by Sandra Ardoin, Inspirational Historical Romance Author
The Shack, A Log Cabin Christmas, Into the Free, Dying to Read, the Left Behind series. Karen Kingsbury, Francine Rivers, Wanda Brunstetter, Terri Blackstock, Cindy Woodsmall.
What do these books and authors have in common? First, the novels are written from a Christian world view. Second, each title and author has made the New York Times Best Sellers list. And I could name more of each.
For a long time, most fiction from a Christian world view revolved around sweet romance. Then Frank Perretti (another NY Times best seller) took up where C. S. Lewis of Narnia fame ended and opened the market to fiction that dealt with stronger issues than prairie romance—namely, demons and spiritual warfare. From then on, it was no longer grandma’s Christian fiction.
Or maybe it still is.
Middle-class female adults make up the bulk of readers, and romance tops the genre list. It doesn’t matter if it’s contemporary romance, romantic suspense, or historical romance. People love love whether it’s between a fictional hero and heroine or in their own relationship with God.
I recently conducted an informal survey and asked readers why they chose Christian fiction. Here are some of the reasons they repeated over and over:
- It’s clean – This was number one. Not everyone wants to read scenes with explicit sex or coarse language. These readers are not prudes or ostriches. They simply want G and PG stories that won’t leave certain images and words lodged in their minds. It’s the old computer philosophy of “garbage in/garbage out.” (The Biblical version can be found in Philippians 4:8. J)
- It’s relevant – One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard against books in this market is what I call the “roses and lollipops” impression. Characters live in an unrealistic world. (See paragraph three above.)
When I asked what has changed over the last decade and what readers would like to see, I got the same basic answer: relevancy. People were happy to see that authors now tackled subjects they dealt with in everyday life—single parenting, alcoholism, divorce, etc. And they want to see more of it. But they want those topics addressed in a Biblical manner.
- It has expanded its reach – Yes, sweet romance is still published because there is still a large market (check out the success of Harlequin’s Love Inspired imprint). Today, you’ll find suspense, thrillers—including medical and military—mystery, historicals set in various periods, Amish, contemporary women’s fiction, westerns, science fiction and speculative fiction.
- It’s well written – In years past, these novels lacked respect writing-wise, and there was some basis for it. That’s no longer the case. Like the best mainstream authors, those who write for the Christian market are well trained. With the formation of organizations like American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) with its nearly 3,000 members in the U.S. and internationally, writers are privy to educational resources, networking opportunities, critique groups, and contests—all meant to help them improve their craft.
- It speaks to readers, spiritually – Many times, Jesus taught through story. Readers want Christian authors to do the same—without being “preachy.” It isn’t just a matter of throwing out a verse or prayer here and there. Readers want to see a character whose struggle either teaches them something they can use in their own lives or brings them into a deeper relationship with God.
It’s little wonder that large mainstream publishers such as Hachette, Random House, and HarperCollins decided to join in on the growing popularity of the Christian (or Inspirational) publishing market by either starting their own imprints or buying existing Christian houses.
Remember, these aren’t your grandma’s novels. They’re entertaining, funny, and emotionally moving. They’re waiting for you to try them.
Sandra Ardoin writes inspirational historical romance. Her Christmas novella, The Yuletide Angel, releases October 2014 and is up for pre-order on Amazon. She’s the married mother of a young adult and lives in North Carolina. Visit her at www.sandraardoin.com and on the Seriously Write blog. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest.