Trends in Fiction *updated*

Last weekend I hung out for a bit at the Writing for the Soul Conference. I had conversations with acquisitions editors at several different houses, and here are some things I heard about what’s going on in Christian fiction.

l Editors report seeing a lot of “dark” material lately, not just supernatural angel-and-demon stuff, but violence, murder, drugs, etc. Apparently it’s a trend among writers. However, while there will be a few books published with these themes, it’s not going to be a large percentage. Keep this in mind if you’re writing dark stuff. In general, the majority of purchasers of Christian fiction want to be entertained and encouraged; fewer are attracted to the dark and the scary.

l However, many publishers are looking at suspense. They just don’t want it to be too dark. (Don’t ask me what that means. Remember, everything in this business is subjective.)

l A couple of editors mentioned the proliferation of “issues” in fiction and sometimes it’s too much. For example, a story where a single character is dealing with drug addiction, anorexia, and a Down’s Syndrome child. Generally speaking, we don’t need so many different issues in one novel, especially not in one character.

l Not one editor I spoke with is actively looking for fantasy or sci-fi. Bad news for many of you, I realize. It’s not a big seller in the Christian marketplace. Watch for the winds of change…

l Publishing houses still want romance, both contemporary and historical. Not too schmaltzy and definitely not too steamy… but romance continues to sell.

l There continues to be a strong market for good historicals. While some publishers are experimenting with different time periods and locales, the most popular is still 19th century (particularly post-Civil War) Americana.

l The chick-lit genre (mom-lit, hen-lit, etc.) may have run its course. Established authors are still going strong, but new chick-lit writers aren’t doing as well. I don’t think everyone has really figured out what this means for “humorous” fiction.

l A couple of editors mentioned they’re considering novels in shorter lengths than the traditional 90-100k words. They’ll look at fiction as short as 70k. This could be the start of a new trend. We’ll see.

l Overall, I’d say Christian publishers want fiction that’s encouraging and hopeful and perhaps on the lighter side. (Light meaning not “dark.” And also, light meaning it doesn’t have to be deep and “literary.”) They’re all talking about wanting “core CBA fiction.” Does that mean there’s no place for novels that fall outside this description? Of course not. This is generally speaking, and it can help you understand why certain books are getting contracted and others aren’t.

As always with generalities… take it for what it’s worth! There will always be trends and rules… and there will always be huge successes that defy the trends, break the rules and surprise everyone. Take it into consideration but don’t consider it gospel.

So tell me, how does this stack up with what you’re hearing?

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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  5. Deb on March 8, 2008 at 10:19 PM

    >I no longer go into our lone remaining Christian store for books. For several years they have not stocked anything I wanted, and the store is 3/4 figurines and Christian gimcracks anyway.

    I go to the big chain stores when I need a fic-fix. Nobody in either of these stores is capable of handselling mainstream fiction, much less the Christian variety. I ask for the books I want and the sales staff pulls the title up on her compooter, and it’s never in stock. Never. So I special-order quite a bit.

    For me and maybe many more of us, there IS in fact a lack of the books we might enjoy. Partially this is due to the fact they’re not all being published, but I doubt that’s the whole enchilada. I for one envy those readers who report that their local Wally World carries many, many choices. In my local store, options are limited to Bev Lewis and T Peterson. Oh, and once in a long while they’ll carry a K Kingsbury. Not exactly the depth of choice I’d like to see.

    Done ranting now, yes I am. (G)

  6. ~ Brandilyn Collins on February 18, 2008 at 4:10 PM

    >Hey, babe Rachelle. Great blog you got going here, and good post on feedback from the CWG conference. Next year I’ll be joining you there. (I’ve been asked to teach fiction.)

    At any rate, I wanted to reply to Melanie. I feel sad when I hear that readers walk out of Christian bookstores empty-handed. Often, I think this may be due more to lack of handselling knowledge of the clerks in the store than lack of books you might enjoy. So many new authors have come along, and there are more and more novels per year being published in the Christian market. It’s hard for any bookstore browser to keep up with it all.

    There’s more suspense out there than the Dekker-type suspense, which is targeted more for the male reader. There are authors who write more literary-type books. There are authors who write more light-hearted stuff, but still with a message.

    Rachelle, maybe you and I could team up to do a post for your blog on suggested reading for the folks who say they’re not finding anything.

    Blessings, all.

  7. Michelle on February 11, 2008 at 9:07 PM

    >Interesting discussion. Timothy from Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers posted a link to this blog. I see several people made it this way already. To me dark means no hope or little redemptive quality. If you browse the typical ABA shelves in say, Target, you will see most of the fiction has a dark theme to it. People are fascinated with the dark side. But if there is redemption then even a dark subject can minister and encourage. I have reviewed quite a few books lately that are powerful novels and they are not lite fair. But I am a social worker, so I like to dig deep. 😛 Honestly, though, death, murder, and mysteries and suspense with gore don’t interest me much. I think there is a bit too much out there in CBA land with that type of theme. Maybe they aren’t selling as well as initially hoped?

    • buy neopoints on April 12, 2012 at 12:57 AM

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  8. Mary Connealy on February 11, 2008 at 3:41 PM

    >Nice article, Rachelle, thanks for sharing what you heard at CBA. The thing with ‘dark’ is that, to me, any story can be told in a dark way or a lighter way.

    And sometimes a book can get so dark that I don’t think it helps people who are in a dark place themselves find any light…but then every person’s experience is his or her own, right?

    All publishers can do is figure out what’s selling for them and stick with it. They take chances but they only go so far and those chances better pay off or they’re going to go back to what is safe.

    But there’s plenty of suspense out there, lots of it edgy, it’s there if you want it, but maybe not front and center. Don’t you think?

  9. Melanie on February 10, 2008 at 3:53 AM

    >JA, I feel your pain.

    How can we vote with our pocketbooks when what we want to read isn’t on the shelf. I don’t always want Ted Dekker man-sized bats with glowing red eyes dark, but sometimes suspense that truly is suspenseful. How can suspense not be dark?

    This explains why I — an avowed bookaholic — have walked out of the Christian bookstore empty-handed of late. I like chick-lit sometimes. I have a somewhat depressing job, so sometimes I need the humor. On the flip side, I like some darker fiction because I need to seee the good guys, the great God, win. I don’t always get to see that in reality. How can we enjoy the light if we’ve never faced the darkness?

    I’ve ended up in ABA market, finding great, deep and sometimes dark books like “The Thirteenth Tale,” and having to skip over the steamy stuff and enjoy the literary cadences of “Water for Elephants.” Now I’m revisiting classics.

    Sorry. Now I’m ranting, too. It’s just that I’m a newspaper copy editor. It’s been a really horrible week in the world, and I haven’t had the option of turning off the TV, walking away from the computer or throwing the paper in the trash. It’s my job to read the nastiness. I want to see these situations redeemed.

  10. Rachelle on February 9, 2008 at 11:57 AM

    >Alright, J.C. You’ve forced my hand. I feel your pain, so I will now wave my magic wand (a non-pagan wand, to be sure) and I will FIX all these CBA problems. Just give me a minute.

    Uh… hang on… (shaking wand)… just another second… (throwing wand). This thing doesn’t seem to be working. Sorry! I’ll keep trying!

  11. JC on February 9, 2008 at 11:21 AM

    >OK, since I wasn’t banished, lol, I won’t be anonymous anymore. Yes, CBA is only targeting those who want a “nice, safe reading experience.” The point is that there are many other readers out there and they are NOT going to be checking out the Christian Fiction section because they know its your typical Christian fiction. Its not realistic — life doesn’t end with a fairytale happy ending. Life stinks! God is good. Job did not have a happy ending, sure he got his stuff back and had some more kids, but anyone who has lost even one child, let alone 7, knows that pain NEVER goes away. Sure, God can heal, and He does, but healing is not equivelant with lack of pain. Life is pain. In my opinion, if CBA would branch out alittle while, long enough to earn a rep for publishing high-quality writing that meets the standards of the ABA, that is also dark, somewhat violent, etc., they would began attracting the rest of the world. And hopefully alot of unsaved. They may lose alittle in the beginning, but winning the lost and getting a bigger readership in the end would be worth it.

    As for voting with my wallet — I buy every Peretti and Dekker book that comes out — take the one they did together: House. Finally, we Christians have a haunted house book that’s not steeped in paganism! But they are the only 2 authors I know who step out of the box. And both of them do very well in the secular market! This is why I don’t understand. Sorry.

  12. Rachelle on February 9, 2008 at 9:57 AM

    >Dear Anonymous,
    GREAT idea for a future blog post! Here’s the deal. What do you think “CBA” bases decisions on? Is it a limited perpective of what we “want” to publish? Is it a commitment to only providing a “nice, safe, reading experience”? Not really. Decisions are based on what’s selling. When publishers try something new, it either sells or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t sell, the publisher is less likely to branch out in that direction again. These “trends” I’ve written about? All based on what publishers have discovered is selling. So, don’t blame the CBA establishment. Instead, start buying more Christian books. And make sure your friends are buying Christian books! Vote with your wallet.

    But alas, sometimes there’s not a lot you can do, if there are far more people buying the “nice, safe” books than the other kind. Which is still the case.

  13. Anonymous on February 9, 2008 at 9:33 AM

    >I am sorry to rant since this is your ranting blog, but….if dark is a writers trend, doesn’t it stand to reason that writers are writing what they wish they could be reading. We live in a VERY dark, violent world. We are bombarded with the dark and violence from the secular world, yet it is accompanied by a liberal angle, an athiest angle, a God-bashing angle, etc.

    I guess what I don’t understand is why the CBA only wishes to target ONE type of Christian readership? Don’t they realize there are many types of readers out there? The unsaved do not run to the Christian fiction section of Barnes & Nobles — don’t we see this as a problem? Isn’t it more important to reach an unsaved audiance, then to only provide a nice, safe reading experiance so Christians who want to live in a happy bubble can curl up on the couch after a long day?

    I am sorry. And I will post this as anonymous, so that I do not black-ball my writing career before it even starts. Is it a big no-no to criticize the CBA?

  14. Susette on February 8, 2008 at 8:32 PM


    Thank you for sharing your insights with us! What a blessing you are!

    I have a story that I didn’t think was ‘dark’ but I’m beginning to wonder. It’s the story of a woman who finds out she was adopted, but later discovers that she was a black market adoption, abducted as a toddler. I have humor sprinkled within the story in the form of a secondary character. But I wonder if the subject matter is harder for women. I planned for it to be a story of encouragement. The heroine is reunited with her birth family, whom she’d been told were killed in a car accident. It shows how her abduction affected her families life, and even the hero’s life because he ended up running a Child Rescue agency to find abducted children. He was friends with her brother, and supposed to be helping watch her when she was abducted. Guilt and not knowing changed all of their lives.

    Do you think that would classify under dark?


  15. Richard Mabry on February 8, 2008 at 2:34 PM

    Thanks, as always, for keeping us up to date with “inside information” as you get it. I sometimes think it’s harder to decipher what publishing houses want than to learn to order at Starbucks. But at least their menu code words aren’t changing. Wish the same could be said of the CBA.
    PS–“Light or dark?” How about medium, with a side of French fries?

  16. Rachelle on February 8, 2008 at 10:13 AM

    >Dear Musing Mom,
    Well, yes. Don’t all the best books have an element of romance? But remember, romance can be between a husband and wife!

  17. A Musing Mom on February 8, 2008 at 10:05 AM

    >Does this mean my Christian mom novel better have a bunch of romance in it?

  18. Rachelle on February 8, 2008 at 9:18 AM

    >CBA = Christian Booksellers Association.

    “CBA” is the term used to describe the entire Christian publishing and bookselling business, which operates somewhat separately from the mainstream (secular) publishing and bookselling business, generally referred to generically as “ABA” (American Booksellers Association).

  19. LoveMakeda on February 8, 2008 at 9:14 AM

    >Quick Question: What is CBA?

  20. Rachelle on February 8, 2008 at 9:06 AM

    >Pam, opportunities in CBA for YA and middle grade are extemely limited right now, whether it’s fantasy or not. Nobody mentioned looking for fantasy or sci-fi for any age.

  21. Pam Halter on February 8, 2008 at 9:04 AM

    >”Not one editor I spoke with is actively looking for fantasy or sci-fi.”

    Does this mean ALL fantasy/sci-fi or is the market for middle grade and YA still selling?

  22. Katy McKenna on February 8, 2008 at 8:37 AM

    >For those of us who know the difference between light and dark, but not between light and over-the-top humor: Did the editors speak to trends in “lit”–whether chick, lad, hen, boomer or geezer?

  23. Jim on February 8, 2008 at 8:30 AM

    >Wow, then imagine the market for a “crossover” narrative non-fiction work that offers encouragement and hope on the lighter side with romance and suspense in about 65-70K words!! 😉

  24. Rachel Starr Thomson on February 8, 2008 at 7:41 AM

    >Thanks for expanding on this!

  25. Katie Hart - Freelance Writer on February 7, 2008 at 10:04 PM

    >Thanks for the trend news! Did you mean 19th century Americana (1800s)? Though I prefer the 1700s myself.