Tracking the Trend: The Past, Present and Future of the Christian Bestseller

March 14, 2006
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Tracking the Trend: The Past, Present and Future of the Christian Bestseller

by Ann Byle

The Making of a Christian Bestseller:An Insiders Guide to Christian Publishing by Ann Byle
Buy this book via Amazon.com

Back in 2000, Susan Wise Baur said in her April 24 article in Christianity Today, that Christian fiction is “mired in an awkward adolescence.” Now almost six years later, it’s safe to say the Christian fiction is a thriving, self-assured young adult.

Christian fiction takes up plenty of shelf space in Christian bookstores, and is gaining ground in secular stores as well.

Sales of Christian fiction continue to grow, and publishers are reaching into the suspense, thriller, romance, chick lit, and mom lit categories. Christian fiction takes up plenty of shelf space in Christian bookstores, and is gaining ground in secular stores as well.

The “2005 Christian Book and Consumer Purchasing Report” commissioned by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association reports that of the Americans who read Christian books, 58 percent read at least one book a month compared to 55 percent of the overall population reading one book a month. It also found that Christian book buyers spent almost $300 in 2004 compared to $202 spent by those who don’t buy Christian books.

According to The Christian Writers’ Market Guide 2006, over 300 religious publishers will publish almost 12,000 books this year. The most popular fiction genres with these publishers are contemporary, adventure, historical, biblical and literary.

Despite the obvious growth in the Christian fiction market, some believe that Christian fiction hasn’t reached full adulthood yet.

Christian fiction has come a long way in the last two decades, moving from novels that merely mouthed Christian slogans or preached a sermon, to a genre that addresses tough issues . . . —James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell, conference speaker and author of Plot and Structure (Writer’s Digest Books) and numerous Christian novels, says Christian fiction has come a long way in the last two decades, moving from novels that merely mouthed Christian slogans or preached a sermon, to a genre that addresses tough issues and draws better writers. The future for Christian fiction is bright, he says.

“It’s not that Christian fiction avoids the hard issues, because it’s now taking on virtually everything. But it’s offering that hope, that answer I think is the deepest yearning of people out there. As the quality of Christian fiction improves, people in the world are going to start hearing about it,” says Bell.

Authors such as Karen Kingsbury, Ted Dekker, Terri Blackstock, Jerry Jenkins and Max Lucado sell millions of copies of their books, routinely hitting the bestseller lists. But today’s Christian bestseller isn’t a new phenomenon. The Bible, after all, is the best-selling book ever. Books such as My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers and The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith still sell well today.

Books reflecting the rich Christian tradition through the centuries have followings today.

Books reflecting the rich Christian tradition through the centuries have followings today. Great works such as Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained by John Milton, In His Steps by Charles Sheldon and C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity are still on must-read lists for Christians.

The future of Christian fiction seems assured. Authors including Karen Kingsbury and Angela Elwell Hunt see themselves writing books years down the road. Hunt hopes to be writing “even wilder things,” and Kingsbury sees her and the genre continuing to grow.

“The mainstream stores are certainly seeing that Christian fiction is profitable, so there is a lot more of a presence there that continues to grow steadily. I see it as a very, very healthy industry,” she says.

Jack Cavanaugh calls today’s Christian bestseller a rebirth of the genre. Great Christian books will rise to the top again . . .

Jack Cavanaugh calls today’s Christian bestseller a rebirth of the genre. Great Christian books will rise to the top again, he says, in about 10 more years. This from a popular novelist and conference speaker who has won a Silver Medallion Award and two Christy Awards.

He feels that he’s still ten years away from doing his best work, as is the genre as a whole.

“I teach young writers the things I learned and the mistakes I’ve made and we’ve all made over the last ten to fifteen years. We’re training a new generation of writers who have better opportunities because they’re getting started on the right foot and not having to feel their way. We have the possibility of raising a new generation of writers who can really produce some great material,” he says.

“Keep supporting Christian fiction,” he says, “but hang in there and give us ten, fifteen, twenty more years. Then you’re going to see some really, really good stuff.”

Here are my own predictions for Christian fiction: Today’s top-selling authors will continue to be popular, but the genre will open even more to lesser-known authors who are great storytellers and writers. Smaller publishing houses will gain more ground in the Christian fiction marketplace as they woo great writers who don’t get past the gatekeepers at major houses. Literary Christian fiction will become popular as more Christian readers mature in their tastes and understanding. Christian fiction will make inroads into a secular market tapped out horror, gratuitous violence and horrific language. Readers want a good story that doesn’t gross them out, which Christian fiction provides. No subjects will be taboo; however, all will be approached from a Christian mindset and worldview that puts the subjects in perspective.

For an in-depth discussion of the topic read Ann Byle’s The Making of a Chirstian Bestseller (FaithWalk). Her website is www.annbyle.com.

Information from: www.ecpa.org/pr/111605.php

www.christianitytoday.com/2000/005/8.106.html

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