Author and apologist Ravi Zacharias aired an interview on his radio broadcast with his son about a trip he took to India. He’d been invited to discuss a somewhat limited topic in a secular setting — which he proceeded to do. Later, when asked why he didn’t launch into a discussion of what he believed about Christianity, he said that he wanted to respect the organizers of the event and to stay within the parameters of the prescribed subject.
Rather than seizing the opportunity to speak before so many unsaved people for his own purposes — godly though they were — he honored those who had invited him and spoke to their issue.
When the president of the organization heard this, he invited Ravi back for an entire week with no limits on what he could discuss. His self-restraint built trust.
Ravi’s experience got me to thinking about building trust.
Why should one friend listen to the advice of another friend? Or a writer accept the suggestions of a critique partner? Why should a congregant pay attention to what a minister says, or a non-Christian heed the message of a missionary? Why, in fact, should a reader be swayed by what a writer believes, especially by what a fiction writer believes?
Something causes one person to value the word of another person. Often that something is met expectations.
A friend recommends a certain e-reader and it turns out to be just right. Or an editor gives recommended changes, and clearly the manuscript is better by including them. A supplier promises delivery on a certain date, and he comes through on time.
For the novelist? The bottom line is creating an awesome story. When a piece of fiction delivers, a reader quickly becomes the author’s fan because readers want good stories.
We want to visit new places, or familiar haunts; we want to be surprised by what happens, or intrigued. We want our curiosity piqued, then satisfied; our hopes for the character met; our fears calmed.
And somewhere, as readers’ expectations are met, as we lose ourselves in a grand story, we come to trust the writer. We are ready, then, to hear what the story is all about.
But what the story is all about isn’t front and center. The story is front and center. The meaning of the story reveals itself subtly and perhaps after the reading, during the pondering period, when the reader closes the book after the last page.
As an author consistently meets expectations, readers are more willing to listen.
All this seems important to me as more and more Christian speculative fiction writers are looking to e-publish, self-publish, or publish with a general market house rather than with a Christian one.
In many ways, the Christian who writes for the general market is no different than the Christian athlete who plays for a state university or for a professional team. The athletes that reporters interview, that fans follow on Twitter or whose Facebook pages they like, first must earn the right to speak by playing well. Without the playing-well component, no one would care if Dallas Maverick star Jason Terry or Denver Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow says he plays for God or because of God.
Publicist Rebeca Seitz (Glass Roads Public Relations) made a comment at the 2010 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference that, for good or ill, we live in a celebrity culture. With the growth in social networking, writers have been thrown into the celebrity mix.
Fans who once never saw any more of an author than their back-of-the-book picture and blurb or the occasional appearance at a book signing now have the opportunity to follow and friend and like.
What does that mean for Christians?
Nothing if we don’t build trust.
The same can be said about Christian speculative fiction as a whole, I think. If readers are to listen, no matter what publishing venue we might choose, we have to deliver.
What does “deliver” mean to you? What do you want to see in a speculative story that makes you trust the author? Inquiring minds, and all. 😉