Tuesday, January 04, 2011

CSFF Tour - The Wolf of Tebron Day 2

Welcome back to the second star-studded day of the CSFF Tour. We're featuring The Wolf of Tebron, the first in a series by author C.S. Lakin.

Yesterday I gave an overview of the book, and tomorrow I want to give my review. What do I have in store for today?

A puzzle.

How does an author effectively market their book - to get it into the hands of the type of reader that will appreciate their genre/style?

I ask this today because The Wolf of Tebron is billed as a "fairy tale allegory of God's love." The designation fairy tale isn't used often nowadays outside of the Disney realm. I thought it was an interesting angle to go with this book. Since this tour features fantasy and science fiction novels (more broadly speculative fiction, including alternate history novels like The Gifted series by Lisa Bergren), it is a logical book to spotlight. I don't think anyone in our group, when choosing books, paused when they saw the description.

I think a lot of the books we feature run into a tricky problem of how to market the story. In 2010 we featured Lost Mission by Athol Dickson. It was set alternately in the 1700's and the modern day. It was labeled as "magical realism." What is that, exactly? And who is the market for that? It worked enough to get us to review it, but it isn't an easy book to summarize. It is not fantasy, but there was a fantastic element that was a key plot item.

The Wolf of Tebron is probably closer to fairy tale than true fantasy, so the designation is appropriate. Will it capture a potential buyer with that moniker? Of course, it also bills itself as an allegory. True allegories are hard to find. The Pilgrim's Progress is probably the most famous one in Christian literature. The publicity letter I received with Tebron considered C.S. Lewis in the allegorical realm. I wrestle with that. I don't think it is a true allegory. In my mind an allegory has point-by-point connection with whatever it is trying to emulate. Yes, Aslan is a Christ-figure, but how many other direct connections are there? There is much symbolism, but I don't think allegory is the best way to describe the Narnia series.

Enough with the nit-picking. The point is, I think speculative fiction has a harder time marketing itself because the term is encompasses several sub-genres. If a book is a mystery or a romance, there can be variations: detective vs. noir, chick lit vs. historical. Still, the category is pretty focused. Speculative fiction is a wide berth, and it is tricky when a fantasy book doesn't match a Lord of the Rings pattern.

So the author and publisher have to call it something. For those in the tour, what do you think? Was "a fairy tale allegory" the best way to market Tebron? Is there a better way for this book to reach its readers?

Check to see what the rest of the CSFF gang is saying on Becky Miller's post. I'll give my review of the book tomorrow, with a little more on marketing...


  1. This is a great question, Jason, and is an example of why marketing gives me hives.

    "Fairy-tale allegory" feels like an attempt to rope in the fantasy folks on one end, and the Christian audience on the other. Unfortunately, the Christians may be turned off by the fairy tale connection("having outgrown childish things"), and the fantasy folks may instinctively recoil from the allegory ("Here comes another sermon").

    As I mentioned in my reply to Becky today, and you also touched on it, I wonder if our understanding of the fairy tale as a literary form is so corrupted and subjective it doesn't mean anything any more. In my subjective opinion, yes, it's a fairy tale.

    Allegory is misunderstood too. I agree there aren't many books outside Pilgrim's Progress (Hind's Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard is another) that make that sort of explicit one-to-one connection between a character and a concept or person in real life. The Wolf of Tebron certainly doesn't, although you can see broader reflections and symbolism.

    How to market spec-fic? Beats me. People seem to be very picky in their recreational reading tastes and unwilling to try new things (perhaps it's the intellectual equivalent of comfort food). I'll visit friends, and on their bookshelves are rows of Stephen King, or Robin Cook, or Clive Cussler, and they're eagerly awaiting the next volume. They like what they like, and don't see any reason to change flavors.

  2. All of us who write spec fiction in one form or another have to face the marketing monster of mystery. I read a lot of books on the NYT best seller list--like The Hunger Games, The Book Thief, The History of Love. Can I accurately, simply define the genre on those books? Nope. I wish we didn't have to call them anything at all, so it is tough.

    I didn't just decide to call my books fairy tales. I read Chseterton's great chapter on fairy tales in Orthodoxy and he clearly speells out "the rules" of fairy tales and what makes a story fit that category. Interestingly, it is very specific. That's not saying an average reader already knows all this and so, when seeing "a fairy tale..." on the cover of my books, will know just what it means. I have written some interesting articles on my series website called "Why Fairy Tales" and I go into length about how, to me, our lives so closely adhere to "fairy tale rules" that we naturally resonate with them. I would encourage those curious about the topic to read them at www.gatesofheavenseries.com and give some comments about them!

    Thanks for all the great, thought-provoking discussions spurred on by my book!

  3. Jason, I've decided to forgo my usual review today to explore this issue further. Not so much the marketing aspect, but what the "brand" tells the reader and how it builds expectations.

    BTW, fairy tales have been around in the YA secular writing circles for some time. Shannon Hale hit it big with The Goose Girl and there are a number of others.

  4. @Fred - Thanks for stopping by and the helpful contribution. We need people to step out of their comfort zone, for sure.

    @C.S. Lakin - It struck me that this book would be tricky to market, and thought it could be a different angle to take. Not wondering if it is truly a fairy tale, but how that would be received.

    Becky - I didn't realize the YA fairy tales still cooking. If CSFF doesn't feature it, I don't always have time for other books!