Eight experts tell where Christian book publishing is headed.
CHRISTIANITY TODAY asked eight leaders in Christian book publishing to discuss trends in books today. Cheryl Forbes leads off with the point of view of a publicly held book publisher (Zondervan). Jerry Jenkins presents the views of an institutional publisher (Moody); Wesley Willis, a curriculum publisher (Scripture Press/Victor Books); Kent McNish, a denominational publisher (Abingdon); James W. Sire, a publisher related to a parachurch organization (InterVarsity); and Hardin and Maxine Young, booksellers (Christian Supply Store owners), and president of Christian Booksellers Association. We also asked Gilbert Bilezekian to view books from the perspective of a college professor (Wheaton) and leader of a rapidly growing church.
There is an air of expectancy in Christian publishing today. Although the phenomenal growth of the Christian bookstore market may have slowed, and the economy has still not obeyed the present Administration, we are excited about the future of our industry. We see this in our sales conferences and our editorial meetings. We hear it from the production side when press people and shipping personnel are reading our new books. “Something,” we hear, “is happening.” Just what is that “something”?
We can see this elusive something in three areas: changes in the market, changes in the kinds of books coming from publishers, and changes in technology. The first two are interdependent.
A decade or two ago readers were primarily demanding books on prophecy and personal experience. The Late Great Planet Earth and Joni are two examples of successes in these categories. Now prophecy books have all but disappeared from the frontlists of most publishers, and though numerous personal stories are still being published, many today deal with difficult issues that once would have been taboo in Christian publishing: for example, rape, child abuse, incest, and mental illness. It took some time for us to admit that Christians divorce; it may take a little longer to admit that Christians also become mentally unbalanced or are victims of abuse or incest, though Christian psychologists know how many people are suffering.
If prophecy books are out, Bible study books are definitely in and will stay in for quite some time. Inductive Bible studies fill a need not met by the popular devotional or the more scholarly expository books. Women’s groups, neighborhood Bible studies, couples organizations all want solid Bible study material. Publishers are adding topical Bible study books to their ever-growing line of inductive study material. Book buyers, then, are becoming serious about understanding Scripture.
At the same time that publishers note a new seriousness, they also note a new desire to be inspirationally entertained. Christian book buyers have discovered fiction. Perhaps it started with the Oxford Christians and fantasy back in the sixties (though I suspect most of those books were bought from general secular stores, not Christian bookstores). However it happened, the taste for the “made up” continues strong today and at least one Christian publisher has a serious commitment to publishing new fantasy by relatively unknown writers—always a risky business in publishing.
But there is another kind of fiction that Christian women book buyers in particular seem to want: the inspirational romance. Millions of Christian women have been reading books from Harlequin and Silhouette, for example, but those books have become increasingly erotic and less romantic. So where will Christian women go to find their romance? Silhouette currently is researching the possibility of an inspirational romance line and has already contracted for some of these books. Christian publishers, too, will be issuing inspirational, as well as historical, romances. The recent success of several historical romances indicates that readers want wholesome, entertaining stories. And the number of manuscripts of fiction that publishers are receiving shows that there are writers to fill the need And they are good writers; the caliber of these manuscripts is much higher than in the heyday of Grace Livingston Hill. This is just beginning.
If Christian readers are studying the Bible and awakening to fiction, they are also looking closely at themselves in two ways. Self-help books in the areas of marriage, divorce, and family relationships have been popular for a number of years. Now Christians want books that help them deal with love, anger, forgiveness, fat, discipline, food, priorities, clothing, style, and beauty. They want to be in good physical and spiritual condition, and books that provide step-by-step instruction have an eager audience.
But Christians are also studying themselves in another way. They are investigating weak areas in evangelical theology and biblical understanding that may lead to a skewed view of the Christian life. These problem-oriented books ask us to put what we learn from our Bible studies into practice. They ask, on a practical level, what it means for us to be disciples, how we can be committed, and what are the daily ethical implications of servanthood. The authors of these books have stopped looking for the mote in another’s eye, but instead are trying to help evangelicals remove the logs in their own.
Finally, the new technology in publishing will affect how quickly publishers can respond to the shifting tastes of readers. As more and more authors write on word processors, publishers will be able to produce books more rapidly and less expensively. The sense of immediacy achieved by television will never be reproduced on paper, but publishers will come closer than in the past. This will have a great effect on what people read and what they learn from that reading.
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