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!