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.

christian-fiction

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.

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Photo courtesy of Sarah Dorweiler

Dear Miss Guided:

Congratulations on your new book! I know that you put a lot of time and effort into both writing and publishing your book. You should be proud of what you have accomplished.
I am writing to beseech you to not throw away all the effort you have expended on bringing your book to fruition by neglecting to educate yourself on how to effectively promote and market your book.

shouting

Knowing how to promote your book effectively will bring in the sales that you seek. On the flip side, marketing your book poorly will not encourage people to buy your book.
No one likes a pushy salesman. Similarly, no one likes a pushy author. The truth is that few people apart from your close friends and family members even care that you wrote a book. So, don’t brag about it or push it on others.

I know that I may sound harsh, but please believe that I am not trying to hurt your feelings. Sometimes the truth is just painful. After all, Proverbs says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend”. As an independently published author myself, I am trying to help you.
I urge you, do not walk around at social gatherings such as dinner parties, cocktail parties, Superbowl parties and tell people about your book and where to buy it. Effective authors have conversations with people. If someone brings up an issue that your book speaks to, you can then naturally mention your book and how it addresses the issue in the normal course of the conversation.

Similarly, do not post “buy my book” message on social media. This includes blog comments, Facebook users’ walls, and Tweets. Posting “buy my book” messages is a waste of your time. People consider these types of messages SPAM and delete them. Instead of garnering interest in your book, you are annoying people and closing a channel of communication. Effective authors offer something useful to the conversation. Your time is more wisely spent engaging in the conversation at hand. Then, if it is appropriate, you can mention your book.

I hope that you will take the time to read this letter that I have written to you. I am trying to help you, not harm you. I fear, however, that you are too busy shouting about your new book to take the time to read my words.

If you do happen to read this and want to learn how to effectively market your book, there are many resources available to you. If your book is Christian in nature, you can get many helpful tips and ideas in my book Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace. If you have a general market book, you might want to check out Sell Your Book Like Wildfire or Smashwords Book Marketing Guide.

I truly wish you the best with your new book. May it bless many people.

Best Wishes,
Sarah Bolme
Director, Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA)
Author, Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace

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