An Interview with Allen Arnold [Video]

In this brief, seven-minute video, I interview Allen Arnold, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Thomas Nelson’s fiction division. I have known Allen for almost 20 years. When I first met him, he was in marketing at Word, Inc., a company that Thomas Nelson eventually acquired.

Allen is one of the most creative people I know. He is truly a great publisher. He has that rare combination of being unwavering in his core values along with the ability to spot projects that have commercial potential. In his eight-year tenure as Nelson’s fiction publisher, he has built one of the company’s fastest-growing divisions and become an industry thought-leader at the same time.

In this video, Allen talks about:

  • Why fiction is so important and the role stories have played in his life
  • How he came to be the publisher of Thomas Nelson’s fiction division (the untold story)
  • What makes fiction “Christian” and the role of the storyteller
  • How an unpublished novelist can get published
  • Why agents are so important in the publishing process (and how to find one)
  • How much of your novel must be finished before you begin shopping
  • What you should do if your proposal or manuscript is initially rejected
  • Why he has now started blogging and what he plans to write about

I loved talking to Allen, but I’m afraid I only scratched the surface. There is much more to explore.

Question: What questions do you have about fiction publishing or getting published yourself? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Jay DiNitto

    “How do I get published?” -everyone, including me.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I would start by reading my post, “Advice to First Time Authors.” It provides step-by-step guidance.

    • Anonymous

      Start writing and build your platform.

  • Anonymous

    Michael and Allen,

    Thank you for taking the time to share this interview, and your thoughts on fiction. I agree with the importance of story in our lives, and love making up those stories. Thank you for the impact on the industry that you both have made– you’re inspiring many and making a difference. Thank you!

    Jennifer

  • http://cynthiaherron.wordpress.com Cynthia Herron

    Writing Christian fiction. (A force to be reckoned with!) :)

    The video interview with Allen Arnold today was straightforward, yet down-to-earth, and packed with tons of  information/advice for those navigating the path to publication. 

  • http://twitter.com/colleencoble Colleen Coble

    Allen is AWESOME!! He sees both big picture and small detail. Nothing goes unnoticed with him. And he CARES. He cares about his witness, his mission and his authors. I love that big guy so much! 

    Great interview, Mike! Thanks for doing it.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Thanks for your interview, Michael. It’s interesting to see the publishing business through the eyes of a fiction publisher. As a self published fiction author, I can relate to many of the things Allen talked about. I agree that it is so important to develop your own unique voice and writing style. It’s also good to work with a talented editor, who has experience in the fiction market, who can fine tune your manuscript.

    While getting published through a traditional publisher can be tough, it’s probably worth the effort to get an agent, and go through the process. If that doesn’t work out, you can always self publish, through one of the many popular publishing houses. 

    My only recommendation is to finish your book. If you get rejected, don’t quit. Most popular authors have been rejected many, many times. The key thing to me is to get it done, get it on paper, and (as Seth Godin says) ship! There are literally thousands of unfinished manuscripts out there by very talented authors who stopped along the path. As a popular cable guy once said… Get’r done!

    • http://twitter.com/jmhardy98 Jim Hardy

      I agree. He needs to get it finished. I am ready to read it.

  • http://swordinfire.blogspot.com Theron Mathis

    Thanks Michael.  Allen, thanks for publishing Steven Lawhead.  The Skin Map was great and I look forward to the next installment.  

    Even though the author might not be a fit for Thomas Nelson fiction, I do believe that non-Christians can write a Christian story.  It’s hard for someone to live in Western culture and not absorb the great Christian themes of death, resurrection, self-sacrifice.  I believe these themes often emerge unintentionally.  In fact, you have to be intentional to avoid theme.  This may even transcend stories in Western culture because the Logos is the ground of all reality.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is a very good point, Theron. I agree, though, as you said, I don’t think it is a fit for Thomas Nelson.
      By the way, I am loving your new book, The Rest of the Bible. In fact, I am thinking about teaching through it in my Sunday school class this fall (which, as you may know, is broadcast on AncientFaith.com).

      • http://swordinfire.blogspot.com Theron Mathis

        Thanks for the comments on the book.  The book actually is a compilation of my notes from my Sunday School class.  I taught it on request from my students.  Not long after the class was finished, one of the class members encouraged me to put it into book form.  I resisted for about a year.  

        Finally I did what Allen suggests regarding fiction, I completed three chapters and outlined the rest of the book, and sent that to the publisher.  For me, the key to getting the ear of a publisher was to understand their submission guidelines and accurately follow them.  Also, I looked for publishers that published similar material.  

        If you need any more source material for class, let me know.  

        • http://twitter.com/jmhardy98 Jim Hardy

          Craft first three or four chapters and craft your unique voice. Great advice. Get an agent and if you cannot convince them, then why try a publisher! Good advice for beginners.

          Jim

    • http://twitter.com/jmhardy98 Jim Hardy

      I liked the question, what makes Christian fiction. Christian? Great answer!

      Jim

  • http://www.facebook.com/carynsullivanscribe Caryn Sullivan

    I love your comments about not needing to complete a work of fiction before presenting it to an agent.  Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Caryn, that was something I found interesting also. I would have thought that the agent or publisher would want a finish work to present. Thinking about it though, it makes sense. If your first couple of chapters are awesome but then the following chapters aren’t what they’re looking for, you’re in trouble.

  • http://www.facebook.com/angie.kinsey1 Angie Kinsey

    Thanks for sharing inspiring and useful content with us. Those of us trying to get published need all the help we can get! :)

  • Cara Putman

    Fantastic interview and great advice for authors. Sending lots of people here as they prepare for ACFW.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Cara. We appreciate that.

  • http://rmabry.com Richard Mabry

    Allen, you’re coloring outside the lines some editors have drawn with your feeling that you don’t need to see a whole manuscript (so long as the author knows where the story is going), yet what you say makes good sense. Obviously this is backed up by your experience. 
    Mike and Allen, thanks so much for sharing this. 

  • Ruthie Dean

    As someone who works under Allen, I can attest to his creative leadership, unwavering core values, and vision as a publisher he brings to every member of our team. Definitely check out  his blog. http://www.allenarnoldwrites.com

  • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

    You’re ebook “Writing A Winning Book Proposal” is a must have for anyone desiring to get published. I followed it step by step and sent it to a publisher. They are showing interest in the book. Whether they decide to publish or not, making it that far for a first time author was huge. Thank you for taking the time to write that. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for saying that!

  • Anonymous

    This interview is packed full of information and inspiration.  I love what he has to say about having a unique voice and a unique story to tell.

    Thank you for this tip of the iceberg.  I am excited and encouraged to go and dig a little deeper on some of what he touched on in this brief interview.

  • http://thewritepractice.com Joe Bunting

    Would you be able to convince an agent to represent you if you only had 4 chapters? And is that a Thomas Nelson thing, or a fiction publishing thing as a whole?

    • Cara Putman

      Joe, for the most part it is a TN thing. Most agents and editors still want to know that you can actually finish a novel. But there are always exceptions. And what Allen says makes sense. But not all in the industry follow that model. 

      • http://thewritepractice.com Joe Bunting

        I would love to know more.

        It makes sense to me that an agent / editor would want to get into the process of a promising novel as soon as possible. But it would be good to know what percentage of the industry (Christian and non-Christian) does that since it’s such a major change in strategy for the author (like he said, the difference between 12 potential years).

      • http://www.deborahraney.com Deborah Raney

        I agree with Cara. Like Mike and Allen both said, most agents do want to know the novel they’re pitching is finished. Maybe the more important question is has the author ever finished a novel, any novel. There’s a huge difference between finishing 4 chapters and finishing 40, and often a writer needs to prove––even to himself––that he can go the distance. If a person has written 4 or 5 full novels in his quest to perfect his craft, that’s proof he has the discipline it takes to be a novelist.

        • http://twitter.com/allen_arnold Allen Arnold

          Good points, Deborah (and others). My interview expressed what I’m comfortable with as a publisher – and reflects our team’s desire to engage with authors whose stories draw us in…even if the complete manuscript isn’t finished. I understand many agents prefer an entire manuscript. As do many editors and publishers. There’s no “one best way” to make acquisition decisions – so I encourage writers to choose which works best for them, their agent and ultimately their future publishing partner. All the best!

          • http://thewritepractice.com Joe Bunting

            Thanks for engaging with my question Allen. One last question, and it may be a stupid one.  How would a writer find out if the agent / publisher (other than TN) accepted unfinished manuscripts? Can you just ask them?

          • http://twitter.com/allen_arnold Allen Arnold

            Yes – just ask the agents their preference on unfinished manuscripts. Each agent has specific talents and  ways of evaluating projects they will represent. This is just one of many issues you’ll want to make sure you’re in alignment with as you find the ideal agent for your publishing goals.

          • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

            Good info. Thanks Allen.

  • Anonymous

     Thank you for providing us with this information.  I especially liked the part regarding Christian writers and what makes a fiction work Christian.  As a Christian I find I cannot write without that part of me coming out.  It is who I am and I am so glad there are outlets available for this type of writing. 

  • http://www.telablue.com Indianapolis Web Design & SEO

    Why is he taking so long to publish his blog?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I don’t understand your question.

      • http://www.telablue.com Indianapolis Web Design & SEO

        He said around 5:30 that he had started writing, but he hadn’t made his blog live until July, which I guess is in the past and I guess his blog is now live. The question I guess, is what was the reason for writing for months before making it public?

        • Joe Lalonde

          One possible explanation is that he was trying to have content lined up. This way he’s not stressing over missing a day or two in his writing, he already has content ready to go.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          He wanted to get a collection of posts “in the pipeline,” so to speak. This is pretty common. It makes for less day-to-day pressure to blog.

  • http://www.joeyo.org Joey O’Connor

    Allen brings up a number of good points. As you’ve demonstrated here on
    your blog Mike (and to give hope to all the aspiring authors who read
    this), you can both self-publish AND get published with a traditional
    publishing company.

    I find myself balancing both worlds by buying back the rights to my
    backlist and converting them into ebooks. At the same time, I’m still
    throwing my lines into the water with traditional publishers with
    fiction and non-fiction proposals as well as VOOKS (enhanced ebooks). It
    is a whole new Wild West in publishing and authors have more
    opportunities than ever.

    The key, as Allen notes, is to stay focused on good story, finding your
    unique voice, and the discipline of keeping your rear in the chair.

    Great content Mike…keep it up!

  • Shannon Dittemore

    Overwhelmed and (honestly) a bit weepy. So excited to be working with these guys and proud to be a new Thomas Nelson author. 

  • Shannon Dittemore

    Overwhelmed and (honestly) a bit weepy. So excited to be working with these guys and proud to be a new Thomas Nelson author. 

    • http://twitter.com/allen_arnold Allen Arnold

      Thanks Shannon. We’re thrilled to have you as a Thomas Nelson Fiction author and to launch  your new YA series in 2012!

    • Joe Lalonde

      Congrats on being published by TN! That’s an honor in and of itself. I’ll have to keep an eye out for your book.

  • Dennis Harris

    Allen said he is blogging but it hasn’t “gone live”.  What is before going live?

    • http://twitter.com/allen_arnold Allen Arnold

      Hi Dennis - check out AllenArnoldWrites.com. Hope you enjoy!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      He was writing posts and storing them for later publication.

  • Rick Barry

    Terrific and encouraging interview. I met Allen two years ago ACFW’s annual conference in Denver, and I can say he’s just as genuine and personable in real life as he is in this interview. Thanks for sharing this, guys.

  • http://profiles.google.com/p31.rachel Rachel Olsen

    Enjoyed this. And excited that Allen is starting to blog. I’ll be following his posts. Glad to hear he doesn’t feel you need a completed manuscript to pitch it. Would love to hear his (or your) thoughts on contemporary women’s fiction. Amish and historical novels sell well – why do more “contemporary” stories seem to lag behind in the Christian fiction market?

  • Joe Lalonde

    I loved Allen’s story of how he came to his position at Thomas Nelson. Thanks for sharing the video.

  • http://twitter.com/DanielHarkavy Daniel Harkavy

    Great interview Mike!  I miss coaching Allen.  He is the real deal!

    • http://twitter.com/allen_arnold Allen Arnold

      Daniel - thank you for being my life coach during the first four years of launching the Fiction division. Your wise words, penetrating questions and godly mentoring had a profound impact on me personally and professionaly. Eternally grateful!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You were great coach for him, Daniel—and for me! He is the real deal for sure.

  • Chris Oglesby

    Michael….   I like Allen’s style. When I look for young, up and coming songwriters, I don’t listen for a hit song, I look for a great line.  Please give him my best!!

  • Projectgen2

    I’m a Christian, in that I believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and have excepted the gift of salvation but I don’t write typical sounding religion. So how do I know if I’m qualified for the CBA or ABA?
     
     Thank you, Heather Sudbrock

    • http://twitter.com/allen_arnold Allen Arnold

      Heather – I encourage you to write the story you have on your heart. Our Chrisitan Fiction sells in the General market as well as at Christian Retail. And our General Fiction (still told from a Christian worldview) sells at Christian Retail.  The world doesn’t need more “religious sounding” novels…but well-told stories of hope, faith, adventure, love and good overcoming evil. Your Chrisitan worldview will shine through your story – and then a good agent and publisher can determine the right audience for that story.

  • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

    Insightful. Not a big fiction guy, but it’s great to see what another publisher (even in fiction) is thinking when looking for a good author. 

    I may be off base here, but you look ginormous compared to MH. Looks like you guys were sitting in the same kind of chair too. Yeah. It’s TOTALLY off-base, but I’ll ask anyway. How tall are you?  :)

    Blessings & appreciate the interview!

    • http://twitter.com/allen_arnold Allen Arnold

      Ok – you win for most unexpected question! ;  )  I’m 6 feet and 4 inches.

      • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

        Awesome! I win!!
        I’ve got a friend (like a brother) who’s 6′ 4″.
        That’s above average height. 
        But you’ve probably already realized that since you can see the tops of everyone’s heads while walking around.  :)

  • http://www.afinedayforanepiphany.wordpress.com Gretchen O’Donnell

    I find Allen’s comments about “what makes fiction “Christian” fiction” to be fascinating.  I am in the end-stages of editing my fantasy YA novel, and, while it is not “christian” in that it’s not likely to convert anyone to Jesus, it is certainly written from a “Christian worldview”…however, my fear as I’m beginning to search for a publisher, is that since it’s “fantasy” – ie, there are fairies and magic – that that will turn any Christian publisher off.  Narnia, while being fantasy, at least had a clear salvation message as a part of its story/theme.  Any wisdom on this idea?

    Gretchen

    • http://twitter.com/allen_arnold Allen Arnold

      The story may have more General Market appeal if the Christian thematic elements aren’t identifiable enough for ChristianRetail and their shoppers to choose it over other offerings. And that’s ok. The General Market needs more great stories written from a Christian worldview. At the same time, realize a publisher’s advance is tied to how many units they believe they can sell…so if a novel doesn’t work for a channel (Christian Retail in this example) the advance would be lower all other things being equal.

      • http://www.afinedayforanepiphany.wordpress.com Gretchen O’Donnell

        Thanks for your thoughts on this!  I really appreciate it! 

        • http://www.afinedayforanepiphany.wordpress.com Gretchen O’Donnell

          Sorry – one more thought on this topic: above you gave a great answer to someone where you said that the world needs stories of “hope, faith, adventure, love and good overcoming evil” and that your Christian worldview will shine through even if it’s not an overtly salvivic message.  So my question is, is the Christian publishing world open to those things in a fantasy/magical context?  Or is that just too far out?  (Obviously a person can’t fully answer this about MY manuscript without reading it…but in a general sense…is the Christian publishing world publishing books such as this?)

          • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

            Absolutely. The message doesn’t have to be explicit, but the worldview has to be implicit.

          • http://www.afinedayforanepiphany.wordpress.com Gretchen O’Donnell

            Excellent!  Thanks!

  • GPar0719

    What a great interview!

    The “What Makes Fiction Christian” question is one that I find fascinating to explore. In fact, I’ve taught a workshop on the subject at a couple of conferences. It’s not as easy to answer as one might think initially. This fall I’ll be teaching some workshops at Baylor University for the Alumni Association discussing the issue. I think it bears delving into philosophically as well as practically.

    I am so honored to be a Thomas Nelson fiction author. Thanks for having Allen as your guest. I always find his comments so full of content, as well as sensitive.

  • http://peterpaluska.com Peter Paluska

    The writing is the hard part. So do that, then getting an agent and a publisher interested is a walk in the part in comparison. Sure, it takes time but looking for someone is a lot easier than trying to write something of a certain quality and voice.

    I enjoyed this interview tremendously! Thank you, Michael, as always.

    Peter

  • http://twitter.com/jmhardy98 Jim Hardy

    Great interview. He tells a great story.

    Jim

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    His interview, and infectious smile, energized me. I feel in my bones the need to tell a story. His advice is what I needed to keep plugging away and focus on the prize. Thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    I loved his interview, Michael! Thanks so much for sharing. This was my first time hearing a publisher say they’ll accept an incomplete manuscript. Most agents ask for the entire manuscript to be complete. I wonder if agents will change some of their submission requirements– at least, the ones who work with Thomas Nelson. ;-)

    As always, awesome blog-post!

    Kennisha

  • http://www.danapittman.com Dana Pittman

    Thank you! I loved the definition for Christian fiction. I plan to subscribe to Allen’s blog as well. Have a fantastic day!

  • http://number2137.wordpress.com Jocelyn B

    Hey, Allen—great interview!

  • http://www.barbaraparentini.com Barbara Parentini

    Thanks for this great post, Mike. I enjoyed learning about Allen Arnold, and his perspective on fiction publishing for Thomas Nelson. Encouraging. You’re both the real deal in my book!

  • Anonymous

    Notes:

    Christian fiction begins with the author.

    Find your unique voice.

    If you can’t convince an agent to represent you, why should a publisher consider your work?

    http://allenarnoldwrites.com/

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    I had the pleasure of hearing Allen Arnold speak in a small group setting at the 2009 ACFW Conference in Denver. I have an agent because of Thomas Nelson’s policy. I remember throwing up my hands in frustration and saying, “I’ve got a request to submit but I don’t have an agent.” Two years later, I continue to wait for that “big break” but I appreciate the wisdom of others gleaned here at your website. Allen offers excellent reasoning for the submit-through-an-agent policy as well as some pretty surprising advice on chapters. The typical belief is you submit a completed manuscript.

  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    It’s interesting to hear that Allen would like authors to get an agent first, before trying to get in to see a publisher.  I like the reasoning… if you can’t find an agent who believes in your book, why would a publisher want to publish your book?

  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    Michael, I have a question… the video you embedded in this post has a different border than previously.  How did you do that?  Is that something you manually code, or does that come with the embed code from Vimeo? 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      It is something we custom-coded, I’m afraid.

      • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

        Oh, well…

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    How is fiction publishing different from non fiction publishing? How is it unique from non fiction publishing?

  • Pingback: An Interview with Jane Friedman [Video]

  • Sherri

    I liked her suggestion at the end to follow your intuition and have fun along the way. What a relief! I think that is when the “real you” comes through and that is – I hope – what people want to see. I think it is also what makes it possible to cover the same topics as others but with a unique voice that makes it fresh and new. 

    Thank you for the interview and the link to her blog. 

    • Sherri

      I clicked on the “post comment” button from the interview with Jane Friedman. Not sure how it ended up here?????  Sorry!!

      • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

        Oops! Fixed.

  • http://twitter.com/thecreativepenn Joanna Penn

    Hi Michael, I’m enjoying your new video series and especially with some of my favourite bloggers. Jane Friedman is brilliant, as is Rachelle Gardner – so thank you for bringing them, and others on the show. It is a great relief for those of us who have been blogging for a few years now that this is basically now mainstream advice – we  can’t get attention for our books without a platform. A few years ago, there was quite a different feeling in the industry but people like you and Jane have really helped change the perception of publishing. Whenever people have a go at traditional publishers, I point at you guys as being part of the industry and yet on the side of blogging and social media. Thankyou.

  • http://rockbottomworship.wordpress.com/ Liz Dugger

    These interviews you’ve been posting are awesome — Thank you! My question after watching Allen Arnold:   Is there a strong place for “Christian Historical Fiction?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/gina.conroy Gina Megna Conroy

    Great interview and discussions in the comments section! Allen and Michael, thanks for opening up this dialogue.

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