Why bother with Christian publishers?

Over on Mike Duran’s blog, he asked, Do Christian publishers know how to market to men?

This is part of an ongoing debate that Christian speculative fiction writers have. They’re writing about space ships, aliens, fantasy worlds and magic. Whereas the Christian market is geared toward middle-aged women who are primarily interested in romance, particularly anything set in a Little House on the Prairie setting, or among the Amish.

Needless to say, aliens and epic fantasy don’t sell well to that particular demographic.

So Mike said,

Because Women’s / Historical fiction is the wheelhouse of the CBA, 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.” 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.

They don’t market to men hardly at all. They throw their male audience a few bones now and then with the likes of Ted Dekker and his copycats. But that’s about it. Cue lots and lots of hand-wringing among the Christian spec-fic writers, who can’t find a market for their books. There’s lots of strategy about how to break into the Christian market.

But I think the whole debate is mistargeted.

I’ve been researching audience and market and all that jazz for months and months now, trying to figure out where I’m going to slot my books in. The Christian market is for middle-aged women who like bonnets and buggies. And that’s fine, because that’s that particular niche. Why should we try to change that?

If we want a market for Christian-oriented spec fic, we’ll have to go out and create the market ourselves.

I’ve been following the wide, weird world of YA, and man, they MAKE this market. They buy and read gobs of YA, talk about them, give them away, write more, and buy/read it. It’s a circle, and like a giant Katamari book ball, it gets bigger the farther it rolls.

Christian spec fic is still in its infancy, and trying to shoehorn it into a market that doesn’t want it isn’t the way to go. I think we need to make our own market. Buy books. Read them, review them, give them away, and write more. Out in YAland, they do this in enormous quantities. There’s been small-scale attempts at this with blog hops and things.

But you know, when I first started looking for Christian spec fic, I couldn’t find a darn thing. So I just went to the library and yanked titles off the shelves. Guess what! Most of these C-spec-fic books don’t end up in the library because they’re through indie publishers. If you want ’em in there, you have to request the library buy them.

I’ve run across lots of Christian speculative fiction out there in secular book-land. The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, Harry Potter, and The Dragon’s Tooth come to mind. And I doubt anybody would even catch on that that’s what they are. Because the authors are very tasteful and don’t hold an altar call. They just tell a good story. That’s all Christian spec-fic is. Good stories with a Christian worldview.

And trying to mash those sorts of books into a market oriented toward middle-aged white evangelical women isn’t the way to go.

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3 thoughts on “Why bother with Christian publishers?

  1. Sounds like this is going to be just like product marketing – Be the best you can in your field (or come up with a completely new product) and market to absolutely everyone you can until you find your target group. Don’t be mediocre, don’t re-hash out the same thing everyone else is doing (or if you are, make it spectacular). My guess for you is twenty-something guys (like W and N). The trick is to getting into those groups. Thankfully for you, social media is so easy to get into now, and the majority of those users are of the 20-something age group. My suggestion: Once you’re done (or fairly done) get a few copies out to guys who would/might be interested and ask them to read & promote it. It’s like free samples at Costco. You want them to buy more, and tell their friends about it.

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  2. This, yes, this: “Christian spec fic is still in its infancy, and trying to shoehorn it into a market that doesn’t want it isn’t the way to go.”

    I keep saying the same thing. There’s nothing wrong with trying to stretch the boundaries of the CBA from the inside, but that can’t be primary way of bringing Christian spec-fic into full being. And we can’t expect the CBA to turn its back on its big money-makers (bonnet romance). CBA publishers don’t really know how to market spec-fic anyway.

    That’s where the indie presses come in. And YES, I agree–readers need to BUY books and review them–and most importantly tell their friends. Word of mouth is the strongest marketer out there. 🙂

    Good thoughts, Kessie!

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  3. Good post, Kessie.

    I agree with Kat. Christian spec-fic and fantasy will have to create their own market.

    Buy the books, read the books, review the books and let others know about them. Word of marketing still works even in a social media culture.

    However, growth will take time and will not happen overnight. It seems some folks want instant acceptance from the CBA and the secular literary community. That will not happen easily…but good works that sell will break down those barriers.

    That should be the focus.

    Marion

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