Christian Fiction Is NOT a Victimless Crime

by Mike Duran · 144 comments

Nick Harrison, Senior Editor at Harvest House Publishers, recently made mention on his Facebook page about a study which revealed that “60% of Christian fiction readers are over 45.” That the Christian fiction industry bertrand-2markets to an older demographic of readers is not news. Neither is the fact that the majority of that group, or the Christian market in general, is comprised of white females. Hence the proliferation of Amish, Historical, and Romance titles.

What we often miss is the readers, writers, and genres that get overlooked because of this demographic tilt.

Case in point: Earlier this week The Weekly Standard ran a piece entitled Divine Deduction, subtitled “Christian crime fiction comes of age.” Did you know there was such a thing as “Christian crime fiction”? Let me rephrase that: Did you know there was a Christian writer out there putting out some fantastic crime fiction?

Apparently, a lot of other readers didn’t either.

Jon Breen of The Weekly Standard describes J. Mark Bertrand as “a major crime-fiction talent,” admitting that he’s “one of the best police procedural writers I’ve come upon in years.” Breen proceeds to describe Bertrand’s three-book crime series (beginning with Back on Murder), published by Bethany House, in rather glowing terms:

The police procedure has a feel of authenticity, with extensive detail of weaponry and forensics, and the course of the investigation bears some of the messiness of real life. The narrative energy is relentless. The visual, cinematic style sticks to a single first-person viewpoint, a unity some contemporary thriller writers violate to their detriment. Present-tense narrative annoys some readers (including this one at times), but its sense of urgency and immediacy is effective in the [Roland] March novels.

There’s just one problem…

Bertrand is a major crime-fiction talent—one of the best police procedural writers I’ve come upon in years—but he has not reached nearly the wide audience he deserves for a simple reason: His novels come from a religious publisher. (bold mine)

One would think a religious publisher, just like any publisher, should be about cashing in on their clients’ talents. I mean, why hire Eddie Van Halen to stuff envelopes for your mail order company?

Give dude a stage.

So how does being a religious publisher (in this case Bethany House) limit the reach of an author’s audience? Well, it doesn’t… unless you write sci-fi, epic fantasy, ethnic fiction, espionage, horror, literary, or crime fiction.

Because Women’s / Historical fiction is the wheelhouse of the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association), publishing houses are now designed to crank out this product. A new title rolls in and the marketing department just rearranges all the typical pieces: bonnet, covered wagon, parasol, petticoat, doe-eyed lass. Check, check, check! It’s a quick cut-and-paste affair. The economy has forced Christian publishers into “safe mode.” Maybe they’ve always been in “safe mode.” So when a horror, crime, fantasy, literary, or sci-novel rolls in, it’s the equivalent of adding a fifth wheel to an assembly line of carriages.

In other words, Bertrand’s problem is not that he’s “a major crime-fiction talent,” but that “religious publishers” don’t know how in the hell to market “a major crime-fiction talent”!

Even sadder is that some Christian authors and readers simply shrug and mumble something like, “Well, that’s just the way it is. If you don’t like it, go elsewhere.”

Apparently, that’s just what Mr. Bertrand is doing.

J. Mark Bertrand deserves a wider readership than a religious publisher affords. Many writers are able to carry readers along by employing nice phrases and descriptive passages, bits of humor, character involvement, and curiosity about how it will all turn out. But few have Bertrand’s relentless narrative power. His website states he will write more March cases if he can find a new publisher, suggesting the three-book original contract was a commercial (surely not spiritual) failure for Bethany House. Perhaps the ideal new publisher would be a major mainstream house, one that won’t ask Bertrand to compromise his beliefs but can get behind this extraordinary writer and gain him the wide audience he deserves. (bold mine)

“J. Mark Bertrand deserves a wider readership than a religious publisher affords,” someone who “can get behind this extraordinary writer and gain him the wide audience he deserves.” So if you’re a Christian writer who writes really good stuff, that’s NOT clean Romance or Historical fiction, and you want a “wide audience,” look elsewhere.

I don’t want to portray Mr. Bertrand as a victim in this drama. No doubt, he’ll land on his feet elsewhere. The real victim in this tale of intrigue is not J. Mark Bertrand.

It’s the industry that forces him to look elsewhere.

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