Monday, March 12, 2007

The Demise of Christian Fiction?

Maybe that’s being a little over-dramatic. But stick with me here -

I brought in my mail the other day and flipped through the new sales flyer from “Family Christian Stores”. I was pretty discouraged by what I saw.

Here is the lowdown on the products that were shown in the 50 page catalog. (Keep in mind, several products were shown multiple times.)

Easter Stuff (Easter related gifts/products) – 15
Movies for Kids – 39
Movies - 28
Music – 49
Gifts – 32
Kid Products – 59
Bibles/Bible Products – 54
Church Supplies (communion cups and choir robes) - 9

Non fiction books – 87
Fiction books – 6 (total!)
Three by Ted Dekker (shown twice)
2 Left Behind Books by LaHaye/Jenkins (three total covers)
Forever by Karen Kingsbury
The Watchers by Mark Andrew Olsen
The Heir by Paul Robertson

Six fiction books buried within 285 other products.

From a marketing standpoint, this catalog reflects what this store thinks it will sell. What will bring people into their store to spend money.

And it’s not fiction.

The thing that confuses me is that Christians seem to get the power of story when it comes to movies – they featured 28 DVD covers – some multiple times. Where is the fiction? Of the six fiction titles shown in the catalog, four are from bestselling authors. Ted’s book is coming out at as a movie soon. Only Left Behind and Three were even featured, the others were buried in a mostly nonfiction spread.

We’ve long been aware that the sales avenues for Christian fiction is changing. Those of us who have been to the Convention Formerly Known as CBA know that there is an awful lot of Christian “product”. While fiction may be on the shelves, from these numbers, it is obvious that it is not what brings people into the stores. It is not what keeps bringing them back.

So what does this mean for the novelist? What does it mean for those of us who are called to communicate truth through story?

I wish I knew.

I know that we will continue to face challenges. We’ll continue to face a market that, at least in part, has no problem watching a movie but feels a novel isn’t worth their time. I can’t even count the number of times I have seen that dismissive wave, when I share what I write, from someone who tells me they don’t have time for fiction.

I think there will always be a place for great fiction. There are tons of people out there who just can’t get enough of it. But the question for us is – where will that fiction be bought?

The local Christian bookstore or the local B&N or Borders? To be honest, I am much more likely to be found at Borders than anywhere else. Because they have a coffee shop where I can sit and write. And…while they have gifts and calendars and other stuff, the store is still mostly…books. And oh, do I love books. Just being around them makes me feel good. Walking through aisles where I have to climb a stool to see the top row and sit on the floor to look at the bottom row just makes me feel like I am at home. And since I’m not the sort to buy Scripture covered jellybeans or dust collecting statues for my house, my visits to the Christian bookstore tend to have a specific purpose. I go for something. At Borders, I just go to be there.

The shift away from books and towards products probably began long before I came on the publishing scene. But days like today, I sit back and wonder what will happen over the next five years. What changes we might see. How fiction from Christians will find readers. How writers will have to adjust to an ever-changing market.

I think I’m going to go work on my movie…