Open Letter To Christian Publishers

ReadingDear Christian Publishers,

I’m not a happy customer, and I think it’s time I stop complaining to my friends and come right out and say what’s bothering me.

The problem leaked out as I wrote my review for Wayne Thomas Batson’s recent (excellent) middle grade / YA novel Dream Treaders. At one point I said that middle grade boys were an under-served reading market, but that’s only partly true. In reality, all children are under served by Christian publishers!

I find this to be a horrible state of affairs. The few books I see in book stores and in publisher catalogs more closely resemble Sunday school material than entertainment. Don’t misunderstand—I’m a big fan of Sunday school. I just don’t think kids like going to school—no matter what kind of school it is—when they want to play and imagine and get lost in a story.

I understand from discussions on agent and editor panels at writers’ conferences that the topic of the paucity of children’s books comes up from time to time. In explanation, industry professionals identify two problems. First, there are so many clean books available in the general market that there is no real need for Christian children’s books. And second, Christian children’s books simply don’t sell.

I find the first reason to be reprehensible. Yes, reprehensible. Since when is Christianity limited to moral living? Do believers have nothing else to say about life except, don’t use bad words, obey your parents, and be nice to the little disadvantaged boy who lives next door?

I mean, really. Are we content to let the world tell our children how they should think? That’s precisely what we do when ALL their entertainment—TV, video games, movies, and books—espouse the same humanistic agenda. The two hours children spend at church on Sunday (and it’s a pretty shaky assumption that they do spend two hours there), is not enough to counter the multiply hours they spend every day hearing that they are good (not sinful), need only look inside (not to Jesus) for strength, can do whatever they put their mind to (not what God has gifted them for), and many other principles that fly in the face of Scripture.

Who, I ask you, Mr. and Ms. Publishing Professionals, will counter the humanist, postmodern worldviews that children are being taught?

Ah, someone is bound to suggest that parents are tasked with that job. I couldn’t agree more. Moses certainly gave parents the responsibility of teaching the Law to their children:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:6-9)

The idea is that parents are to use every occasion to teach their children the things God wants them to know. Every occasion. Including their reading time.

Yes, parents can use reading time, like they must for movies and video games and TV and public education, to teach how the worldview behind the stories and games and curriculum is false. But is it too much to ask that Christian publishers give parents a better tool than negative examples?

Seriously, why aren’t all Christians up in arms at the poor pickings we are offering up to our children?

Which leads to the next issue. Publishing professionals say that parents don’t buy Christian books. Well, here’s the thing: some don’t know any Christian books exist. What’s more, the few books that are on the shelves in book stores may not be geared toward the needs of the parents who are looking. If there’s one book about pumpkins at Halloween time, for example, what does the parent do who is looking for a book for her little boy who loves horses?

The other “not buying” issue is price. Publishers say, all that color and thick paper for children’s books make printing children’s books prohibitive. Their print runs aren’t big enough to bring the cost down, so given the choice of buying a cheaper general market book and an expensive Christian market book, parents go for the less expensive.

Both these issues can be taken care of if you, Mr. and Ms. Publishing Professionals, would think creatively and take seriously the need for adults to pass on the Truth of God and His love for the world to the next generation.

First, the not knowing. There are plenty of women buying Christian fiction by everyone’s calculation. Why not package a popular author with a children’s book? You could work with an author who is best-selling and might be willing to contribute to this cause. The idea would be to give Popular Best-selling Author’s latest book away for free to everyone who buys brand new children’s book–for a limited time, if you choose.

That’s just one idea, but I can guarantee you, women who love Popular Best-selling Author will buy that children’s book and therefore discover Christian children’s books.

As for price, there are ways to cut costs. Like making the pages of children’s books smaller (that’s already being done by at least one publisher, and if I recalled which one, I’d stand up and applaud).

And of course, cost isn’t really an issue for middle grade or young adult books. Those don’t have the expensive art work or the glossy paper or any of the other high cost elements.

For teen and pre-teens, it’s really a matter of letting readers and their parents know the books are available. So why not do a little bit of old-fashioned promotion? Why not set up an author to speak at schools, selling books along the way? A few fantasy writers have done this, and teen Christian fantasy came into being.

It’s doable, Mr. and Mrs. Publishing Professional. It’s really a matter of whether or not you think it’s important enough to work at it and make it happen.

And here’s a secret. If you invest in this next generation, chances are, they’ll become your customers of the future. And when they do, please work to keep them happy.

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10 Comments

  1. Amen! I SO agree with you! Some authors (like Colleen Coble and Amanda Flowers) have started children’s series. I’ve reviewed both the mysteries they’ve written for adults as well as their offerings for upper elementary students. We need more entries! These are good starts but we need a lot more, esp. for those upper elementary students.

    I introduced my book clubs to Jerel Law’s SPIRIT FIGHTER — and they loved it, esp. when he came to our school to speak. The Swipe series is good too — and Lisa Bergren, Jill Williamson, and Krista McGee has written some good dystopian series recently. My book clubs are growing — I have 5 this past year (and that’s just in 3 grades!). That’s why as a reviewer, I try to read & review books for those ages. It’s hard to find reviews for them, and that often limits schools and libraries from buying them.

    And that’s my 2 cents . . .
    Carol

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  2. When I was shopping my YA novels, I found nothing but resistance for YA books in the CBA. There were a handful of authors who’d gotten in writing YA fantasy, and the publishers seemed perfectly content sticking with those few. Honestly, they seemed terrified of even being presented with YA manuscripts. I finally just gave up and went with a small press.

    And what you said here is absolutely true: “I just don’t think kids like going to school—no matter what kind of school it is—when they want to play and imagine and get lost in a story.” That is a symptom of writers wanting to dumb down when writing to kids. But kids can pick up on a lot more than they’re given credit for. They don’t need a lecture in story form.

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  3. Excellent post, Rebecca. There is certainly a need. It is a great opportunity to minister to young people. Hopefully, writers and publishers will soon fill it. In the meantime, I will be praying.

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  4. I totally agree that Christian publishers under-serve kids. When I complained about all the Christian books geared to kids in which the family was broken (divorced, dead parent, kids hating parents) I was told I was living in a fantasy world.

    Hey I just wanted books that were like my family (two parents, no rebelling kids hating mom and dad because they had rules to follow, and good relationships with grandparents) I felt like an odd-ball because I had a whole family. And I wasn’t asking them to stop publishing these books because there is a need for them, but I wanted a little more.

    But to get a response from a person involved in the publishing world like that when you’re a teen reader shows that some publishers don’t care what the reader wants.

    I suggest complaining about the preachy or Sunday School type writing in reviews on commercial sites. Subtle messages woven into the fabric of a story are much more effective in leaving a lasting and satisfying experience.

    Like your post and the thought that went into it.

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  5. Hi Rebecca

    I read your post because I write action-adventures and mysteries for middle grade readers, especially boys. Many of these are Christian books. While I’ve found it difficult to get my books into stores, there are many other ways to get the word out.

    My first publisher of Christian kids books went bankrupt. I felt we were off to a good start, but the recession crushed this small publisher. Later I was able to get contracts for 7 middle grade books with Comfort Publishing, and 3 with Port Yonder Press. And at the present time, I have a new series that will begin publishing with Elk Lake Publishing.

    In addition, I have a 6 book contract for middle grade fiction with an educational publisher in Toronto.

    So far I haven’t been able to attract one of the major Christian publishers. Part of the reason, according to my agent, is those publishers want much longer manuscripts. I grew up hating to read, and followed a career in dramatic film and video production, and TV commercials. I believe kids would read more, including Christian kids, if they could get their material in shorter bites. That’s what my relationship with Elk Lake is all about.

    But the fact remains that it’s up to every author to take hold of their own promotion and marketing.

    Publishers, large and small, are in the business to make a profit. They will continue to publish the kids of materials that are a good return on their considerable investments. Sometimes it helps to put on that publishing hat for a moment as we try to appreciate how the process works.

    Max Elliot Anderson
    Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/Max-Elliot-Anderson/e/B002BLP3EE
    Blog http://booksandboys.blogspot.com
    My Youtube Videos http://www.youtube.com/user/Maxbooks100?feature=watch

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  6. I have heard a big issue with CBA houses publishing books for kids is schools won’t buy them. I guess the Christian labels turn them off for political and seperation-of-chuch-and-state issues. As we know school libraries are a big market for kids books. Does anyone have personal information to confirm this, or is it purely rumor?

    I write YA and MG, and for the most part have moved to ABA to pitch my manuscripts. I don’t hide the Christian influence in my books, and so far it hasn’t seemed to have had a negative influence on any of the ABA agents or editors who have requested fulls, although no book sale yet.

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  7. Good points. Good review of Batson’s book as well. Just like positive reinforcements, parents who care should inundate Thomas Nelson with thank yous now. We’re so prone to complain (not saying your post isn’t necessary) but we should also tweet/buzz the good stuff so the powers that be get the message. Publishers, like movie makers, only respond to where the money is. If we buy it, they will come…around.

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  8. Well done! And thank you!

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  9. I’ve written for children in the general market but haven’t been able to sell to the Christian market because my manuscripts “aren’t overtly Christian enough” (aka they don’t sound like Sunday school) until now. I’m excited to announce that new publisher Ashberry Lane is taking a chance on me and 12-year-old Christian main character Joey Michaels. WATER FIGHT PROFESSIONAL releases next month and is the super fun first book in a four-part series. (Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets Swindle.)

    If you agree with this blog at all, please check out my book and consider promoting it so that other publishers can see what they are missing out on. Also, I’m currently teaching an online class through ACFW titled “Kid Appeal for Adults.” We’d love to have you join us if you’re interested in learning more about children’s literature. I mean, hey, who doesn’t love a good children’s story?

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  10. I don’t think Christian kids books don’t sell as opposed to the CBA not wanting to publish anything that isn’t an easy profit opportunity. I know I grew up with a decent amount of kids fiction. The Sugar Creek Gang, Mandie, The Magic Bicycle, and more. I think if this really is true and the audience doesn’t want it, we have worse problems than fiction.

    I’m really starting to think the CBA is actively harming Christian fiction now.

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