Search Results for: label/christian fiction

How Healthy Is the Christian fiction Category?

Publishing professional and friend, Dan Balow, recently took a look at the Christian fiction category in his blog for the Steve Laube Agency. His analysis includes some counterintuitive insights for publishers and some very specific advice to retailers that I wanted to share here. (Since my novels are considered “tweeners” – somewhere between the Christian and general markets, I especially appreciated what he had to say.) Dan – thanks for permission to use the following!

Just how well is Christian fiction doing?

Last year, two Christian publishers downsized or suspended their fiction programs. Currently, some Christian publishers are nervous about fiction and in a wait-and-see mode before they attempt to expand it or try new things. Others are excited about growth potential in the category and are taking an aggressive stance toward it.

Similarly, some Christian retailers are doing quite well with fiction, others are lukewarm with it and some are not doing well at all.

The answer to the question, “Is Christian fiction thriving?” is no, but it is certainly interesting to explore the reason behind such widely diverse opinions on the subject of Christian fiction today.  How can one group see great potential and another see little or none?

Here is why I think Christian Fiction is causing some publisher and retailer confusion right now:

First and foremost, fiction is the segment of book publishing and retailing most affected by the sales of eBooks. In some cases, 50% or more of unit sales on a particular title can be digital.  Because eBooks are cheaper than printed editions, overall revenues to the publisher will decrease or remain flat, all the while readership increases. For a particular novel, digital sales might be 50% of the units and 20% of the revenue.

A new business model eventually emerges, but it takes time for publishers and retailers to adjust to new realities.

Retailers can easily recall how the decline in physical product sales were affected by music downloads (iTunes started in 2001), video download/streaming and audio book downloads. The migration to digital delivery in music, video and audio resulted in a corresponding drop in physical product sales at retail.  But knowing the cause doesn’t make it easier to handle.

The second major contributor to publisher and retail confusion about fiction is the relatively small number of titles published.  Even in good years, the total output of new Christian fictions titles by the main ECPA Christian publishers are not more than 250-300 annually.  (I am not counting the various Harlequin Love Inspired and Heartsong mass market lines which publish over 200 titles per year.)

According to R.R. Bowker data from a couple years ago, the entire U.S. publishing industry (not self-publishing) released over 250,000 new titles annually, of which about 40,000 are novels. There is no completely accurate data available on Christian publishers, but not long ago the total output of books from Christian publishers was around 10,000 new books annually. If Christian publishers followed the same ratios in fiction as the general market, there should be over 1,000 new novels each year, not 250-300.  Not every category growth problem is solved by doing more books, but in this case, I believe it has something to do with it.

Similarly at retail, when a category suffers a slowdown, reducing shelf-space for the category only hastens the decline.  The huge disparity between fiction in the general market retail and that in the Christian market would leave one to wonder whether some are giving up too early on it.

The final reason for confusion about fiction is there are a limited number of genres published by Christian publishers. For reasons that may or may not be obvious, Christian publishers cannot publish in as many genres as a general market publisher.  For instance, erotica will never be a category in Christian publishing, while it is a major category in the general market.

Combine these three things…eroding physical sales due to digital delivery, a small number of titles in relatively few categories  and maybe we can understand why it is rather confusing time in the Christian fiction category.

What can retailers do about it? (other than stocking current best-sellers and new titles)

  • Begin with the inventory. Carry the classic backlist.  Not just In His Steps or Pilgrim’s Progress but the authors who made the category successful over the last 30 years … Janette Oke, Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins/Tim LaHaye, Bodie and Brock Thoene, and Francine Rivers to name a few.
  •  Decide to add a new genre of fiction that heretofore you have not carried or promoted.  This is to grow your customer’s taste for a wider type of fiction.
  • Consider rearranging the fiction section by genre to help readers find new authors. Perhaps using a variation of the umbrella categories that the Christy Awards uses to separate the genres.
  • Encourage fiction reader groups among your customers. This will show how fiction can communicate spiritual truth in an effective manner.

Steve Laube, the founder and owner of the literary agency with whom I work, was a Christian retailer himself before getting into the publisher side of the equation over 20 years ago.  In 1989, his Berean Store in Phoenix, Arizona was named the CBA Store of the Year.  I asked him to give his perspective on how retailers can sell more fiction:

The key was that great story that got people telling their friends. Word-of-Mouth.  Second was a staff that was knowledgeable about the various fiction offerings. Hand-selling is still a critical piece of what makes the physical store a destination. Hand-selling is a form of word-of-mouth. For example, when Mrs. Sally came in the store each month and asked us, ‘What’s new?’ we could direct her to the latest and greatest because we knew the type of stories she liked and the type of stories that were on our shelves.  That principle has not changed over the years. I am always attracted to the part of any bookstore that has a ‘Staff Recommendations’ section. I find it fascinating to see what other people think is worthwhile to read.

Keep in mind, that if readers don’t find what they need in the Christian store, they will look elsewhere and personally, I’d rather they find a lot of great reads among titles from Christian publishers in Christian bookstores.

Is Jack Reacher the Most Unique Character in Commercial Fiction?

a quick glance at jack reacher

Reacher has a major attachment issue – he can’t commit to living in one place.

In Jack Reacher, Lee Child has created one of the most unique and interesting male characters in commercial fiction today.

Army brat, West Point grad, and decorated military veteran, Reacher never lived in one place more than a year or two growing up or in his military career, so why start now? He doesn’t.

When Reacher leaves the Army – as a matter of honor, of course, he begins a new life as a drifter, traveling by bus or as a hitchhiker with the clothes on his back, a toothbrush, and an ATM card. He always finds trouble – and he is always ready to fight for the underdog.

Oh, and when his clothes get dirty, he throws them away and buys new ones. He’s not real particular on brands. So he’s done the math and it makes perfect sense to him.

Reacher is pretty lucky. None of the bad guys shoot as well as he does. And whatever mess he gets in the middle of, there is always an extremely attractive, independent, and unattached woman for him to consider the possibility of settling down with.

Reacher hit the big screen in 2013 with Tom Cruise in lead role, which created a storm of controversy with fans of the 6′ 5″ literary character. Cruise is always great in an action role. He’s not great at being taller than most everyone else in the room.

As of this writing Child has written 18 full novels … the series might finally be losing steam (at least for me), but Child has pulled off no small feat.

Adapted from my Pinterest board, Spies, Detectives, Hit Men, and Vigilantes.

How Great Is Our God

How Great Is Our God developed and compiled by Mark Gilroy

Devotionals from every century and every tradition of the Christian faith.

The Only Book with Daily Readings from Every Tradition and Every Century of the Christian Church

In a pluralistic culture with competing beliefs and values, there is a desire to understand and return to the basics—the classic expressions of the Christian faith.

This 365-day devotional will introduce you to the minds and hearts of many of the most influential thinkers in church history. It is a journey through two millennium of riches—from the early church fathers through the Medieval thinkers and the great councils, and on into the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the birth of the modern mind.

It is indexed by author, by theme, and by century, and includes a reading plan if you want to work through the writings chronologically.

It is an elegant edition that looks great on the nightstand, the desktop, or the coffee table.

How Great Is Our God is one part historical tour, one part devotional, one part guide for living, and one part gift book. It will appeal to every Christian who wants to hear the hearts and discover the classic voices of Christianity through the ages.



Amazon: Hardcover | Kindle | Audio

Barnes & Noble: Hardcover | Nook | Audio

CBD: Hardcover | E-book




Contact Page

Snail Mail:

2000 Mallory Lane, Suite 130-229, Franklin, Tennessee 37067

Q: How Accurate Are Bestseller Lists?

Q: How accurate are bestseller lists?

A: Not very.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They are great for publicity and will probably help generate more sales. Many people peruse the various lists to help them determine what to pick up next. They are fabulous for an author’s ego. Admit it, wouldn’t you like to have the tag New York Times Bestselling Author under your name every time you published a book? All it takes is once!

Why aren’t they accurate?

Book publishers don’t use a upc code on the back of their books. Why? There is an ancient custom that book retailers should be able to set their own prices. UPC codes include a price. So traditionally, publishers have used an ISBN number and code. A few use nothing at all. That means a whole new reporting system is needed to gather point-of-purchase data. The biggest collector of this data is Nielson’s BookScan system, which is modeled after the music industry’s SoundScan.

But not all retailers feed their data to BookScan and not all bestseller lists use BookScan anyway. The New York Times has the most prestigious list, which is based on several large chains, a number of independent booksellers, and select mass market accounts. USA Today and the Wall Street Journal employ similar methods of sampling, including judicious use of BookScan. Ditto Publisher’s Weekly. However, many large booksellers – like Sams and a number of other mass market retail chains, schools, Christian bookstores, rack jobbers, e-books, and high volume tabletop display marketers – don’t provide their data to BookScan. The largest Christian retail chain doesn’t even provide its data to the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) bestseller list. One wouldn’t, of course, expect the lists to account for other ‘special markets’ including direct sales nor organizational and author purchases. The good news is that Amazon and Walmart sales are now included with BookScan – but several of the lists resisted using Amazon’s sales until the last few years.

What percentage of book sales are reflected on bestseller lists? No one knows for sure based on all the above reasons. I’ve heard estimates ranging from 30% to 60%. Anecdotally, one author friend has now sold three million copies of a single book. Of those, 100 thousand have sold in traditional book selling settings and the other 2.9 million have sold direct to consumer, business to business, or through back-of-room sales when he speaks. Those 2.9 million units have never been counted on a bestseller list.

Because bestseller lists do create positive publicity and sales momentum there are more than a few occasions when authors and publishers have attempted to manipulate their book’s placement on the lists. For example, back when it was harder to track single store sales, an author or agent might order the five or ten or twenty or thirty thousand copies of a new book needed for speaking engagements through a single bookstore to ‘force’ a book onto the list. I’m sure this has helped ongoing sales just for the fact that accounts would see the book show up on a list and order more store copies. But point-of-purchase data, at least within a chain, is now sophisticated enough to spot this as an anomaly, not a trend. The New York Times at least used to put a dagger symbol next to books that had large bulk orders. (Do they still do that?)

There is a publisher axiom that says you can get a book on any bestsellers list through marketing but in order for it to stay on the list it has to be a great book that generates word-of-mouth advertising. Longevity of a book on various bestseller lists is almost always an indicator that the book has real ‘legs’. Or, in the case of books that sell hundreds of thousands or even millions of units and never show up on a list, they either need to be great or the author needs to have a great platform for moving product.

So bestseller lists are important indicators of what’s happening in major swathes of the book selling environment but they have information gaps in that environment and don’t even attempt to measure what’s happening in special markets, so they can’t tell the whole story of which books sell most.