Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interesting Times in Christian Fiction

Let me say up front that I am merely an observer of the CBA market for Christian fiction. I review CBA books for a couple of blog tours. I have interacted with various authors at various stages in their careers. I have been quoted for an endorsement - a highlight!

Still, there are some interesting rumblings in the CBA world.

Last week I wondered out loud if some authors shouldn't consider ABA publishing (basically secular publishers or the general market) for their works, as what they write chafes some readers of CBA fiction.

More importantly by far, novelist Eric Wilson wrote a post entitled, "Is It Time for Christian Fiction to Die?" This has already generated some light, as in the discussion on his Facebook page, and some heat as well. Mike Duran talked about this article at Novel Journey on Monday (see the comments for a little of the heat). Mike references Eric's article again for another post discussing a related issue, "Should Profit Be the Bottom Line for Christian Fiction?" where he asks about the conflict of "ministry" vs. "business."

Of course, there was more discussion out there. My friend Becky Miller initially had a little different take (okay, she calls it a rant). Then she referenced another thoughtful post by novelist Mike Dellosso, who talks about an author following their calling wherever it leads, and trying to avoid some things that can bring frustration (like tracking Amazon sales numbers). What Mike talks about is fleshed out well in Jeff Gerke's Tips for Writers (see #93), where he stresses understanding whether a writer is called to write for the Christian/CBA market for encouragement/challenge/entertainment, or whether they have a missionary vision to reach non-believers (who usually won't be found in a Christian bookstore buying CBA books).

My friend Nicole at Into the Fire will be posting some responses from CBA industry insiders starting next week, and she has already posted some starting thoughts here and here (the last one is about the heartache caused by our culture's use/misuse of sex - very poignant).

Finally, after inundating you with links, Tim George (a frequent reviewer of CBA fiction) chimes in with thoughts similar to Mike, but are worth checking out on their own.

Can I sum up what I've seen so far?

  • Eric seems to be crying out for the CBA "industry" (actually a conglomeration of publishers, agents, booksellers, etc and not one specific agency) to be more open for those called to reach the culture for Jesus, rather than singing to the choir.
  •  He sees a place for "clean" or "safe" fiction for entertainment/encouragement, but doesn't want it to the exclusion of fiction that reaches out and perhaps crosses some boundaries.
  • He feels there has been a "narrowing" of what is acceptable in CBA fiction lately.
  •  There is a running debate behind the scenes on whether CBA fiction should be more "edgy." The definition of edgy is nebulous. Some mean it as detailing real-to-life scenarios. Others ask for CBA fiction to be less restrictive of certain taboos such as non-erotic descriptions of sex or some cussing.
  •  CBA is a business responding to supply and demand, and the main buyers of the product tend to be middle-aged women who prefer romances, historicals, and/or Amish fiction. The market for suspense, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc is a lot smaller.
  • Also, the market has been affected by the recession and the new trends of ebooks.
  •  Responses to Eric's post range from hearty amens, people who accuse him of not being a "team player" or taking a "parting shot" as he leaves the industry, to others who think CBA is broadening, just not as fast as some may want.
  •  Some like the dialogue and think of the sparks created as "iron sharpening iron," while others suggest we've been down this road before.
  • Finally, people are wondering if there isn't room for both "edgy" and "safe" in the CBA. (If we could define what is edgy...)
Like I said above, I'm an observer, albiet an interested party as I am slowly working on a book that, for now, I feel should go into the CBA realm, but it may be a hard sell due to its content (the characters confront sex slavery in Thailand). I will be watching this discussion intrigued. Nicole's posts for next week I will certainly not miss.

This is only a small part of the discussion. I'd be interested in other thoughtful posts if anyone knows of any out there. I am excited for dialogue, but we shouldn't forget strategic prayer that those in leadership/influence for CBA publishing as well as the authors know God's calling for them, and pursue it to the best of their abilities, and that He will open doors for it to be used. I am all for being strategic in trying to positively affect culture, but I also realize where my Source comes from. Blessings, all!


  1. I'm in the heart of this discussion. I have a Zondervan release coming out in October (Someone to Blame). Perhaps because it won a contest which included an advance and publication, Zondervan felt more open to publishing such an "edgy", commercially structured book intended for nonbelieving readers. Of course, it does promote an underlying Christian worldview, but all my contemporary psychological mysteries are written for the commercial market and I've never wanted to write for CBA, feeling very much as Jeff Gerke put it "called to write " to nonbelievers and not preach to the choir.

    However, God also put the thought in my heart that there are a lot of believers who are falling away (by the droves) and perhaps some of this more realistic, intensely real and raw exploration of humanity as presented in books like mine will become more a norm. I've only been reading CBA books for a few years, like very few, but seem to sense more openess in subject and treatment, at least with some of the publishers, than perhaps traditionally followed. My fantasy publisher, AMG, is stretching and reaching out to ABA readership and shares my vision of my series, which is directed not at CBA but at a mainstream fantasy readership.

    I find overly preachy books offensive and unappealing. I do not come from a "churched" background, and because I spent most of my life in the dark and have learned "to see in the dark" I understand the delicacy needed especially with rhetoric in approaching ABA audiences with topics of faith. Not many Chrsitians should attempt to do this; they fail miserably. But I do believe God is calling many believers to write in the CBA market in order to reach the world. I see God doing this with my books and perhaps some others. And I'm praying it will increase. It doesn't mean, though, that I will stop trying to sell to ABA, as that is where my heart and focus is. I don't see any publishers in CBA hurrying to give me contracts, but maybe that will change if Someone to Blame breaks out in the way I hope it will. Thanks for this post!

  2. Thoughtful response, C. S.

    Thank you, Jason, for directing your readers to my upcoming responses to a simple question I posed to professionals in the industry. Monday I'll post a review of Steven James' The Bishop which is anything but one of CBA's "safe" books, and Tuesday I'll let readers know the question and my thoughts on what I've learned about Christian publishing.

    Very well written, Jason. Thanks, too, for chiming in with a meaningful look at this suddenly, once again, hot-button issue.

  3. I very much like what you say in this post. What makes a book Christian is a believing author. Whatever topic the writer chooses, the values and world view will come through. My current series of three YA novels is a "safe" read but when people read closely, some will not be happy with some of what I have to say. Please visit my blog and leave a comment.

  4. CS - interesting points. I haven't heard anyone talk about Christians who are doubting or falling away and reaching that group. I wonder how many of them will seek out a novel in a Christian bookstore, but if that door has opened to you, you should try it and see. I know I'm looking forward to reading your fantasy for the CSFF tour.

  5. Nicole - I had never heard of Steven James, but he is on my "must check out" list now. I think you have a unique voice in all of this, so I will be sure to link up to next weeks' posts.

  6. David - I suppose there can be some caveat to the "a Christian writing a book makes it Christian fiction" if someone writes something WAY out there (I haven't heard of Christian erotica yet, but then again, I haven't looked). Becky Miller had a really good point in her post yesterday:
    I read one book put out by a Christian imprint that was all about lust. The heroine refused to marry the hero (because he wasn’t a Christian) but didn’t refuse his kisses and didn’t stop dwelling on them or longing for them. The story came to one titillating climax after another. But it was safe. No bad words (so it wasn’t actually “edgy” :-P ). No bedroom scenes.

    We certainly need books to challenge us though. I checked out your blog quickly last week, I'll make a point to comment this time. Thanks for chiming in!

  7. Thank you, Jason Appreciate you.

    Addressing the topics begins tomorrow. Otherwise too many points to make on Tuesday.