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Publishing 101: The Christian Market

Publishers Operating in the Christian Market

At first, I was going to call this post ‘Christian Publishers’, but I soon realised that while some of these publishing houses are owned and operated by Christians, many are not. For example, two of the biggest names in Christian publishing, Thomas Nelson and Zondervan (respectively, publishers of the New King James and the New International Versions of the Bible) are owned by HarperCollins, one of the ‘Big Five’ of publishing, and owned by News Corp. Thomas Nelson also offer a self-publishing option, WestBow Press, managed by the notorious Author Solutions (who are owned by another ‘Big Five’ publisher, Penguin Random House).

Over the next few months, I’m going to profile some of the publishers operating in the Christian market. Some are major trade presses, publishing dozens of books a year, fiction and non-fiction. Others are small presses, publishing a handful of titles annually focused on specific genres. Some specialise in ebooks, and don’t offer print editions. Some are vanity, subsidy or co-operative presses, working with authors to publish their books for a fee. Some are reputable. Some are not.

What information is covered?

In looking at each publisher, I’ve tried to find out the information I would want to know as a fiction author needs to know in making a decision about the most appropriate publishing choice. Note that what is the best option for one person might not be the best for another.

  • How many books do they publish each year?
  • Do they publish fiction? What genres?
  • What books and authors have they published recently? Do the reviews or samples highlight any publisher issues (e.g. editing)?
  • Do they accept unsolicited submissions, or do they only accept submissions from agents?
  • Are they a Big 5 publisher, small press, vanity press or something else?
  • What services do they offer? Do they charge for these services? If so, how much?
  • What editorial and marketing support do they offer?
  • Are there any red lights?

In each case, more information will be available from the website of the respective publisher.

How did I choose the publishers to feature?

My profiles will focus on publishers of novellas or novel-length fiction. If you are interested in finding out who publishes magazines, short stories, poetry or non-fiction, I recommend you consult the latest edition of The Christian Writer’s Market Guide, which is updated annually.

This list includes:

If you seek traditional publication, then the ACFW Recognized Publisher List is a good place to start. Recognized Publishers must meet certain criteria, but meeting the criteria does not imply endorsement by ACFW (or Christian Editing Services!). The criteria are:

  1. The publisher publishes novels written from a Christian worldview in any Christian fiction genre (i.e. should not contain profanity, graphic sex, or other objectionable material, and must otherwise conform to generally accepted standards of the CBA, as determined by ACFW.)
  2. All of the publisher’s fiction is Christian, or the publisher has an imprint devoted entirely to Christian fiction (in which case only the imprint will be recognized).
  3. The author must not participate financially in the production or distribution of the book (including a requirement to buy books).
  4. The publisher must pay royalties.
  5. The publisher must have been in business at least one year, and have previously unpublished books of Christian fiction by at least two authors (other than the owners) in print over the past year. Two books must have gross sales of over $5000 each in a twelve-month period.
  6. The publisher’s books must show evidence of professional editing and cover art, and the content must reflect biblical principles.

The revenue requirement is new, and although I don’t know what has prompted it, I suspect it has to do with those small presses who were created to publish books by the owner, have expanded, but offer little in the way of marketing support. A minimum gross sales figure should help eliminate those who have no distribution networks, provide insufficient support or expect their authors to do all the selling.

 

Are you intending to submit your manuscript to a publisher? Which publishers are you considering?

How to Write a Christian Novel: Defining Your Genre 4

Are you targeting the Christian market or the general market?

My previous post attempted to define traditional Christian fiction, and looked briefly at some of the issues people (Christians and non-Christians) have with the conservative evangelical approach of most Christian fiction. This week we look at the alternatives:

  • Inspirational fiction
  • Crossover fiction
  • General market fiction

Christian Fiction (Inspirational)

Just as there is no clear definition of Christian fiction, there is no clear definition of inspirational fiction. I waver between liking and disliking the idea of ‘inspirational’ fiction. Some people find Christian fiction too preachy, full of too-perfect characters treating each other with sickly-sweet holiness, never doing anything wrong.

These people might even be Christians, but non-Christians are certainly not interested in this kind of fiction. They might be interested if there was a little less focus on preaching and a little more focus on reflecting real-life situations. Many non-Christians won’t knowingly read a Christian novel and will complain if they accidentally download a Christian novel as a Kindle freebie, accusing authors and publishers of being unchristian by not properly categorising their novel.

This is where Inspirational fiction can play a part.

I like the idea that fiction can reflect a Christian world view and inspire thought without descending into sermons, but without gratuitous sex and violence. I like the idea that writers can explore some of the more gritty issues of life, like drug or alcohol abuse or the consequences of lust.

But I dislike the term ‘inspirational’. It doesn’t necessarily restrict itself to Christian. Many self-help books are inspirational, but could in no way be described as Christian.

And I haven’t liked some of the Inspirational Christian novels I’ve read, because in getting rid of the praying and preaching, some authors have removed everything overtly Christian, leaving a story that could be published by anyone except for the fact there is no sex, violence or swearing. I like this in general market fiction, but if I’m buying from a Christian publishing house, I expect the book to be, well, Christian.

Yet there have been other inspirational novels I have enjoyed, although these are more likely to be thrillers than romance: perhaps because I can believe God not being front-and-centre of a murder investigation, but I can’t imagine leaving Him out of a romantic relationship.

Crossover Fiction

Crossover fiction is a relatively new term used to refer to novels written from a Christian world view (and often published by an ECPA-member publisher), but one that doesn’t specifically refer to Christianity. The characters may or may not be Christians, they won’t quote Bible verses and they won’t go to church. It’s not that they don’t ever, just that they don’t within the timeframe of the novel (or if they do, it’s a minor plot point). This may be another way of describing Inspirational fiction, or it may be a way for Christian publishers to market books they hope will appeal to a wider readership.

General Market Fiction

In On Moral Fiction, John Gardner rejects God who is the basis of our worldview and values, yet argues that good fiction is underpinned by some form of morality. Gardner then goes on to complain that “our serious novelists, like our painters and composers, are short on significant belief”, that “their works lack conviction”.

As a Christian, I see this as a contradiction in terms: you can’t throw God out of fiction then complain fiction has no significant belief, no conviction and no true morality. After all, “spiritual growth and the search for truth are also integral issues in human life, issues that are sometimes ignored altogether in general-market fiction(Penelope J Stokes).

There are many Christian authors publishing in the general market whose “books reflect the reality of God and the depth of their own spiritual experience(Penelope J Stokes). Examples include John Grisham, Mary Higgins Clark and Maeve Binchy.

And if we remember that as Christians we can only ever write with a Christian worldview, then maybe we will find a way into the general market, which might actually give us the opportunity to share the good news, (to paraphrase St Francis of Assisi) by preaching the gospel at all times, using words where necessary.

What do you think? What do you read? What market does your novel target?

Next week we will discuss the next step in defining your target audience: genre.

How to Write a Christian Novel: Defining Your Genre 3

Are you targeting the Christian market or the general market?

“Anything a Christian writes must reflect the truth of God’s account. If as a Christian we don’t write from a biblical worldview, we’re not portraying reality as it is.” Ann Tatlock

What is a biblical worldview? It the opposite of the post-modern view, which says that God is dead, we are a product of chance, reason alone will build a better society, there is no hope of life after death, and all paths lead to god . Penelope J Stokes defines Christian fiction as fiction that tells the truth. She goes on to comment that what we typically call Christian fiction is actually conservative evangelical fiction, which has not just an “acknowledgement of God, but a distinctly religious viewpoint, usually marked by the conversion of one or more characters”.

Christian Fiction (Evangelical)

The US-based Evangelical Christian Publishers Association require that books are consistent with their Statement of Faith (which is essentially the same as the Statement of Faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. American Christian Fiction Writers has a list of Recognized Publishers , which specifies that books must be written from a Christian world view, and must conform to the generally accepted standards of the CBA:

  • Main characters will be practicing Christians. Any character who isn’t (especially in a romance) is expected to have an on-page conversion during the course of the novel;
  • Christian characters do not gamble, play cards, drink alcoholic beverages or dance (although they might drink a little or dance in more ‘edgy’ contemporary stories). Love Inspired does not permit any mention of Halloween;
  • Conservative Christian values, but without mentioning a specific denomination;
  • No swearing;No strong violence, especially towards women;
  • Romantic relationships emphasise the emotional side of love rather than the physical (too much emphasis on the enjoyment of the physical will earn a Christian novel the ‘edgy’ tag, even if it’s no more than a kiss, yet there is an apparent contradiction in that Christian fiction may feature rape).

Some Christian novels tread close to the line in one of more of these traits, which is likely to earn them an ‘edgy’ tag. Others might consider ‘edgy’ to be more realistic: it’s a sad truth that Christians can still be victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, and it makes sense that our fiction should address these issues.

“We may have high and noble hopes of spreading the gospel to the world, but in most cases evangelical novels are read by other evangelicals; only rarely does a religious novel find an audience among the unconverted.” The exception might be Jewish author Chaim Potok: when asked why atheists and agnostics would read his novels but not read Christian fiction, he replied “Jewish authors do not proselytize.” Evangelical fiction certainly proselytizes. The conversion scene is a central focus, particularly in a romance which has a strong theme of not being unequally yoked with unbelievers.

What do you think? Should Christian fiction authors ‘preach to the choir’ or convert the masses?

Next week we will discuss the look at Inspirational, Crossover and General Market fiction.