Talk to publishing and marketing representatives and you may hear variations on common themes of what’s happening in the Christian fiction sector. The following observations were collected from a wide range of sources, both casual comments with industry professionals and formal analysis. Snippets were shared at the Christian Product Trends Event at UNITE 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
TRENDS TO WATCH
Readers haven’t lost their love for traditional offerings like historical fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and Amish—although Amish sales seem relegated to a small handful of popular authors. Janet Grant of Books & Such Literary Management says, “[Amish is] not the mammoth movement it once was, but readers still want to travel to Amish corners of the country.”
Readers are also embracing stories where tough, culturally current topics once only dealt with in general market novels now are handled from a Christian worldview.
Publishers and readers alike express increasing interest in Christian worldview versions of fantasy, science fiction, and allegorical fiction. Agent Steve Laube, with a background in retail, marketing, and publishing, believes this genre and subgenres are ripe for significant growth. As many have expressed, science fiction of a few decades ago has now become science fact. The challenge for writers is to create sharp, smart, inventive worlds that hold readers’ interest in a culture of high-tech accessibility.
David Lewis—executive VP of sales and marketing for Baker Publishing Group— notes romantic suspense and biblical fiction are on the upswing, due in part to the appearance of several new authors on the scene who are particularly gifted in creating believable, compelling, and well-researched biblical fiction.
As a trend, fiction author/reader connections are almost indisputably stronger and more accessible because of social media and technology advances. These relationships lead to loyal purchasers of new books, so all parties benefit— author, reader, publisher, marketer, and retailer. Readers feel a personal kinship with their favorite novelists and their stories. The more we work cooperatively on facilitating author/reader connections, the more books we’ll sell. In-store video events. Store-sponsored book club visits. Cross-promotion via social media. These and other ideas aid the ever-present discoverability and visibility issues.
LESS AND MORE
We’ve seen a trending toward reductions in fiction publishing houses or lines since the economic downturn of 2007- 2008. But as fiction departments at some publishers close or reduce their offerings, others are born. The most intriguing example is Gilead Publishing with Dan Balow at the helm: innovation born of the publishing team’s years of experience within the industry coupled with brave young innovators on their team.
The Gilead strategy includes adding well over 100 thoughtfully acquired novels to the pool of selections for avid readers within the next several sales cycles. Since Christian fiction readers are known for their voracious appetites for story, rather than diminishing how many individual titles are on the banquet table, Gilead proposes to give readers plenty from which to choose.
Agent Wendy Lawton is only one industry observer who has labeled the strategy “revolutionary.” Because of fiction’s proven track record of creating lifelong purchasers, Gilead’s approach is to give readers what they crave: more stories, carefully crafted, well-told.
ROOM TO GROW
While some retailers have reduced their fiction shelf space in recent years, statistics show this trend guarantees loss of fiction sales. Savvy readers know by what’s on the shelf if it’s a store that knows fiction or is carrying merely the basics. Is it time to revisit the idea of expanding fiction shelf space to accommodate the growth in the number of titles from publishers who are venturing back into more confident acquiring, strengthening their fiction lines?