell my stories and articles, then I’m a writer, or an author. That’s my identity; that’s who I am. Or am I missing something?
Here’s what is missing in that assumption: being called to write is not dependent on whether your article or story sells (“IF my story sells, THEN I am a writer”). God calls people in ways that often never correlates to monetary validation. That said, even when a person is called to be a writer and even if they sell millions of stories, that is never their identity. Your identity goes far deeper than being a writer. At your core, you are a son or daughter of the Father. He knows you by name. For who you are…not what you do. Some children of God are called to create. But calling isn’t your core identity – which is quite freeing because no matter what happens within your calling, it can’t touch your identity.
Question: I think most Christian writers believe they are called by God to write their stories. So, after we spend the necessary time learning the craft, all we need to do is start writing, correct? After all, if God wants us to produce, we should be busy producing. Isn’t that how we obey our calling?
The thought that writers should just get “busy producing” is prevalent…and toxic. And it is because it puts our focus on “doing” rather than “being.” And it can cause us to miss the bigger issue of why God invited us to create in the first place. Is it important for authors to improve their craft – yes. But more than that – or perhaps I should say before that – we are called into Creative Fellowship with God. What the world needs most is the warmth from the glow off the face of those who spend time with God. It’s the difference of a storyteller who sits around a small campfire telling stories…and a storyteller whose face is glowing so bright she doesn’t need a campfire to warm the souls of those listening.
Understanding why God invited you to create is the most foundational aspect of your calling. Start there and dive deep into all new waters…then move on to enhance your craft. But by all means start with why you were called and what that means. Because that changes everything.
Question: So I need to work with God as I write my novel and tell my story. But what about after the story is written? Then I have to go to conferences and pitch my manuscript; and get a blog and try to build a following; and I’ll need an author page on Facebook; and I should start tweeting on a regular basis; and what about Pinterest and Instagram… That all sounds so exhausting. Is there a better way to get my book in the hands of readers and still find time to work on my next story?
Right – it doesn’t just sound exhausting. It is exhausting. What I’ll say here is counter to much advice within the industry. But I think sometimes those in an industry can repeat an answer so many times that it starts to sound like absolute truth when it is just opinion. Let me offer another opinion based on working with hundreds of authors during 20 years in publishing as well as my experience now in a ministry that focuses on the heart.
I understand that publishing houses have less staff than they did years ago – so the more an author can do to promote their book, the better. And the larger following they have on-line, the higher the odds of a successful launch. That is horizontal (human) wisdom – but large on-line followings actually don’t guarantee a book’s success. And those called to write are not usually equally gifted at marketing. So rather than taking half your writing time to strive after social media – what if you spent 95% of your time doing what you were called to do, which is to create and write?
Sure it’s important to promote your book. Find others who are gifted at marketing and find a way for them to spearhead it – whether you pay them or trade services. Absolutely do the interviews and participate in spreading the word about why you wrote your book. But to assume your project will only succeed if you succeed at social media is not only exhausting…but basically godless because the assumption is it is all up to you to make it happen. In the great stories of the Bible – victory was never all on the shoulders of the person following God. If God has given you this message, then He will not be sidetracked by you not tweeting enough or not building your platform.
This topic is something that we’ll discuss more in my session. And please don’t take my comments as minimizing the promotional aspect of publishing. My degree is in marketing and I spent much of my career at major advertising agencies and overseeing author branding. I believe in the power of great promotions – I just don’t believe the author should feel they must become marketing experts or spend hours a day on social media to achieve success in the calling God has given them. I want these words to alleviate stress and allow authors to breathe deep so they can focus more on their calling.
Note from Marlene – Thank you, Allen and Donna. I’ll post the rest of this interview tomorrow. For now I think Father would have us reflect deeply on what has already been shared.