1. Stephen, thanks for the mention … this is a HUGE topic, that I think will only become more important over time.

    To clarify my own reasons for choosing to self-publish the final three volumes in my Merlin/Arthur series:

    * Like Anne, my sales were not good enough for Zondervan/HCCP to continue the series. They expect a lot of sales for it to be worth their while, and I accept that. However, keep in mind that my books were pubbed by their (at the time) new imprint, BLINK, which was actually a General Market imprint of Zondervan. This is a good idea of theirs, but I must say that they were still trying to figure out how to market to the general market at the time of my publication … it was an experiment that is still continuing. Their approach was to take as many Christian purchases as they could get, but to market the the ABA, which I think hurt my sales as my books were more written for the CBA.

    * Despite this, I still have two Christian publishers interested in my series. My decision to self-publish and not pursue those opportunities resides solely in my realization that I am not, at least during the next three years, able to meet a traditional publisher’s schedule.

    * As well, I am intrigued by the ability to control the pricing, cover design, and marketing of the novels, and am really looking forward to broadening my base by dropping the price to free or near free on at least one of my novels.

    Great post, Stephen! I agree with you that there is a place for and a need for Christ glorifying fiction, whether written for the Christian market, or for beyond it.


    • Robert, thanks so much for your extra thoughts. I’ve wondered about BLINK and what happened to that concept. It seemed experimental at the time, and I noticed I had not been hearing much about it recently. Does the imprint continue? One would hope so.

      And yes, it seems clear that a lot of this is due to the continuing aftershocks of e-publishing and the weakening of traditional media as a whole. Perhaps eventually we will see more competition among digital retailers. That’s their task. I see my task as encouraging the role of fans and/or readers — and reminding myself, in my reading and buying habits, that stories are valuable and we need to stop expecting them to be free. Otherwise, the whole novel/storytelling industry will continue going down the same terrible vortex that has doomed the news media, which all stupidly jumped onto the “news should be free and advertising(!) will pay for everything” nonsense within the last 10-20 years.

  2. Kessie says:

    It’s a bigger problem than just Cheistian publishers. All of publishing is hurting right now. Data Guy’s slides at that last big publishing conference (DBW?) were frankly alarming. Their fates depend on the whims of Amazon discounting. Amazon is poised to break all their backs this year, so hold on to your hat.

    Christians have trouble finding their audience–yeah, join the club. Discoverability and marketing is a hot topic among indie authors. Right now the big trend is newsletter promos, or author-swapped promos. Christians could stand to try a few of these techniques. All is not lost. In fact, this is the best time to be an author since the days of pulp.

  3. Audie says:

    A couple of concerns of my own to put out for considering, too.

    1. Christians books need to be theologically sound.

    I don’t mean they need to all defend the 5 points, or what have you. But there does need to be some idea of sound Christian doctrine in them, a knowledge of the basics of Christianity that they don’t stray from.

    For example, can a book be considered truly Christian if it portrays a character doing works to earn salvation from God?

    Or, maybe to put it another way, the authors need to know more than just some vague God-talk. They need to have some level of solid discipleship.

    2. Realism. Yes, even in sci-fi/fantasy/spec stuff.

    Does every heroine need to be drop-dead gorgeous? Does every hero need to be ripped? Do they all need to be the top-of-the-line at whatever it is they do, be it marine biology, black-ops spycraft, or baking apple pies? Do they have to be able to do everything perfectly?

    And it’s not just a case of giving an otherwise perfect character a fatal flaw, or a scar under his left nostril. To get back to the first point here, it’s about looking at characters, even our non-human characters, as mirroring in some way ourselves–fallen, sinful, and whose “good works” are tainted by sin. Make them as physically perfect as you want them to be, but can you show both the ugly that goes to the bone, and the divine cure for that ugliness?

  4. Robert says:

    I wouldn’t disagree with the points you’ve made. Christian fiction needs to get better in these areas. As you said at the beginning of the post, bookstores are going out of business. That’s something that is going to happen. I think if Christian authors want to be successful they need to think from a businessman’s perspective as well. I think that’s largely what is killing bad fiction. If you want to sell bad fiction, you have to market it well.

    Obviously the same goes for good Christian fiction. The funny thing about this article (and no offense is meant to be given) is that it doesn’t mention the Christian authors who are being successful by creating Christian books which are excellently written & embracing the opportunities of marketing via the internet, rather than calling the internet a curse which has killed the bookstores.

    The bookstores may have been what made getting published hard. Profitability was always the end-goal for all these publishers. The internet has freed us from that.

    We’re going to see a lot more crappy fiction, but the good authors (like Andrew Peterson for example) are now liberated to benefit far more from the internet than they ever would have from bookstores.

    • As a business-focused author (who believes his work is well-made), I can personally attest to the difficulty of getting your work out–even through the internet. Though bookstores can be seen as a barrier (limited physical space makes them choosy), internet retailers are no different in their desire to make a profit, and they promote what sells, not what’s well-written.

      The truth is that readers distinguish between books more on the basis of personal preference than what is excellently written, so even in the online space marketing excellent fiction can be as hard as dental work on a chimpanzee–unless you’re a special unicorn author whose book tickles the algorithms in JUST the right way.

      Physical distribution makes a huge impact on sales. The decline in bookstores is not good news. Neither is it the apocalypse. But the online “revolution” isn’t great news for all authors who try to utilize it. It offers new opportunities, but not necessarily better opportunities–depending on your audience and the material you create.

      Selling books is not easy. Period. If it was, Christian Publishers wouldn’t be closing down their fiction lines. Traditional publishing companies are filled with professionals who understand the space. The biggest problem I see with marketing Christian Fiction lies with its audience, not the savviness of those marketing it. Non-Christians don’t want to buy books that preach to them, and the majority of Christians who read Christian fiction want only books that pander to their cultural viewpoint–which is frequently not what’s in step with a truly biblical worldview.

      Case in point, we’ve done marketing for my biblical fiction, and I’ve received comments from conservative old Christian women such as, “This story has already been written. It’s called the Holy Bible.” As if to rebuke my attempt to fictionalize Scripture. As if I have never read Scripture, or else I wouldn’t be trying to “add to it.” Then 1-star reviews calling my work “un-biblical” because the main character doesn’t receive redemption or convert to serving God–even though the Bible itself gives this character a negative fate, and giving him redemption would go against Scripture.

      The problem is that the audience doesn’t want well-written fiction. Instead, they want fiction that just makes them feel good. Nothing wrong with that, other than I think they’re missing out.

      • The biggest problem I see with marketing Christian Fiction lies with its audience, not the savviness of those marketing it.

        This right here. Exactly.

        Christian audiences don’t yet understand what stories are meant to do, or why we even need them. So they either praise or condemn certain stories without a real cohesive, “nonfiction” worldview to guide them.

  5. […] market downturns, many authors do well. But for various reasons, some do […]

  6. Michael Howell says:

    I think we are making this too difficult…just write GREAT stories. J.M. Barrie…Frank Herbert…L. Frank Baum didn’t need all of this…nothing changed people still love great stories. So much of what I see in Christian fiction is sub-par. Further, I believe Christian publishers need to get off their duffs and start pushing books harder and stop relying on social media to do everything for them. Beyond this there is a huge gap between Christian fiction and scripts to film. Narnia and LOR set the pace where is the contemporaries?

What do you think?