Is Christian Fiction Growing or Dying?

It is surprising to me how many people assume that “clean fiction” is the same as “Christian fiction.” It’s not.

To be considered “Christian fiction” a book must promote Christian teachings or exemplify a Christian way of life.

Over the years, Christian fiction has waxed and waned. A few decades ago, there was a great push for Christian bookstores to carry more fiction books. Now it appears that Christian fiction may be on the waning phase for traditional publishing houses.

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Chip MacGregor, a Christian literary agent, recently wrote a few publishing predictions for 2017 on his blog. Here is what he had to say about Christian fiction:

“Christian fiction as we know it is going to almost completely go away. The days of people buying 100,000 copies of a new Amish romance are dead. The readership has aged, the readers have discovered there are quality issues with CBA mystery, suspense and thriller genres, so CBA fiction is going to morph into “clean romance” and “values fiction” and “apocalyptic biblical thrillers” aimed specifically at a shrinking group of hard-core conservative evangelical readers in their 50’s. There are only a handful of houses still acquiring Christian fiction these days.”

Sales of religious novels began to decline in 2014, after many years of robust growth. As a result, a number of publishers began pulling back from that market. However, statistics showed that traditional publishing houses were only releasing around 250 new fiction titles a year (not counting the various Harlequin Love Inspired and Heartsong lines which publish over 200 per year) compared to thousands of nonfiction titles released each year.

While the traditional Christian publishing houses may be reducing the number of clearly “Christian fiction” books they produce, the number of “Christian fiction” books produced by independent authors and small publishers is growing. Subscribe to any one of the many Christian discount ebook newsletters (i.e. Vessel Project, Faithful Reads, Inspired Reads, Christian Book Readers, etc.) and you will find plenty of Christian fiction books by independent authors.

In fact, I believe that “Christian fiction” is growing with independent authors and small publishers. Over the past few years, the number of Christian fiction titles that have been nominated for the Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year Award has grown each year. And, this year, for the first time, more General Fiction books were nominated than books in the Christian Living category (historically the largest category in the award).

If, indeed, the traditional Christian publishing houses are switching to more “clean fiction” to reach a crossover market and increase their sales, this leaves a gap that independent authors can fill. I believe there is still a strong market for good redemptive Christian fiction books, but the majority of sales for these will be digital. After all, one recent statistic showed that 70% of fiction book purchases are ebooks.

Related Posts:
The State of Christian Fiction
The State of Fiction Reading
The Power of Christian Fiction

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Photo courtesy of Sarah Dorweiler

The State of Fiction Reading

My teenage daughter loves to read fiction. However, as a young teenager, she is finding it difficult to fine good novels to enjoy. She feels that she has outgrown children’s novels, yet at the same time doesn’t like many of the mature themes presented in many Young Adult novels. Lately my daughter has been complaining about the “lack of good writing” in the books she has been reading.

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Interestingly, a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts reveals that the number of people reading fiction in the United States is on the decline. The study found that in 2012, only 47% of people surveyed (survey size of 37,000) reported reading a fiction book, down from 50% in 2008. Yet back in 2002, only about 47% of people also reported reading a fiction book.

So I wonder. Is the number of people reading fiction really on the decline—or—do these figures better reflect on the type and number of good fiction titles release each year the survey was completed?

I suspect that that answer is really the latter, especially since the decline is only a matter of a few percentage points. Maybe 2008 was a year that had a few more really popular novels released. Years in which novels like The Twilight Series, The Shack, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Gray, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the like are released may have more people responding that they have read a fiction book. After all, some people only read a book when they have heard from family and friends that it is a “must read.” Some years I read more fiction than other years. So some people may only read a fiction book once every few years.

On the whole, this study seems to indicate that about half the population in the United States reads a fiction book each year. The study also found that men are more likely to read nonfiction books and women are more likely to read fiction.

The only way to increase reading rates—whether that is for a book you publisher or just fiction books in general—is to give readers what they seek: a compelling story.

Anyone publishing a fiction book faces huge competition for readership. So, be sure that your book has a compelling story and that it stands out from the crowd before you take the plunge. And, be prepared for negative reviews. People’s enjoyment of stories is very personal and subjective based on their tastes, experiences, and worldviews.

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