Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why I'm Not the Target Audience for Christian Fiction

I feel like this post is going all over the place. You would be appalled to get inside of my brain sometimes.

If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time over a month, then you know that I like reading Christian fiction. I know that many of you don't and you probably never will, but that's ok with me. I don't like reading science fiction or erotica and I never will so I can perfectly understand your sentiments.

Lately, I've been feeling rather ignored by the Christian Fiction community. Please note before I start this, I'm not begging for books to review. I have more than enough, believe me. I just feel like I'm being ignored by Christian authors and publishers that are heavily involved in the CBA/ECPA publishing industry. I mentioned this in my blogging goals earlier this month that I feel like even though I read and review a lot of Christian fiction, I also read and review a lot of general market fiction and I wonder if that is part of the turn off.

However that this is just pretty much that I am not the target reader for Christian fiction. I feel that the targeted reader for Christian fiction is a middle age, middle class Conservative white woman, who lives in the South to midwest, is Evangelical, who has several kids, tends to either be a stay at home mom and is usually pretty softspoken about her beliefs. While there is nothing wrong with this type of person, it just isn't me. At all.

This is me:

1) I'm Asian-American
2) I live in a big city that is not Nashville or in the midwest
3) I'm in my mid-late 20s.
4) I read general market fiction A LOT
5) I curse. (well not all the time, but it slips out quite a bit)
6) I have my master's degree and I plan on working full time after having kids
7) I'm married but I don't want kids for a few more years.

Amy has done a wonderful post on
What Can Be Done about Christian Fiction and includes her views on the two different types of readers of Christian fiction.

It's very interesting me how many people who are Christians and who are readers don't read Christian fiction. I know that there are a lot of book bloggers who are like this but there are also many people I've met in my church who don't read them either. Except for Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, many people had never even heard of any Christian fiction authors. The people I talked to, while reading a lot of Christian non fiction, had never even thought about reading Christian fiction. I'm not sure what this says about the marketing of Christian fiction.

I've gone back and look at books where I wrote glowing reviews on them because I applauded them for showing realistic characters who live in situation almost exactly like mine. I said in my reviews that I felt that I could give these books to those who don't normally read Christian fiction and feel confident that they wouldn't find these books to be preachy or condemning and that the writing was spectacular and extremely well written. I felt that these authors were more concerned about writing their story well than trying to insert any messages.

Well, I went on Amazon a few months later to see what other people thought about these books, and well not to my surprise, MANY people didn't agree with me. However, they didn't agree with me on the issue of writing style or literary content. No, they were angry because they didn't think the book was "Christian" enough. They were mad at the publisher for allowing the characters to do these things and that the publisher should be ashamed for allowing a book like that be published by them. Apparently teens and young adults in their 20s, Christian or not, shouldn't be drinking, smoking, cursing, or even thinking about the opposite sex. They don't want to see characters in a book go through messy things in life without a happy ending it seems.

I experienced something quite personal year involving a family member who faced substance abuse addiction. I asked on twitter if there there were any Christian fiction books that dealt with this subject. Sadly between several of us, we could only come up with less than 5 books. One of them, I highly recommend is Crystal Lies by Melody Carlson. Aside from these, that's it. Apparently it's a subject that no one wants to breach because it's messy. Do Christians not want to deal with how it is for a person who's watching a family member struggle with addiction? It saddened me that I could not find anything to relate about what I was going through in the Christian fiction circle.

On the other side of the spectrum, there have been books that annoyed me to no end because they were too safe, too perfect, too tidy ending. And I either stopped reading the book before I finished or if I did finish it and wrote a review, the review was pretty negative because I felt the book was too unrealistic and that no one's life ever turned out like this. Like I pretty much hate conversion scenes tucked neatly at the end of a book. I also hate how in a lot of Christian romantic suspense, the man and woman will fall in love after less than a week of meeting each other for the first time and then get married in the epilogue which takes place just a few months later. I also dislike books where I feel like I'm constantly getting preached at left and right to the point where there are actual sermons written in the text spoken by the pastor of the church that are coincidentally exactly what the main character needs to hear. Yet I find myself being the one dissident in a whole mass of reviewers who LOVE this type of book and declare that this is what all Christian fiction should be like.

So regarding Amy's post, it frustrates me to no end, to see bloggers who clearly fall in Camp 1 continue to receive books from authors and publishers who seemed like they were writing for Camp 2, and see those bloggers/readers blast the book for not fitting their needs. Where as me, who is about 80% Camp 2/20% Camp 1, and probably would have loved the book because it was written for someone like me, get shunned because publisher/author is trying to market to 1 because they have the power of influence when it comes to sales. Therefore since 1 didn't like it, sales will be low and books like that will no longer be written. It's an extremely frustrating cycle.

Publishers say that there is no interest in the books, but they don't offer the books so how will they know? One example is cozy mysteries. Cozy mysteries are HUGE in general market fiction. I just discovered them last year and I am completely addicted to them. I found a few back list titles of Christian cozy mysteries and was looking for me and then found out that most publishers will no longer accept any more submissions of manuscripts for these books because they don't sell well in Christian market. Which baffles me because even most general market
cozies are "clean" so maybe Christian readers are just reading those instead?

What do I want to read in Christian fiction? To start off with, I really don't like that label to begin with, but I have a feeling that it's going to get used no matter what so I will just have to get used to it. I want books that are realistic. I'm not saying they have to be edgy. I just want a book that I can relate to. I understand the multiculturalism issue. I am a rarity in terms of Christian fiction readership. But if I'm going to read about a 20-something year old, I don't want to see her acting like she's in her 40's and up, simply because the author is that age. I want to read about women my age who went to college and don't want to have kids yet because they want to pursue a career and don't feel guilty about it. I want to read about what I'm going through right now and really, I just can't find it and it's frustrating.

I had more to write but my husband broke his leg last night and is going into surgery around the time this is being posted so I am pretty much at a loss for words and just trying to tie things up on this post. Perhaps there will be a part 2 in the future.

My other thoughts on Christian fiction that I've written on my blog throughout the years:

Cliches in Christian Fiction
"Edgy" Topics in Christian Fiction
Should Christian Fiction be Labeled?
How I Review Christian Fiction
Lending Christian Fiction Books
Recommending Christian Fiction Books to Non CF Readers
Diversity (or Lack of) in Christian Fiction
Still More Lack of Diversity in Christian Fiction

Quoting Amy:
We would love to open up this conversation to more of you. We think that a lot of people have feelings on this issue and would like to express them. We also think that a lot of you might have ideas. We just really believe in keeping the conversation going! So we will be having a Twitter chat on Monday at 1 PM EST/10 AM PST to discuss what can be done about Christian fiction, how people feel about it currently, and share ideas for serving both camps. Please join us on Twitter and use the hashtag #CFChat. (We considered #WhatupCF but thought it might be too irreverent :) Publishers, authors, readers, librarians -- all are welcome. Please please join us!


  1. Really interesting post. I used to read a bit of christian fiction when I was in muy early teens,but haven't for ages. Is there anuything you'd particularly recommend?

  2. Do you ever review urban Christian fiction? As a whole, I've seen grittier story lines and more realistic characters in that genre. I am a bit peculiar b/c I want high romance in my gritty stories and urban Christian fiction is more women's fiction than romance.

    As a bi-racial, left leanin', inner city school teacher, I often don't think I'm the target audience for CF either.

    But I must have a split personality, because though I luuuv edgy CF, there is something I really enjoy about books in Camp 1 too. They're kind of like comfort food.

    Kudos you, Amy, and Hannah talking about this issue. I hope it leads to more choices in Christian fiction.

  3. I can't respond to the weight of your post in a comment. Sometimes I have trouble discerning what's a cozy and what isn't; my definition seems different than some other people's.

    I understand about the jumble in your head when it comes to this topic, though; I feel that way too. I can approach it from so many different angles, it's something I've been thinking about for so very long.

    Hope your husband's surgery goes smoothly and he heals quickly.

  4. Deborah this is a fantastic and well put post. I am a reader of Christian Fiction, although I noticed as I made my 2010 wrap of of what I had read this last year, I believe I read more in 2009 than I did in 2010.


    For many of the reasons you put here. I got tired of the perfect women in long dresses who are 18 - 25 but act like they are 50.

    I think in 2010 rather than take a chance of some of these books,I found other books to read. I also read a lot of regular fiction - I avoid erotica, gore, and largely sexual reads. Yet I like my characters real... flawed...
    these... are my people.

    Thank goodness for bloggers who are good at flushing out there real books that are labeled Christian fiction yet have something I can relate to.

    Part of the reason I wanted to be in the Faith N Fiction Round Table this year is that I want to get back into reading more Christian related books and I believe that doing the mix of books we have chosen with this group is going to give me a deeper experience than I would have had if I had read them on my own. I am hopeful that reading these books will bring me back into actively searching out these books for myself as I used to do.

  5. First of all, I am sorry for your husband and I hope he's all right by now, and that you are, too. Second, I completely understand and sympathize with your frustration and I think the first step is voicing that frustration. I love how you and Amy are starting a conversation in that way -- and I agree with you: why aren't more christians reading christian fiction. Excellent question, complicated answers that mostly lead back (to me) to the publishers and what they are choosing as "appropriate" christian fiction based on their current fan base...

    Anyway, wonderful thoughtful post :)

  6. Like many of the other comments on here, I agree with your thoughts. I read Christian fiction, but often get frustrated with the "perfect" storylines and characters. I like the "messier" stories as they are more realistic!

  7. I can echo many of your sentiments, even though, looking from the outside, I am the target audience for Christian fiction. I don't read very much of it anymore, and it's for a lot of the reasons you've mentioned. It's the same problem I've had with finding authentic relationships at church, where everyone seems to go around pretending that because they are Christians, their lives are perfect, they don't struggle with sin, and when bad things do happen, they face them with "Joy" and never express their doubts or despair. That seems to have bled over into Christian fiction, which is why I am so excited when I find an author, Christian market or not, who deals with faith in a real way, with people as actual human beings and not cookie-cutter carbon copies. Hmmm, maybe I need to write my own post! LOL

  8. I read your description of the target audience with amusement. I am that woman! Yet I prefer "edgier", "grittier" novels. I will review just about any Christian fiction and that is what I read predominately. But I am pretty particular about any fiction I read. It should be clean and line up with my commitment not to read smut, but it also has to be realistic. I reviewed Indivisible yesterday and was curious as to the reviews on Amazon -- wow, what an eye opener. It is definitely in camp 2, but should be a great debate starter and thought provoker about what is "Christian" fiction.

  9. oh and by the way, 50 is the new 20 :)

  10. Very complicated subject. Why do we have "Christian" fiction in the first place? Christians, mostly evangelical Christian who sort of fit the template you described in your post, wanted books that were "safe" and included Christian characters and themes like themselves. Secular publishers were rejecting books that had those sorts of characters unless they were making fun of religion. So Christian fiction aimed at the demographic of Christians who read the most: middle-aged housewives.

    I fit your description of those who are the target audience of Christian fiction, but I don't read much of it. Mostly I find the books in that genre that I do read are trite and poorly researched and written, even the ones that people rave about as being "edgy" and "deep." On the other hand I get tired of unrealistic books from secular publishers, especially YA, in which the characters act like the sinners we all are with little or no consequences to their actions.

    OK, you're right. My brain is also full of chaotic thoughts about this subject that won't all fit in your comments section. I guess, like Carrie, I need to write a post.

  11. Anonymous10:13 PM

    I don't get it, why do you read Christian if you have such a problem with it?

  12. Anon--I think Deborah, like myself and Hannah love the idea of Christian fiction and long to see it grow. We're not just ranting aimlessly here...we're asking questions because of our love for it. We have no problem with Camp 1 books existing, we just want everyone to know there's room Camp 2

  13. Deb ~ you know a lot of my thoughts on this subject. I fit the age demographic but as an Aussie have wondered for years about this need for many CF books to have gorgeous, wealthy characters whose lives are tied up with a nice bow at the end of the story.

    Like Joy, I have nothing against a great romance with a happy ending but I don't want that to be all I read. Reading is both relaxing and challenging for me so I look for a mixture of genres and writing styles. As you know I only review CF on my blog ~ I don't have time to include general market or non-fiction books.

    That said, my biggest frustrations are the generalised comments that are made by both sides in this discussion and a seeming unwillingness to see the other pov.

    There are some amazing Christian writers out there including gritty storylines, emotional and flawed characters with excellent writing that struggle to be read. For my part, I lead a book club and constantly introduce my members to books they would not normally read. For the most part, they have been pleasantly surprised or actively challenged. They are the people I can reach and encourage to read more widely on both sides of the fence. Shame there needs to be a fence!

  14. Well, you probably don't want to hear from me on this, as I write those "safe" romance novels---though I promise I will NEVER write a conversion scene or write out a sermon in my books!

    To address a few of your issues with the people who are writing "Christian" fiction, this is me:
    1) I'm white
    2) I live in Nashville, which is a progressive, somewhat left-leaning city despite the presence of country music and Lifeway.
    3) I'll be 40 in May.
    4) If I ever get a chance to read, I tend to read general market fiction.
    5) I curse much more than I should.
    6) I have my master's degree. I worked full-time from 1992 through 2008 (including the six years it took to finish my B.A. and M.A.). I now work between 50-60 hours a week as a freelance editor and author.
    7) I'm unmarried---not by choice, but because no one wants me.
    8) I'm a Democrat who's been told that there's no way I could possibly be a Christian because I'm not a Republican.
    9) I have certain social/political beliefs and stances that would probably get me drummed out of publishing in the CBA if I ever expressed them publicly.

    That said . . . I like writing clean books. I like writing fluffy romances. I would just love to be able to do it without forcing the "Christian" aspect on the story. That's a struggle for me. When I write a proposal for a new book, I usually have to go back once the synopsis is finished and figure out how to add the "Christian" content to the book. I hate doing that. But as this is my career, and there are no general market publishers out there publishing "clean" (i.e., sweet) romances anymore---at least not those that will pay me what I get from the Christian publishers I write for---I make myself add that content, even when it may not necessarily add anything to the story.

    Yes, I'm a sell-out. There are so many things I'd love to include in my books that would get them soundly rejected and get me ripped up one side and down the other by reviewers from Camp A---who are a much more vocal lot than Camp B. Things that are real and messy (like my hero of my current project NOT reconciling with his parents who've never treated him well---which the content editor didn't like at all!); things which just don't fly in the face of having to pander to the most vocal critics of "Christian" fiction.

    Will the rise of e-publishing change this? Who knows. Maybe. But right now, for those of use who have to try to make a living doing this, we write for Camp A, because we have to.

  15. I enjoy reading Christian fiction. I agree it is difficult to find Christian fiction that isn't all fluffy perfect or preachy. I want realistic Christian fiction to put on my shelves at school. I don't push it on the kids as being Christian. These books fall under "realistic fiction", "fantasy", etc. They don't want and most won't read something that is preachy. They want books that they can relate to. These teens often deal with drugs, teen pregnancy, etc. They need books that take a realistic look at the lives they live. Instead we get the preppy, white girl that has everything going for her until she meets Mr. Right who has strayed. Then it all works out okay. They say it is unbelievable. It is often the same with adult Christian Fiction. I am middle aged, white and have not had a perfect Christian life even though I grew up in a Christian home. We lose the opportunity to witness by painting Christians as perfect. This post reminded me of talking with my mother during a major crisis in my life and telling her I was going to go for counseling and thought I needed medical help because I was depressed and had suicidal thoughts. Her exact words to me were, "Christians don't get depressed or think about suicide." How wrong to paint a picture to the world of Christians in this way. Things need to change and there needs to be better promotion of Christian fiction.

  16. Wow, what a post! The comments so far are great too!

    I think your issues with the Christian Fiction market as a reader and blogger are the same issues many writers face. I know I did.
    When I wrote 'Salvaged' it obviously had a Christian world view but I was told it wasn't Christian enough for CBA. Too controversial. Then, the mainstream publishing world said it was "too Christian". So, I couldn't find anyone that would publish it. I finally went with a small indie publisher that was willing to walk the middle line.
    I mostly read non-Christian fiction. I'm in a book club and we read a range of books. I've read books that took place in the middle east and the characters were Muslim. I've read books where the characters were Buddhist or many other religions. I find it strange and a bit of a double standard that if any other religion is mentioned in a book it can still be considered main stream but as soon as a character is a Christian and lives that way, publishers want to label it Christian and then believe it should have to follow the CBA guidelines, which in my estimation are out of touch with reality.
    This situation leaves writers like me in a mess. Write what you believe both spiritually AND realistically and you can't get published in the main stream world. Write what the CBA wants and people are upset and write negative reviews because it isn't real world enough. OR, write more real world and be refused publication by the CBA publishers.
    I've found it interesting that for 'Salvaged' it found acceptance by the mainstream YA blogging world. Not everyone that read it liked it. I got a few negative reviews that revolved around it being too preachy but the majority of the reviewers loved it. The few "establishment" type Christian groups blasted it for being too controversial. So, I wrote a Christian book that has been received better from the "secular" world of reviews rather than the "Christian" one. This leaves books like mine sitting in limbo and it's very difficult to find an audience.
    Just by mentioning Christian principles at all, you run the risk of some thinking you went too far and got preachy or others saying you didn't go far enough or even others that say what you wrote was theologically incorrect. It's insane! Can't win for losing.
    I finally had to come to a place where I realize I can't please everyone. I can only write the story I want to write and leave it at that.
    I started getting the "Christian fiction" question so often about my current book and future books, that I wrote a blog post about it so I could try to explain where I sit. Check it out. I think we have some common ground.
    I so wish I could take part in the twitter chat tomorrow night. My son has a basketball game. Will there be transcripts available after?
    Thank you for talking about this topic! It's an important one and I for one encourage more and more discussion about this "genre".

  17. Odd, I've reviewed a number of Christian books dealing with substance abuse, though at the moment I can only think of two authors.

    In "The Shadowed Mind" and "Deadly Disclosures" by Julie Cave, the main character is an alcoholic (with realistic consequences) and is dealing with a messed up life. "The Shadowed Mind" does have two conversions (though not pat, added on ones nor does the conversion automatically make everything better). Julie Cave's books also take place in a big city.

    "Thicker than Blood" by C. J. Darlington deals with alcoholism and abusive relationships.

    I can't think of a book where the main character deals with drug abuse (in the sense of cocaine, etc.), but "Gun Lake" by Travis Thrasher has a mom worried sick by her son dabbling with drugs. It also has characters with a messed-up life.

    There's a lot of realistic Christian fiction, in my long as you're not looking for it in the romance genre. Have you tried asking the publishers to send you specific titles--those books you think are good matches for you? In my experience, they'd be happy to send them to you.

  18. I've been trying to formulate my thoughts for this post ever since it appeared in my Google Reader...and I'm still not sure whether or not anything I say is going to accurately convey the tangled "mess" that's been stewing around in my mind. ;)
    I've been reading adult Christian fiction since I was about 12. I am BLOWN AWAY by how much the content and quality and scope of CBA labeled fiction has changed in the last 17-18 years. I started blogging 7-8 years ago (I think...can't remember the exact year!) as a way to share my thoughts about books with my friends, and to hopefully in some small way try to change the perception of Christian fiction that I was encountering then (i.e., that it was sappy, or poorly written, or too preachy, etc.). Now, I can still point to books that in my opinion fit those descriptors, but there's so much that's good and pushes the envelope and shoves me out of my comfort zone that I am still very hopeful and generally pleased about the state of what's available.
    That said, there’s a lot that frustrates me – like the prevalence of Amish/bonnet fiction. I have to wonder when the snowball that is that trend is going to finally succeed in oversaturating the market. But that said, I do recognize that my personal preference AGAINST that type of fiction (because every time I’ve tried to dabble in that “genre” I’ve found it to be formulaic and preachy) is greatly outweighed by the demands of the market. And while I may wish for more books along the lines of She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell (just one example IMO), many of the books I can’t stand sell like CRAZY. And maybe, and this is just speculation on my part, the fact that they sell so well bring in enough revenue for publishers to take a chance on “edgier,” more envelope-pushing books that aren’t going to – YET – chalk up those kind of bonnet fiction sales numbers. So while the Camp A "safe" camp is dictating the direction of the market right now, I'll still do my best to find the jewels in the more Camp B challenging/"dangerous"/edgy group and shouting their merits to any and all who will listen. :)

    I may add more later…gotta run right now. But I do hope that you and Amy post follow ups after the Twitter discussion today.

  19. I think I'm gonna go buy a Kaye Dacus book. :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I'm rooting for the day you get to leave the hero's parental discord in the book.


Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving your thoughts. Comments on posts that are older than 14 days are moderated so don't worry if your comment doesn't show up automatically.