Agent Chip MacGregor On: Changes in Christian Publishing

Today much has changed in the Christian book market. In the 80s, the majority of publishers who took up the Christian fiction torch did so with a missionary zeal. Perceiving the new genre as another opportunity to spread the Gospel, some publishers required novelists to declare the tenets of faith in their work. Though a few may still provide specific guidelines for this approach, evangelism has become far less of an expected element when editors consider manuscripts. In fact, a lot has changed. Chip MacGregor is the founder of MacGregor Literary.
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Editor's note: I am declaring November 2010 to be "Agent Guest Column Month," and therefore, every weekday, I will be posting a guest column by a literary agent. Day 8: Today's guest agent is Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary.

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Today much has changed in the Christian book market. In the 80s, the majority of publishers who took up the Christian fiction torch did so with a missionary zeal. Perceiving the new genre as another opportunity to spread the Gospel, some publishers required novelists to declare the tenets of faith in their work. Though a few may still provide specific guidelines for this approach, evangelism has become far less of an expected element when editors consider manuscripts. In fact, a lot has changed.

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Chip MacGregor is the founder of
MacGregor Literary.

CHANGES IN CHRISTIAN/INSPIRATIONAL FICTION

Christian publishers are still evangelical, but readers have grown more skeptical and publishers have had to respond to this. People want clarity, but they also want room to reason for themselves. As a result, more Christian publishers are releasing generally redemptive novels with more subtle faith messages in place of the overt expository approach. And more general market houses are willing to accept a manuscript that contains clearly Christian content—an area where many of them once feared to tread.

The conversation has largely shifted from one of “message” to one of “craft.” What every publisher wants is a well-written book that touches readers’ emotions. Consequently, we are seeing an increase in novels written by Christians rather than novels written for Christians. While this may seem like a slight distinction, it has helped broaden the categories and the quantity of novels published.

From novels dealing with tough contemporary issues such as child abuse and AIDS, to humorous historicals and edgy mysteries, Christian fiction has broadened considerably and now includes such categories as suspense, police procedurals, romance, relationships, and fantasy. The categories themselves have becoming as diverse and numerous as the flowers on that prairie schoolteacher’s bonnet.

What’s behind the shift? “Money,” says one well-known literary agent. “Oodles of money.” And with the growth of religious fiction, there is a lot of money to be made. Most ABA houses find about half their sales revenues come from fiction. With CBA houses, it has historically been relatively insignificant … until recently. Now there are Christian novels showing up on bestseller lists everywhere, so the market is presenting a huge opportunity.

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CHANGES IN CHRISTIAN/INSPIRATIONAL NONFICTION

If Christian fiction is the fastest growing segment of publishing, Christian nonfiction is by far the most dynamic. With one distinction remaining exclusive to Christian nonfiction titles (they are all based on the belief that only God can help readers make lasting change), CBA and ABA publishers alike seek to provide relevant and timely titles in response to current cultural trends.

In CBA we're seeing more thoughtful books, more charismatic books, more books from people of color, more of a concern for social justice issues, more books from a postmodern perspective, more inclusive theology, and more multimedia books. Where once nearly all Christian nonfiction titles were categorized as “Christian Living,” we’re now seeing spiritual themes woven into cookbooks, travel books, relationship titles, and everything from business and finance to health and history. Humor, how-to, politics, marriage, parenting, singles, sports, and pop culture titles can all be found on CBA bestseller lists.

Last year offered the greatest number of Christian books ever published, and that has led to growth in publishing categories. Memoirs used to be dead, but we’re currently experiencing a renaissance of spiritual memoir and creative nonfiction (true stories told using fiction techniques), with the purpose of delivering truth to readers. One thing remains the same the nonfiction: tastes will change, generations will mature, and hot topics will die and be reborn.

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