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The New Demographic: Christians Who Don’t Like Christian Fiction

My website traffic has tripled in one year. Barring personal or worldwide Armageddon, this month alone, 10,000 Unique Visitors will view deCOMPOSE, all the while inching my way toward a quarter million visitors since Oct. 2005. Humbling, scary, and a bit mystifying.

Apparently, this experiment is working.

But what is working? Some may attribute this growth to tenure, “You’ve just stuck with it.” Others will attribute it to having a great agent or having a book out. Still others will suggest a bump from social networking. And I admit, all those things are probably in the mix.

However, I’d like to think I’m mining a “new demographic.” Okay, maybe they’re not new. They’ve just gone unrecognized for so long.

“Faith” and “Composition” are two of my favorite subjects to blog about, especially when they’re conjoined. Which is why I ramble on about Christian fiction and related subject matter. It’s lost me some readers. But I wonder if it hasn’t gained me a few as well. As much as some dislike my critique of the industry, there appears to be legitimate interest in wrestling with issues that relate to Christian fiction.  This is the “new demographic” I’m referring to.

There seems to be a lot more readers who like stories with “faith” elements than CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) publishers are currently reaching.

Many Christian readers just don’t seem to like most Christian fiction — at least, what is currently being published as “Christian fiction.” I talk to them all the time. This doesn’t mean they don’t like faith-driven stories and desire a Christian worldview therein, they just don’t like the type of faith that drives most Christian fiction stories. Or the types of stories marketed as “faith-driven.” Or the quality of writing, the limitation of subject matter, the genre tilt, the… whatever. Either way, the CBA seems to target a small demographic of Christian readers.

Perhaps this is simply a lesson about finding your audience. I don’t know. But not a few of those readers appear to frequent this site. I’m just wondering when Christian publishers will recognize this new demographic?

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{ 132 comments… add one }
  • Carradee April 18, 2011, 7:16 AM

    (I’m another gal who started out as a CBA reader but discovered secular titles that were more enjoyable and have trouble going back.)

    I’m with others who read a ton. Most of that is secular, granted, but every so often I’ll go on a CBA binge. Maybe it’s just the type of books I like to read, but it takes a lot more work for me to find a CBA book that I can sit back and enjoy than it does a ABA book.

    It saddens me. I want to enjoy CBA and to support my siblings in Christ monetarily. But I can’t. I frequently end up discouraging my friends from reading particular Christian authors with detailed critiques for why, because I know they’ll share my opinion. I don’t even like being a difficult customer.

    I’ve found a few authors that overall do decent jobs. But when I read CBA, I don’t just want to read the “same ol'” authors, nor the “same ol'” type of story. (Amish romances, I’m looking at you, here. They were interesting years back when I didn’t know anything about the Amish. Now, I just sigh to see ’em.) I like discovering new authors.

    I don’t write to please the CBA or ABA mould. My goal is to write stories with a realistic character base, usually on a level that’s appropriate for preteens, even when some parents might not want their child exposed to some of the background events. I even post content advisories on my site.

    Hey, I’m a huge spec fic fan. I’m not a fan of the blaspheming that tends to be in it. (One prominent urban fantasy ABA author never blasphemes and skillfully manages to even make her foul-mouthed characters swear very rarely on the page while leaving the reader well aware of what he usually says, which makes me an incredibly pleased fan.)

    There are a lot of Christian author recommendations in this thread that I’ll have to check out. Maybe I’ll find some siblings in Christ to support.

    Note: Generally, the issues I have with a CBA novel just make me avoid the author in the future and wish the writer would find a (better?) critique group. There is 1 ABA author right now who I’m tempted to write a frustrated e-mail about the utter offensive idiocy of the narrator of one of her book series. So yes, I’m an equal-opportunity critic.

    • Johne Cook April 18, 2011, 7:20 AM

      Sounds like you’re reading my mail.

      I’ve been trying to introduce science fiction to Christians, and a Christian worldview to science fiction. This is, as you may guess, a mostly thankless undertaking. 😉

      • Tim George April 18, 2011, 7:30 AM

        So have I. Which is why I applaud good Sci-fi with a Christian worldview. Stuart Stockton, Kerry Nietz and a number of others are doing a great job over at Marcher Lord Press. And just so no one around here things I’m a CBA shill, I thought Robin Parish’s Offworld was horrible. My FictionAddict colleague, Josh Olds gave it 5 stars. Go figure 😀

      • Patrick Todoroff April 18, 2011, 7:55 AM

        Same here. Except I haven’t read any of the MLP offerings. Are they worth looking into?

        • Rebecca LuElla Miller April 18, 2011, 9:40 AM

          Patrick, Stuart’s book is one of the most original I’ve read, but I’m not typically a sci fi reader, so I’m not the best judge.

          His characters aren’t human. They are dinosaurs. But he makes them come to life so beautifully and navigates the issues you’d think would cause the concept to fall apart (varying sizes, for example), and builds such a rich world. It was a thoroughly engaging read, but one for speculative readers. I don’t know that the general populace will embrace the story because of the concept, though I think they’d find it an enjoyable story if they gave it a chance.

          I haven’t read Kerry’s books yet. I was hoping to win a copy in a recent contest.

          Becky

  • Tim George April 18, 2011, 8:18 AM

    Some powerful titles at MLP.

    • xdpaul April 20, 2011, 8:29 AM

      Which, by the way, aren’t CBA.

      • Tim George April 20, 2011, 8:36 AM

        That’s pretty much why I contrasted two MLP titles to a CBA title like Offworld.

        Jef Gerke, however, doesn’t grind axes against the CBA. He worked for Tyndale for years and understands the problem with many niche genres. My agent and he often work together in referring author’s work that would fit at MLP better than a CBA house.

  • eb December 28, 2011, 9:21 PM

    Check out a new indie author that is taking christian fiction to a new place. Sojourning with Angels: The Rise of Zazriel. A story of lust, greed, guardian angels, watcher angels, an ancient succubus, a whiskey priest and a wonderful love story between a husband and wife. See the book trailer at http://rleoolson.com/wordpress/

  • Kim Kouski April 29, 2012, 5:38 PM

    I’ve read through most of these comments and I’m seeing the same thing: poorly crafted christian books. Well I had a conversation with a couple of dear friends today after church and we talked about this very thing. Poorly written christian novels. And one of my friend said christian authors don’t know how to write the dark side of humanity. We don’ t understand the human mind when it comes to tragedy, rape, crime. We shuffle away from the frightening black unknown. Yet my favey book is The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton in which I see the horrors of Ruth’s life as her abusive mother raises her. Christian writers steer clear of such horrors. Yet we live with horrors everyday. When I read christian fantasy, it sickens me when the heroine ALWAYS comes from a happy little home where everyone dances everyday and drops lollips on everyone. Really??? How about the herione who’s dad cheats on mom all the time or worries about daddy wanting to ‘be her friend for the evening’. Look at Joyce Meyer’s life. no lollips and roses for her childhood.

    Instead, some christian writers bring in the abused character, but then never follow through with the after affects. The mental anguish. The healing that come from God. How disrespectful it is to the victims when writers avoid the mental anguish of broken people. A 12 year old kid in my church who lives in the bad neighborhood hates any kind of authority. A drug dealer killed his dad in a drug deal gone wrong. His mother has no idea where he’s at and doesn’t care. Is it any wonder he’s messed up? He has so many mental problems now. Imagine a character like that, instead of the whinning hero who thinks he’s not ‘good enough’, or the heroine who gulps down her fear and does it anyway. What about the hero who says, bite me, I’m not helping them!! Commit to the mental anguish, don’t dance around it and hope it goes away.

    I would love to talk to everyone here about a personal tragedy and how God saw them through it. Now there’s a story. So instead some christian writers dance around the happy pole while the world suffers. Is it any reason why no one takes us seriously?? I think it’s not the craft, but it’s the longing to avoid the ‘dark side’ of humanity. God takes the broken and bruised sheep, cleans them up and then uses them to change the world. Which some christian writers ignore.

    ok, I’m done now. :))

    • sally apokedak April 29, 2012, 5:46 PM

      I’m trying to recall one Christian heroine who comes from a happy home. Can you share the titles of the books you’re speaking about?

      And what is heroic about a boy who says, “Bite me. I’m not helping them.” In what ways would such a character qualify as a hero?

  • Kim Kouski April 29, 2012, 6:40 PM

    I read mostly Christian Fantasy and a lot of the heros/heriones come from happy homes. The Sword in the Stars is one of them. The heroine has happy memories of her uncle’s home and her father’s home. I’m glad the hero at least has some hard times behind him and has a some horrible struggles. But even those are sugar coated. 🙁

    And what I mean about the hero is I’m so tired of heros who don’t think they can do it and they whine about how they can’t defeat the bad guys and save everyone b/c I’m so stupid and I’m not qualified b/c I come from the wrong side of the tracks. Oh get over yourself!! I’d love to see a hero who says, bite me!! Then circumstances force him to be a hero. I’ve seen that in secular fantasy, but rarely in christian fantasy. It’s so blasted sugar coated!!

  • wordsmith April 30, 2012, 4:35 PM

    Umm, yeah, that’s right. Much Christian fiction depends upon one of two things for its readership:
    1. Naiviete of the reader in not recognizing BAD fiction since so much of what they read IS bad.
    2. Sympathy readership because ‘we have to support our own’.

    I’ve been guilty of the last. Some Christian author visited a church I went to, and just becasue he had sold so FEW books, I bought two. Hopefully it helped them to get the gas money they needed to get to their next book sales, but still, that is intellectually dishonest, and should not have happened. Really, we should exercise our discretionary spending and weed out the weak writers. Maybe eventually people will start writing GOOD Christian fiction.

  • Kim Kouski April 30, 2012, 6:35 PM

    IMO, it’s not so much weeding out the bad writers, but teaching them to write well. As long as someone can sit and write, then they can learn to write well. IMO, I feel that if I write well, then I have a responsibility to teach others to write well. Shrugs. And those who write poorly need to recongize the fact that they need help. :)) And how nice of you, wordsmith, to support that writer. :)))

  • Michael May 15, 2013, 12:19 PM

    I love good Christian fiction, and I stress GOOD. For example, I truly enjoy the Patrick Bower dective series. I have read reviews from other Christians and they do not like it because it is to violent or edgy. I get that but come on, the last thing I want to read on my limited down time is another praire era family struggling to make ends meet while the matriach strives to bring the family back to their Christian roots. It seems to me that the majority of Christian is for the female audience or the juvenile audience. I am a Sci Fi/Fantasy nerd, I enjoy the genres. When I read for entertainment, that is what I read. Christian fiction is sorely lacking in this area. What I really want is an action packed book in this genre with no sex, clean langauge and a good story. I do not care about character development and I do not care about romantic drama. As a result, I spend the majority of my time reading in the secular venue. I have tried Peretti and others like him, they are a little more on the horror side of the line than I enjoy. Just my two cents.

  • JM Fisher July 10, 2013, 11:06 AM

    Thank you for bringing this trend to light. I agree! So much of Christian fiction seems like oatmeal, filling but oh, so bland. I long for stories about Christians or people struggling with their faith that come from real world experiences instead of sanitized versions of real life experiences.

  • Nadine January 10, 2014, 1:30 PM

    Count me in as exactly one of those people. To someone who grew up reading classics like Jane Austen and J.R.R. Tolkien, the Bible-bookstore-romance-variety appeared banal, fluffy, sentimental, weak on theology and lacking in intellect. And then you have the Randy Alcorn types, who basically use fiction as a conservative Christian politics pamphlet. Not that I’m not conservative or Christian, but types like him wouldn’t know art if oil paint was wafting under their nose.

    I kept going back to the classics, and then I realized that a lot of them were actually Christian. So I decided to blog about it, and introduce some intelligent Christian novels (including romance) that they read in the universities but you will never find on your Bible bookstore shelf. http://www.christianvictorianliterature.com

  • Melissa W. September 7, 2014, 10:29 PM

    I am Christian and I love to read, but the sad reality is that I mostly read secular fiction because I don’t either identify with the characters in Christian fiction or the writing is way too simplistic for my tastes or I am just not that into plot lines that seem to be same from whatever book has been written just previously and they seem to be written for a demographic that only wants Christian fiction that follows a certain formula. It would be nice for Christian publishers to realize that maybe they need to publish something by a Christian author that doesn’t follow the old tried and true formula and that there are those of us who want something is more like the secular fiction books that I read on a regular basis.

  • 5233 July 24, 2016, 10:18 PM

    Buffoonery in Christian fiction has existed since it’s inception. John Milton being one controversial figure in its history. His work “On Christian Doctrine” was banned by the Catholic church for heterodoxy (fancy word for heresy) because he allegedly taught Arianism, an anti-trinity doctrine that argues the three members of the trinity are not equal and supposedly this explains the unbalanced view of God and Satan in Paradise Lost, although there have been tons of debates on the subject. Protestants argued about it as much as the Catholics, and Paradise Lost even gets a nod often from Jehovah’s Witnesses who like it because they interpret it as undermining the orthodox claims of Christ’s role in the trinity.

    Heresy has also existed since the days of the Apostle Paul. The idea that older writers were less capable of it because of the fact that they read more often doesn’t mean they were always more accurate. There were numerous heretics even in the Victorian period. Whenever a Christian tries to envision spiritual mysteries of God, he or she is going to get some things wrong because he is not a prophet. I’m referring to many things that I believe were purposely kept vague in the Bible so we wouldn’t have to explain them in theoretical terms. Stuff that could only otherwise be assumed and diluted by humanistic philosophy, like in some traditions. But there can still be truth in them as long as one acknowledges the liberties taken.

    There is even some controversy most notably with Christian advocates of Harry Potter. Regardless of how it can be interpreted, J.K. Rowling has some serious problems in not really being clear about what she means with Dumbledore’s supposed homosexuality. Allegedly he left a relationship because it made him miserable, but she doesn’t say whether it was a man or woman, and more importantly, is she promoting the idea that gays should be celibate or is she saying that they would be happier if they were with a same-sex partner because heterosexuality would make them miserable? Being so coy on a subject wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that Christians are asked to take a stand on these and not be wimps. Either she doesn’t know, which is more forgivable, or else she is trying to be a people-pleaser. It matters in terms of giving her any respect as a serious witness to Christ. She also seems to allude to inclusivist universalism in how diverse the religions of Hogwart’s class is. Regardless of whether she is against homosexuality, or believes those interpretations are corrupt and those against it are all wrong about it being a sin, either of those is a concern in how we should be speaking out on moral matters if our convictions are really from God. Otherwise, I don’t care for what she says.

  • Tim Wise September 23, 2016, 7:35 AM

    Hi, Mike,
    Do you know if anybody has done a marketing/demographic study of this? I’m a business professor as well as a science fiction and fantasy writer. I’m writing a case study of Marcher Lord Press partly because it’s something business professors do and partly because I’m struggling with the same questions Jeff Gerke struggled with. It seems like we’re making a lot of assumptions about why people do what they do, but it would be nice to have some research data to guide us. My impression is that Christians who are science fiction, fantasy, and horror fans (and there are a lot of them) usually don’t have a problem reading the secular authors and don’t think they need a Christian alternative. They’re sympathetic to faith messages but view Christian media offerings as lower quality knock-offs–which is sometime the case.

  • andrew moleschi December 8, 2016, 11:41 PM

    I wrote a a book on amazon that i think is quite entertaining, but it is hard to market as a non traditional christian fantasy. It does not fit the categories, that people think of a christian book. So I could use some marketing advise.

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