At a time when overall book sales are in a steady decline, Christian book publishing in the CBA market (Christian Book Association) continues to experience a rising increase. But with this success comes a heavy price — for as we all know–what comes up, must come down.
According to Christian Retailing, between 2014 and 2015, Christian book sales increased by 10.5% to 52.4 million units sold in the U. S. As a result of this kind of success over the last decade, several ABA (secular) publishers purchased and merged with traditional Christian publishers and/or started their own Christian publishing divisions to cash in on a fair share of the market. For several years, Harlequin published Christian books under the imprint of Steeple Hill. Warner Books started out with the Warner Faith imprint. Penguin Putnam created Penguin Praise, and Random House purchased Multnomah, a traditional Christian publisher.
We have seen Christian fiction publishers come and go, such as Abingdon Press (one of my publishers), Cook, Crossway, Moody and Summerside Press. Retail book chains such as Borders Books, Family Christian Stores, and Cokesbury Bookstores folded. Of the bookstores that survived, the Christian bookshelves have been reduced to hard-to-find corners and decreased shelf space. Amazon began publishing their own book lines and created a new subscription service. Other Netflix-like subscription services rose to the market as well. We had a new way of providing books to readers.
All of these changes have created difficult challenges and rising concern for authors and agents struggling to find publishing spots that keep fading. Out of frustration and necessity, many authors turn to the hope of self-publishing and hybrid publishing–a combination of traditional and self-publishing. As a result, some Christian authors are able to write what they want without editor or publisher constraints. This means that non-traditional subjects and issues are now available in Christian fiction and nonfiction that had not been an option in the past. While the Christian market has come a long way, the lines between what is considered CBA and ABA is blurring and can be confusing to some consumers.
For instance, just because a writer happens to mention God a few times in their story doesn’t mean it is a Christian novel, nor should it be marketed as such. The requirements of what makes a book “Christian fiction” is different from publisher to publisher, author to author, and reader to reader. To complicate matters, some authors start out writing secular romance and later convert to Christian fiction. Other authors started out writing CBA and later switched to ABA.
I believe all this confusion puts a heavier burden on authors to better educate our readers on what we write. Setting the readers’ expectations of what to expect when they lay down their hard-earned cash on our books, is paramount in building that author/reader relationship and establishing trust with our readers. If a book contains a difficult topic for young readers, we must be open and honest with their parents and grandparents. That one sale isn’t worth the bad reviews that might result if you mislead a reader in hopes of a sale or getting them to “try your book”. Every marketing tactic and promotional angle must be genuine and clear.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t write a book that may cross over from CBA to ABA markets or ABA to CBA. What I “am” saying is make sure your readers understand it’s a crossover. If you are building a writing career, you are establishing a readership based on trust and expectation as they anticipate your next book. A blurry vision doesn’t help anyone. Give them a clear understanding of what you write and what they are getting.
As a reader, what challenges have you faced in buying new books by new authors? As an author, what successes have you had in better educating your readers on what you write? How have you been able to distinguish your work from other authors?