As part of The Christian Manifesto‘s push to start reviewing Christian fiction, we are proud to present an exclusive interview with Allen Arnold, Publisher and Senior Vice President of Thomas Nelson Fiction.
Having launched the Fiction group in 2004, Allen’s goal is to deliver the best stories to the broadest possible audience in the most entertaining, relevant, and God-honoring way possible. A veteran of the publishing industry since 1992, he’s overseen the marketing and branding campaigns of many best-selling Christian authors utilizing the skills learned while working for some of the world’s largest advertising agencies. His favorite way to spend the day is with his wife and young children – preferably with a C.S. Lewis book or Superman comic close at hand as well!
First, we want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. The fact that you’re willing to take time out for “the little guy” and answer some questions shows us that the people at Thomas Nelson actually care about their readers.
At Thomas Nelson, the reader is always the focus and of utmost importance. Our whole passion centers on creating content that inspires, engages, entertains and ultimately transforms the reader. As the Fiction Publisher, I have the honor of doing that through the power of story.
So, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get your start in the world of book publishing?
Even as a young child, I loved getting lost in a good story. From comics to fantasy to mystery novels, I was the kid whose favorite day of school was the day the book mobile pulled up with thousands of stories. Everything about story interests me – from the content and the plot twists to the physical book itself – the covers, the title, the paper. After college, I spent several years learning the art of marketing through some of the best advertising agencies in the country. A great experience but ultimately I realized that it wasn’t enough just to create great advertising – the product needed to be worth advertising. So I started as Director of Marketing for Word Publishing. It was so refreshing to be promoting books that could change lives rather than sugar water (soft drinks) and pizzas! How did you make your way to Thomas Nelson? Soon after I joined Word Publishing, they were purchased by Thomas Nelson. I was invited to move to Nashville where Thomas Nelson is headquartered and did so. For many years, I oversaw their marketing and branding of key authors (Max Lucado, Frank Peretti, John Eldredge, Charles Swindoll, etc.). Then five years ago, I transitioned to the role of Publisher and launched our Fiction division.
In the last couple of years Thomas Nelson has published some of the best Christian authors on the market, rivaling many authors in the general marketplace. Ted Dekker. Robert Liparulo. Tim Downs. Frank Peretti. Neta Jackson. What has been your strategy for developing such a strong presence in the market? What role does Jesus play in your overall business outlook and practices, both personally and corporately?
I’ll start with the last question. I wouldn’t be the man I am or in the job I am without the saving grace and love of Jesus. To loosely quote a line in Chariots of Fire, I feel God’s pleasure when I serve Him as a publisher of story. I launched the Fiction division for one reason – to reach a broad audience with the best stories from a Christian worldview. In the world of entertainment and story, there are too many stories filled with gratuitous sex and violence. Hopeless stories that leave the reader empty and angry at God (if they even acknowledge God). So I wanted to find voices who were incredible storytellers who could reach the world at large with novels that dealt with all of life with their Christian worldview intact. Every novel ever written comes from some worldview. Nothing is truly neutral. But I don’t call what we do Christian Fiction – it’s Fiction from a Christian worldview. That’s been my vision and strategy and it is working extremely well in both the general market and the Christian retail market. It’s a model that works for all who love great stories written from a Christian worldview.
Looking at your authors, their stories are very diverse. Some deal with the supernatural. Some deal with science. Others deal with church ladies. Obviously, they are reaching different audiences, some having wider appeal than others. What common bond do you think there is between these various narratives?
The only bond between our novels is they are all great stories told from a Christian worldview. We purposely have a rich, diverse tapestry of writers who each craft their brand of story in their unique voice and style. In some cases, the Christian worldview is more overt than in other cases. And that’s ok – we let the story be the story. Our job is to create well-written, entertaining novels that touch the heart and mind…not to lecture or preach an agenda. Someone wanting to be taught a lesson or hear a sermon would be better served reading a non-fiction title.
Some writers, such as Ted Dekker, have been ridiculed by some for being too liberal with his portrayal of evil in his books. The same might be said for violence found in the books of Liparulo. Personally, we at The Christian Manifesto enjoy the realism and believe it necessary to the story. However, when these criticisms arise regarding people Thomas Nelson has invested time and money in, how does the company go about responding (or is it left to the authors)?
I do my best to respond to every letter I receive. I enjoy that dialogue with readers. In most cases, we end the conversation with them understanding and often indicating support for what we’re trying to do with our fiction program. It’s interesting…God appears much more comfortable with the realism of the world than many readers of Christian Fiction. Just look at the Bible stories filled with the realities of war, sex, evil, sin, betrayal, adultery, passion. These stories deal with issues that are not G-rated or “safe”. So I wonder where some got the idea that Christian Fiction should be synonymous with G-rated stories. The world we live in – our lives – are not G-rated nor does the Bible call us to a safe, sugar-coated existence. We seek to paint evil as evil and good as good. That doesn’t make for safe stories always – but they are stories written from a Christian worldview.
We think that really hits the nail on the head. Christianity doesn’t portray itself as safe, so its kind of foolish for us to ask for safety in the stories we tell. Let’s switch gears here, though. You’ve had some success in the past. What changes are on the horizon for Thomas Nelson Fiction? What are you personally excited about?
Expect more from your favorite Thomas Nelson authors in the coming months and years – including Ted Dekker, Neta Jackson, Stephen Lawhead, Robert Liparulo, Colleen Coble, and Lisa Samson. And expect some new surprises – like more romances and romantic suspense novels from some of your favorite female authors. A new Young Adult series from Robert Liparulo. A female co-authored series with Ted Dekker. And more graphic and manga novels (if you haven’t checked out Serenity and Goofyfoot Gurl manga novels or Dekker’s Circle graphic novels – what are you waiting for?!?). We’ll be doing more novelizations of movies – such as Bella (coming in April) and a brand new movie coming soon from the creators of Facing the Giants. And a new series in about a year from a major country music artist. How’s that for a quick preview of what’s to come???
The world is becoming more technologically savvy. How is Thomas Nelson leveraging the Internet (especially the Myspace, Facebook, and the blogosphere) to advance its vision?
We strive to be at the forefront of making our stories available with the latest technologies. In the future, you’ll see us using that technology to give away entire novels electronically (with the author’s blessing) because we’re so convinced that fans will love it and want more. Our marketing team is always finding the latest ways we can reach consumers and interact with fans using cutting edge technology…including a recent book signing by an author in a virtual reality bookstore!
One last question. We hear that you’re a Superman fan. There’s a lot of talk out there that Batman is a better superhero because he uses gadgets and stuff and doesn’t actually have any superpowers. We at The Christian Manifesto have had our own lively debates about this topic. So, here is our question to you: Superman and Batman get in a fight. Who wins and why?
Come on now. Superman – hands-down. In about one minute. You know, I’m a fan of both heroes (as well as Green Lantern, Firestorm, and the list goes on). But let’s get real – Batman is dependant on cool gadgets. Superman needs no gadgets. Batman has a batarang and Superman shoots lasers through his eyes. And he definitely doesn’t need a sidekick named Robin! I love how Superman chooses light over dark and chooses to rescue people on a planet that is not his own…even laying down his life for that planet (The Death of Superman). I will give Batman this – he definitely has the better villains by far. Superman needs an assist on that front!
Ha! Agreed on all counts. Again, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. We look forward to reading and reviewing more Thomas Nelson fiction for years to come.
Thanks for asking such intriguing questions…and for being salt and light to so many folks!
Hey readers! Remember, be sure to be on the lookout for our fiction reviews that will be making their way to the site in the next couple of weeks.
VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS INTERVIEW DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS AND BELIEFS OF THECHRISTIANMANIFESTO.COM. QUESTIONS ASKED AND ANSWERS PROVIDED SHOULD NOT ASSUME A POSITIONAL STATEMENT OR THEOLOGICAL COMMITMENT ON THE PART OF THIS WEBSITE, ITS WRITERS, OR ITS ADMINISTRATORS.