Since I’ve been in publishing, I’ve heard rumblings of why can’t Christian novels be “edgy” or “better” in avoiding tropes, formulas, and the like. In other words, why can’t Christians write and publish great literature?
Know that the definition of great literature varies from person to person. A Google search reveals many articles on this topic. But when an author submits what he labels “literary” fiction to me, I know right away that the story will be a hard sell. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t worthwhile. It just means that the type of deep fiction that makes readers think, study, and reflect rarely finds an audience as large as books geared to the commercial market.
I think it’s because there are plenty of Christian nonfiction works that require, well – work – to read, think about, study, and implement. These books aim to help the reader improve her life. And of course, Christians spend time with the Bible, which is not easy peasy no matter how “friendly” the version. At least, not if you’re giving your Bible reading any seriousness or ponderance.
So when a Christian picks up a novel, he may be looking for an escape. Or she may want a happily-ever-after ending after spending time with a version of characters she has come to know and love. These characters live in a Christian universe, which in itself might be a temporary exit from reality. This reader doesn’t want to think a great deal, but to enjoy a tale well told.
When we complain that we can’t publish and sell great literature, we are in fact criticizing our readers. Is this a good idea, especially considering our readers pay our bills? If we look down on our readers, we no longer serve them. As Christians, we are called to serve, not to dismiss others.
And by the way, I’d venture a guess that “literature” finds the same obstacles in the general market. General market readers are looking to escape, too, if the popularity of commercial fiction is any indication.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t even attempt to write literary fiction? No, because your novel might be the next groundbreaking book. But let’s be mindful of the prodigious talent it takes to write and sustain a career in brilliant commercial fiction, reaching readers everywhere with God’s message of love and forgiveness.
Do you think Christian fiction is in a good place?
Is your WIP considered commercial or literary?