This session was a surprisingly fun and interactive presentation from J.D. DeWitt. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but it ended up being a great advice and encouragement session for Christian authors.
She started with the basics, which was good, because I’m not too familiar with the world of faith-based publishing. Until recently, it was mostly dominated by the Christian Booksellers Association, or CBA, whose extremely strict guidelines governed the content of “Christian fiction” (i.e., what you might find at CBD or Lifeway bookstores). The guidelines include: no mention of sex, drugs, or abuse; Christian characters may not drink, play cards, or gamble; etc. Even poop is off the table! It makes sense, though, if you consider that a Lifeway store has to be able to sell to someone from any denomination, so basically anything that any Christian might find offensive is not allowed. (I’m sure some readers still found ways to get offended, but there you go.) While there is and has been a large market for such clean books, DeWitt wants authors to know that there is a growing market on the edges of the CBA guidelines that is hungry for something a little more authentic.
- “Christian fiction” follows the CBA guidelines and readers expect God to be at the center of the romance and the restoration in the plot
- “inspirational fiction” or “inspi” would be sweet, feel-good, faith- and family-oriented, but not necessarily specifically Christian as defined above
- “sweet romance” or “clean reads” doesn’t mention God but would be otherwise safe for readers of the above
- new genre “transformational fiction” deals with tough issues, may be gritty or edgy, and invites the reader to journey with the character through (duh) transformation, with restoration still expected at the end
- “gritty” means some level of violence
- “edgy” means some level of sensuality
The main question on the table was whether “gritty” or “edgy” had a place in faith-based fiction. A poll of readers and published authors shows that indeed there is a strong market for it, but that the market is currently being served mostly by self-published writers. Large publishers want the large distribution power of the CBA, and thus are limited to their guidelines. Secular publishers don’t know how large the underserved market might be and don’t want to publish anything risky. Research shows that Christian fiction readers read more books than the average reader in the US, and that they are running out of titles that hold their interest. (If you have a faith-based thriller, DeWitt wants to talk to you!! 🙂 ) The downside of self-publishing is that anyone can label their stuff with any of the above tags, so it’s up to readers and reviewers to help people.
DeWitt’s takeaway: write for this market if it appeals to you as a writer. There are readers out there, and when the big publishers “discover” that, you want to be there already. 🙂