When I started out in publishing I’d never once heard the market divided up into the two very specific categories of Christian and Secular. Genres, yes, but not Christian or Secular.
I’ve been involved with publishing for nearly seven years now. My work has appealed to a market I never knew existed as well as my target audience of general market readers. I can honestly say that after seven years I now “get” the distinction. Hopefully you’ll “get” it too, once I’m done with my guest column here at Speculative Faith.
As with any writer, those things that shaped me as an individual show up in all my stories. That’s the defining difference from novel to novel in my opinion. You get a grand story and a glimpse at the person writing those stories.
My debut novel Never Ceese was very much a personification of some things I know a lot about. My granddaddy was an ordained Southern Baptist minister. He ordained my brother. I grew up Baptist and knew everything about “being” Baptist. Ergo, my vampire and werewolf are the offspring of a Baptist missionary.
Writing what you know about. That makes the job easier. Not so much research to get things right so you can concentrate on the story.
Straight away and especially after Never Ceese made the Bram Stoker Preliminary Ballot in 2007 for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, I began to hear from readers who favored work put out by Christian publishers. Even Eric Wilson, best-selling author of Fireproof, and published by the number one Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, left a favorable review of Never Ceese on Amazon. (The review mysteriously disappeared sometime last year, but has been re-posted with all my other reviews of Never Ceese on my website at SueDent.net.)
Never Ceese was even allowed to tour at CFBA (Christian Fiction Blog Alliance) in spite of it not being published by a sanctioned CBA publisher. It was shortly after this when I learned first hand about Christian publisher’s “highly” targeted audience. When I went back to CFBA with the sequel to my debut novel, Forever Richard, to tour, my new Christian publisher (not sanctioned by CBA) and I were told “no.” Only CBA-sanctioned books would be allowed to tour from now on or at least books that were openly “evangelical” in nature.
After my publisher and I heard this, we actually felt silly for asking to tour. If we’d known the tour was for that “niche” market only, we would’ve never asked. The same thing happened when my publisher at the time approached the CSFF (Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy) blog tour. And no debate was welcome. We weren’t sanctioned so there was no guarantee the work would appeal to that “target” audience they’d set themselves up to serve.
Now back to the original theme: Christian verses Secular, and Sue Dent’s novels.
I don’t write for the “niche” market that chooses to use these two labels to define the publishing industry. I did tour CFBA with great success but that was by accident, apparently. No non-sanctioned work is welcome there any more, to the best of my knowledge.
I was also once a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the ACFW, until I realized their only purpose is to help aspiring writers find a home with a “sanctioned” or “evangelical” publisher who will completely re-write any manuscript until it fits what they’ve determined their “target” audience will buy. And I often jump right in on Christian publishing forums to help bring understanding to writers who ask questions of me in relation to my experiences in the publishing industry, an effort that is about as productive as using a tablespoon to fill a pool with water — with the drain open. That would almost classify as counterproductive, so I know longer make that offer.
So Secular or Christian?
Neither and both depending on your definition.
A random website did vote Never Ceese as the #1 Christian Horror Novel. Ironically, most of the other authors on the list were CBA-sanctioned authors such as Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti. Just don’t look for Never Ceese in Christian Bookstores because it’s not put out by a publisher sanctioned to appeal to Christian bookstore visitors. Forever Richard was long-listed for British Fantasy Award in 2009 and Electric Angel got high marks from the BFS as well. “Simply Brilliant,” was the initial review scrapped for being too short.
All in all though, a writer needs distribution, and the only way to successfully get sales is to have a publisher with that kick-tail distribution already. The larger Christian publishers, much like the larger general market publishers, do have this.
So if preach-to-the-choir fiction is what you want to write, you go right ahead and connect with one of those fine publishers. I write to be read by as many folks as I can appeal to. Niche markets are not the way to go for that, but I already knew that. I just didn’t know that Christian publishing was a niche market until I landed in the middle of it.
I really don’t mind if a reader chooses to call my work Christian Fiction based on their opinion. But if you’re inclined to do so, and you’ve read this column, I would love for you to add, “but not that kind of Christian Fiction.” Believe it or not, it does help readers understand.