Christian Fiction on the Move – Again


More discussion on Christian fiction, the topic that apparently never dies! 😉

As I see it, the book business is fluid and Christian fiction has become a central player. After all, for a number of years now, as the general market saw sales shrink, Christian fiction continued to grow.

The result was that a number of general market houses—notably Random, Simon & Schuster, Baker—bought up Christian imprints, while others started their own faith-related lines. The overall result seems to be an increased openness to the idea of publishing Christian books in general, and Christian fiction specifically.

The capper came earlier this week when Publisher’s Weekly posted an article about several general market houses publishing Christian fiction under their general market imprint, not their faith imprint. In addition, ECPA house Thomas Nelson has some titles they are promoting as mainstream fiction. The article ends with this comment:

The trend [to promote Christian fiction as mainstream fiction] coincides with remarks Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy made earlier this month, when she noted that the Christian demographic has expanded. “By limiting our choices in publishing and retailing to only those books that have a direct Christian message, we are effectively driving [readers] to buy from the competition.” Reidy called for publishers, retailers, agents and authors to “expand the universe of what’s possible in the world of Christian publishing and retailing.”

Well, I don’t think you’ll find too many authors resisting Reidy’s call.

Interestingly, B&H editor Karen Ball opened up the What makes Christian fiction Christian topic on her blog here, here, and here, with a couple follow-up articles here and here.

Because of the interaction at Karen’s blog, I ended up writing a comment over at the ACFW discussion board on the subject. Here’s the edited version:

I am not for stories that hit the reader over the head with the gospel. I prefer subtle. I personally use muted symbolism. In fact, in a recent contest (the Zondervan one) all three judges lowered my score for the spiritual themes/content. One said it was nonexistent so far. And he/she is right. The symbolism isn’t apparent in this first book. It doesn’t mean it isn’t there or that it won’t become apparent.

I’m also not knocking clean fiction. I much prefer reading clean fiction. But maybe we should stop pretending that a cleaned up version of mystery or romance or whatever means it is therefore Christian.

I’ve read some Christian books written for Christians. Sharon Hinck’s books come to mind. They are primarily about Christians and for Christians. They target the traditional CBA reader. Good. We need those books. I need those books. I learn and am encouraged in ways that no secular writer, no matter how good he is, can do because Sharon’s themes center around spiritual issues.

Perhaps books written for Christians are as far as most Christian publishers want to go. What I hear from writers all the time is that we want to create stories that non-Christians will read. Not just because we want to entertain non-Christians or because we want to sell to a larger market. We want to put Christian themes in stories that non-Christians will read. Christians too, but also non-Christians.

Here’s where a lot of the friction is, I think, between publishers and writers. Publishers are saying, You write that story with those words, and the people that buy books in CBA stores will revolt, with lots and lots of repercussions for the publishing houses. Writers are saying, We want to write as a means of exposing the general reading public to a Christian way of looking at the world. The world has people who cuss and swear and do sinful things—and Christians live in that world, so why shouldn’t it be in our fiction?

So, see how simple this would become if we just started calling the cleaned up stuff “clean fiction” and the books written to encourage or counsel Christians through story, “fiction for Christians”?

And what about the stuff I write, the stories with a Christian worldview that is subtle and might actually be missed? The ABA does seem to be wide open to pretty much anything as long as it sells. Does it need to be labeled Christian worldview fiction?

Or, maybe it doesn’t need a label at all. I think that might be what Mike Duran has been saying for some time. 😮

Published in: on December 5, 2008 at 10:33 am  Comments (3)  
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