Inspirational Fiction-updated

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm a new but admiring snarkling who is hoping to get a crapometer critique for a Christmas present. I know you mainly answer questions about query letters and why agents act or respond a certain way, but I was wondering if you wouldn't mind answering a broader question about the agenting biz.

Why aren't there more agents representing inspirational fiction? The inspirational fiction market is a sizeable one that's growing, but agentquery.com lists only 3 pages of agents for the Christian fiction market, as compared to 20 for the romance markets, and 32 for the women's fiction markets. I didn't think twice about the imbalance until reading Kristen Nelson's blog a few weeks ago. She complained about getting queries for Christian romance when she doesn't represent the genre. Until her post, I thought any agent that represent romance or women's fiction would also accept inspirational submissions in those categories but I guess that's wrong (or is it?).

Remember of course that I do not do romance (other than one on one submissions with Mr. Clooney in Lake Como) so I watch this market with half an eye.

Inspirational fiction isn't a moneymaker for us.
Not a lot of subrights interest to exploit and not a big market to sell into.

Agents are mercenary beasts. We work the money categories.

Publishers who do these books make money cause a lot of small books do sort of well, without a single title doing really well: 30 books that sell 1000 copies not one book that sells 30,000 copies. That means low advances, and small royalty checks. I'm not inspired to make those deals no matter how much I love God.

This might be changing so I'm keeping the previously mentioned half-eye on this category.



Kara Lennox said...

I'm reasonably sure Harlequin's Christian titles sell considerably over 1,000 copies. Probably closer to 30,000, maybe a lot more. But I see what you're saying, Miss Snark, about the bestseller and subrights potential.

Same problem with romance novels in general.

Anonymous said...

Do "Christian" & "inspriational" mean the same thing to everyone?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Let me add a different point of view here, if you don't mind Miss Snark.

The inspirational fiction market is growing by leaps and bounds and expects to be a $4 billion industry next year! This is evidenced by the recent acquisitions 'secular' publishers have made of Inspirational houses.

Random House bought Waterbrook

Penguin created Penguin Praise

Harper Collins created Avon Inspirational

Harper Collins also acquired Zondervan

Time Warner acquired Warner Faith which then created Center Street and Faith Words

Simon and Schuster acquired Howard Publishing

InterMedia Partners acquired Thomas Nelson

And bringing up the rear is the one mentioned in the post: Harlequinn has Steeple Hill

Inspirational fiction is no longer your mothers fiction. The Left Behind series sold more than 600 million books and spawned its own industry.

Frank Peretti's The Visitation was made into a movie. And Robert Liparulo's fist book Comes a Horseman is being made into a major motion picture by the same producer that did Sahara.

The christian inspirational true story, "Why I Jumped" by Tina Zahn as told to Wanda Dyson was featured last Tuesday on Oprah!

But I digress...to answer the original question: There are many christian fiction agents out there, I met a number of them at the Christian Writers conference in Philadelphia this August. You need to frequent christian sites to find them.

Start with ACFW-Amer. Christian Fiction Writers This is a national organization with a huge website

Or you could come to theCFBA- Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, of which I am the Director. We presently have 75 members and are growing daily! Weekly we give blog tours for christian fiction and regularly put the book as #1 on Technorati's Popular book list Our tour this week put Violette Between in that #1 slot.

Or you could always buy or borrow from you local library, Sally Stuart's Christina Writers' Market Guide. There are at least a 100 Christian agents listed in there!

thank you Miss snark for allowing me to be so long-winded!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Yikes...sorry I didn't capitalize your name...Miss Snark!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

And yes anonymous, "christian" and "inspirational" are interchangeable...LOL...even when I spell it wrong in Sally Stuart's writing guide!

M. G. Tarquini said...

Bonnie, could you explain it further? Seems when we talked about it, there was a lot of latitude in the subject matter, and it wasn't always Christian. Or maybe I understood that wrong. There are, however, very strict rules about language and violence content, correct?

I think a blog post over at your place to explain it all is in order, girlfriend.

Faith said...

Harlequin has the Steeple Hills inspirational romance line. I've read a couple of them and they were quite good. It seems to be a decent market for them, anyway.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

M.G. there is a lot of latitude in christian fiction.

Robert Liparulo's, Comes a Horseman has quite a bit of chilling violence in the beginning, while Brandilyn Collin's Seatbelt Suspense (TM)can really get the old ticker racing!

We're talking fiction...'christian' subject matter doesn't come into play. You don't need to hit someone over the head with a bible and give them a sermon, to see God working in a novel.

The writing 'style' is more what is considered Christian.

There are no overt rules about violence, but language must be 'clean', like scatological words are NOT allowed and NO 'on stage' sex is allowed. (Unlike in the secular world, you'd be surprised how many christians return books for refunds...and get them...when they are offended by the language...LOL!)

I will do a post on this some time soon!

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I'm not a fan of "Christian" fiction. But it is a viable market. Both the Bible bookstores here carry a large selection. It does sell. I just don't like most of it. ... It's boring.

Write something exciting and Christian, and you'll sell it ... pro'lly.

oh, oh oh oh, the historian hidden under my pixie wings wants to jump out even though I keep thumpin' her back!

You need to read some of the "old" stuff. Don't read a lot of it because it will stultify your brain.

Read some of Mrs. Sherwood (Mary Martha Sherwood). Ummm find History of Susan Gray. Read one Sidney Watson book. Your choice. They're all the same and all equally awful. These two authors are the real root and branch of American inspirational fiction. Just don't write like them! But you do need to know your roots.

The problem with Christian fiction is that it's often washed out. Real Christians do untoward things. They simply do not stay sin free. Put some sin in there! Even if they overcome it. You know? Make the dang thing real.

And for goodness sake don't write another Left Behind thing. Sidney Watson did it first.

I have a great idea! Write about a Christian Woman full of spirit and rescuing little boys and girls from prostitution in 1890s Brooklyn! Sin and salvation. Do it well. Do it bluntly but with tact. Do your homework, make it historically accurate. I'll read it.

That stuff in the Bible bookstore is insipid.

Anonymous said...

As an ex-bookseller, please permit me to suggest that returning a book after you've read it because you didn't care for the content is about as acceptable as returning a meal you've eaten for the same reason. -- rams

Robin Bayne said...

Bonnie is correct that inspirational is usually interchangeable with "Christian," except in orgs like RWA, in which inspirational (and the inspirational chapter) can be used to represent any religion or anything spiritual.

Alli said...

I submitted the question and want to thank Miss Snark for answering my question and a huge THANK YOU to Bonnie Calhoun for your informative post. I had a feeling that inspirational fiction was a growing and profitable market, but I understand Miss Snark's answer about there not being enough money in it for agents. I hope this will change as the inspirational market grows.

As for the inspirational vs. Christian labels, I know they are used interchangeably but they really aren't. Inspirational fiction can be about and apply to stories of many faiths although Christianity seems to be the most predominant. I only mentioned Christianity in my question because that's the label agentquery.com uses and that was the label used in the Pubrants blog a few weeks ago.

Southern Writer said...

I love God, too, but I don't read Christian fiction as a rule because I don't enjoy being hit over the head with the Bible. However, a couple years ago, I had the pleasure of watching a wonderful Christian novel called Love Circle being born (Debbonaire Kovacs), and fell completely in love with the characters and storyline. I lost touch with the author and would be interested to know if it was ever published so I can finish reading it. I'm going to go research it as soon as I'm done here.

This year, I absolutely have to read Violette Between by Alison Strobel Morrow. And Bonnie Calhoun, I wouldn't know anything about it if it weren't for your blog, so thanks!

Dave Kuzminski said...

I find it strange that there's a statement that they multiple-review(?) or blog their books to get those listed in the number one position at Technorati. Seems to me that a book should earn that position.

Dave said...

I don't think most books get 30,000 copies in the first printing. I think they are lucky to get 500 in the first printing. I somehwere remember the last Harry Potter had 90 in the first printing (for JKR only).
SLATE had an article about book sales.
for instance:
i) In February 2005, Josh Benson noted in the NYT that sales of former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's book were..."just over 4,000
ii)Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown ("just 26,000 copies")
iii)Myla Goldberg's Wickett's Remedy ("only 9,000").
You can read the article and the links to their other articles.

Keith Olberman who had a ready made advertising blitz and faithful audience didn't even merit a first printing of 10,000, it had less. As I recall his banter on his news show, the book sold out at Amazon in days and had to be reprinted. the book went from overnight delivery to one week delivery (That's how you know).

This is the arguement POD's are making at the print industry - they can print 5000 copies one at a time for an author who is willing to pay for the publishing, and do most of the advertising of the book. I can see doing this for a book with a limited audience (like my family history or a charity cookbook -- something like that ...

Furthermore, The Book Standard (http://thebookstandard.com/) on September 23rd 2005 had this statement by Jim King ..."highlighted first ... the fact that 93 percent of ISBNs sold fewer than 1,000 units in 2004, according to Nielsen BookScan. These books accounted for only 13 percent of sales. On the other hand, 7 percent of ISBNs sold more than 1,000 units and made up the remaining 87 percent of sales."

And my own personal obeservation is that there is one Christian bookstore to every half-dozen Borders, Walden's, Barnes & Noble, etc. That argues against huge sales of Christian Books. Unless you're Jenkins and Lehaye (in which case all of your books have been left behind by their owners {wink}{wink}.

Talia Mana, Centre for Emotional Well-Being said...

If you're looking for more information you might also like to visit AbsoluteWrite. They have a thread where Charlene Patterson fiction acquisitions editor for Bethany House Publishers answered questions. You can still view the Q&A here http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=41620

Also on the subject of inspirational fiction, there are a number of new age publishers specialising in this area. Llewellyn publishes new age fiction and non fiction including inspirational stories. I believe the books by Richard Webster (a New Zealand author) have sold very well.

Nell Dixon said...

Thank you for all the information. I recently sold my first clean secular paranormal novella to a small christian e publisher, By Grace and I wondered about how this market worked. I'm in the UK so over here it doesn't really come up as a separate genre.

Anonymous said...

I've returned meals when the first couple of bites were horrendous. I've returned books for the same reason.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Return a book? Unethical by my lights unless it's defective, missing a page, maybe all the pages printed upside down.

Usually a bookseller can fix the upsiding printing thing by reversing the dust jacket. Just a thought, but it works.

Here's what ya do. You read the first page or two. Right? Got it? You do that in the store. Go off to the last chapter and read bits. Like what you read? A lot? Good, buy it. Don't? forget it.

That's a book buyer's test run. Wut kinda twit buys a book without ah tryin' it out?

Pretend you're an agent reading a partial. Will you buy it or no?

OR, or, go off to the Goodwill Store and buy your books used for fifty cents or so. Not much loss if you don't like them.

Return a book? Shame, shame, shame. A perfect example of wanting someone else to be reponsible for one's decisions.

Anna Destefano said...


Wanted to add a brief footnote about book sales.

The thing to keep in mind about romance, and specifically Harelquin series romance (which includes Steeple Hill), is that we do quite regularly sell in the tens of thousands per title.

I write for Harlequin Superromance, and our print runs are often upwards toward 70k. Of those, about 40% of my sell-through is to bookclub readers, and the rest sell at retail during a one-month period. Then there are the foreign re-sales (both translated and to English-speaking markets). All totalled, I sell between 25 and 30k copies per title. Series books are also frequently sold and resold on online sites like Amazon. Romance as a genre currently represents something like 55% of mass market paperback sales, and around 35% of all books sold.

That's why our publishers stick with us--we sell...and Steeple Hill is currently leading the charge at Harlequin, as a niche market coming into it's own.

The numbers you were quoting, I suspect, were for different genres and probably hard cover titles, which are a much tougher sell-through.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Dave Kuzminski...nothing strange about blogging a book to the #1 slot at all! On Technorati Popular Books
it tells you that they are giving you a list of, "The books people are talking about right now, ordered by new links to Amazon in the last 48 hours."

That is how it works...by people blogging about the books. As a matter of fact that's how ALL of Technorati's Popular catagories work...by the number of people blogging about them...and right now we have 80 people blogging about Violette Between!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Oh, and for the other Dave. I don't know about where you live, but here in New York, I can buy any "christian" fiction title I am looking for at B&N, Walden's or Cole's...we don't have a Borders here!

And there is no need to argue publishing numbers. The viability of the market is evidenced in how many 'secular' publishers want to hop on the bandwagon...and not get Left Behind!

Anna Destefano said...

Sorry Miss Snark, for taking up more of my share of the snarkosphere on this one. But I wanted your Steeple Hill aspiring friends to have more accurate Harlequin series numbers.

I just made the time to check my cumulative royalty statments(don't ask WHY I didn't bother before I posted last night, just point Killer Yap and fire when ready). The result is quite different than what my deadline-riddled short-term memory produced.

Actually, over an 18-month period (three royalty statements), make that an average of greater than 55k in sales per series romance title. Not all Harlequin lines do as well as Supers. Some do better. Steeple Hill, I'm told, is riding the wave.

So those of you interested in the sub-genre, definitely check out SH.

The key for me every time I've looked at the various inspirational publishing options, has been understanding the guidelines for each insp. line/house. They can be quite restrictive, as others have said.

Not being able to tell a story that's true to what I think the characters' experiences should be has always been a deal-breaker for me.

Beth said...

Another example of Christian/inspirational books that not only sell in huge numbers (some of these books made #1 on the New York Times list) but have also crossed into the secular market are Jan Karon's Mitford novels. These have likely blazed a trail for similar novels to follow suit.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Bonnie, I was trying to be tactful and not just blurt out that I felt they were deliberately gaming the list in order to take the number one position. It's been done before and doubtless will continue to be done, but that doesn't mean that it's morally or ethically right to do so especially since it takes advantage of those folks who purchase whatever's number one because they trust in the judgment of others and in the honesty of the list to not mislead them.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Dave, being blunt is fine.

Why would you assume that the people who are blogging about books are 'gaming' people?

Not every review is favorable!

Just like every review that someone writes on Amazon about a given book is not always favorable.

The concerted effort of our organization it to review books. And that is what we do. And we do it well, I might add...whether it turns out to be good, bad, or indifferent!

Shalanna Collins said...

Add me to the list of people who think that returning a book to a bookstore becuase you "didn't like it" is NOT allowed. At Borders, at least, they ask you if you got a duplicate gift or what--they don't just take back stuff that you didn't pay enough attention to when you were buying it. If you didn't like the book, mail it back to the publishing house with a letter of complaint. (GRIN) Or just drop it into the hospital's bookcase; most hospitals and convalescent homes and so forth have a rolling bookcase on each floor that they keep for patients who like to read. Someone else might like to read a nice new hardly-touched tome. Or do bookcrossing (bookcrossing.com) or paperbackswap or something instead. It isn't good for bookstores to accept returns after someone has read the book (or most of it). I can read a book within a few hours, and I'm sure many other people can, as well, so "I brought it back the next day" wouldn't be a good enough reason.

And wow . . . maybe I should be more jazzed about that novel I considered "mainstream" making it to a request for a full over at Steeple Hill (it involves a girl who thinks she wants to be a missionary and who changes her mind as other worthy options present themselves to her.)

M. C. Pearson said...

Hi Miss Snark!

Awesome discussion here. Thanks for letting us all speak.

Thanks also to my best friend, Bonnie. She has great information and a fun blog.

Anonymous said...

Back to the topic at the top, not all "inspirational" titles are based in Christianity. However, all "Christian" titles fall under the subheading of "inspirational". The terms are not actually interchangeable, as there are publishers who will accept fiction from non-Christian perspectives. Let's use "Fiddler on the Roof". This is a perfect example of non-Christian inspirational fiction.