View Full Version : Biblical Fiction Question

Tim Dixon
10-10-2005, 11:58 PM
In the past year I’ve written three novels that re-tell Old Testament stories. My idea is to re-freshen some of the tales that many of us heard as kids and, by moving the time, venue and even setting, place a new spin on old truths. I’m hoping that I’ve written entertaining stories with engaging characters. I re-counted the story of Job, for instance, by chronicling the life of a young boy in Indiana. His story starts in the depression and attempts to create a real character that fits the description of the Biblical Job: a great man of high character. The actual account from Job is only a small part of the book, most of it is spent building a believable character and in understanding what the after-effects of such an experience might be.

The results have been something I’m very proud of, and <insert standard comment here about beta readers loving it and telling me that it needs to be published>. So, based on that effusive feedback, I set out to find a publisher and an agent. I’ve gotten some interesting responses from agents. The ones that do respond tell me that historical Christian fiction based on the Bible will not sell; they don’t even want to see sample chapters. When I look at the bookstore, however, I see Scott Card with his “Women of the Old Testament” series, “The Red Tent” and several other very successful lines of work.

So, my question is: do I need to improve my query letter, or are they correct and I need to get a new genre?

10-11-2005, 01:28 AM
I think you need to rework your query letter. A story about a boy in Indiana is not a retelling of the Old Testament in the way most publishers mean. I think you either need to simply say you've written a story about a boy who grew up during the depression. I would never, in any way, say it was a retelling of a Biblical story.

You could even bring the story up to date, set it in present times, and it might make a very good contemporary YA novel.

10-11-2005, 01:36 AM
I'm not certain how your story is written, but if it just tells a story, then just send it out. Adjust your query and let the reader determine the connection to that of Job, etc. Perhaps upon reading it they will find it enjoyable and even if they realize it is based on Job's trials and renewed blessings, they won't care by that point.
Another route could also be to write these stories for the young adult market. Perhaps reading about a man of great character and faith loosely linked to Job because of that similarity could be just the niche your looking for.
Also on a side note, I thought of writing a story of what it would be for those left behind after the rapture. I was young when I thought about it and never pursued it. Hmm. I also have thought it would be a good idea to do the same type of stories you are writing. I'm not trying to steal your idea, I've already had it too. I'm just saying I think you should pursue it. God will open the right doors when it's right. I was right the last time. :)
So, if I were you, I'd rewrite my query letter and just let them know it is Christian based story about a man who overcame many obstacles and trials due to faith, or however you want to word it, and then they can draw their own conclusions.

10-12-2005, 03:16 AM
When I look at the bookstore, however, I see Scott Card with his “Women of the Old Testament” series, “The Red Tent” and several other very successful lines of work.

So, my question is: do I need to improve my query letter, or are they correct and I need to get a new genre?

Though I am by no means Christian and not familiar with the specific "Christian" publishers, I think based upon my experiences with "Jewish" publishers you may find something in common.

First, remember, The Red Tent and others like it..are "fictionalized" accounts of Old Testament history. The Red Tent is based very loosely actually on 5 verses in Genesis of the story of Dinah, the sister of Jacobs 12 sons who was raped by Shechem.

Fictionalized Old Testemant tales are very acceptable in the "enlarged" Jewish community (not the Orthodox one so much though). However, books like the Red Tent sell in big numbers. But remember it is NOT Bible History it is essentially fiction based upon what is called some "Aggadic Legend". (I can explain that at a later time)

I have no clue if the Christian market accepts the same or reacts the same way. I do know that The Red Tent etc. are usually published NOT by Jewish Publishers but by mainstream publishers. This is also critical. A Jewish publisher may not be willing to take a chance on such a book, while a mainstream Publisher can get it into the "jewish" market much easier. I would assume the same applies in the Christian market. (A biblical retelling coming from a mainstream publisher is "kosher" while if the same work comes from a Jewish publisher it stands the chance of being shunned. Go figure!)

Additionally there are more traditional and less traditional publishers out there for "jewish" books. There must be the same sort in the Christian publishing world as well.

However your frustration is well understood and I empathize. I have a work, a fantasy trilogy work no less, called "The Chronicles of the Children of Heaven", based upon the first 5 chapters in Genesis. The Jewish publishers wont touch it, as it is totally off the track of the "traditional" bible, though it relies on legend, Judeo-Christian sources, pagan sources, persian sources etc. to create a viable fantasy. To date, (and that may change in a week or so), the mainstream "fantasy" publishers wont touch it, as the rule seems to be that they will not go near any fantasy which even hints of the bible. (kind of ridiculous cause the stories in the Bible are the best building blocks for fantasy that exist!) So catch-22.

Anyway, I can see where you are frustrated. My advice as it always is, if you believe in your work, if it is good, it will find a publisher.

Re-write the query and take the emphasis off of Biblical retelling, and put it more on the individual emphasis of overcoming something through faith. That seems to be what both traditional Jewish and Christian publishers are looking for these days, and more and more into the "reality" stuff (of course it has to be "kosher" reality stuff as well.)

That would be my advice. Just know you are not alone in your general quest to fill an important niche, which few publishers have yet to touch.


10-12-2005, 05:53 AM
As mentioned in previous posts your manuscript is technically not a "Bible Story" but it would be considered allegorical. That too isn't a great seller either. The advice previously given was good advice. Write a good story and let the reader draw their own understanding from the comparison.

10-12-2005, 05:20 PM
Coming back to read what others said, it looks like we all agree...what do you think, Tim?

Tim Dixon
10-12-2005, 06:53 PM
Coming back to read what others said, it looks like we all agree...what do you think, Tim?

I think this has been good advice. My difficulty is that I'm getting good rejections (I know, they are still "no", but they are positives ones) from publishers and nothing from agents. One such rejection went:

XXX passed your manuscript to our sales manager, who in turn passed it on to me. I must say that I enjoyed what I read--good writing and characterization. Unfortunately, however, I don't think it is going to work for [Publisher]. Pretty much all our fiction is more genre-oriented (romance, history, suspense, etc.) We have never had much success with the more literary kind of fiction you've got here. But while it isn't a good fit for [Publisher], I'd encourage you to continue to pursue its publication. I think it deserves a home between two covers! Good luck and best wishes in that pursuit.

And in yet another, the President of [Major Christian Publishing Company], sent me a letter in which he raved about my book and said he loved the character development. He even quoted portions of the book as evidence. He said that he was passing on it only because their pipeline was full for the next few years and he hoped that I would be able to be out in print before that. He even gave me some additional recomendations for submission.

Although I hated getting yet another rejection, the fact that the President of the company took the time to craft such a detailed rejection made me feel good. I'll keep plugging away.

So, the message that I'm getting by going directly to the publisher is much different from that I get from an agent. The publishes have all read it, and sent me great comments about why it wasn't right for them. The agents have been as silent as snow. Not one has even asked for sample chapters.

So, I guess I'm still confused. Either agents are not reading the market in the same manner as publishers, or publishers are being overly nice to me.

Thanks for all the advice, though. I think I will review my Agent Query letter again.

10-12-2005, 07:23 PM
Tim, I guess I misunderstood. I thought you weren't getting your ms read, so I thought the query needed a change. If you are getting it requested by the publishers and such "good" rejections, then that's not all bad.
Trust that I'm far from an expert, just learning myself, but what about trying the other niche a couple of us mentioned? Try the YA section of the market. I think you might get a positive response from them. At least it's worth a try.
Others are more experienced and I'm sure people like Jamesaritchie, etc. will offer a valuable response. Best wishes in your endeavors!

10-14-2005, 12:36 PM
If you are getting it read then you need to keep sending it out. Publishers are in the business of making money and though an editor may love it, if they feel it won't sell or get a good return on their investment, they won't buy it. However, I know the Lord can find a home for it. I think you need to just keep sending it out and keep sending it out. It will find a home.