Christian fiction. Or is it inspirational fiction? Or is it religious fiction? Or maybe evangelical fiction? Or are the four of these different?
Well, that is a bit of a difficult question to answer. Inspirational is a heading that can encompass all manner of religious fiction. Today we are talking about inspirational Christian fiction. But it can be referred to by any of the four names above.
Modern inspirational fiction got its start in 1979 with Bethany House’s publication of Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke. In the following years, the market for this genre has exploded. Now Christian fiction is a wide-ranging genre that covers many traditional subgenres such as romance, sci-fi, historical, and YA. Today the market is full of wonderful authors like Francine Rivers, Gilbert Morris, Frank Peretti, Teri Blackstock, and Lori Wick.
The defining characteristic of Christian fiction is found in the common thread between its content and its audience: faith. Because of this focus on the Christian faith, there are certain hallmarks that are expected in this genre and certain rules that govern it. For the most part, these rules are unspoken and grounded in the author’s personal convictions.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no organization (the Christian Booksellers Association or the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) that has developed or enforces these rules. The rules that govern Christian fiction are outlined by each publisher and they vary widely. But these “rules” are directly connected to what the marketing outlets will accept.
Besides the internet, Christian books are most often sold in Christian bookstores. And like any market, demand affects supply. If a publisher’s readers will be offended by an edgy Christian novel, that publisher will not take a chance on such a manuscript. If a store stocks a book that is offensive to their customer base, it will not be on the shelf long and, therefore, will not be something the publisher will supply them with again. It’s simple economics. The only difference between traditional markets and the Christian market is the supply and demand is governed by the moral convictions of the customer.
Just as doctrinal beliefs vary from denomination to denomination, the same is true of Christian readers and Christian publishers. Some are liberal and others may be ultra-conservative. It’s vitally important that you know whom you are writing for. What may be acceptable to one reader may completely offend another. Once you have figured out whom your are writing for, you must find an agent or publisher who sell to that reader base.
In general, there are some things to keep in mind. Controversy and sex may sell, but they don’t in the Christian market. So, keep it PG and avoid issues of doctrine and things that may offend. Certain topics are going to be taboo. They may not stop you from being published, but they could make it extremely difficult. So think twice before including any of the following: pre-marital sex, fornication, divorce, homosexuality, adultery, gambling, drinking, etc.
The common factor in inspirational Christian fiction is an affirmation of faith and Christian values. This could include a conversion-experience for one of the characters, but redemption is not always necessary. And the books tend to include some form of resisting sin or temptation and show people of faith or people who need faith overcoming adversity. In a Christian romance, they find love. In YA, they find adventure. In paranormal, they see the world beyond the veil. In sci-fi, they see that God is truly the ruler of the whole universe. Ultimately, these books are a safe form of entertainment that affirms the readers’ faith in a world that tends to tear their beliefs down.
So who is your favorite inspirational author? Mine is oh-so-edgy Ted Dekker.