A Guest Post by Jon Woodhams
While this will be my first year at the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference, I have represented Guideposts at five ACFW conferences and one Mount Hermon conference. At each one, lots of folks come up to me to say hello and inevitably say something like, “Oh! Guideposts! Yes, my grandmother got that magazine.” Some might remember that Guideposts was founded by Norman Vincent Peale (author of The Power of Positive Thinking) and his wife, Ruth Stafford Peale. The first issue of the magazine rolled off the press in 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, so Guideposts (and Guideposts, the magazine) just celebrated its 70th anniversary last year. Today, the little digest-sized publication enjoys a circulation in the millions.
After my conferee friends’ initial enthusiastic profession of familiarity with Guideposts magazine, however, I’m often met with furrowed brows and puzzlement when I tell them I don’t work for the magazine but for Guideposts Books. “I had no idea Guideposts did books!” they’ll say. And when I tell them I am a fiction editor for Guideposts, they are often in for a second dose of surprise.
So despite the title of my blog post, Guideposts is not new to books. A number of now-classic Christian books originated with or at least were published by Guideposts over the years, including such titles as The Hiding Place and God’s Smuggler, written by John and Elisabeth Sherrill with Corrie ten Boom and Brother Andrew, respectively. On the current nonfiction side, some of you might be familiar with our popular 365-day devotionals Daily Guideposts or Mornings with Jesus. And Guideposts is no stranger to fiction, either. Guideposts offered Catherine Marshall’s classic novel Julie to its audience in 1984.
In recent years, Guideposts has built a robust and successful fiction program that often flies under the radar of many avid Christian fiction readers because it is sold exclusively through our direct-to-consumer (mostly direct mail) channels. I have been with Guideposts since 2011, and during my tenure there I’ve edited four long-running fiction series (with as many as 25 books each) that could be described as Nancy Drew for Christian adults. My series have included Miracles of Marble Cove, Secrets of the Blue Hill Library, Mysteries of Silver Peak, and a new one slotted for release this summer. In addition, I’ve edited several one-shot fiction offerings, including four volumes of short Christmas fiction called A Cup of Christmas Cheer, the three-book set Nantucket Dreams, two volumes of Chesapeake Antiques Mysteries, and more. And those don’t represent the limits of our current fiction catalog, which also includes Sugarcreek Amish Mysteries, Patchwork Mysteries, Mary’s Bookshop, Tales from Grace Chapel Inn, and more. But because we sell them primarily through mass mailings, most of our fiction is not available at your local Christian bookshop or even through amazon.com or christianbook.com.
I’ll be candid: many people who take appointments with me at writers conferences have walked away disappointed. They are looking for a publisher to publish a book they have written, and, with virtually no exceptions, I am not able to help them with it. But I can, and do, inform them about the opportunities for writers that Guideposts can provide. We really don’t acquire or publish in the traditional sense. Instead, we create series, characters, settings, and even stories, and we contract skilled and experienced writers to bring them to life for us.
While our publishing and sales model is not typical, it also is not unique. A handful of other publishers work in the same vein—selling directly to consumers, hiring writers to create to-spec work-for-hire manuscripts, and quietly forging highly successful publishing programs that will never see the best-seller lists—though their sales numbers can easily exceed those of CBA best-sellers.
So, other than learning a bit about Guideposts Books, what is the takeaway for you as a writer? In a roundabout way, I have just shared with you a secret that many writers don’t know: there is a whole world that exists outside the traditionally published trade fiction and nonfiction that routinely populate the ECPA charts. It is not easy to break in (we work virtually exclusively through literary agents, for example; only a handful of writers are chosen to contribute to our series, through a rigorous audition process; and we really look for authors who already have a proven track record of publishing), but if you have the requisite skills and are willing to look beyond the boundaries of what we often think of as Christian publishing, it can open up new possibilities for you as a writer. And doing so can make the difference between being an author who receives rare advances and sporadic royalty payments and being an author who makes a steady, reliable, and decent living from your writing.
Jon Woodhams has been involved with Christian publishing since the late 1980s when he began working at David C. Cook Publishing, where he worked (with some brief hiatuses) until 2005, when he joined WaterBrook Multnomah. He has been a fiction editor with Guideposts since 2011.
Writing for Continuity Fiction Series
Using Guideposts’ successful fiction series as a model, the workshop will explore the often-untapped potential of writing for continuity fiction series. In addition to learning about Guideposts’ unique place in Christian fiction, topics will include how the Guideposts model works, the ideal writer for a continuity series, how writers collaborate to create a series, the unique skill set needed to succeed as a continuity writer, and more.