Let me preface this post by making it clear that I’m a Christian author who writes Christian thrillers and suspense novels. (By Christian, I don’t mean Catholic but evangelical, in the sense that I believe the Bible and embrace God’s message of salvation by grace alone embodied in the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Characters in my novel frequently talk about God, pray, and wrestle with their faith in a faithless world.) I make no apology about this. When I write a story about hopefully realistic characters dealing with real-life issues, I find it impossible to do so without my faith entering the picture. Therefore, my stories are predictable in the sense that an inspirational or biblical theme becomes obvious in the story, whether it’s dealing with bitterness or simply learning to trust God more in the hard, sticky aspects of life.
So imagine my surprise when not one but two industry professionals recently told me to consider writing secular fiction for future projects. No, it’s not because faith issues aren’t important and shouldn’t be discussed whether in our conversations or in the books we read. It’s because these books no longer sell. The unspoken message was clear: Write secular fiction and sell more books.
Now stop a minute and think about this conclusion. A Christian author should no longer write Christian fiction because Christian readers are no longer buying it.
After picking my jaw up off the floor, I couldn’t help but wonder two things. First, is this claim really true? Christian fiction doesn’t sell? Second, if so, where did all the Christian readers go?
I grew up in a home where Christian books were a natural part of life. My mother read lots of Christian fiction, so I suppose my first exposure to it came through her. Books by Gilbert Morris, Janette Oke, Jerry B. Jenkins, Bode and Brock Thoene, and Frank Peretti filled our shelves. And when I read these novels, a clear Bible theme was omnipresent somehow in the story. There was no hiding it. No apology for it. No watering down important truths.
Fast-forward to today and this alarming proposal. First, is this really true? Are Christian readers no longer buying Christian fiction?
Not that long ago, the Left Behind series sent ripples across the nation and the Christian publishing world. It sold millions of copies, and even secular readers were grabbing them up while perhaps tolerating the Christian content. Some people even reported making spiritual conversions because they had read these books. In the first book in the series, Buck Williams unashamedly bows his head and accepts Jesus Christ as his Savior. It’s right there, as blatant Christian content as you’ll ever see, and yet still readers bought these books.
When I cited this example, an industry professional retorted, “But that was like fifteen years ago. The publishing world has changed since then. Nobody writes or buys books like those anymore.”
Huh? So in fifteen years, everyone who bought the Left Behind series suddenly up and croaked? And all the authors who wrote Christian fiction with a message met a similar demise? Excuse my hyperbole, but I couldn’t help it.
Look at current evidence. I recently read The Auschwitz Escape by Joel Rosenberg. While the Christian message may not have been as blatant as some Christian fiction I have read, there was a definite Christian message. My wife read Damascus Countdown by Joel: also Christian content. I also read The Bones Will Speak (and enjoyed it) by Carrie Stuart Parks. Yep, there’s a clear Christian worldview, and characters pray; and yes, Carrie is selling books. Guess how many people buy Joel’s clean novels? I don’t have exact numbers in front of me, but my understanding is that he sells a boatload of books. You don’t get on the New York Times best-seller’s list without selling a few books, and yet his books contain an overtly Christian message (which encourages me to do the same). How can it be if Christian fiction no longer sells?
Perhaps Christian publishing has gone through some trials in recent years and has not experienced the profits it once did. But weren’t we recently coming out of a recession? Wasn’t pretty much every retailer feeling the squeeze, not just Christian ones? Could the economic reality of recent times be the cause? Maybe Christian readers felt the squeeze, too, and simply economized, bought fewer books, and instead borrowed them from friends or the local library. That reason seems more plausible to me, not that Christian readers have died, vanished, or no longer buy Christian fiction. Perhaps sales have been down in recent years, but is that reason enough to abandon the genre?
There’s another possibility. Could readers’ tastes have changed so drastically in fifteen years, when the Left Behind series was such a hit? Could that account for lower sales? If so, what does that tell us about the church in recent days?
Now it’s your turn. What do you think about the claim that Christian fiction no longer sells? What do you think about a Christian author writing secular fiction?
- My Love-Hate Relationship with When Calls the Heart
- Clean Fiction Guarantee