What's new in spiritual fiction
As in the old saw about real estate, this year there were three things to remember in religion publishing: fiction, fiction, fiction. It was unmistakable at this summer's major book trade shows: the moment has arrived for what can be called--however awkwardly and inadequately--religious or spiritual fiction. The seemingly unstoppable Left Behind series has drawn wide media attention, and the evolving efforts of religion houses to publish higher-quality novels are bearing fruit in critical acclaim and more review opportunities. Evangelical Christian novels have broken out to general fiction bestsellers lists and achieved prominent display in general-interest bookstores. In PW, these and other novels with religious or spiritual themes are being reviewed in the Forecasts fiction section. General trade publishers are luring top authors away from Christian houses, which themselves are planning expanded fiction lists and hunting for more good novelists and fiction editors. Jewish, Catholic and New Age publishers ar e also getting into the act. And in recent years there has even been a rise in the treatment of spiritual and religious themes in literary trade fiction --another reflection of the current cultural preoccupation with such topics.
In this issue of Religion Update, we take a wide-angle lens to the fiction phenomenon, examining the development of new genres and audiences for these books and looking at the marketing strategies of publishers who are venturing into this risky but fertile field. We also focus on recent treatments of religious themes in books by top literary novelists that would never wear the religion label. All the signs point to the age-old power of story to both entertain and inspire.
On July 7, the movers and shakers in the world of evangelical Christian fiction gathered to honor their own at the first-ever Christy Awards dinner, held in conjunction with the Christian Booksellers Association convention in New Orleans (News, July 31). The historic occasion demonstrated the maturity of this kind of fiction, which barely existed 20 years ago. Carol Johnson, editorial director for Bethany House, recalls that at that time, "the Christian fiction category was 24 inches of shelving in a back corner."
That can hardly be said today. Propelled by a few blockbuster titles, the quantity and quality of these novels has improved markedly, especially in the past few years. In fact, the word "genre" no longer adequately encompasses the far-flung category, which has expanded into a number of briskly selling subgenres seeking to attract new kinds of readers. And although evangelical Christian fiction dominates the market, other traditions, such as Catholicism and New Age, are having their say as well.
No End Time In Sight
Now more than halfway through its projected series of 12 titles, the Left Behind series shows no signs of fizzling. Since 1995, Tyndale House has sold more than 23 million Left Behind products (including books, audiobooks, videos and other …