Industry dialogue continues with publisher insights.
“We ask authors who write for the Christian fiction marketplace to do a much harder thing than just tell a thrilling tale of suspense or romance. We expect writers to show how the presence and love of God can work through at least some humans in an adventure and walk out these dramas just a little differently.”
These insights from the Tyndale fiction team express the ever-present challenge that publishers face in Christian fiction: tell a great story from a Christian worldview without sacrificing plausibility, reality, or the Gospel. Meeting this challenge requires teamwork on the part of everyone in the Christian marketplace.
USE THE SAME LANGUAGE
Publishers along with readers and authors may need to synchronize their verbiage. As author Kristi Ann Hunter observes, “I don’t think there’s a lot of readers wanting more cuss words or blood spatter. I think people just want it real, and Christian fiction has such a reputation for being neat and pretty that simple, real life has become edgy.”
Amanda Bostic, associate publisher of fiction at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, adds that it doesn’t really matter what it’s called as long as it’s guided by the Gospel: “Call it ‘edgy,’ or call it ‘relevant,’ but while the storylines may be inspired by news headlines, the guiding themes of Christian fiction will always remain part of the stories we publish.”
WATCH BUYING TRENDS
Readers want good stories that avoid sugarcoating either the mess or the message, but are they buying such titles? No, says the Tyndale fiction team. “Stories like this are not unique in our line, but unfortunately, neither do they perform well on average at retail.”
And, of course, from a practical standpoint, even Christian publishers must consider what sells.
Amy Green, fiction publicist for Bethany House Publishing, explains that the sales numbers show “there are more CBA consumers out there who want to read to escape—to travel to a simpler time, laugh at humorous antics, or sigh at a happy-ever-after-ending—than ones who are yearning for more edgy fiction.”
Connecting people with the Gospel through story may not look like it used to, but it’s a goal the industry should work toward. Suspense author Richard Mabry suggests “publishers and retail stores must join with the authors to reach into different channels,” following the example of many recent churches in adjusting to reach the unchurched.
Hunter agrees. “Publishers, retailers, and authors alike need to be willing to go to where those readers are and show them something appealing and intriguing enough to make them try a Christian fiction book when they may not have read one in years—if ever.”
It may even mean that novels that tie up everything at the end with a sweet happily-ever-after-everyone-got-saved ribbon should be avoided. Shannon Marchese, senior editor for WaterBrook Multnomah, expresses the fear that as gritty and honest as we can get, our fiction will be suspect until our storytellers are allowed to take readers to a place of rejection of God, and leave a character there.
“The grace is there, the hope is there—the path to Jesus—but as some of our novelists like to say,” says Marchese, “you must explore the dark to see the light.”