Monday, October 10, 2005

Christian vs. Secular Publishing

A portion of my meanderings through the world of publishing have led me ask, what I consider to be a profound question—What is it that creates the difference between Christian fiction and secular fiction?

Is it because...oohh...someone mentioned the 'God word'? Nope! I've read the Almighty's name in many a secular novel, albeit sometimes it was used as a curse word (but I digress). Is it because someone SAYS its Christian fiction? Nah, believe me, I've read quite a few Christian fiction novels, that other than the fact that I bought them in a Christian book store, I would have assumed they were secular.

Is it because the writer is a Christian? No, again! Many Christians write secular fiction, and NEWS flash, many secular people are beginning to write under the Christian fiction label. Another example of that aberration can be seen in the new popularity of Christian music. Christian music is sometimes preformed by bands that are not professing Christians.

Christian fiction may not be popular in other countries, but in the United States, according to industry news published by Crossover, the growth projections for Christian publishing in 2009 will be $2.91 billion. That equates to a 50% increase over 2004.

The cross-over appeal of clean fiction is driving more secular publishers to create or buy Christian imprints. Random House bought WaterBrook, HarperCollins acquired Zondervan, and Harlequin created Steeple Hill, just to name a few. Then you have Doubleday, Penguin, and Oxford University Press, who all want part of the action. BantomDell signed Tim LaHaye, of Left Behind fame, to a $45 million book contract for a new series.

But I've made you guess for long enough. The actual difference between Christian and secular fiction is the CBA vs. the ABA.

To be classified as Christian, Christian Booksellers Association guidelines dictate, no explicit sex, a minimum of sensuality, and unless it is part of the struggle of the protagonist, there should be no premarital sex or graphic violence. The degree of religiousness can vary and they prefer that you not use denominations by name.

ABA...American Booksellers Association far as I can tell, anything goes. If I am mistaken I would appreciate correction.

Those are the only distinguishable differences in the markets. Another draw that seems to be bringing secular people into the Christian publishing world is the fact that you can actually find a publisher without an agent, and that doesn't happen too often in the secular world.

What are your views? I know both secular and Christian writers visit this site? Let's hear from you!


  1. Unknown said...
    so right. my biggest gripe is that for those who are seeking to understand more about Christ will pick up a novel that they think is christian fiction, because they see a church on the cover. or a christian author who has now switched to secular has a steady following and can't discern the two.

    on the other hand works like Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, which was published ABA is clearly christian fiction. anyone reading it will be changed by it.

    so i wonder is there anything that can be done. Christ says beware of false prophets so we need to be studied up to know whether what we are reading is divine.

    thanks for the entry.
    Bonnie S. Calhoun said...
    We are called to be a light to the world, not hide our light under a bushel. Staying inside the Christian world to publish equates to preaching to the choir!
    Shelley L. MacKenzie said...
    Great post Bonnie, and to be honest, one that I hadn't thought about. I don't know much about the industry yet, as I am fairly new. I'm eager to learn though. Thanks for this post.
    M. C. Pearson said...
    Great post again, Bonnie. I hope that Christian Publishers are Christians. I would much rather have a Christian Publisher benefit from the sales of my book (should it be published) than a secular one. I know many editors from Christian Publishing are led by the Holy Spirit and do pray about what books they choose.
    Bonnie S. Calhoun said...
    I would hope that ANY publisher has a Christian population among their ranks. Don't get stuck on the word Christian. You know yourself, there are a lot of good Christians and then there are those that sometimes make us ashamed to be connected in the same family with them.

    You shop at a secular grocery store, and everybody shops at Wally world, don't you?

    Same difference as publishing with a secular house. We can't affect the world if we stay to ourselves. And as for the money thing...God doesn't need our help. We need His! Get published and help to affect the world.
    Elektra said...
    Just wanted to say, the new format looks terrific!
    Bonnie S. Calhoun said...
    Thanks, I'm still working on it. I LOVE html and css!
    TStockmann said...
    As a secular, always wondered how the more stringent versions of Christianity - like the ones that eschew dancing - might regard Christian fiction that included activites they didn't like. I guess at some point or other strict practitioners would just stop reading fiction entirely, regarding it as lies or graven images or something.
    Bonnie S. Calhoun said...
    I'm fundamentalist, non-denominational pentacostal, a seamstress and a writer. I have enough on my plate to wonder about anyone but myself :-) Tehe, snort, chortle (that's for Mimi) But truthfully...if they don't dance, I doubt that they'd be allowed to read fiction! If anyone knows for sure, I'd appreciate a shout. Tstockmann, check out some of the sites on the left hand side of my Blog. Many of them are Christian writers, of all denominations. We're people too!
    Angie Poole said...

    Good post.

    As Dee pointed out with Gilead, when a novel is explicitly Christian it shows--no glows!

    Divinity is in the creator, given to the author by grace, and not in an ABA or CBA label.

    I've been suprised by both.

    Dee's right--we gotta stay plugged into the real deal to discern what's truly Christian Fiction.
    Paula said...
    Lots of interesting thoughts/comments. Thanks for making us think. Wherever it is published, good fiction touches the soul. I don't feel satisfied unless I feel I've touched the hem of the Divine when I read. I need God too much.

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