Chip MacGregor

July 8, 2015

What's going on with CBA fiction?


I’ve been getting a lot of questions about CBA fiction lately… [And I updated this column recently.]

Is fiction aimed at the CBA market (that is, the “inspirational” market) growing or shrinking? Those of us who write for that market keep hearing different things and, frankly, I’m not sure who to believe.

CBA fiction is in a world of hurt. When I started my literary agency nine years ago, KeyboardChristian fiction was the fastest-growing segment in all of publishing, and continued to be a growth category for a couple more years. But, as I’ve said so often, publishing is a “tidal” business — the tide comes in, the tide goes out. Seven, eight, nine years ago, it was in. Then the tide started to recede, and now it’s out. Way, way out.

Several CBA publishing houses that used to do fiction don’t do it any more. (Today, Abingdon announced they’re killing their fiction program, for example.) Several others have cut back their lists. There are fewer slots for authors, and shopping for inspirational fiction has become harder. Barnes & Noble sort of sticks all religious fiction off into one corner, so if you don’t walk in specifically hoping to find that section, you’re not going to stumble onto it. Books-a-Million does a better job, but they’re not a huge chain. The potential demise of Family Christian Stores is a looming disaster — it leaves Lifeway Stores as the biggest chain, and the fiction decisions at Lifeway have been a huge disappointment to many of us in the industry (meaning the company only wants VERY safe Christian romances where nothing truly bad happens, sex doesn’t exist, everyone talks like they’re living in Andy Griffith Land, and in the end the characters will fall to their knees and accept Christ so that All Life Problems Will Be Resolved). Sales numbers have fallen, so that the novelist who used to routinely sell 18,000 copies is now selling 9000, or sometimes 4000. With that decline has come a drop in advance and royalties, so that far fewer CBA novelists are earning a living than just a few years ago.

UPDATE: I’ve had several people take me to task for being hard on Lifeway. Just so I’m clear, my criticism is of the larger Lifeway chain and its decisions, not of one particular buyer. I’ve found the chain has been very reluctant to take in much realistic fiction — but several have told me it would be unfair to blame the buyer. I’m sorry if I hurt feelings.

And this is happening at a time when more fiction is being sold than ever before. I’m the guy who is always saying, “This is the Golden Age of Publishing,” since we’re producing and selling more books to more readers than any other time in history. With all the fiction being sold in this country, one would think every publisher would want to go after the inspirational fiction market, since Christians have proven they buy books. And yet… that isn’t happening. This is clearly a sales and marketing issue, not a readership issue. There are plenty of good CBA novelists. There is certainly a readership for Christian fiction. There continues to be a handful of bestselling CBA novelists. But publishers are having a tough time matching up books and readers. And they’ve yet to figure out how to overcome the lack of shelf space for hard copies — which is interesting, since everyone in the industry acknowledges that sales of print copies has stabilized, as the numbers of ebooks has leveled off.

In other words, the talent and readership are there, but so far it’s proven to be a very tough task trying to link them. Some CBA publishers (notably Thomas Nelson, Revell, Bethany House, Love Inspired, and Tyndale) continue to sell a lot of fiction. Others (FaithWords, Waterbrook, Howard, Harvest House, Barbour) continue to make a good effort, even if there are fewer titles and the numbers are sometimes a bit skinny. And there are a few smaller houses (Whitaker House is one) who continue trying. But we’ve seen several houses step away from fiction in recent years, or at least put it on hold (Cook, B&H, Nav, Worthy, Abingdon, Moody, Crossway, etc). And, to be fair, there are a bunch of smaller startups that have tried to reach genre readerships, with mixed success (as an agent, I often question if the authors would be better off simply self-publishing than going with a micro-publisher who isn’t going to do much more than post a file on Amazon with a so-so cover).  All of this points to an industry in transition. I don’t think Christian fiction is going away, but I also don’t think it’s seeing much success outside of a handful of bestselling stars. So yeah, it’s a tough time to be a fiction writer in CBA.


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  • Rachel Evelyn Nichols says:

    I am writing something that you don’t see much in the CBA market. A young adult fantasy novel. I am trying to make it allegorical without being preachy. I believe I’ll put it up on Kindle and other e book markets myself. It doesn’t have the required Amish bonnets. Frankly I’m sick of insipid romances as a reader. I don’t read Fifty Shades of Gray or anything like that. I prefer Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters’ novels.
    None of those count as “Christian” writers, though they were in fact Christians–preachers’ daughters. None of them ever married either. (All right, Charlotte married 9 months before she died.) Seems like to be a best-selling Christian novelist you have to brag about being married for 30 years and proud grandmother of 8. Makes singles like me feel great *sarcasm.*
    My book’s working title is “Travels by Unicorn.”

  • T.A. MUNROE says:

    Ironically, I gave up on Christian fiction when I was a librarian at my church. I bought what the readers wanted, but it no longer appealed to me. I would be excited to discover a new author and she/he was either the same as all the other ones, or the subsequent books followed the same formula as the first.

    Now as an author myself, my books wouldn’t pass CBA. My characters are struggling Christians wrestling with their faith and the church. If they curse, I use the word, if they fornicate I include it but not in great detail. My books might not appeal to all Christians, but my hope is that a broader audience will be lead to think about God. I’m willing to risk offending Christians to reach out to people who have questions or even no thought about God with characters resembling real people in real situations. The first 2 books of my Lilyland trilogy deal with domestic violence, sex addiction, suicide, infidelity and when your church lets you down when you need it most.

    The world is different and the church is changing. I’ve changed. Christian books, movies and music cater to a time that has gone by. It’s not an easy time for the church or our readers. Our job is to be entertaining and relevant reaching readers where they live. God will do the rest.

  • Lynn Riddick says:

    As a local independent Christian Bookstore we are finding that our fiction book sales are down and we spend a lot of time returning books to the publishers. However, it is not because we don’t have the readers, we just don’t have the books they prefer to read.

    I spend a lot of time getting to know my customers, learning their favourite authors and preferred genre, then my job is to point them in the right direction, offer them alternatives and encourage them to try something new. My customers are very discerning and particular.

    We have sections of books that don’t seem to sell much and others where the authors can’t write fast enough to keep everyone happy.

    No matter the genre though, my readers want to know that God is bigger than our troubles and fears. Whether my customers read Amish, Historical, Suspense, Supernatural, Contemporary Romance or any of the many other options, ultimately they want the Word of God to be proven true.
    Many of my readers experience more spiritual growth through a great fiction book than many of their study books.

    My customers are also very aware of the price of books. If it’s an author they know and trust they are willing to fork out the money, but are hesitant to spend as much on an unknown author. For that reason they tend to look for the eBook and download it for much less. We automatically give 15% on all our fiction books just so we can compete with online shopping.

    Our biggest problem with now having so many authors doing independent publishing is that we don’t get to find out about the books, and even when we do our CBA distributors give us such a low discount that we make nothing.
    So while there are many great books, new authors and exciting things happening in the self publishing world, we don’t get to hear about it. Our customers shop more and more on-line and we find ourselves returning more books than we sell.

    There needs to be a way to link brick and mortar bookstores (few as we may be) to the world of self publishing. But that brings up another issue – we don’t have the time or finances to research which are truly “Christian” books – ones that we know will sell in our store and which will just take up shelf space and are not returnable.
    The advantage of CBA is the information we receive on new product. Outside of CBA, Munce and publisher marketing we hear very little of the alternatives.

    So while authors are struggling to find out how best to sell their product, we bookstores are also struggling to find authors who appeal to our customers and how best to market what we have.

    (I was sure I’d posted a comment prior to this but don’t see it anywhere. So please forgive me if you see a similar post by me elsewhere)

    • Victoria Bylin says:

      Thanks for posting this, Lynn. You gave me a new perspective. The high level of returns is heartbreaking for an author and a waste of time for you and your staff.
      If you have a moment, I’m wondering what kinds of books your readers are looking for that they aren’t finding . . . which sections sell well and which ones languish?

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      Thank you for taking the time to write an amazing contribution to this discussion. I believe that the authors would love to find a way to link with independent owned bookstores.

      I’ve met some mainstream indie bookstore owners at other non-CBA conferences, and they are very open to using editorial reviews, Kirkus, Chanticleer, etc, to guide their choice for choosing indie published titles to feature in their bookstore.

      Maybe this is a good way to start for CBA bookstores?

      If self-published authors approach the book buyer for a indie bookstore and the project features a starred review, I believe that this could be a great barometer as to the quality of the project. What do you think?

      Also, I’ve found that just because an self-published author lists a book as non-returnable in their Ingram Spark or other printing companies’ profile doesn’t mean that they are not willing to work on a return system with a few bookstores. Most self-published authors don’t want to take the financial risk of a large number of stores making large orders only to return.

      Thank you for giving writers a little more to think about!

      J Nell

    • Amanda Dykes says:

      Lyn, this was so insightful. This– “No matter the genre though, my readers want to know that God is bigger than our troubles and fears.” –I love the heart behind this. Thank you for sharing your experience and insights!

  • Paige McQueen says:

    So why don’t we change it? The CBA isn’t dead, it just needs some tweaking. Amish novels have there place. But maybe not taking up so much shelf space. I appreciate the fact that some people like Amish, but I don’t think it should be so prominent. That’s what young people think of when they think of “Christian Fiction”. Thankfully, I know that’s not altogether true. Being apart of the 2% age percentage in the CBA is a little disheartening, but look at books like Storm Siren by Mary Weber, The Choosing by Rachelle Dekker, and so many others. They’ve been pretty successful, and all my friends have loved them. Maybe my grandma wouldn’t read them, but many YA readers will. You have untapped potential in YA, and in Spec. There’s a whole new generation you’re losing. But it can yet be saved! I’m off to make an Enclave Publishing order, all while thanking God for the risk-takers.

  • Steve Myers says:

    So grateful for your perspective and discernment Chip. Having unplugged for much of the news and Facebook to focus on the work of a writer – its always a looming back of the mind thought of what’s happening in the industry, country and world at large. One close friend (writer) has used the term ‘fairy-tale Christian theology,’ with that person’s publisher. So my question is ‘if not CBA then for whom’ is fiction selling? Other writers have talked about leaving the CBA for ABA and much like Charles Martin’s books become more blended. What is happening in Traditional Publishing and how might (Might – emphasis) a writer blend their work to have a message but one that is ‘blended’ and in some ways not so ‘fairy-tale’ obvious?

  • Eric Townsend Schmidt says:

    Knowledge of what there is out there to read is hard to come by. Finding a good book is hard unless you can trust a friend’s recommendation or a reviewer whose tastes you can trust. Review blogs will become
    more and more important for niches. Recommendation engines can only go so far. For instance is a niche for Christian romance but you can tell they don’t just look at the romance, but quality of writing as well.

    • Daisy Blackwell Hutton says:

      While this conversation and the current experience of being a Christian writing fiction from a faith perspective can be extremely disheartening, I believe that we are in a time of tremendous opportunity for novelists of faith. The hard lines that have traditionally been drawn between Christian Fiction and General Fiction are beginning to dissolve, and while this creates very real and obvious challenges for those of us who have worked in the tightly defined space of Christian Fiction, it also positions all of us as pioneers in this new era of defining what it means to be a Christian novelist, a Christian publisher, or a Christian reader who longs to consume meaningful stories that ask the great questions of life. Christian Fiction as a category has historically functioned in a very tightly defined retail environment and within a very tightly defined creative tradition. As those walls continue to crumble, we experience chaos and disorientation, but we also experience an opening of possibility – to new ways of thinking about our work, to new ways of thinking about our potential readership, to new ways of thinking about the stories we tell. We may have to do things a bit differently. We may (we will) have to work harder, and we may have to ask ourselves some very difficult questions that weren’t required of us in the environment that we are accustomed to inhabiting. But as we are willing to roll up our sleeves, look at things in a new way, embrace the uncertainty, all while holding on for dear life to the belief that we have been called to this work and that beautifully told stories that reflect ultimate truth will find their purpose in the world, we will continue to find our way forward.

    • Amy Sorrells says:

      Good to see your perspective on here, Daisy!

    • Daisy Hutton says:

      Amy, thank you. I so wish that I had more time to engage on social media. As my two boys get a little older, my time is starting to free up, and it is a priority for me, to get more involved!

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      Thank you for giving us the editorial/publishing side.
      I’d love to see this topic explored honesty with aggressive brainstorming at the upcoming ACFW.
      I truly believe the reading community is wide open to well-told stories that are inclusive of a wider community while delivering a solid moral message, or at least I’m writing and polishing my craft with that belief.
      J Nell

    • Daisy Hutton says:

      Jeanelle I’m working on our ACFW workshop now, and it is focused on this very topic. I’m trying to pull together some historical details as well as some current research, so if you have any specific questions you’d like us to address, please let me know! I’d really love your input.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      I’d be happy to contribute to your workshop and thank you for taking the time to inquire. I’ll send an email to the address you’ve provided, containing some of my questions or questions/topics other writers and I have discussed.
      J. Nell

    • Amanda Dykes says:

      This was beautifully said, Daisy. That entire last line is such a call to action, to holding fast to our calling, and trusting a God who knows what He is about, come what may. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Robin Patchen says:

      I love your perspective, Daisy. Things are changing. We can look at the change as a threat and try to hold on to the old way of doing things, or we–authors, agents, editors, and publishers–can believe that God is in this and go forward adventurously. There are a whole bunch of us who love God and want to put great books in the marketplace. Let’s trust God and go forward. Some of us will go indie, some will stay with CBA publishers, and some will move to the ABA. Like you say, the lines are blurring, but the Truth will remain solid, and if we keep truth in our stories, then it matters not how they reach readers.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      This is a great point, Eric, and I hope people make it to the end of the comments section to see your note! Trusted review sites are becoming more important simply because the volume of new titles is making it tougher than ever to separate the gold from the dross.

  • David Todd says:

    After analyzing a number of my works, I came to realize that the concept underlying my writing was the virtuous man. Great for the CBA, right? But I also realized that showing triumph over temptation requires that the temptation be shown, perhaps quite overtly. I learned that the CBA doesn’t really want the temptations shown. One example: In one of my novels the lead female character is a Mafia escort. But a new assignment causes her to grow unhappy with her assigned role. One night she gives herself a date rape drug so she won’t have to be aware of what she now finds distasteful. The next morning she wakes up and finds herself “naked from the waist up”. That definitely won’t find its way into the CBA.
    So I’m self-publishing, and won’t look back. However, my wife still enjoys the safe reads that come out of the CBA, and probably wouldn’t want them to change.

  • Donna says:

    Why I’m writing “outside the box” fiction. Because I became a Christian as an adult, I write about the edgier topics, with redemptive endings. But probably won’t appeal to a mainstream publisher, so when I’m ready to publish, I’ll probably go the indie route.

    • Donna says:

      AKA “Hot Topic Fiction”

    • Hannah Alexander says:

      Donna, I love the fact that you say “when I’m ready” because this tells me you’re serious about making your work ready. I’d love to read your work someday. I’m totally indie now.

    • Chris Crawford says:

      Indie is tough, but there is lots of opportunity out there. Good luck! The great thing about indie is that when you’re ready to publish, you can just publish. 🙂

  • Brenda Jackson says:

    Enjoyed reading the post as well as the many comments. As one of the Christians who has walked away from Christian fiction (it’s not easy to find stuff in the general market either but easier) I can say that my reason for walking away is because I want to read big stories. To me, that’s way beyond whether Jack and Jill meet or get together, and that’s the only kind of fiction I was able to find in the Christian fiction market. And, has been noted among these posts, life, even for a Christian, is not neat and tidy. God doesn’t always step up to the plate–it doesn’t always end happily. That’s why 90% of the time the faith element in Christian fiction seems forced to me. I just can’t read them because it doesn’t sync with real life. But I do hope that some way, somehow, there will be improvements in finding ways to connect readers with out of the ordinary fiction for the benefit of both writer and reader.

    • Chris Crawford says:

      You make great points. The bible itself tells tragic stories that end badly, sometimes without moral commentary (Lot, for instance). There is a place for the standard stories we have today, but there is also a place for novels that are messier as well. Most of my non-Christian friends turn their nose up at reading Christian fiction – not because it’s faith-based, but because the stories are so simplistic as to be insulting. They tend to represent a reality that exists only for those closed off from the rest of the world. However, I’ve seen those same people find love for books like The Shack and Redeeming Love.

      I wish the CBA (and the Christian audience who complains) would ask themselves – should our work be about evangelism, or keeping the most offendable of us comfortable?

    • Brenda Jackson says:

      “…should our work be about evangelism, or keeping the most offendable of us comfortable?”

      This question alone could involve endless debate. I’ve seen the “why do I write” discussion for a long time and I don’t doubt people are called to do specific things, but I have a much more basic answer to this question. As a reader searching for material, I want writers who write to entertain me. If they do that in a powerful way, then I can’t help but also dig in for whatever moral implications or lessons there are to be learned from the work. I think sometimes this is the problem–too message focused and not enough entertainment focus. Even sitcoms have moral implications, whether good or bad. But the viewer doesn’t bother to think about the lessons that can be learned unless they’ve had a great experience with the show.

    • Chris Crawford says:

      You’re absolutely right, the most important job of any piece of fiction is to offer a good story. Moral implications or other agendas should be wound in carefully, in a way that naturally flows within the story.

      I probably phrased that last part badly. Why do we have a category called “Christian Fiction?” Does it exist solely to ensure a portion of the population that what they’ll read will not offend them in any way? Or should it be more about presenting a Christian worldview, regardless of the content? I’d love if “non-offensive” could be just part of the CBA world at large, but the reality is, some don’t even want the other content to even exist in their small world. And even sadder, those who demand such things are a tiny (but loud) fraction of the Christian population or even Christians who read fiction. I’ll fight to find my readers through other means; but it would be nice to see things start to change.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      I agree with you and I write my multi-genre fiction in the spirit of what you’re looking for as readers. I believe the main issue is how do authors like me find readers like you? That is the question of discoverability that leaves the industry perplexed. Maybe, you could share how you find books: bookstore, Facebook recs, word of mouth, Amazon, etc? Thanks J Nell Brown

    • Brenda Jackson says:

      My first choice of genre is historical fiction. I simply do not ever find historical fiction that is not heavily romance focused nor do I ever seem to be able to find male protag driven historical fiction. People will tell me occasionally “You should try so and so…” but when I look into it the description doesn’t grab me and the stories aren’t big.

      That leads me to my fall back genre–the one where I pretty much go to read books of fiction: the thriller. Here I can find lots of action, limited romance, male protag, and a big story. If it weren’t for thriller fiction I’d not have anything to read. These I usually hear about by word of mouth, reviews from someone’s blog. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Facebook rec for a book, oddly enough. Yes, I see plenty of authors’ posts, but not for the material I want to read. Hope that helps those who may be curious.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      Thanks Brenda. I love thrillers. Steve Berry and James Rollins are two of my favorites. J Nell

    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      We shouldn’t be asking questions about evangelism either, IMO. Does evangelism in the Western sense of the word reach people, or is it living our lives as God requires us to live? Which one is likely to have lasting results where unbelievers SEE a difference and long to have what we have?

      It’s the latter. My ability to rely on God as my rock and foundation and the source of everything I need, where I’m able to find peace even in the midst of a horrible storm, is what’s going to draw people to Him. That’s how I live my life, and that’s the worldview I write from. THAT is what reaches people.

      Christian fiction, by and large, unfortunately doesn’t accomplish the latter. It presents a false reality–a lie, if you will–the world can’t relate to. Some people are called to preach to the choir, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But laboring under the idea that a CBA novel is going to reach legions of unbelievers and convert them because of the gospel presentation in the novel, isn’t just wrong. It’s dangerous.

      Like Brenda said, when I wrote my one CBA novel, having to put the spiritual arc into it felt forced. Nothing about it was natural, and I think it shows. It was the first novel I ever finished, so I am proud of myself for completing a full length novel and discovering how much I enjoy doing it. But it’s mediocre at best.

      And I realize I’m in the minority on this topic and how I view it. I’m used to being in that place and rather enjoy it. When you survive hell on earth and the death of every dream you’ve ever had, and you end up skating on thin ice because you’re so mad at God for not stopping it, it changes your view of everything. The God I’ve come to know and rely on over the last four years sadly doesn’t exist for me in most CBA fiction. But He does exist in the pages of the paranormal romances I’ve spent the last three years reading. I don’t think most of those authors realize it, but He’s there. And He used those books to give me new dreams and the courage to pursue them.

      The most important thing for any Christian author to do is follow where God leads us to go. As long as we’re doing that, no matter how we put our writing out there, He can take it and breathe hope and life into a broken, hurting world.

      The best, most fulfilling, happiest place for a Christian to be is in the center of God’s will. As long as each of us is there, it doesn’t matter what market we’re writing for. We’re being obedient and we’ve said yes to God, and that’s what it comes down to.

    • Chris Crawford says:

      I do agree with you. My personal view is that everything we do is “evangelism” – the way we live our lives, the way we treat others. The way we portray others. Perhaps I could have used a less loaded term, though.

      I’m certainly not supporting the idea of converting people through fiction. (One of the things I hate is when authors put “discussion points” at the end of their novel, like it’d be taught in a bible class.) What I am suggesting is that we are judged based on what we write, and that can open or close doors. People want to be heard, and seen, and understood. When we caricaturize them, we lose credibility. When we present real feelings and treat people with respect, we gain it. I can guarantee you, most non-Christians don’t see themselves in the characters that portray them in Christian fiction. And it makes us seem like liars.

    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      I as a Christian don’t see myself in most characters I’ve encountered in CBA fiction. If I can’t see myself, as a Christian, there’s no way a non-Christian is going to.

      That’s how I view evangelism too. Unfortunately, that’s not what the world thinks when they hear the word. To reach the world, we have to be able to speak their language and meet them where they are. They’ll never understand our language without God opening their ears, and they’ll never understand a Christian whose isolated himself from the world.

  • Dawn Crandall says:

    I have to add that I don’t agree that the “gatekeepers” are turning away manuscripts just because they aren’t “safe enough” for their LifeWay readers. There simply aren’t enough slots in the CBA for all the writers out there vying for them. Not NEARLY enough. There is just TONS of talent out there. My crit-partner for one, who gets to pub board with one of the large CBA publishers every single time she writes something. She writes real, true to life characters going through tough times, and she’s an AMAZING writer! They like what she writes, they see that she has talent, but it simply comes down to not enough slots, even for the most amazing would-be authors.

    And I don’t really like the trend of readers and writers bashing traditionally published CBA authors because they had the good fortune to be picked up for a book contract. It isn’t a war between US and THEM. I know there are really good self-published books out there–and who knows, maybe this traditionally published author will be one of the hybrid authors someday too–but we can’t make blanket statements like “All CBA publishers want are blah blah blah and indie books are so much better because of blah blah blah.”

    Just because someone is fortunate enough to get a book contract through a CBA publisher doesn’t mean that they must write bland, unrealistic, non-entertaining fiction. There are so many amazing authors in the CBA! Yes, some of them aren’t even my cup of tea, but if they’ve been there forever, are still writing books that readers buy (and they must, or they wouldn’t be getting more contracts), then I guess there is a place for those safe books as well as the more emotionally complex ones I love to read and write.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Appreciate your perspective, Dawn. I agree with much of what you say (I’ve grown tired of traditionally published authors bashing indie authors, and JUST as tired of indie authors telling us how much better their system is.) The fact is we’re at a change point with CBA fiction, and we’re going through some of the bumps that occurs with big changes, so we’re bound to have some confusion, occasionally follow a path that doesn’t lead anywhere, and struggle a bit to discover the new way. But you’re right — there are plenty of good writers and good stories out there.

  • Amy Sorrells says:

    At the end of the day, it’s the story, isn’t it? I’ve had a gnawing passion that as artists, we have to be more diligent than ever about growing our skills and craft so that we find a way to bridge the gap that seems to exist in the marketplace…on one precipice is faith and on the other is reality. I feel that gap as I browse bookstores and libraries, as I read old and new publications. As Christian artists, we can be the bridge, but I believe readers are demanding better-written, deeper stories before they’ll step across. I don’t agree with those who might say Christian writers need to be “edgier” to attract more ABA readers, because I believe beautiful stories can be written–and SELL–which rend the heart without “making people stumble.” (And as one who comes from the land of John Mellencamp, I have to say, good for Lifeway…you’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything, as he sings…and especially in this day and age.) As mentioned by another person below, Marilynne Robinson’s books are a perfect example. You’d be hard-pressed to find language and skin and such in her books, and yet she’s out winning Pulitzers, among other awards. Not that an earthly award is our goal…nor should we all go out and write “like her”…but our goal should be to find a balance in there somewhere…wherever that may be. We have to write real. We have to write from the heart. We cannot give up. Above all, I believe the Holy Spirit will guide our pens, because neither He nor His purposes can be shaken, after all.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      You know, I’m going to blog about this issue of “story,” Amy. I’ve had discussions with a couple of editors in New York about it, and have learned to see some of the issues of CBA novelists writing for a general market in a new light.

    • Amy Sorrells says:

      Sounds intriguing–I’ll keep an eye out for that one for sure!

  • Jeanelle Brown says:

    Chip, Why don’t agents aggressively change the model, mentoring authors who are writing Christian fiction that could sell in the mainstream. Because the agent possesses a great del of expertise this partnership could produce great books which could then be sold to Indie Bookstores. When I attend mainstream writing conferences, it’s very clear that they have more power to “make” a book like All the Light we Cannot See than Barnes and N. J

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Many of us do that, Jeanelle.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:


      Thanks for answering, and I’m glad that model is already in place. I know there will be an avenue to give our stories to the world, irregardless of what the CBA does. The path just isn’t the clear yet, but the fog will burn off eventually when the Son decides.

      How would an Indie author who would like to work with an agent as a paid consultant approach an agent for this arrangement? It seems a bit easier to partner with an editor via Publisher’s Lunch or other sources, but the pathway to partnering with an agent as a consultant isn’t clear.


  • Victoria Bylin says:

    My personal dream is for a CBA (or ABA) publisher to start an imprint that takes Christian fiction into a whole new arena, one that’s reflective of the not-safe-reading aspects of our cultures. I like the word “transformational.”

    At this point I’ve written for Harlequin Historical, Love Inspired Historical and contemporaries for Bethany House. It just slays me to see the market shrinking when we live in a world so desperate for what Christianity has to offer. There are lots of great books out there, but connecting with new readers is a real challenge.

    Thanks for helping me to understand the pressures in the market.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      I love your category, Transformational fiction. The name more closely represents what the gospel does. J Nell

    • Victoria Bylin says:

      Hi Jeanelle! It’s not an original concept (wish it was, because I love the implications). If you google , you’ll find the website for an author group. I’m not sure if it’s cool to post links here.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      Hi Victoria,

      Thanks for your response. I will google. I believe that the word Christian has a lot of baggage. Sometimes I even call myself a follower of Yeshua

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Appreciate you sharing your story, Victoria, and I think you’ve stated it exactly right — the struggle is not in a shrinking readership, but in our need to find new ways to reach that readership with great writing and stories.

  • Tamara Leigh says:

    You may recall, Chip, I signed on with you in 2005 to transition to the inspirational market after success in the general market that included the USA Today Bestseller list. Though Christian publishers were enthusiastic about bringing my medieval romances—and my audience—to the inspirational market, ultimately they declined, citing the time period didn’t sell well for them and asking for “something different.” Assured that once I got my foot in the door they would be more open to giving my medievals a chance, I gave them humorous contemporary romances that were marketed as “chick lits” due to the popularity of that genre at the time. Happily, I ended up enjoying the change of pace. But in 2011, with seven books published in the inspirational market, it was time to get back to those earlier centuries I love. So I did, and when Christian publishers once more declined my medievals, the timing couldn’t have been better. With indie publishing coming into its own, I dipped my toe in the water with “clean read” and “inspirational” medieval romances, found the water on the pleasantly cool side, and that first year made about half what I had made in one year writing for a Christian publisher. The second year, the water grew warmer as my earnings surpassed those made with a Christian publisher. The third year… Solid, consistent proof that medieval romances do sell well in the inspirational market—not only evidenced by my earnings, but the number of medieval romances now being released by the same Christian publishers who wouldn’t take a chance on an author with a good track record of books set during that time period. You’re right, this is a sales and marketing issue as opposed to a readership issue. The solution for me was self-publishing that now allows me to earn a good living while writing what I love and pushing and testing boundaries to give readers more realistic characters and issues. The solution for traditional publishers… We shall see.

    • Dawn Crandall says:

      I’m so glad you stuck with what you love, Tamara! I love your “indie” medieval Christian romances! And your covers–WOW! 😀

    • Tamara Leigh says:

      Thank you, Dawn! I truly love writing again.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Tamara. It’s nice to hear from you. (Some background here: Tamara and I worked together for a while back when I was at another agency. I saw her talent immediately, and she’s been successful in a couple genres.) I think yours is a good example for other writers — that times have changed, that we can no longer just think about traditional publishing as the only alternative, and that there is a world of opportunity for writers willing to try new things. Appreciate you sharing your story.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      You’ve inspired me to keep writing. Thanks J Nell

    • Tamara Leigh says:

      Write on, Jeanelle!

  • Chip, I have not found the Lifeway buyer to be as you make her sound. As you may know, I’ve chosen to go fully indie. My first indie Seatbelt Suspense®, SIDETRACKED, was sold into stores in paper–and Lifeway bought many units month after month. My suspense novels have no bonnets, and “All Life Problems Resolved” does not happen at the end of my books. The crime is resolved, yes, but after much tragedy, much healing is left to occur. Life is messy.

    If I experienced this as an indie, I imagine there are places on the Lifeway shelves for similar trad pub books. So all is not lost there for those who don’t write Amish fiction.

    As for the situation with CBA fiction in general–let’s just say I do make more money as an indie.


    • Hannah Alexander says:

      Yes, Brandilyn! You go, girl!

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      That’s awesome Brandilyn. Blessings.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Brandilyn. I had several people say that to me, so I tweaked the post a bit. I’m not trying to personally hammer Rachel, who I think is trying her best. But let’s not make paper over the fact that Lifeway as a company has been anti-realistic, even anti-intellectual when it comes to fiction at times. They have. And their recent push toward refusing some books specifically because OTHER titles the publisher has released aren’t in line with their conservative theology has been troublesome.

      Look, I understand that Lifeway is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, and they want titles that basically fit SBC theology. But one of the functions a bookstore serves is as a venue for ideas and stories, not simply as mouthpiece for the denomination. (Spoken as an Anglican, and not a Baptist, of course.) My two cents.

  • Dawn Crandall says:

    I’m glad Chip mentioned Whitaker House is still trying. Yes, they tried something new by publishing my debut series as ebook only at first, but it was partly because I had the three books in the series nearly finished when I received the book contract. Therefore, it was the perfect time to try it. I know there was a lot of
    prejudice about The Everstone Chronicles being available as only eBooks at first, but they’ve done really well despite the fact–winning awards and finaling in the ACFW Carol Awards–and now coming out in paperback this Fall! I think they’ve proven that the world isn’t quite ready for ebook-only yet.

    It is sad, however, how many Christian associate “Christian Fiction” with what it was five or ten years ago. The only way I learned that it wasn’t was by “starting over” in 2007, reading every Christian fiction book I could get my hands on to see where the books I planned to write would fit in with the CBA market. It took a while to figure out which authors I liked–and they were all new! Fortunately, now they are the heavy hitters out there providing the books I love, but there are so many readers who bailed years ago who don’t know a thing about the better fiction that the CBA is providing now.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Congrats, Dawn. Who is releasing the print versions? Are you self-publishing them?

    • Dawn Crandall says:

      Thanks, Chip! I’m super excited!
      Whitaker House is releasing the paperbacks. 🙂

      The paperback of The Hesitant Heiress will release in September, just in time for ACFW (they pushed up the date by a few months because of the Carol Final). And then the two others in the series (all three were released within 8 months of each other in the last year) will release in paperback in October and November. It’s definitely not the normal way of going about things (especially with having a baby in that same year), but it seems to have worked out rather well in the end. 🙂

  • So I’m a writer. I want to write for those of you who have said you used to read only CBA fiction, but no longer do.

    What do you want to read?

    How should it be presented?

    Do you have favorite genres, topics, or issues?

    Can you give me 5 things that would be of interest to you?

    • Sally Bradley says:

      Carrie, I don’t think that’s how it works. This is when, perhaps, you write the book of your heart and put it out there yourself. That’s what I did–wrote the book I couldn’t find and wanted badly. And turns out there were lots and lots of readers out there who wanted what I wrote. So write what moves you. That’ll be your best fiction.

    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      Sally’s right. That’s not how it’s going to work. Those of us who’ve left Christian fiction behind completely ignore its existence, for the most part. I’m an exception because I have so many friends who are published CBA authors. I still have a good idea of what’s out there and available, and none of it piques my interest. None of it makes me go “hmm, that sounds interesting, let me grab the sample.” I’ve been burned too many times thinking something sounds interesting, and when I get halfway into it it becomes a sermon, or the last 10% of the book wraps everything up in a neat little bow that makes me gag.

      It comes down to this: we’re looking for the real world to be reflected in our reading, with all its problems and issues and not everything getting resolved.

      I want unconventional settings. I want heroes who are main characters instead of secondary after-thoughts. I want the hero, NOT the heroine, to carry the story. I want to see them screw up and deal with the consequences of their actions. I want to get lost in the story world and lose sleep over it because I can’t put the book down. I want to inhale everything by that author that I can get my hands on.

      We’ve already found new authors to love, who aren’t bound by any of the CBA restrictions. I have far more passion about these authors than I ever had for a CBA novel. I’m beyond invested in the worlds and characters, and I want to read more books like that with worlds that are infinite in their possibilities. That doesn’t really exist in Christian fiction, which is very sad. I wear my love of the Dark-Hunter world where everyone I meet can see it. I drove three and a half hours on five hours of sleep just to meet one of my new favorite authors and get her autograph. I have another that I’m willing to drive up to six hours to get her autograph.

      I would never do that for a Christian author. The farthest I’ve driven is 90 minutes, and it was to have lunch with her because she was a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.

      It’s too late for the solution to the problem to be asking what we want. The problem now is getting our attention in the first place. That’s a much harder thing to do when so many of us have left “Christian culture” completely and immediately back away when “Christian” is put in front of something.

      I’m very unlikely to come back. There’s no reason for me to come back. I have everything I want in what I’m reading now, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s available to me in this genre.

    • Sally and Rachel,

      I understand what you’re saying. Sally’s comment about writing the types of stories she wanted to read describes a lot of what I do.

      What I’m asking is a positive spin on this issue because all I ever hear are complaints.

      I’m sure I’m not the only author who is weary of the tight constraints on a lot of CBA fiction (and lets face it, those constraints are in place because there are a lot of readers in that reading category). In fact, I’ve never believed my novels are a fit for CBA for a lot of the reasons you and others have cited.

      My goal isn’t to convert you back to CBA.

      My goal is to learn what readers want. I’m not saying I can provide that… chances are I won’t be for a lot of people because I’m just not into dark hunter.

      But I’m sure I’m not the only author with these questions and with an honest interest in finding out what does work instead of just hearing what doesn’t work.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to answer, Rachel, and Sally, too. It has helped a great deal.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:


      I see what you’re asking. I don’t know if my list would be of any help, but I’d love to see contemporary women who have powerful, stressful jobs while balancing a family. I’d like to see multicultural protagonists who are not written in a stereotypical way, but true to their culture perspective without making it appear “bad or weird”. i.e. like an Alex Cross. I’d like to see contemporary stories about friendship and adventure without a romantic thread. I’d like to see God depicted as powerful instead of like Santa Claus with a cane. I’d like to see writing where the author has taken the time to discover parts of American history that aren’t taught in classic history books in some era besides the Civil War period (sigh) or WWII.

      I’d like to see a Biblically sound version of a series like Penryn and the End of Days by Susan Ee. I love her writing and the series but was disappointed that she never mentioned God and never revealed the leader or motives of the angels in her post-apocalyptic/dystopian series. I think that’s enough, but I hope this helps you.

      Genre: Multi-genre or Thrillers

      How should it be presented?
      In a captivating, intriguing story line with amazing writing and a great protagonist like any other great book.

      Do you have favorite genres, topics, issues?
      I like “issue driven fiction” even though that seems taboo with the CBA. We all have issues! Currently, the Amazon bestseller list if full of books addressing issues: a rich bored billionaire with sadistic taste, a little girl who is blind but trying to navigate her town in Paris during WWII, a thriller where the protagonist is “saving the world”.

      Blessings on your writing journey, Carrie!

      J Nell Brown

    • Janelle,

      Thank you for a thoughtful and insightful approach. Your answers to my questions are very helpful. I especially like the idea of showing God to be powerful instead of Santa Claus.


      A lot of genres interest me, but there are a few things that weigh more heavily on my heart than others. The ideas the rise to the surface most often are:

      The stories of Joseph & Daniel, who withstood hardships and trials without losing faith

      Jeremiah the Prophet (several possibilities come to mind on this one, but the most weighty is writing about a modern day Jeremiah patterned after the original Jeremiah. Just what would that look like?)

      Basically, what I see is a culture and world on the same path ancient Judah walked with an outcome likely to be the same. That’s the story I want to tell. I just haven’t yet found the right way to do it.

      But I also write mysteries, have a political thriller mostly drafted, and a story that’s sort of political thriller and sort of dystopian. Steam punk is intriguing, too.

      Thanks again for your comments, Janelle. I appreciate your thoughts!

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      No problem, Carrie. I’m glad I could help!

      I’ve recently met two authors who you might be interested in communicating with. One is writing a historical story about Naomi and another is writing a historical story about Lot’s wife. Both women are amazing women and writers.

      Find me on Facebook(link below) when you’re at the point where you need “beta-readers,and I may be able to link you the authors above if they aren’t swamped with a project.

      In regards to Joseph and Daniel, I chuckled because my series, God Factor Saga, is a contemporary suspense serial with a Biblical historical hook, following 2 characters, a male and female from their beginnings to their endings.

      The character profile for the male is built on the life of Joseph: Cillian is a young boy who’s been abused and abandoned but is protected by God’s guardian, Legna, as well as the female protagonist’s prayers because Cillian like Joseph is destined for greatness.

      Daniela is a young girl built on Daniel’s story in the Bible. She’s a young prophetess, even though she’s not clearly aware of her powers. She’s grows into a virtuous and brave young woman even though she’s experienced rejection for every reason under the sun. God communicates her mission via vivid visions.

      My editors are editing the fourth book, set to be released in December/January.

      I guess we both want to bring powerful Bible stories to life in contemporary settings!

      As for your Jeremiah story, I think the big question is: do you want to write a contemporary or historical piece?

      All of my novels have a Biblical historical hook, where the “mystery” to be solved in wrapped in a suspenseful Biblical historical hook in the prologue, Steve Berry style.

      Then, the story jumps into a contemporary settings.

      My mantra is writing is that J Nell never promises rosy-endings–simply because my life and my friend’s lives haven’t be rosy, but I do deliver hope with each novel because that’s my Christian world view.

      I love political thrillers and if the time-time table is right, I’d definitely would be willing to beta-read a solid thriller.

      May fav authors are James Rollins and Steve Berry so feel free to message me via Facebook, and I’ll help any way I can!


    • “I’ve recently met two authors who you might be interested in communicating with. One is writing a historical story about Naomi and another is writing a
      historical story about Lot’s wife. Both women are amazing women and writers.”

      Who are they? Names, please, LOL!

      “Find me on Facebook (link below) when you’re at the
      point where you need “beta-readers,and I may be able to link you with the authors above if they aren’t swamped with a project.”

      Boy, if ever I wished I was on Facebook! Are you on Twitter, by any chance?

      In regards to Joseph and Daniel, I chuckled because my series, God Factor Saga, is a contemporary suspense serial with a Biblical historical hook,
      following 2 characters, a male and female from their beginnings to their endings.”

      I guess that proves the point that it’s impossible steal ideas because no two authors will handle the same idea in the same way.

      Your books are intriguing. If you’re ever in need of a beta reader, let me know.

      “As for your Jeremiah story, I think the big question is: do you want to write a contemporary or historical piece?”

      Actually, I can see myself writing both. I’ve already outlined the Book of Jeremiah and can see that being written as a trilogy (either that or one huge book!).

      I understand your thoughts on rosy endings. Even the rosiest of endings comes with at least one thorn.

      What I’d like to impart is a sense of hope and optimism for the future (here and after here). A lot of the types of books I like to read lack that kind of hope.

      I’m not familiar with either James Rollins or Steve Berry. It looks like a visit to the library may be in order.

      Thank you again for your help and for your offer of continued help.

      Best wishes,


      PS: My apologies for misspelling your name. I see you spelling with an “e” and not just an “a”.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      Hi Carrie, I was thinking of a way I could share the author’s info without making their contact info public. If you’d still like their info, just go to my website, and enter your email into the contact us page, and I’ll send the info. Blessings on your writing.

    • Rachel Evelyn Nichols says:

      Interesting questions Carrie.
      I like mainstream fiction or realistic historical if it isn’t speculative. (Science fiction, fantasy or paranormal.) I like realistic fiction or stuff that is way out there but with well-developed characters. So if you write mainstream or realistic historical about eras like the Great Depression or the Chicago race riots or something that isn’t overdone that would be something I might read. I also like science fiction/fantasy/paranormal/gothic. Think Nathaniel Hawthorne, not Stephen King. I really like The Scarlet Letter.

      5 things that would be of interest to me?
      1. Unmarried women who star in the book and don’t wind up married at the end. That would be refreshing.
      2. Older unmarried women who star in the book. Female counterparts to Bilbo Baggins and Dr. Ransome from Lewis’s Space Trilogy.
      3. Romances that don’t end with someone dying or marrying, but that end with the parties going their separate ways because they weren’t meant to be.
      4. Characters with physical disabilities or emotional problems. Or ugly people.
      5. Endings that don’t tie everything up in a neat little package with a pretty pink bow if they occur in a historical setting. People had real problems back then. Slavery wasn’t romantic (think Gone with the Wind) if you were the slave. The attempted genocide of Native Americans. Sexism. Crop failure. Typhoid fever. Mary Ingalls went blind from scarlet fever and probably caned chairs for a living and never married. Hmm. Wonder why no CBA prairie novel ever starred her?

  • Chris Crawford says:

    If the CBA is going to grow, they’re going to have to take on riskier projects with the potential for growth. Problem is, the industry seems to be completely risk-averse. Safe stories where readers feel they can trust to end up in comfortable places from page one. And I’m sorry, but those are uninteresting stories.

    When I wrote The Tuning Station, I knew it was going to be a tough sell to CBA publishers, and it was. The only offers I received were from very small publishers who would only accept it if they could change the tone (and become something I neither intended nor wanted.) So I self-published a month ago. And it has been incredibly difficult reaching my audience, because they’re either on the outskirts of the CBA or turned off by it.

    The religious world is changing. Church affiliation is decreasing, but spirituality and faith are not. It seems to me there is opportunity here. I don’t think the “edgy” appeal of Christian fiction (with darker elements, profanity and sexual situations) are necessarily what many are looking for. What is lacking is substance. Tales that allow for doubt and ambiguity, admit to and deal with the pain that religion has caused, and offer hope that’s not tied up in simple platitudes. Maybe the CBA can never be that. But someone should.

    • Amy says:

      It’s true – the gatekeepers of this industry are tough to get past when the book isn’t “safe”. I have hope that if enough of us join in and have a voice about reality vs. the surrealism often found, we’ll slowly shift the tide. But CBA has traditionally been slower to adapt mainstream trends, especially as it relates to book. One needs only look at the YA space in any B&N vs. a Christian store to see that. 🙂

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Chris. I’ve always found it funny that the people at church will talk about the latest Bond film, or the action in “24,” or the storylines of “Game of Thrones,” but then suddenly act as though we need a filter when it comes to the books we produce.

    • Angela Moody says:

      This has been so helpful to read. I’m a wannabe author. I have the book finished, a YA Historical with no romance. I talked with an agent at the ACFW conference in September and he told me NO ONE is publishing the kind of book I spent so many years of my life writing and that my best bet was to prove myself by going indie. I resisted for several months but have come to the conclusion that indie is the way to go for me. I intend to market it as a young adult historical fiction with a christian world view. I signed up with Amazon and the first thing they had me do was register for an ISBN so if you’re concerned about how to track they seem to have figured that part out.

      I just want to say thank you to Chip for writing the very interesting and informative article and to everyone who weighed in on the subject. You’ve helped me solidify in my mind that I am making the right decision.

      I also believe the Lord lead me to write this particular story and if I’m to publish through the indie market then I’m going to trust that the Lord is leading me.

      Thank you all again for the very helpful comments.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      You’re welcome, Angela. Glad you found this helpful.

  • I have seen so many Christian authors cross over into mainstream fiction or go indie with their novels because their multicultural main characters, international settings, or heavier issues weren’t considered “marketable” in the CBA. The truth is, the CBA is losing/has lost a generation of readers who don’t want cookie-cutter, predictable books. I see that with many of my friends (35-40-something). These readers have been looking to mainstream publishers to find these kinds of books for years (for instance, I enjoy books written about the gulag era in Russia. I haven’t found that yet in the CBA). YES, there are books in the CBA that aren’t cookie-cutter, but they are few and far between. I understand that’s part of the appeal for many–that predictability provides escapism–and I’m not down on that at all. But I just think there is a generation of readers that is being ignored.

    I really believe that most CBA authors will branch into indie in the next 10 years or so, just because they realize they can meet their readers where they are, instead of waiting for publishing houses to climb on board with their vision.

    Thanks for this honest post, Chip. I’ve shared it with others.

    • And again, just to clarify, there are indeed CBA authors who aren’t writing cookie-cutter! I keep my eyes peeled for books like this and I support these authors every way I can and promote them to my friends. It is not a lost cause, but often it seems like too little, too late.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Heather. I agree that there is a generational problem for Christian fiction, and I think all the research supports that contention. What we’re waiting for is to see how traditional publishers will change to better serve their readership.

  • Travis Thrasher says:

    I was strangely encouraged when I read this simply because it articulates what I’ve known for quite some time. I worked in Author Relations at Tyndale House Publishers from 1994-2007. I’d say 95-’05 were somewhat of the glory days for Christian fiction. I saw the phenomenal success of the Left Behind series. It was quite a ride to witness.

    I’ve been a full-time author since 2007. I’ve had over 30 books published in the CBA market. I’ve always been a square peg in a round hole as an author. A young male writing a variety of genres including horror and YA fiction? Yeah, that’s a recipe for disaster. My brand of being a chameleon of sorts has helped me, however, as I continue to do more and more collaborations in the CBA market.

    Christian fiction isn’t the only thing struggling in the publishing industry. All mid-list authors are struggling since the entire industry is dealing with so many changes. My opinion is that there are SO many options on how we spend our time, so reading is less of a priority these days. There are so many amazing books out there, so it’s more difficult to get interest in new books & authors. We also live in a culture where music, movies and books are often times FREE. Look at the music industry with its streaming. It’s difficult asking people to pay for books.

    The structure of Christian publishing and publishing as a whole is changing, but that doesn’t mean there’s not going to be another Left Behind or The Shack coming out of nowhere. It will happen again. “Christian fiction”–whatever that term actually means–is going to morph and change. But a Christian publishing house might still find the right story at the right time and publish it in the right way where suddenly “Christian fiction” is put back on the map. I say that as someone who once saw a copy of a contract sitting on my desk that needed to be sent to the authors. Those authors were Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. Right story, right time, right publisher. It can happen again. So with all the changes in our industry, I still hold out to hope. I really try to.

    • Cathy West says:

      I like this a lot. 🙂 I hold that candle of hope too. Glad I’m not alone!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      If history has shown us anything, Travis, it’s that there WILL be another SHACK, another LEFT BEHIND, another THIS PRESENT DARKNESS. And while I said the tide is currently out, I live at the beach, and I can tell you that tides come back in. I appreciate your thoughts on the culture and its attendant entertainment choices — that is indeed part of the overall struggle publishers are facing. Good thoughts here.

    • Slim says:

      Yes, Travis and Chip are right. Authors should never give up. The next big thing is right around the corner and no one here can really predict what it will be. Also, we often see this as a “Christian publishing” problem. The general market publishers struggle with a lot of the same things, as Travis says. They have lost sales momentum too, in a variety of genres. Their midlist authors struggle. The author of Gone Girl had two very modest-performing titles before her hit.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yeah, every publishing house is facing challenges. I didn’t write this post to suggest that CBA fiction was the only genre in trouble. My point was to state that CBA fiction is in DEEP trouble, having shrunk to its current state.

  • Joyce Wheeler says:

    I’m delighted to read the comments by authors who wrote the kind of book they always wanted to read. Amen. That’s my song also—-and fortunately, I was able to publish them and have readers who enjoy Christian fiction with realistic characters and a diversity of plots, pitfalls, and prairie adventures. I found a ready market in the local area, and it has spread by word of mouth. Yes, it’s slow, and it’s more of a hobby than a business, but it’s also a great deal of fun to write, publish, and sell. Thanks Chip, for your informative article.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Great to see this, Joyce, and congrats on your success. My guess is if you continue to hunt around, you’ll find other markets ready for your work.

  • Lisa Marie Ebauer says:

    The whole thing is just sad, sad, sad. Twenty-three years after I started writing and we’re still having the same discussions we started having at least 15 years ago. Seriously. The fact of the matter is, we’ve been playing to a crowd that has favored ideology over craft, and values affirmation over art like it’s some kind of battleground of good vs. evil. Until that kind of false dichotimy calms down over a broader range of people who seek out Christian books of an evangelical stripe, (people, I hesitate to add, who are encouraged to see everything as part of a culture war) good luck in seeing any real change.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      So good to see your face on my blog, Lisa. Thanks for stopping in. And yes, I think you’ve done a good job of summing up a major portion of the discussion: theology over craft. Unfortunately, if Lifeway is the biggest Christian bookstore chain, they’ve already been very clear that “theology” wins. (Recently there was a discussion about Lifeway not carrying certain publisher’s books, not because of the titles in question, but because of OTHER titles those publishers do. Amazing. And an amazingly simplistic way to view the world.)

    • Lisa Marie Ebauer says:

      I wouldn’t say it’s craft, per se, but a commitment to a particular world view that messy fiction simply doesn’t fit into. It’s about fiction being a tool to further already held-to positions, which is, in essence, shining a light into the light (according to those notions). Fine. But it doesn’t lead to very many compelling outcomes.

    • I think Lisa summed it up very well. So, if the gatekeepers favor ideology over craft, and that is what readers want, then what are we doing here in this market? I hate to sound negative, because I’m happy for my friends who are having great success in the CBA and who are really talented at their craft, but I think it’s time for some sub genres to move over to ABA. Maybe we don’t fight the industry or the gatekeepers. Maybe we go find our readers where they are, and for many of us, it looks like they are shopping in the general section. Maybe in the long run, this will prove to be a better situation for some of us. Here’s hoping – and praying, too.

  • Thank you, Chip, for this informative and pertinent article. I’ve struggled with these issues from the very beginning of my professional writing career with a major Christian publisher when I was told I couldn’t depict the reality of evil in several different scenes in my series, or use the slave dialect in my Civil War novel, or allow a child to die in my Colonial era book because it might offend some of my readers. In my opinion, it almost bordered on changing the historical setting. Finally, the outside editor and my agent stepped in and were able to save some of the scenes, which were pivotal.

    I agree with Cathy. I’m not sure what can be done, but there are too many good authors who want to write of God’s redemption amidst a culture which is becoming more and more evil. That evil has to be depicted in order to create believable tension in the story line. However some Christian publishers will only allow a watered-down version or completely glossed-over version of evil in their novels. That’s why Christian novels have gained a reputation for flat, shallow stories, in my opinion. If a reader only desires a “gentle” read, then purchase an author whose books reflect that bent. But surely there is a place for those of us who want to write in a more realistic fashion, at the same time pointing the reader to the God who came to save us.

    At this point, my agent is shopping a manuscript for me in the general market. I pray if it is picked up by a traditional publisher that God’s redemption will still shine through.

    • Cathy West says:

      Exactly. But I’m always sad to hear authors having to give up on being published in CBA … my agent and I also talked about going that route, but there were enough signs pointing back toward CBA that I knew where I was supposed to be. It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure. 🙂

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, GKP. Clearly the battle between good and evil is the core of every great story, and sometimes deciding how to best depict them both for the intended readership is a struggle. Best of luck with your search.

  • Cherry Odelberg says:

    Thanks Chip. This is as refreshing and informative as a keynote address at CBA – without leaving the comfort of my laptop.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Cherry. And now, while Cherry sings our special music number, I’m going to take an offering…

  • Tawn O'Connor says:

    I’m encouraged that Marilynne Robinson’s GILEAD–a beautifully-written Christian novel–won the Pulitzer for fiction in 2005. Also, I think there’s an underserved market for modern mystery novels with a Christian worldview.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      GILEAD is wonderful, Tawn. Glad you mentioned that. And again, there are a lot of great novels in the general market that have a faith element to them.

    • Amy Sorrells says:

      Lila by Robinson is even better, IMHO. 🙂

  • Robin Patchen says:

    Thanks for the information, Chip, depressing as it is. Great thoughts in the comments, too. I wonder if more Christian authors aren’t being called to the general market for reasons that have little or nothing to do with economics. It’s easy to write with and for people just like ourselves, but maybe some of us are meant to use our talents to reach the unsaved. I’ve been wrestling with this, and although my books can’t have a straightforward redemption message if I move into the general market, through interaction with fans (assuming I ever have any) I can share the hope of Christ.

    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      That’s where I’m at, Robin. I’ve been called out of the Christian market, and into the general market. There’s no doubt in my mind it’s all God. Only God could tell me that and give me this massive dose of peace about the decision while in the midst of a conference where every speaker was saying “Christians have no business being anywhere but the Christian market.”

      You won’t find Christians in my indie fiction. But what you will find is a message of hope, and pictures of sacrificial love. Biblical sacrificial love and Biblical forgiveness are huge themes in everything I write. That’s something general market romance readers don’t see much of. But I don’t do it in the typical CBA way. I do it using language the broken, hurting world can understand and connect with.

      I can also spot Christian authors in my ABA romance reading. Not a single one of them has sacrificed their worldview, they’re writing in a way that a broken world understands, speaking their language if you will.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      That’s good advice, Rachel. Thanks very much.

    • Robin Patchen says:

      I see what you mean. Many of my favorite writers are Christians writing in the ABA.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Good to hear from you, Robin. And, having read your work, I think you might very well be an author who finds herself in the general market. I’ve got a lot to say on the topic of CBA authors trying to move to the general market, Robin, and I will do that on this blog in the next few days.

    • Robin Patchen says:

      Great! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, Chip.

  • Cathy West says:

    Sobering thoughts here. What’s it going to take? That’s what I’ve been asking the past few years. Like you say, Chip, the talent and readership are there, the problem is finding that missing link. After finally landing a contract with a major CBA publisher after years (YEARS) of not ‘fitting’ anywhere, I’m one author more determined than ever to find that link. Maybe I’m a bit of a Pollyanna, but I refuse to believe Christian fiction no longer has a place in this world. In fact I’d go as far as to say it’s more important than ever. The world needs hope. Light into dark places. But I’m not talking about giving them books dripping in syrup and sanctimonious sayings. Perhaps there was a place for those years ago, maybe there still is, but I don’t think those of us who write ‘reality fiction’ as I like to call it, are going to find our readers in some of the stores you mentioned. I think it’s going to take a grass-roots effort really, a banding together of this new brand of author, (whether traditionally published or indie published), we need to come together and figure out a way to find the new CBA reader. Because I know they exist. I’ve heard from them. But they’re not willing to trust us enough yet. I know there are publishers pushing for change. But we know it all comes down to the reader, because that’s where the money is, and like it or not, this is a business. If we truly still believe in it, as I do, we’re going to have to figure out how to fix the sinking ship. How to bring those readers back that have washed their hands of CBA fiction. Right now, I’m not sure what the answers are. But I think it can be done. And I’m willing to give all I’ve got to figure out how. I don’t think it’s going to be easy. Revolutions never are. But it has to start somewhere or we just give up, and I don’t think that’s the answer either.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Just so we’re clear, I am not a pessimist on this topic, Cathy. I believe there is a readership for Christian fiction, and that today’s inspirational novelists are creating some very good books. But there is clearly an issue with the declining number of slots available through traditional CBA publishers — and that means some changes have to be made. Figuring it out is why I’m raising the topic today. Appreciate your note very much.

  • Chip, is anyone trying to capture numbers in the indie market? If they could, it would tell more of the story. Many indies do not sell print books at all and many times do not get ISBN numbers for their ebooks. Fiction is the biggest ebook seller I believe, so those numbers would be important. I find it very interesting that the huge drop in Christian fiction seemed to coincide with the wave of Christian authors who decided to go indie, either in part or completely. There are now a boatload of books that are no longer included in the Nielsen numbers (due to lack of ISBN) so those numbers are very skewed and no longer reflect what readers are buying. They only reflect what publishers are selling. There is a big difference in the two.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Agreed. There was a study done just recently by ACFW, independent bookstores, and Baker Publishing that explored sales patterns. I’m going to talk about that in a few days, Connie. But to answer your question, yes — there was a combination of declining print sales (because no trend lasts forever) just as ebooks and indie publishing emerged. All of that together has wrought huge changes for CBA fiction.

  • CathyShouse says:

    Chip, I’m interested in your perceptions of category romances like the Love Inspired lines of Harlequin. The editors there appear to be on a constant search for new writers and the line publishes four or six a month. I’ve heard the print runs are smaller on all the lines and some authors aren’t making much. Any thoughts on this? Cathy Shouse

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Love Inspired is the inspirational line at Harlequin — a company that sometimes gets poked fun of for doing shallow romances, but who has a very strong editorial department that continues to develop authors, then promote and sell books to voracious readers. Sure, their print numbers are down from the heyday of Christian fiction, but I believe their print numbers have stabilized, and I know they continue to find success in their niche. They do new contemporary romance, historical romance, and romantic suspense books every month.

  • Chip, thanks for the frank discussion. I’m one of the authors affected by Abingdon’s decision to discontinue their fiction line (although I’ve been assured they’ll release and market all the books under contract). I foresee writers for the CBA market who’ve been displaced by actions like this on the part of their publishers doing two things–indie-publish their work, and make certain their writing will appeal to the general market. Notice, I didn’t say to take all spirituality from the work…simply write it from a Christian worldview.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Sorry you got hit with this, Richard. And yes, Abingdon will release all the books they’ve contracted (though… that’s always an iffy proposition — “We don’t like this enough or sell enough copies to do any more books like this… but don’t worry, we’ll still do yours”). I love the folks at Abingdon, and have great respect for Ramona Richards, their fiction editor, who I’m sure is heartbroken over this. But I think it’s hard for any business to announce they’re getting out of a line, then still be able to support the leftover inventory. It’s just no longer a company priority.

    • Chip, you make a good point. On the other hand, I’ve discovered in my short stint in this gig that no one wants my books to sell well more than I do. I find that, like most authors, I’m doing more and more marketing, although Abingdon and Cat Hoort have done their share. My feeling is, “If you’ll publish ’em, I’ll do even more to market ’em.” No need to sit in the corner and suck my thumb. (I did that yesterday).

    • Karen says:

      Yes! I agree with Richard. I have one more book scheduled to release from Abingdon next year. I’ve loved working with Ramona and Cat, especially since they never treated me like a little fish in a big pond. I’ve always felt like a treasured part of the team. If priorities shift and I need to step up and do more of my own marketing, I’m still glad to be part of the Abingdon family.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Well… yeah. I do business with Abingdon, and have loved the team (you both mentioned Ramona, who knows her stuff and is easy to work with, and Cat Hoort, who is simply one of the best publicists in CBA). But again, they’re getting out of fiction. That means fiction isn’t going to have much meaning for them, Karen. I represent their top-selling novelist, whose most recent book is currently on the bestseller list, and they are STILL going to cancel fiction. To me, that says they’re facing some real struggles.

  • Sally Bradley says:

    Chip, thanks for the info you gave here.

    I’ve recently heard that many trad pub authors are seeing their sales numbers shrink, and I know some do believe it’s due to the indie authors. Their books are cheaper and many are well done with those unique issues or storylines the more conservative houses/bookstore readership won’t buy. If sales continue to fall for these houses and authors and if more houses close their lines, what do you see happening in the Christian fiction world? Could this market disappear into indieland? And is this same scenario going on in the general market?

    • Amy Haddock says:

      I believe it’s also an issue of price consciousness – many of these readers find their books at their local or church library or borrow from a friend rather than purchasing.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I doubt the CBA fiction market will disappear, but it’s certainly migrated and changed, Sally. And yes, the same thing has occurred in the general market, with a lot of genre fiction moving to indie. The thing I’m trying to get people to see is the tidal shift we’ve experienced — the days of taking a great Christian literary novel to several houses is gone. If I have a great literary novel in hand, there are maybe six houses that will even consider it, and those six have very few slots for literary fiction — even fewer for debut authors.

  • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

    There is a problem in readership. I’m in my early 30’s, and we’re abandoning Christian fiction in droves. It used to be all I read, and the CBD fiction catalog was a major event in my life. Now I won’t touch it with a forty-foot pole.

    I’m sick of the sameness, of the lack of reality, of the Lifeway approach creeping into all of it. And I’m not alone. Christian fiction’s core readership is starting to die, and they’ve done nothing to keep my generation engaged and interested.

    I used to write Christian fiction and I got sick of having to cram myself into a box that required me to pretend reality doesn’t exist. I crossed over in 2012, and God made it official in September, 2013, at the ACFW conference no less. Again, I’m not alone in being specifically led out of that market.

    • Sally Bradley says:

      Rachel, I hear you. I’ve been a CBA reader since the eighties, and I long for reality-driven fiction. It’s out there, but there’s not a lot of it, which is frustrating.

      I wrote the book I couldn’t find, and readers seem to be loving it. So there is a way to write the kind of Christian fiction it sounds like you want to write–and do it as a career. There are enough readers to sustain that market, but it kinda seems like they’ve learned that the indie authors are willing to take the chances that many publishers feel they can’t take. I wish it wasn’t that way because I don’t want to see trad pubs close. I hate hearing that Abingdon isn’t doing fiction any longer–their poor authors! But I agree that part of it is what you said, not giving readers like you and me the kind of fiction we’re dying for.

    • It’s not for lack of stories, right Sally? We were writing them, but as Chip says, yes, there is a huge disconnect between readers and books. That’s why many of us are publishing outside of the Christian market. It’s sad, because that’s where I got my start and I’m proud of it, but I have to make a living and I need to find my readers somewhere. Sad about Abingdon. They published some really good fiction.

    • Kara Isaac says:

      I know what you mean, Rachel. I starting writing because I couldn’t find in the CBA anything that I wanted to read. At that time there seemed to be two options – prairie bonnets or single women of a certain age desperate for a husband. Both of which made me want to stab myself with the closest utensil. I think publishers lost a lot of our generation around that time and most of us have never come back.

      However, I also think that in the last few years some publishers have taken a risk and stepped outside of the “safe” box. In particular, I think of authors like Carla Laureano, published by David C. Cook. The main characters in her latest novel, London Tides, are a hero and heroine who have a previous co-habiting sexual relationship. Can’t say I’ve ever read that in the CBA before! The problem is she then gets decimated by conservative Christian readers for her “inappropriate” content while the Christians who would love her books have long since disengaged with the CBA and no one really knows how to get them back.

      I’ve recently introduced friends of mine, both Christian and not, to some of my favourite Christian authors in the CBA. Without exception they’ve been stunned at how their assumptions about them only being safe fluffy reads haven’t been borne out. But like you say, how do we get our generation who have abandoned the CBA for some valid reasons, willing to be able to give some of the newer voices on the scene a chance?

    • Cathy West says:

      Case in point – we need to find a new niche of readers who still want redemption stories, but aren’t going to run screaming the opposite direction when the author confronts sin in a realistic way, with realistic language and situations. Actually I think what I’m talking about is a whole new genre of CBA fiction. But that’s a topic for another day, isn’t it? 🙂

    • Aimous says:

      Hear, hear. I’ll have that conversation with you. As a Christian who writes mainstream through a solid publisher, I long to both write and READ this kind of fiction.

    • rachelhauck says:

      I’ve written characters who lived together (Dive Nashvegas in ’07) and who’ve had previous sexual relationships in other books. I’ve dealt with sexual temptation in Sweet Caroline and Love Starts with Elle.

      In Softly and Tenderly I dealt with teen sexuality and abortion.

      I dealt with racism and sexuality in The Wedding Dress.

      In some books it just doesn’t fit to go to those place but i think there are a lot of people writing really great, true life books in CBA. I guess we don’t want to be “boxed” in on the other side where we have to always be gritty and “real life.” Or dealing with dark issues.

      Real life is also sweet and fun and tender. And innocent.

      All that to say! 🙂 Amish is an example of what the main stream CBA reader loves. It continues to hit bestseller list and sell from the shelves. Publishing and selling books is a business at the end of it all and those in that business have to meet the bottom line.

      In some way, people want to escape the reality and darkness of every day life. They want the fantasy of a sweet, simple tho sometimes complicated but entertaining life/read.

      I can understand that…

      I think we all have to write where the Lord calls us. It’s not a question of whether there will be a God element to my stories. There will be. But hopefully in a realistic, dynamic way.

      I know others feel called to write in a different way and I respect that… We need all voices.

      I don’t think CBA fiction is the problem. I think finding outlets to sell it is a problem. The “gatekeepers” are trying to maintain their own convictions and standards.

      Alas, the core issue of the Church. We’re unified at the Cross but diverse in so many other aspects of the Christian life.

      But above all, keep writing!! Let God see to the rest!


    • MarcieBridges says:

      That’s my problem. You can’t find hardly anything else BUT Amish fiction! I about can’t stand to look at the bookshelves because it is mostly historical or Amish fiction. I want action…mystery/suspense, more thrillers and more Frank Peretti type stuff. I’m not a romance reader at all.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      I wonder if a well respected agent or editor created a book review website that charged a fee to trade or indie authors in return for appropriately categorizing authors who don’t fit easily into the CBA because their work is too edgy or don’t fit neatly into the CBA because their world view is in keeping with Biblical values. I think it would be a hit. I would definitely pay to have my book read and categorized given that we all know our main problem is discoverability! j Nell brown

    • Rachel Evelyn Nichols says:

      I guess my escapism is speculative fiction.
      I think I will blog about why I personally prefer fantasy or science fiction to romance novels. We need another George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, or J.R.R. Tolkien. People complain about J.K. Rowlings’s witchcraft and Philip Pullman’s militant atheism, but offer few good alternatives. The sad thing is, Pullman really can write. Too bad his message stinks!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Kara, I really appreciate you coming onto the site to say something. And I love Carla Laureano’s books — though we should note that her publisher currently has no idea what they’re doing with fiction and is not adding any more fiction to their list. That’s the sort of discouraging sign I’m seeing. (And for those who don’t know, Kara Isaac is a wonderful writer who has signed to do a series of books with Howard, a division of Simon & Schuster. And I happen to have read the first one, and think she is a fantastic writer!)

      And Rachel, I appreciate you bringing up the point that there is already a bunch of realistic fiction in CBA — something too many people miss. We’ve seen a lot of good fiction created — some is aimed at those who want to dig into the realities of the day, and some is created for those who simply want a clean escape from the real world. (And for those who don’t know, this is bestselling novelist Rachel Hauck, who publishes with Thomas Nelson.) Really nice to see you in the discussion!

    • rachelhauck says:

      🙂 I wrote on this same topic on My Book Therapy today. Great minds and all that… 🙂

    • Angela Joseph says:

      I think the answer is to self publish. If the book is well written, and the content is appealing, readers will buy the book. The thing that bothers me most about Christian publishing is how do we hope to impact the world when what we write does not reflect the world we live in.

    • Rachel, I agree with Sally. There is a whole group of indie Christian fiction authors who are writing outside the box. They are not sold in the stores. (You can find them on Amazon for a good price and often free) They are often not reported in the BookScan numbers because many do not have ISBN numbers. So the industry is not reporting on how popular they really are (check out the Amazon Christian bestseller lists). But they are finding a readership who loves them. I resisted reading indie because it had a reputation of being lesser work with lots of typos. But now I read nearly ALL indie Christian fiction because the breadth of story means I’m not reading the same story again and again.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      The industry is not reporting on how popular they are? Um… I have to disagree with you on that point, Connie. There are all sorts of sources reporting on indie sales. The problem is that without ISBN numbers or any similar tracking system, there’s no way to attach hard numbers to those sales. And does a giveaway of a book amount to a “sale”? Those questions (and the accompanying questions for authors about earnings) are what authors and agents are grappling with.

    • Chip, yes they are grappling with this and have only recently seemed to relent that the Bookscan numbers are skewed (particularly against indie ebooks). I guess I just get frustrated when I see reports that make sweeping statements based on those numbers alone, when there is a larger story to be told that seems to get swept under the rug as if it doesn’t exist (I’m not referring to this article, but others I’ve seen). I only mentioned the free books to Rachel to suggest she try some. To me they are a marketing instrument, not a sale. How that impacts their ranking, of course, only Amazon knows.

    • Cherry Odelberg says:

      Well said. I agree.

    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      I’m well aware that the indie Christian market is starting to take off. But I’m still not interested in exploring it. For one big reason: What I truly want and crave doesn’t exist in Christian fiction. I saw hints of it starting to show up about five years ago. Then it all disappeared again and I gave up.

      What is that? Romance told from mostly from his POV, and heroes who are broken and wounded but never give up. I’ve found a general market romance sub-genre–paranormal–where what I crave is in almost every book I pick up.

      It’s also what I’ve started writing. I’m a natural fit in paranormal, and it allows me to indulge every single interest I have while building fascinating worlds.

      I don’t want a sweet little escapist read. I’ve never wanted those. Even when I was a teenager and reading my mom’s books, the sweet bonnet reads were the ones I wouldn’t touch. Now that I’ve been through my own personal crucible, experienced an abusive marriage, been through a divorce, and learned to thrive again, I still want nothing to do with Christian fiction. It wasn’t Christian romance that restored my faith in God’s goodness and the beauty of romance. It was paranormal romance, specifically Gena Showalter and Sherrilyn Kenyon, and reading about characters who’d been through what I’ve been through–and worse–and found love again.

      So that’s where I am. As a reader, it’s probably too late to get me back into Christian fiction. I’m not going to leave the place where I’ve found exactly what I want in almost every book I pick up, to explore something where I’ll still have a hard time finding what I want.

      I see a lot of Christian authors saying they feel like they’re called to write Christian fiction for people like me. But how are you going to find them and convince them to take a chance on you, when you’re writing the one thing they’re sick to death of and purposely ignore?

    • Iola Goulton says:

      Have you read Dee Henderson (her new ones) or Ronnie Kendig? They’ve got a lot of male POV (but no werewolves).

    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      I don’t care for Dee Henderson, her writing style gets on my nerves. And while I used to read Ronie, it doesn’t hold my attention anymore. I’ve had one sitting on my desk for over a year and have no desire to crack it open.

    • Iola Goulton says:

      I read 150+ Christian novels a year by a range of authors, and they are the only two I can think of who are even close to what you’re looking for. And you’ve passed on both (not that I blame you. I have similar views). It proves your point, doesn’t it?

    • chipmacgregor says:

      You know, Rachel, I’m not sure I agree with your first point. While I do agree that there’s too much sameness, I don’t feel as though readers are abandoning Christian fiction. There is market research (which I’ll cover in my next post) that suggests readers still want faith-filled fiction. I’ve long thought the problem was on the marketing and sales side (but I’m willing to listen to other reasoning). As for your move from CBA to the general market, I applaud you, and have encouraged several other writers to do the same. Appreciate you coming on to the blog to share your story.

    • Erin Bartels says:

      Chip, it seems to me that one of the things we hear from sales is that all of our fiction, even if it has zero overt faith content, must have a religious fiction BISAC. Do you think that pigeonholes it unnecessarily? It has always seemed that way to a number of us in marketing (and there;s a lot of frustration there) but it is always presented to us as, “Our hands are tied.”

    • I write Christian Fiction as an indie author and the reivews I get praising me for realistic characters, real-life settings, and real faith elements come constantly. Readers are hungry for characters and situations in which they can relate.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      You’re very right, Hallee. My favorite CBA traditionally published author is Francine Rivers. Even when you’re a Christian who follows the Bible, some of the CBA covers are enough to make a reader turn away much less the well packaged, perfect little story. I don’t believe publishers intend or realize this. Now, I look for authors like Hallee because I realize she’s not writing from a point of exclusion. Even Christians are dealing with pain, and personally I don’t want to escape anymore than I’d want to commit suicide. I’d like some help to cope and navigate my reality. If we look at Jesus’ method of storytelling. He met the physical need, told an allegory, and then declared the clear spiritual message to those who would understand, his disciples. J Nell Brown

    • Jeanelle Brown says:


      Maybe being “forced” to be mixed with mainstream fiction better fulfills our call to be in the world, but not of the world. The power of Jesus’ version of the gospel was because the Holy Spirit flowed through Him. Personally, I’m not interested in “cross over” fiction for the sake of crossing over. I ‘d like the power of God’s spirit to rest upon the words, themes, and story lines of my books. That’s where the transformation will occur for readers. J Nell Brown

    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      I don’t write so-called “cross over” fiction. I won’t even read it. I write straight-up general market romance that just happens to be from a Christian worldview. There’s no purposeful intent to reach unbelievers, or anyone else for that matter. I write the story, and what God does with it is up to Him. My only goal is to tell the best story I’m capable of. It should be every author’s goal.

      I don’t even read authors who started publishing in the Christian market and crossed over. Because I’ve been burned one too many times with a lackluster story trying to hammer an agenda into me. I have no patience for that sort of thing. And neither does the general market reader. They want a rip-roaring good read they can’t put down. Going into it with any kind of agenda, no matter how subtle you think it is, will get you set on fire. I’ve watched it happen to one of my favorite paranormal authors whose fans are beyond ticked off at her for trying to put too much religion into her books.

      I wasn’t “forced” out either. I’ve been specifically and purposely led OUT of the Christian culture bubble. I want nothing to do with it on any front. I don’t even listen to Christian music anymore. American Christian culture bears very little resemblance to Biblical Christianity. The Holy Spirit reaches unbelievers in spite of Christian culture, not because of it.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:


      Thanks for your response, but my initial thoughts don’t pertain to you as a writer at all but to me as a writer. I love fiction from all categories (there are some categories I will not read from), and I’ve read my fair share of agenda driven fiction on a variety of topics in mainstream fiction. If one goes to Amazon and takes a peek at the best sellers, each title has an “agenda”. Every movie we watch has a big agenda. It’s just so subtle that most don’t realize what they’re being led to believe.

      In my opinion, I doubt any book is written without an underlying agenda–that’s the theme of the book even if my agenda is not to “preach” that’s still an agenda that will affect my storytelling.

      Thankfully there are many readers and writers and what is considered a great story by some will be viewed as a poor story by others. Most importantly, we still live in a country where we can choose, and I’d hate to see that go; thus, I believe the CBA is important, and being “forced” onto shelves besides ABA titles may be a good thing. Why do we have to take off our faith to interact with others in literature?

      In my main career, people who read the trashiest novels but won’t support mine know who to ask for when they need prayer. Writers shouldn’t be encouraged to abandon their Biblical values, just as I should not be made to abandon my values while practicing medicine. That hypothesis is scary in more ways than one. These thoughts steer my journey of writing. Thanks for sharing what thoughts steers your journey!


      J Nell Brown

    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      Valid point about agendas. The books where the agenda is obvious are the ones that make me mad. Subtlety is the key. I stray out of Romancelandia maybe one or two books a year, so obvious agendas aren’t something I encounter very much as a reader. As an author, I go into every novel I write with one goal: to illustrate a Biblical approach to sacrificial love, without being “Christian” about it. So I guess that’s my agenda.

      I don’t want to see CBA fiction disappear either. It does have a place in the world. What I want to see it do is actually reach the world, and engage with it in terms the world can understand. Yes, we’re called to be in the world and not of it, yet we also have Paul as our example who became all things to all men that in so doing he might save some. We haven’t truly engaged the world under Paul’s example in many many decades now.

      For me, getting into the world meant getting out of the Christian culture bubble. For someone else, it may look totally different.

      I have certain things I won’t read either. Don’t need it in my brain or spirit. One of the things I’m enjoying most about the paranormal romance circles is the general lack of judgment on what an author wants to tackle. It’s been so refreshing to know that I can follow the story and not have to think about if I’m willing to deal with the hate mail.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:


      I’d love to stay in touch. I think we have similar streams of thought in regards to writing. This is a hard calling, and I like linking up with other authors that I can encourage and vice versa. Do you have a Facebook account? I don’t “follow” my private account, but I do instant message. Blessings to you!


    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      Just sent you a friend request.

    • Jeanelle Brown says:

      Hi Rachel, Just sent you a Facebook message. Thanks for replying. J Nell

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