Monday, February 14, 2011

Interview with Karen Watson, Associate Publisher for Tyndale House Publishers

In order to help readers and potential readers of Christian fiction understand and get to know the different publishing houses of Christian fiction and their purpose and mission, I have requested interviews with the editors and publishers of fiction at many different houses. I am so excited to share these interviews with all of you and I think it will increase our understanding and make our conversations more productive. I hope you find it a valuable resource!

Karen offered these thoughts as a preface to her responses:

“This discussion is about issues that publishers wrestle with on a daily basis. A publisher’s challenge, and this discussion, will be best informed by coming to understand that it sits at the tension between a philosophical scenario and the practical realities of business and the marketplace. A good part of publishing is about releasing books that we believe should be published because they reach out to new readers, tackle new subjects, or break new ground. The other side of that coin is that publishing is an enterprise that by and large is funded by less than 20% of all releases.”

What genres do you publish?

Our current list includes:
• contemporary women’s fiction;
• romance—both contemporary and historical;
• general contemporary fiction, including a wide range of suspense and
thrillers, legal dramas, political and military thrillers, and supernatural
suspense; and
• historicals, including biblical fiction.

I believe that Tyndale publishes to the widest range of genres in the industry.

However, we don’t publish to all genres, nor are we always looking for books in every genre at all times. In general, we don’t publish into the fantasy genre. And we don’t publish in the chick lit genre. It isn’t that we are opposed to either; we just haven’t done as well with them in the past. No publisher does all things well, and we look to publish genres where we believe we can successfully engage our readership.

Our ongoing challenge is to provide high-quality, engaging novels to meet an existing consumer appetite in established genres. Our ongoing goal is to find great books with great writing and engaging concepts that can stretch the boundaries of the existing appetites toward new and developing genres.

Does your publishing company have a mission statement?

Our corporate mission is to minister to the spiritual needs of people, primarily through literature consistent with biblical principles.

The dual purpose of Tyndale fiction is to entertain readers and to encourage them in their faith journey.

Do your books have a strong faith message?

Tyndale authors are, at their core, in sync with our corporate mission. We trust them to use their God-given creativity to engage readers through story about the life of faith. How strong that message is perceived varies from reader to reader and book to book. Certainly there is a part of our readership that may expect more (or less) overt Christian content. That’s why over time readers gravitate more toward some authors than others. We publish along a spectrum of acceptability in the amount and style of faith content delivered. But our first goal is always to publish a compelling story that engages the reader. Tyndale author Randy Singer captures our philosophy perfectly. He says: “A powerful story without a biblical worldview is a great escape to nowhere. A spiritual message without an entertaining story is a sermon, not a novel.”

Is profanity ever acceptable in your fiction?
As a general rule, no.

Do you publish books that are considered by the market to be edgy?

It depends on who you ask.

To be perfectly honest, I find this question frustrating because there really is no acceptable answer. It’s something akin to asking, “Do you still beat your wife?” If I say no, then we are criticized for failing to authentically embrace the pain of life and perpetuating a phony Pollyanna Christian worldview. If I say we tackle difficult subjects in a realistic way, there is another portion of the reading (and blogging) public that criticizes what is perceived as graphic, unholy, or oppressive content from a Christian publisher that holds the danger of leading people to sin. Edgy means different things for different readers. Some folks won’t tolerate violence. Others run from the suggestion of sexuality of any kind. Interestingly, there is also a portion of the reading public who considers faith-based novels of any kind equally repugnant. Just read some of the one-star reader reviews of the free Kindle downloads. You’d think they’ve had acid splashed in their eyes! Many of them have asked to be protected from our content.

So, do we intentionally try to offend or shock with the content we publish? No. Do we seek out topics or hot button cultural issues to tackle in our fiction? No. We don’t go out of our way to publish “issue novels.” Frankly, they don’t sell. Do we publish stories that embrace the heartache and pain of life? Absolutely. I’d be glad to give you a long list of our titles that dealt with these issues unflinchingly. Do we allow our authors to honestly wrestle with failure and sin in their writing? We try our best. Real life is full of edgy moments that reflect life in a broken world. Our goal is to publish authentic stories that are told without always forcing readers into a front-row seat for every event in the storyline.

What is your approach to literary fiction?

You may be frustrated by my response. This is, in my opinion, a question about a category with no discernable definition.

Who determines if a novel is literary fiction? Is it a function of style? Language? Subject matter? Does accessibility and popularity exclude the possibility of being deemed literate? Does a positive review from certain quarters mean that it is worthy of an intelligent person’s time and financial investment? Does that mean the book is literary?

My responsibility is to acquire and publish well-crafted, engaging fiction for a wide range of readers. There is a spectrum of style and tone that, in my experience, appeals to readers. For instance, I am currently re-reading Jane Eyre. Is that considered literary fiction? Someone will have to tell me. What I do know is that the generally accepted style for most novels is quite different than that today. I don’t work for a university press or a literary criticism journal so I don’t spend a lot of time in angst on this issue. I often read works of fiction that Tyndale wouldn’t publish. I try to read winners or nominees of the National Book Award and find that many of them have spiritual themes. It would be incredible for a Tyndale fiction title to be nominated for an award like that. But, for a whole host of reasons that go beyond the scope of this discussion, I think it is unlikely. I take encouragement in the fact that the best predictor of longevity and impact of a novel is not whether it is embraced or panned by literary critics. Ultimately, literary impact is about how a reader responds to the reading experience.

I am honored to work for a publishing house whose calling is to reach the widest readership possible with the gift of the life-changing truth of the gospel. Publishing Christian fiction is uniquely challenging because it is held to additional standards of acceptability beyond the issue of craft alone.

Who do you see as your primary audience?

Our primary audience is changing.

Fifteen years ago, we were serving mostly evangelical Christian women in the 35-55 age bracket. The fiction industry is still generally supported by the female reader in both the general and Christian markets. However, we are serving more audience/genre segments than we were fifteen years ago. For instance, the e-reader is reaching a new audience of male readers for the suspense/thrillers we publish.

What are some of the books you have published that epitomize your mission?

Publishers tend to be defined by their biggest successes. For many years we were the publisher of Left Behind. That series certainly challenged readers to consider spiritual issues. More recently, in a similar genre, Joel Rosenberg writes about current political themes through the lens of biblical prophecy.

Additional recent titles include:

Francine Rivers’ two-book saga, Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daugher’s
, which both explored themes of failed family relationships and how God continually pursues our redemption and reconciliation. Her work has impacted readers for years and she is known as an author who tackles gritty life challenges and authentically points readers to Christ.

Randy Singer’s legal thrillers take on issues at the forefront of current public discourse. His latest release, Fatal Convictions, challenges readers to think about their own prejudices against people of the Muslim faith. His books continue to be well received and compared to some of today’s best-known general market legal thrillers.

Chris Fabry’s contemporary fiction (Dogwood, June Bug, and Almost Heaven) skillfully deals with honest pain and life failure—edgy topics—while winsomely reflecting the hope of the gospel. And, he does all of this with engaging plots that keep readers turning pages.

We also publish at least one debut novel each year. Christian Writers Guild winners like Tom Pawlik (Vanish), Henry McLaughlin (Journey to Riverbend), and Jennifer Valent (Fireflies in December), represent great new voices. Gina Holmes’ Crossing Oceans has been a debut success story for us in the contemporary women’s fiction category.

Do you welcome feedback from readers and if so what is the best method forreaders to give your their feedback?

My team spends a lot of time reading reader reviews online (CBD, B&N,
Amazon, etc.) and via blog reviews. In addition, readers may engage with us
through Tyndale’s Facebook page or by writing to us at:
Tyndale House Publishers
c/o Fiction Feedback
351 Executive Drive
Carol Stream, IL 60188

I just want to give a HUGE thank you to Karen for really engaging with the questions and giving us such in-depth responses. You can find out more about Tyndale's books at their website and follow them on Twitter.

You can read also read my interview with Julie Gwinn of B&H and Charlene Patterson of Bethany House.

If you are the editor or a Christian publisher and have not received my interview questions, please email me at


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