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Three Reasons Why

Three reasons why romance novels predominate Christian fiction.
| Jul 9, 2014 | 24 comments |

It’s now my turn to join the SpecFaith round table on why romance novels predominate Christian fiction. Rather than give a single, complete theory, I’m going to offer a handful of reasons on why this might be. I’m going to start by citing numbers and referring to distribution models because no one on the round table has been so mundane yet, and you should never discount the mundane when trying to explain things.

 

Theory #1: Romance is predominant in the Christian market for the same reason it’s predominant in the secular market. As Randy Ingermanson pointed out, romance is predominant in the general market, just as it is in the Christian market. The Romance Writers of America has compiled statistics from various sources to prove the dominance of the romance genre. The most important statistic, for the purposes of this discussion, is this: In 2012, romance led all genres in revenues, with an estimated $1.438 billion.

And sci-fi/fantasy came in – second? Third? No, fourth, with $590.2 million. (Mystery came in third, by the way. I’ve never seen any theories as to why mystery, like romance, beats speculative fiction. Anyone care to theorize on why mystery is more popular – or on why there are no theories about why mystery is more popular?)

The predominance of romance, as a genre, is not a specifically Christian, let alone evangelical, phenomenon. Maybe romance rules in the Christian market for at least some of the same reasons it rules in the secular market. As for what those reasons are, I don’t know, and I frankly don’t care to speculate.

Theory #2: Romance publishers have a direct, established channel to their audience, and speculative publishers do not. Last year, at the Realm Makers conference, I listened to Jeff Gerke explain that SF does not sell well for traditional Christian publishers because they sell through Christian bookstores, which is an excellent place to find Christians who like romance, but not necessarily Christians who like SF. (That’s about the concept, though not the words. I’m working from memory, not notes.)

The explanation makes sense to me. But practically speaking, it means this: Those who publish and those who read Christian romance have an open channel to each other through Christian bookstores. It’s not so easy for those who publish and those who read Christian science fiction or fantasy. And your sales can really take a hit from that.

Theory #3: Science fiction’s low presence in the Christian market is related to Christianity’s low presence in science fiction; or, Who is the Isaac Asimov of the Christians? Science fiction and anti-Christian philosophy do not go hand in hand. They have, however, had a long and intimate association. From Jules Verne and H. G. Wells to Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, from Stanislaw Lem to John Campbell, the paramount figures of science fiction have usually rejected Christianity.

It is common to see, in sci-fi, those evolutionary ideas that are entirely incompatible with Christianity: that humans are blank slates, imprinted by their environments; that Man was created by blind nature, and God was created by Man; that humanity will evolve past this primitive religious stage. Star Wars and Star Trek – culturally omnipresent, the two great pop hits of sci-fi – mostly ignore God and occasionally slight Him. When they reveal their fundamental assumptions, those assumptions are of a God-less universe.

There’s no reason why science fiction shouldn’t be discernibly Christian, but it usually hasn’t been. Maybe that old estrangement, whatever its causes, is one of the reasons why speculative fiction has made slower inroads in the Christian literary world.

So there are my theories – none of them the reason why romance predominates, but all possibly a reason. What about you? What are your theories?

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Bethany A. Jennings
Member

Good thoughts.  It makes sense that Christian trends would mimic secular ones.  I’d be curious to know WHY romance is so ubiquitous in the book world?  Maybe because it’s a near-universal experience…most book-buying adults have been in love or hope to be in love.  We want that important connection of man to woman that has been in place since God made Adam and Eve, and the acceptance of a loving soul mate, and there’s the sexual aspect, of course (and we all know that “sex sells”).  Romance is complicated, interesting, rife with conflict and the high stakes of emotional devastation, and – when it has a happy ending – full of joy and delight.

Shannon McDermott
Guest

All true. Though it’s not my favorite genre, it’s easy to see why it’s so attractive to some people.

Then there’s the old fact that romance is more popular with women than with men. Maybe women read more?

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Or does Christianity reject science and its fiction? I see way too many Christians not even bothering to keep up with it, like assuming tabula rasa is a current, unchallenged theory. Or assuming the tired old anti-evolution arguments/sentiments even have a leg to stand on. (Is it flame war time?)

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Oh hey, somewhat relevant link:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2014/07/that-time-i-took-sean-to-an-answers-in-genesis-conference.html

Shannon McDermott
Guest

I don’t think the reason lies in that. Christianity does not reject science. The whole “science vs. Christianity” conflict comes down to the evolution debate, which walks the border between religion and science anyway. At any rate, evolution is only one element of science and, practically speaking, not a very important one. (If Darwin had never written The Origin of Species, the Wright brothers would probably still have invented the airplane, doctors would still have figured out antibiotics and organ transplants, they would probably still have split the atom …)

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Except while Darwin wrote it down first and in the most attention-getting fashion, natural selection was already a thing that was noticed by scientists. And if Darwin hadn’t gotten around to Origin of the Species, someone else would have published something similar. IIRC, there was some dude who missed the recognition by publishing much the same thing just a few months after Darwin.

I’m happy you don’t want to die on that hill, but I’m just really getting tired of all the general Christian ignorance about the ebil, librul scientists, so I’m gonna slap down your little bit to deny the greater and more deliberate ignorance a foothold.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Oh, trust me, there’s plenty of ignorance among professing creationists.

But I’m saying: don’t go from the frying-pan of creationism-ignorance or religious power abuse to the far more perilous fire of assuming that everyone else is presumed immune to the same temptations toward bias and abuse.

Also I suggest some further research. Answers in Genesis, the kingpin of Biblical creation advocacy, agrees with natural selection. That’s science. Turning “natural selection,” a means by which existing genetic information is diversified or lost between an organism’s or animal’s generations, into a magic means by which new organisms or animals somehow create out of nothing brand-new complex genetic information between generations — that’s something else.

But anyway, the discussion is useless if the point is solely to Fight Evangelical Villains and show ’em up. There’s a place for that. But it’s no fun all the time.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Biblical Christianity instead rejects poser science that quickly turns into just another kind of mad religious fundamentalism — you know, the kind that makes people call you names and refuse to associate with you just because you disagree with them about how much pre-human historical accounts we can wring out of mute evidence, or whether climate is changing and if so by how much, etc. Seriously, we are seeing far more “fundamentalist” behavior, even religious-level charges of history, from some diehard advocates of “science” that e’er was seen in the medieval ages. 🙂

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Nope, not really. The scientists can and do actually back themselves up with studies and evidence, while most of what I’ve seen the others do is deny it and then derail the conversation into how fanatical the scientists supposedly are.

Paul Lee
Member

 The scientists can and do actually back themselves up with studies and evidence

You really have to be deeply into academia and maybe into science specifically in order to enter the conversation regarding academic integrity. If you don’t speak Acadamian fluently and understand the academic culture thoroughly, you won’t know when academics are being dishonest or conforming to the hive-mind (intentionally or unintentionally).

Maybe you understand academia well enough, but I don’t, and most people in general don’t. So, the whole debate about the integrity of scientists is based on hearsay and how strong your personal anti-intellectualist bias measures up against other biases. It probably doesn’t help that Evangelicals tend to have a double dose of anti-intelluctualist prejudice.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

The scientific community might actually be easier to broach than the literary community is. Science nerds like the concrete while the book nerds are okay with implications and allusions.

Though it seems to me as though more people in this section of the woods want to debate the ethics of science rather than the actual studies and evidence and junk. So the answer is not to attack the science, but to question whether this or that thing leads to eugenic apologia or whatever (and eugenic apologia is sooo pre-1960s, so for your own safety don’t pretend that is a relevant concern in this day and age when genocide is pretty universally frowned upon).

I mean, even Scalia wasn’t dense enough to believe that IUDs and Plan B are actually abortifacients, though he thinks that harmful, ignorant bullpoop is a-okay if it’s embraced by a certain culturally dominant religious sect (I’m still angry about Hobby Lobby).

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

The scientists can and do actually back themselves up with studies and evidence

It’s so nice to finally find the one group of people who are absolutely immune to even the possibilities of bias or even power temptations and abuse of authority.

😉

Leah Burchfiel
Member

But you can fight ’em with their own fire. Just as the answer to sketchy free speech is more free speech, the answer to sketchy science is more science. Go look up studies and junk and ask them what studies they’re basing their opinions on, because they will have something concrete to base their opinion on (more so than lit majors :D). Criticize the science with things that scientists would criticize each other about, like sample sizing and control factors and correlation does not equal causation (I know some science majors who love the shell outta that one).

D. M. Dutcher
Member

it’s not that it rejects science wholesale. It’s more that in the nineteenth century, atheists/rationalists seized upon science as a way to break the authority of Christianity in the social sphere. They went beyond the process to create narratives, and that’s what many Christians rebel against. That backfired by reducing the authority of science itself among many people, because people don’t like the clubs other people use to hit them with. So there’s reflexive distrust of science to this day.

This is why you don’t see Christians boycott chemistry or astronomy, or get angry about aerodynamics or materials science. It’s not so much the scientific method as opposed to the narratives being built around certain observations.

Kessie Carroll
Member

I’d love to see a series like this tackle mystery and thrillers sometime (I’m assuming thrillers were #2?). I know mysteries are popular because of the dopamine rush at the mystery’s conclusion. For me, more than romance, that makes mysteries more addictive.

Shannon McDermott
Guest

#2 was religion/inspirational. I don’t know what exactly is in that category, which is too bad. It would be interesting to know.

#5, the last, was classic literary fiction. I didn’t see thrillers on the list, which is also curious.

Keith
Guest
Keith

As a long time science fiction fan and a longtime Christian I rally don’t believe there has to be a gulf between the two realms.  I do not believe in evolution, but I do believe in gravity and the power of the atom.   I often wonder if the reason there is not Christian science fiction is because the market will not (notice I didn’t say cannot) support it.  There are enough Christians out there that would not even look at a science fiction book without feeling the same kind of repugnance that I feel when i see pornography.  There are others who might be interested, but will feel apostate for wanting t read it because of the negative aura that surrounds the genre in the Christian community.  Also, it should be noted that science fiction does not have the universal appeal that romance or thrillers have to start with, so we’re talking about a somewhat limited market to start with.  When you add this all up, you have a very limited market that few Christian publishers or authors would want to test.

I have recently finished a science fiction novel that has a Christian world view but I think would be comfortable in the secular market as well.  I originally wrote it for the secular market and then felt convicted to take out some of the more “edgy parts” (not edgy to me, but others might have been offended) and try to find a publisher in the Christian market first.  I am currently trying to write a synopsis that I like, while taking some graduate level classes and working, so its slow going right now.  I’m not sure that I’m optimistic about my chances in the Christian market, but if that’s where God wants my book to be, that’s where it will be.

Shannon McDermott
Guest

I’ve read Christian sci-fi, books such as Oxygen, Jupiter Winds, Numb, and the Firebird series. But even in Christian speculative fiction, sci-fi is the minority. I like your analysis on why that is.

Best of luck on your book. If you do get it published, I’d be interested in hearing about it. I don’t get to read enough Christian sci-fi.

HG Ferguson
Guest
HG Ferguson

Well said, Keith!

Julie D
Guest

Might we sometimes have an analysis on Amish fiction to follow this series? Because I’d be interested to see if there’s any secular equivalent.

Mirtika Schultz
Member

Mystery is not third. Mystery is second. Look at the sales numbers:
(source: Simba Information estimates)
 

Romance fiction: $1.438 billion in estimated revenue for 2012
Religion/inspirational: $717.9 million
Mystery: $728.2 million
Science fiction/fantasy: $590.2 million
Classic literary fiction: $470.5 million

Mystery and romance are easy to grasp for regular folks. One has a high emotional return ( I know, I was a total romance reading junkie for 13 years, often reading 1 and more novels a day). Mystery has the puzzle factor. People love trying to figure out who did it and how.

I have met folks who do not “get” fantasy and sci-fi. Their brains just can’t fathom the “what ifs.” I once had an encounter in college in a 19th Century English Lit class, and we were reading Dracula. She kept saying to me, “But I don’t get it. It can’t happen.” I really tried for like 15 minutes to explain to her what fantasy/speculative fiction covers, but all she could say was, “I don’t like it. That could not happen.” Some people only like fiction that covers WHAT CAN HAPPEN? As soon as it leaves the realm of possibility, they short circuit. That, I posit, is one reason why it’s fourth and not second or third, when films do well. (Films don’t require much brain action as reading does, you watch the cool visuals and effects, and I think it’s easier to be swept away, then to read something that throws unbelievable things at you,.)

I will posit also that romance readers are OVERWHELMINGLY and VASTLY female, as are its writers. And women tend to have more time to read, because more women than men have spent part of their lives as SAHWs and SAHMs. They can read when the babies nap. Read when the kids are at school. Etc. I have known very few stay at home hubbies and stay at home dads, but many SAHM/SAHWs. That alone tells me they have more time in the house able to sit and read while the wash goes or the rice cooks or the kids play or after everyone is dozing or after everyone leaves for work/school.

Romances are also very easy reads–one reason they are so often relaxing subway or coffeeshop reads. I could swallow up a category romance in a handful of hours. Those little 170 page Harlequins and Silhouettes were a cinch. Ease of read, nothing overly challenging, a comfortable formula ( you know the gal and guy will live HEA when all is said and done), and, barring the extremes of said fiction, nothing too graphically disturbing. Mysteries (especially cozy ones) often also offer the HEA (the killer is caught, justice done) and a predictable routine (a crime, evidence gathered, various suspects, great unveiling).

Science fiction can be puzzling and not always happy. It can riff off current events and talk on matters that are disturbing (be it overpopulation, religious strife, mutations, alien invasions, mass destruction ,etc). Some of us love this stuff, but not everyone wants to read bleak, dark social commentary or flights of imagination that are hard to sometimes wrap one’s mind around (if one is not used to it).

 

Those are my theories/points.

I also pointed out on FB that romance was not just popular in Inspy but is the #1 selling genre fiction, period. The fact that it makes you feel really good and it speaks to something that reaches female hearts within its formula with HEA cannot be denied. Even feminists love and read and write it (see Jennifer Crusie, frex). We all wanna be loved and we want it to end happily. Not everyone wants to mutate into omninsexual polyandrous social systems withint a greenhouse world where insects are winning the war against humans.

Michelle R. Wood
Member

Isn’t it time to name the elephant in the room: namely, that people aren’t buying these books?

 

It’s like genre TV fans who continually go on about their favorite shows being canceled (Firefly browncoats, for example), but won’t watch what’s currently on TV because it isn’t “good enough,” which prompts the networks to cancel the show because they aren’t in business to lose money. Yes, there are more nuanced arguments to be made: the Nielson rating system isn’t keeping up with the consumption of TV via the Internet, pirating, lack or promotion, etc. But in the final analysis, FOX renewed Sleepy Hollow for Season 2 because it did very, very well in the ratings across a wide demographic, while Almust Human was canceled because it did not do well in the ratings even within the smaller geek community.

 

As I said earlier this week, many people who are Romance fans have taken a specific step in their lives to only read Christian Romance as a means of guarding their hearts and avoiding temptation. This comment is not to debate the merits of said decision (which is an individual one) but to state it as a market factor in that genre’s financial success. There is little to no such appetite in the science fiction/fantasy genre for such a move (again, not saying yea or nay). That’s necessarily going to affect sales.

 

Finally, I applaud Steven Laube for working to get Enclave (the publisher formerly known as MLP) into Christian bookstores. I can’t speak for the entire industry, but I for one discovered many speculative books through my local Christian bookstore (which, contrary to what I hear others say, DID stock these books). I think if we would all put our money where our mouth is, the genre would sell better.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Isn’t it time to name the elephant in the room: namely, that people aren’t buying these books?

Agreed.

Here’s hoping SpecFaith confronts this elephant head-on and only gets better at it.

Too often the proposed solution to “not enough Christian fantastical fiction around here” is “let’s Write more fantastical fiction!” But this is plain old bad capitalism. Simply producing more Stuff isn’t the solution. The solution is to confront myths about these stories and to show how they actively glorify God and give us joy in ways that other books — including nonfiction and fiction genres — simply can’t.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I can’t buy books I’m not interested in, and most of the CBA stuff has some serious issues that are starting to turn me off from the genre. Too many CBA books are starting to feel the same. It’s like we have all of four templates for a CBA spec fic novel:

1. Dystopia.

2. Mild paranormal.

3. Traditional fantasy designed for a trilogy or more.

4. “Spiritual” fiction; end times or spiritual warfare books.

And to be cynical, over half of these are “girl-on-the-cover” books. This means female protag written at a YA level. While these genres aren’t bad, there’s only so many books from them I can read until I burn out.

I think the CBA needs to widen the genre some.