What Christian Fiction Readers Want

Do you write and publish Christian fiction? The good news is that Christian fiction is a thriving genre.

Did you know that Christian fiction readers are the most devoted Christian book readers? On average, Christian fiction readers read 10 times more books per year than the average American.

The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) recently conducted an informal survey via social media of Christian fiction readers regarding their reading habits and wishes. The survey uncovered two major desires readers of Christian fiction possess.

1. Readers want more.

Most readers expressed that their reading habits had grown in recent years. They are reading more books and more widely. These readers want more good Christian fiction titles to enjoy with more genre choices.

2. Readers want meat.

Many survey respondents reported that they wanted to see more “tough topics” addressed in the stories. They want more books that address real needs through compelling story in a realistic, faith-based way.

Another reader survey by Written Word Media (a general market company) looked at what fiction readers really want. That survey found that readers expressed the following two desires.

1. Readers don’t have a strong preference for fiction series versus standalone fiction titles.

The overwhelming majority of survey respondents in the Written Word Media survey reported that they had no preference between series or standalone books. Two of the chief complaints readers had when it came to series were that it is often hard to find all the books in the series and that they dislike books that end with a cliffhanger.

2. The primary reason readers abandon reading a fiction book is because it is boring.

The most common reason given for quitting reading a book was because the reader found it boring. Readers want a plot that keeps moving and keeps them engaged. Other reasons mentioned by readers for abandoning a book were uninteresting characters and overdone descriptions.

If you write fiction, the findings in this survey should not be a surprise. Rather, they should serve as a reminder of what avid fiction readers want. The good news is that you don’t have to write a series to interest readers. Fiction readers are happy to read a standalone book.

The takeaway from these surveys is that Christian fiction fans are hungry for more and higher-quality novels that address real needs with realistic characters presented with a compelling plot. Write to fill this need and your books will be successful.

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Environmentally Sensitive Publishing

Are you helping or hurting the environment? Environmentally friendly practices attempt to leave less of a negative impact or footprint on the environment. Being environmentally conscious helps preserve the Earth for generations to come.

People care about their environment. Consumers want to know that businesses are not plundering the environment in their pursuit of profit. Environmentally friendly practices are especially important to Christians who believe that humans have been given stewardship of the Earth.

For years, numerous environmentalists have sought to raise public awareness regarding the issue of deforestation and the impact it has on the environment. Publishers have sometimes come under fire for their use of trees in making books.

Over time, printers have become more environmentally sensitive in response. Some offer soy-based ink and printing on recycled paper. Others tout certifications showing that they are environmentally sensitive and that their paper originates from a certified-sustainable, well-managed forest. These certifications include:

As a small publisher or independently published author, you can still demonstrate to your readers that you are environmentally conscious. You can include in your book’s end pages or even on the copyright page that your book was printed by an FSC or SFI certified printer with sustainable practices.

Some print-on-demand printers don’t carry these certifications. After all, printing on environmentally-friendly paper is often a little more expensive. So how can you show readers that you care about the environment?

I recently stumbled across a great idea in a book published by a small publisher. In the end pages of the book, the publisher devoted an entire page to environmental stewardship. The page talked about how in order to be environmental stewards, the publisher had partnered with an organization “to plant a tree for every tree that paid the price for the printing of this book.”

The organization that this publisher was sending money to plant trees was Plant with Purpose. This organization will plant a tree for every dollar donated. Other organizations offer similar services including:

I think this is a great way to show your readers your conscientious Earth stewardship practices.

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An Important Element in Publishing Nonfiction

Experts say that most healthy teenagers and adults are unable to sustain attention on one thing for more than about 20 minutes at a time—usually up to about an hour at most. However, overall, our attention spans are getting shorter. Recent research reveals:

1. People generally lose concentration after eight seconds.
The average attention span for a goldfish is nine seconds. A study by Microsoft Corporation found that since the year 2000 the average online attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds.

2. The average time spent reading is on the decline.
A study by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, on average, Americans read only 19 minutes per day, down from 10 years ago. Young people spend even less time reading. On weekends, Americans between the ages of 25 to 34 read for just eight minutes a day on average. Older Americans read more. Those over 75 spend more than an hour a day reading over weekends and holidays.

3. Most people read only part of a nonfiction book.
In fact, a study by Kobo found that Religion books were the most abandoned of any genre. In North America, only a little over one-third of all religion books are read all the way to completion.

With decreased time spent reading, decreased attention span, and knowing that the majority of readers don’t read a Christian nonfiction book in its entirety, every author should pay attention to this important element for nonfiction books.

Keep it short.

Yep, you read that right. If your book is for the average Christian individual, keep it short. Unless you are marketing a reference book or a scholarly tomb to pastors, scholars, professors, or others in academia, shorter is better.

Many nonfiction authors have good and useful information. However, if a reader is not reading your entire book, some of your information is lost. To help readers glean more from your nonfiction books— in addition to writing compelling prose—make the following adjustments to your books:

  • Keep your nonfiction book under 200 pages, but closer to 120 to 150 pages.
  • Keep the chapters short. More chapters with fewer pages per chapter is better. People often read in soundbites.
  • If you have a long nonfiction book that is over 200 pages and not selling well, either reduce the size or turn it into two books.
  • Keep the price down. Since you are selling a shorter book, don’t price it as high as a book that is 200+ pages. Keep the price just a little lower so that readers perceive value for their money.

Our culture is changing and, if we want to be relevant and sell books, our books must accommodate these changes.

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Are You Meeting Readers’ Expectations?

He woke me at 2:30 in the early morning hours. My teenage son said he had a stomachache and felt nauseous. After about a half-hour, we decided he had the signs of appendicitis and rushed him to the emergency room.

Four hours and one ambulance ride later, the boy was being checked into the Children’s hospital. During admission, the nurse asked him if he would like a visit by the chaplain. Scared and nervous about his upcoming appendectomy, my son said yes.

Anesthesia, surgery, recovery, and finally checkout to go home followed. On the drive home, my son remarked that he was disappointed that the chaplain never came to pray for him.

Simply by asking the child if he would like a chaplain visit, the nurse set up the expectation in my son that a chaplain would come pray for him. She didn’t state, “If available, would you like a chaplain to visit you.” She simply asked if my son if he wanted a visit.

You, too, set up expectations in your readers. You may not even be aware of the expectations you construct. Your book’s title, the cover art, your back-cover copy, and even endorsements create expectations in the reader.

A couple years ago, a member author of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) placed his book in CSPA’s books for bloggers review program, BookCrash. The book received mediocre reviews. Most of the reviews commented that the book was not quite what the reviewer expected.

The author was unhappy about this. He told me that the 100-word description that BookCrash allowed was not enough to convey to the reader what the book was about. He stated that if he had been allowed to write a longer description, reviewers would not have had a wrong expectation about the book.

I listened to his opinion. However, I believe the real problem was the title of the book. The title of this particular book set up a wrong expectation. Upon reading the title, I believed the book would provide a certain message. However, when I carefully read the description the author had written, it did not match the expectation the title raised for me.

Authors, choose your book’s title and cover art carefully. These are the first two things a reader considers when checking your book out. Both the title and cover art set up powerful expectations of what to expect from your book. Be sure that yours reflect the actual contents of your book.

Test your title and your cover art with friends and fans. Ask them what type of book they expect from the cover art and what expectation the title of your book raises in them. Make sure the title and cover art for your next book only raise expectations that you will meet.

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Are You Staying True to Your Calling?

I have often heard it said that the church is one of the most segregated institutions in the United States. I sometimes wonder if the Christian publishing industry is helping or hurting this issue.

I recently met an author who wrote a Christian novel set in Africa. When she tried to pitch the idea to editors and literary agents for a traditional Christian publishing contract, they told her they did not think they could sell a novel set in Africa—that setting was not a popular read.

So, feeling called of God to produce the novel, the author independently published her story. Her cover art contained a picture of an African-American man and woman. This author then began showing the published book to other Christian publishing industry experts to talk about marketing the book. She got the same message from almost every expert.

She was told to not expect to sell many copies of her book due to the cover art including African-American people. The experts advised that she take off the images of the people on the cover to help the book sell better.

As this author relayed this story to me, it made me think that, for the most part, the traditional Christian publishing industry is not concerned about racial integration in the body of Christ. Rather, publishing houses are a business. As a business, their top priority is profit. The one question they ask when considering a book is, “How many copies can we sell?” If they don’t think it will sell enough copies to meet their financial requirements, they pass it up.

Traditional publishing’s mission is not about challenging the status quo and daring people to confront difficult issues within the body of Christ. After all, some of the largest Christian publishing houses are now owned by secular publishing conglomerates. Rather, traditional publishing houses are businesses. As such, they focus on the bottom line.

I am thankful for Indie publishing. While indie authors and publishers need to be wise in their publishing and marketing efforts, how many copies a book will sell does not need to be the foremost priority. Rather, indie authors and publishers can be led by their mission and what God is calling them to do.

Interestingly, a new study by the American Bible Society showed that African-Americans are more engaged with the Bible than any other group. Among this racial group, 71 percent are friendly toward or engaged with the Bible compared to just 58 percent of all Americans. If Christians of non-African heritage will be turned away by this author’s book’s cover, she may still have a vibrant audience in among African-American Christians.

What about you. Have you gotten off track? Has your attitude become one that mainly focuses on the number of books you can sell rather than on staying true to your mission and the calling that God has placed in your heart?

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