Should We Label Christian Fiction?

danger_explosive_materialThere has been a controversy brewing underground for awhile now, ever since publishers started promoting books by offering a limited-time free download. Many of the Christian publishers have done these promotions, but whenever Christian novels are promoted on Amazon as free downloads, many people download them without realizing they’re Christian. They start reading and when they realize it’s “Christian” they become enraged. They feel like they were hoodwinked somehow. And then they leave 1-star, angry reviews on Amazon. Here are some Amazon comments on a recent Christian novel that was free for a limited time:

“When you read the review for this book, no mention is made of the Christian nature of the book. This is misleading.”
“I resent the absence of the Christian fiction label. ”
“This book is not a [genre]. It is a Christian morality tale.”
“Why is it that authors of Christian fiction often hide that fact in the descriptions? I am simply irritated when I buy a book based on a secular description only to find that the predominant thread throughout the book is Christian proselytizing.”
“It is an excuse to promote a Christian agenda. When a book is Christian Fiction it should be promoted as such.”

These responses are leading people to ask whether Christian fiction needs to be clearly labeled as such, maybe in the “Book Description” on the Amazon page.

I know a lot of Christians think it’s a real shame that people are responding this way. But I have to say, I’m not surprised. To understand what I mean, just imagine if the tables were turned. You are a Christian and you download a free book (or worse, pay good money for a book), which you then discover contains a storyline that strongly promotes the Muslim faith, clearly saying Islam is the one true faith and without it, you’re doomed. I imagine you’d be upset. You’d feel disrespected as a reader. You’d feel tricked into buying something that goes against what you believe; you may even worry that simply reading it was dangerous for you.

I think this is a classic “Do unto others…” moment. I see no reason to disrespect people of other faiths (or no faith) by refusing to label Christian fiction as “Christian.”

In fact, I’d go so far as to recommend that if you write Christian fiction and your publisher is about to do an Amazon “free” promotion, you make sure somebody contacts Amazon to edit the book description so that it makes clear it’s Christian. If you do this, you can probably avoid most of those angry 1-star reviews.

What do you think? Should Christian fiction be clearly described as such in the book description? Why or why not?

Be Sociable, Share!
  • http://www.jaimereadingandwritingblogspot.com Jaime

    I have to say, I completely agree with you. I was raised in a Christian household, and as a Christian, I have to say, I’d prefer to know whether what I’m reading is a Christian novel or not. Why? Because I don’t actually read Christian fiction. Though I’m a Christian, Christian fiction rubs me the wrong way. I’d prefer to know up front and I completely get that other do too.

    • http://www.ginnymartyn.com ginny martyn

      This is an interesting conversation because the opposite actually happened to me. I was reading some YA recently, and out of the blue the author included a lesbian make-out scene…What? I was just as angry and thought there should have been something in the blurb that suggested the author’s agenda.

      Having said that, I don’t think fiction should have direct propaganda. I think it breaks up the story. If the author wants to advance a point of view then it should be presented in a way that doesn’t cause the reader to come out of the story.

      I agree with the first poster; Christian fiction rubs me the wrong way too. As a Christian and a graduate student of literature, I believe good protagonists come from morally neutral places and move toward relatable goals, not agendas. That is why the best stories appeal to large groups of people across many beliefs, faiths and moral codes.

      I think if you write a great story then great themes will emerge. Love, joy, mercy, forgiveness will come out against the backdrop of action. The reader won’t hear it…the reader will feel.

  • Jadi

    I think it should be labeled.

    I don’t read that much Christian fiction. There are a few authors that I really like, but most of it I don’t care for (and I am a Christian), so I’d rather know beforehand.

  • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

    This goes to the whole question of what is “Christian” literature in the first place? As a Christian, I write from a Christian worldview. That doesn’t mean everything I write is overtly Christian. I make no secret of my faith, so if anyone wanted to find out my perspective, they can Google me, read my blog, etc. But just as I don’t expect Neil Gaiman or Philip Pullman to label their work “Atheist Fiction,” I don’t see why Christians need to label their work as “Christian Fiction.”

    If you’re downloading a book for free, just because it’s free, and you don’t even bother to read the synopsis or an author bio, then I don’t see what ground you have to complain if you discover it’s not what you thought from the title. If you’re paying money for the novel, then a little pre-purchasing research (which might take all of 10 minutes) may save you some remorse later.

    To put this in another light: would you label C.S. Lewis’s fiction “Christian Fiction”?

    Just my 2-cents.

    • Suzanne

      I’ve downloaded books that looked interesting from the summary and author bio that made no mention of the prominent Christian platform the author was using. When the story hinges on a Jesus-comes-into-my-heart salvation moment, I expect there to be a mention of it somewhere on the page…and it’s usually not.

      You can’t assume that every author or publisher is including the C-word in summaries and bios.

    • Robert

      I agree with you that Christian fiction should not be labeled as such. People should take the time read the description the book. Those who don’t have no reason to complain. It’s not right or fair to any author to have their work segregated because someone might not read what the book is actually about and get offended.

      • H. Renee

        What’s frustrating is when I DO read through the description and author bio, and it turns out to be Christian fiction. It would be like reading a description on a romance novel, downloading it, and discovering that it’s a heavily science fiction romance. Not necessarily bad in any way, but definitely not what I intended or want to read if I don’t like science fiction.

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          … or when you read the book and discover it has a very strong secular message that offends your religious sensibilities?

          Many people assume that only Christians (or religious people) have an agenda to push. *Everyone* has a worldview, and that worldview will come out in their writing. What annoys me is the unspoken assumption on the part of many that a non-Christian worldview is the “norm” and any deviation from that (e.g., Christian) should have a clear warning label.

          • http://www.jaimereadingandwritingblogspot.com Jaime

            I agree. As much as I don’t prefer to read Christian fiction, I also don’t like picking up a book and finding out that it’s loaded with things that offend my own personal beliefs. How is that any different than a ‘Christian’ book offending those not of the Christian faith? It’s a two-way street.

    • http://writingforthegloryofgod.wordpress.com Melinda Viergever Inman

      Colin did such a good job, that I’m going to second his 2-cents worth. He summed it up.

      If your story is a Christian story, the back-cover copy (and your bio) should show the careful reader your intentions in some subtle way, just as it’s pretty clear from the description of “atheist” fiction that the outcome is going to be bleak. If we start branding literature, much classical fiction should be labeled “Christian” fiction; yet it is not(anyone read Jane Eyre lately? Christian fiction). While I think we should have an open marketplace without having our work shoved into a separate category, I think we should not hide this important element in our book descriptions. Just the use of one word can do it: hope, faith, belief, God.

      • Brian Tarbox

        “…atheist” fiction that the outcome is going to be bleak”

        Really? Without explicit faith the outcome will be bleak? I hope you didn’t really mean that. Or if you did, understand that the comment itself is presumptuous.

        • http://writingforthegloryofgod.wordpress.com Melinda Viergever Inman

          I think that apart from God’s grace, life is pretty bleak. If the goal of the writing is an atheistic goal in particular, things will be grim, focused on human effort and supposed human goodness. People have sinful natures; our own efforts usually fall short, and we find at the core of our motives (if we are honest)selfishness of some sort. Satisfied with our good-deed-doing, we may strut away from our charitable deeds selfish to the core in actuality. In my mind, an inaccurately evaluated heart is bleak indeed. Therefore, at its core, an atheistic effort, because of its disbelief in God or what he says about human nature, would exalt man’s abilities above God’s grace. I find that bleak. I’m sorry if you find that presumptuous.

          • http://www.harlotsharpiesharridans.com/blog Gillian

            To be honest, I found your assessment of humanity far bleaker than that of any atheist I know.

          • http://writingforthegloryofgod.wordpress.com Melinda Viergever Inman

            I’m just reflecting on Romans 3.

  • Roanne King

    As a Christian writer and reader I take a risk picking up any book not labeled as inspirational or Christian. I enjoy all kinds of books as do my children but I have no way of knowing a book doesn’t contain material we find objective. From witchcraft to theories on love or marriage, premarital sex, or even swear words. I am not against labeling books so people know what they are buying. So long as it extends to other material that may be offensive. Why is it that anything and everything is acceptable except expressing the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Why not take it as an opportunity to learn about something or just be “entertained”? Personally I love a good mystery. However the last time I bought a secular mystery novel I tossed the book before the first couple of chapters due to excessive sex scenes and “f” bombs. No warning whatsoever on that book!

    Again, I am a writer and would like to read a variety of books to see what’s out there. But until secular books are labeled or “rated” like any other form of entertainment, nobody should be complaining about getting an unexpected tale of “morality” every once in a while.

    • http://sharonhenning.blogspot.com Gently Mad

      I guess the literature should be labeled only because of the blatant intolerance over anything Christian. When I read books at my son’s school at the Scholastic book fair many of them have a Buddhist, New Age or definitely secular theme but of course there’s no labeling them as such or any objection. It’s a double standard that Christian writers need to be aware of.

  • Daniel Wheeler

    Yes Christian Fiction should be clearly labeled.

    I doubt CF authors are actively trying to subvert the classification system in order to plant their books among certain people.

    And I would be proud of what I had written and thus want it labeled correctly.

    Long time lurker.

    Your site is a great resource :)

  • http://vickiorians.blogspot.com Vicki Orians

    Okay, now I am a Christian, but I’m one of those people who agree that Christian Fiction should be labeled as such. If I’m in the mood for something spiritually uplifting, I want to grab a Christian Fiction novel. If I don’t know which ones they are, then I run the risk of reading something that isn’t. I think it would just make sense and then those Christian authors’ books wouldn’t get one-star ratings because of a genre mis-label. Those books might, actually, be very good. Just my two-cents.

  • http://thesouthernscrawl.blogspot.com/ Katie

    It’s funny, because when I clicked on this post (not even having read it yet!) I already knew what the arguments in the comments section would be. And here they are. There are always going to be the obligatory “should an author of such-and-such persuasion have to have their books labeled as such?” and the corresponding “do you HAVE to be told if it was written by a Christian author???” But “Christian fiction” is NOT synonymous with “books written by Christian authors.” There is definitely a difference. And I understand why some people would complain…

    For instance, I am perfectly fine reading books written by authors who happen to be Mormon (Ender’s Game, Twilight, The Book of a Thousand Days, to name a few), and I can even see their Mormon beliefs influencing the story and I can appreciate that, but I wouldn’t really want to read a “Mormon fiction” book, something written with the Mormon beliefs as an important moral in the story, perhaps even THE point, as I am not Mormon and not particularly interested in reading something that is required/expected to include their particular spin on the world (other than out of pure curiosity). I would want that clearly labeled if it were the case, because there is a difference between something that is supposed to reflect a certain religion’s dogma and “party line,” so to speak, and a book simply written by someone who ascribes to a certain religion.

    • Fiona

      Exactly. This summed it up. There is a difference between a theme (someone mentioned Graham Greene) and a book where finding salvation is the main point. I would read the first; I would feel duped if the second was not clear in the description. If it is and I make the mistake; that’s different.

    • http://wayneborean.ca Wayne Borean

      I’m going to be publishing a book written from a Mormon viewpoint shortly. It will be labeled. Quite frankly I think that will help it sell. There’s a huge relatively untapped market for Mormon fiction.

      I think that labeling things is a necessary part of publishing. A reader who expects a romance, doesn’t want to find she has wandered into a horror novel. A science fiction reader doesn’t want to find he is reading a romance. A mystery buff doesn’t want to end up in a young adult paranormal.

      Writing from your background is another thing. My fantasy will always have a strong moralistic flavor to it. I was brought up that way, and my fiction shows it. Evil might spend the first 80% of the story rocking and rolling, but they are going to get their teeth kicked down their throat in the last couple of chapters.

      Back to labeling. Just think. If you go to the restaurant and order a steak, and they deliver you tofu, wouldn’t you send it back? Of course you would! You’d be furious. You’d scream at the chef, and you’d never go back to that restaurant.

      If you don’t label your fiction, you’ve only yourself to blame if you pick up one star reviews.

      Wayne Borean
      Wayne Borean Publishing

  • Sra

    It’s not just Christian fiction. Sometimes I start reading a book thinking it’s going to be… I don’t know, a mystery or something. And then it’s a romance. Or I think it’ll be Sci-fi and it ends up being a story about high school.

    When I don’t get what I expect, I’m always disappointed, and end up being unsatisfied with a book that might otherwise be a perfectly decent book. I then usually blame the people who write the cover copy, and complain that they could have done a better job at telling me what it was about, so I didn’t get false hopes.

    People do this with all kinds of books. I think they just get more comment-happy about it with Christian fiction because religion is one of *those* subjects. The ones that people decide it’s okay to be irrationally argumentative about.

    Basically, I think all fiction should be decently labelled. I don’t want to buy a book thinking it’s one kind of thing when it’s another, Christian or not.

  • Jessi

    I think it would be nice if books were labeled for what they are. I know there are some books that are on a pretty thin line of being Christian since it’s only mentioned once or twice so it might be hard to tell if the book should be labeled as Christian.
    I also think books with swearing, or sex, should be labeled as such. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to skip scenes in books because they were disgusting to me. And yes, because of that, I gave the books lower ratings than I would have if they had not had those scenes, or swear words, in them.
    Labeling books as Christian, Muslim, or mentioning if there is some kind of bad content would be a good idea. It would allow busy Christians to find Christian books more easily and help them avoid books they would give a low rating. It would also help anyone who didn’t want to read something to avoid the subject they didn’t want to read about.

  • http://www.briantriber.com Brian Triber

    Not being a Christian myself (raised Jewish), and having worked in a bookstore, here are my 2¢. Regardless of what publishers or authors think, the goal to publishing is to reach an audience, whether the book is being given away for free online, sold for an e-reader, or purchased in its pulp incarnation from a brick and mortar store. With that goal in mind, it is in the best interest of the publishers and writers to label their work as Christian fiction for two reasons.

    First, that customers looking for Christian fiction already know to look for similar works on the Christian Fiction shelves at bookstores, and will therefore look online for a similar genre label — in this case, not labeling will cause the customer to never find the work online using a genre search.

    The second reason is that if an author or publisher is making people irate by not labeling a piece of fiction, it’s in their best interest to fix the problem since you don’t want people coming away with a negative impression whenever the book or author in question is encountered. If it leaves a bad taste in readers’ mouths, you can guarantee it will be spread by word of mouth, just as good books are spread by word of mouth.

    To put it another way, GLBT fiction is marked as such and shelved in the GLBT section of the store for two reasons: to increase sales to customers looking for similar titles, and to prevent unwary customers from picking up something they might find offensive to them. Similarly, how offensive would it be to find a copy of Darwin’s work or Dawkins mixed in among the Christian Studies section? Labeling books with precise genres can only help both the customer and the bookseller.

    • http://www.brokengirl.info London Crockett

      Brian, I think you hit all the solid commercial reasons that books should be initially distributed by their publishers within some genre (and perhaps for online site, include some mention of the genre, so people can easily search for it; however I assume that most online retailers already use genre meta-tags).

      I’m a bit leery about being too emphatic with genre labels. Earlier today, I had a discussion about The Golden Compass, where I expressed my amazement that a book with such an advanced vocabulary was released as a children’s book. My friend, a librarian, told me that in her library, it was shelved as Children’s, Young Adult, Fantasy, and (I think) general adult fiction.

      The Golden Compass, incidentally, was recommended by my most religious friends (he was being groomed to be a Cardinal before he left the seminary and she had a deep faith by the time she could talk, sitting silently in prayer with her mother for hours meditating on God every morning). While it is obviously an attack on Christianity and Catholicism in particular, my friends viewed it as fiction and weren’t offended because the reality of the books had nothing to do with the reality of their faith or church.

      Just as CS Lewis has been mentioned, other Christian authors who write with Christian themes have found broad readerships (I’m thinking of one of my favorite authors, Graham Greene). If we isolate them too much, so that nobody inadvertently stumbles across something that offends them, we risk people missing out on wonderful books they will cherish.

      • K. J. Conte

        I think that is dead on. I am currently writing a novel that has some Christian undertones. But it’s not created to be sermon on Christian values but to have the readers make their own decisions. To give them a different “what if.” I purposely am not making it very blatant so that I can reach a broad audience. Where others can read it as just a great fantasy book or others who can find the same story uplifting. If I have to label it Christina fiction because it may appeal to Christians in a certain way, I lose possible magic.

      • http://wayneborean.ca Wayne Borean

        We read Narnia in High School. I didn’t get the Christian side of it. It went totally past me. I thought it was just a delightful children’s fantasy.

        The Golden Compass was watched, read, and enjoyed by many religious people that I know. Again, it is totally possible to miss that part of it. It isn’t totally in front of you the entire time.

        LeHaye’s “Left Behind” series is based on one Christian Sect’s view of the second coming. And there is where the difference lies.

        Lewis and Pullman both used their background in their stories, but it wasn’t omnipresent. In LeHaye’s books it is omnipresent. There is a huge difference.

        When someone writes a for a specific audience, the book should be marked for that audience. If it isn’t, and people aren’t happy, they have only themselves (or their publishers) to blame.

        Wayne

  • http://www.daronfraley.com Daron Fraley

    I think it’s a good idea for the back cover copy to at least have some indication that the book is religious in nature.

    I remember seeing a lot of outrage over the first three Narnia movies, and the fact that they all had a religious theme to them. What? You mean people really had no idea that C.S. Lewis was a Christian, and that the books were really Christian Fiction? And that Aslan is a type and symbol for Christ?

    Sorry, but we can’t help the lazy or ignorant. Most of those people really had no excuse. Once a believer, C.S. Lewis never held back on declaring himself, or his writings, Christian. Anyone who knew anything about the author would never be able to claim such ignorance. To be fair, perhaps there really are some who had never heard of him or the books themselves. But I think that number has got to be fairly small.

    In short, I am fully convinced that many of these people are simply anti-Christian, and there is nothing we can do to keep them from complaining.

    So, we might as well weed out those who would choose to be so easily offended. They are not our target readers anyway.

  • http://bethvogt.com Beth K. Vogt

    I’m coming at this from a slightly different angle: a huffy (I won’t go so far as to say irate) review I got for my non-fiction book on late-in-life motherhood. It was a MOPS-brand book — MOPS is Mothers of Preschoolers International, an evangelical organization. It was published by Revell, a faith-based publisher. My author bio on the back of the book clearly stated some of my writing credits — all faith-based publications.
    Despite all this, I got a 2-star review because one reader was surprised by the “Christian flavor” of my book.
    Did she not read the back cover copy? My bio? All clear indicators my book was faith-based.
    That said, I wove my beliefs very lightly through the book in the hope of appealing to people wherever they were in their faith journey. This is one of the goals of MOPS. Obviously I’m not going to appeal to everyone — whether I write faith-based nonfiction or fiction.

  • http://aseasontowrite.blogspot.com/ S. Wiersma

    I think it should be labeled; after all, I skip over fiction that ISN’T labeled as Christian! I read some reviews on a Gary Chapman book the other day, and people complained that they were being “bashed over the head” with “religious views”. These people clearly didn’t read the book’s description (or they read it anyway and expected something different??). You just can’t please everyone.

  • John

    Why is this even a question? If every other book is labeled by genre why not these, unless of course, the authors/publishers are actually trying to hide it from consumers.

    • http://www.jaimereadingandwritingblogspot.com Jaime

      I think the question is where does it end? If Christian fiction should be labelled as such, then so should anything with any religious ‘flavor’ (no matter the religion). But why stop there? Anything that is overtly atheist or political or whatever would need labeling because it might offend and so on and so on, until it gets a little ridiculous.

  • Kat

    I think it should definitely be labelled. We don’t even need to call this a religious issue.

    For instance, readers would feel just as hoodwinked if they downloaded what seemed like a normal historical fiction novel only to find UFOs and aliens in it that weren’t mentioned in the description. Or someone looking for a thrilling suspense novel only to find that steamy sex scenes (and not much else) dominate the plotline.

    People are into different things, and there is a certain “tone” and “lesson” found in Christian fiction that is unique from other genres. It should be labeled accordingly, because people not looking for it won’t like it, just like they wouldn’t like finding a horror book in the mystery section.

  • http://tossingitout.blogspot.com Arlee Bird

    I’m not fond of labels and don’t think a book with a Christian theme should be labeled, but I think the summary and any text about the book should be honest if the book is promoting any agenda. I expect to know what a book is about and where it is coming before I read it. Truth in advertising.

    Lee

    • http://www.charmainetdavis.com Charmaine T. Davis

      I think my opinion is worth at least five cents so here goes. I write books from a Christian world-view and just like others have stated–everyone has an agenda. Why should Christians put an additional label on fiction books? How ridiculous–this is Christian mystery or this is Christian horror or this is Christian fantasy. People with alternative world-views do not label their books as such. They are presented as straight mystery, horror, etc.
      With that being said, if a potential reader reads my website or whatever, it is no secret that I am a Christian. My logo also says “I write that you may believe…”
      Writers need to realize that readers’ hostile comments are not against the writer but against the writers’ God.

  • http://slckismet.blogspot.com Michael Offutt

    Yes. I’m atheist and would like labels so that I could be better informed on whether I want to read it or not.

  • http://nancysthompson.blogspot.com/ Nancy S. Thompson

    YES! Look, I’m a Christian. A Catholic, no less. But I do not enjoy having someone weave their particular brand of faith into the novel I’m reading. When the blurb or promo does not included the angle of faith in as much as it is a fundamental part of the story, characters, and plot, I feel preached to, and unwillingly so. It’s a violation of the spirit. If I knowingly choose to read that kind of story, well then, that’s something altogether different, just like choosing to attend Mass on Sunday. I’m choosing to hear the words of the priest. But when an author does not reveal the faith-based nature of his or her message, cloaking it purely as a thriller or a mystery or what have you, it rankles me. It’s like the Tea Partiers trying to ram their brand of faith down the throats of all Americans and calling it the moral majority. I find it offensive. And I’m a conservative, too. So yes, warn the potential readers that the book they are considering buying is Christian so they can decide for themselves whether or not they want to hear the message.

    • Susan Foy

      Tea Partiers? Don’t they come from all different religious persuasions? Talk about stereotyping!!!

      • http://tossingitout.blogspot.com Arlee Bird

        And this illustration of stereotyping “tea-partyers” or any other group shows part of the problem with labeling. Not all books will fall under a precise label. The book jacket description should truthfully give an idea of what the book is about.
        One shouldn’t reject literature that promotes a particular agenda if that work of literature is well written and honest in its presentation and representation.

        Lee

      • http://nancysthompson.blogspot.com/ Nancy S. Thompson

        I apologize if I offended you or anyone else. I realize now that, in the heat of the moment, it does come off as stereotyping. That was not my intent. I was only using it as one example. Of course, there are many groups who do this, it’s just that with the election so near, Tea Partiers are the most relevant and visible. I should have been more specific. Not all TP are like this, just the few bad apples portrayed in the media.

        I don’t begrudge anyone their faith. But in my opinion, “religion is like a certain male body part: It’s great to have one, and it’s fine to be proud of it, but please don’t whip it out in public (or hide it in a book) and start waving it around.”

        • Susan Foy

          LOL – That reminds me of something a woman at my church said once, “You know, I was raised Catholic, and we don’t even like to talk about religion among ourselves!”

          I guess I’m the one stereotyping now! :-)

  • http://coffee-stainedwriter.blogspot.com Nicole

    I think Christian novels should be promoted that way. Not only does it avoid the 1-star reviews, as you said, but people who prefer to read only Christian novels will know right away that they are, which can make it a bigger draw.

  • http://community.advanceweb.com/blogs/pt_4/default.aspx Janey Goude

    The opposite to this happened to my friend with her first release. It was labeled and marketed under Christian Fiction and got negative reviews from Christians because of some of the scenes and words used.

    The publisher decided to market it some mainstream and the author received precious letters from hurting people who found God through her book.

    It wasn’t a preachy book, but God was unapologetically there – portrayed through relationship. Relationships get messy. It was a book of pain, loss, and redemption. It depicted real world pain, and all the ugliness that entails, being met by a loving God who saves us in our wretchedness.

    In my friend’s case, it was the high and mighty, self-proclaimed Christians doing the bashing. I have to wonder if it is these same Christians whom the non-Christian bashers (mentioned in original post above) have encountered, and those encounters have fueled their anger, making them anti-Christianity.

    This case further muddies the water and begs the question, what qualifies as Christian Fiction?

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/P-J-Casselman/176559919090167 P. J. Casselman

    I read everyone’s posts and the reasons for labeling Christian books as such seems apparent. The only reason why one would not brand them is to get people to buy them who might not otherwise. This trickery has no place in a transparent life.

    • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

      Succinctly summed up, PJ! Good job!

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      So, C.S. Lewis was trying to trick people into reading Christian allegory? Actually, he has gone “on record” saying that he hoped people first regard the Narnia stories as good stories.

      A good story is a good story. If you reject a great novel because of it’s Christian themes, is that the author’s fault, or the publisher’s fault, or is that just reader bias?

      • http://www.facebook.com/pages/P-J-Casselman/176559919090167 P. J. Casselman

        Thanks Joe! Colin, C.S. Lewis wrote in a different time and place which had a completely different atmosphere towards literature. There was no Christian fiction section in bookstores at the time.
        Yet, he was a well known Christian apologist for 19 years before publishing “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” His name was commonplace enough to stamp “Christian” on the work. It would be the same as James Dobson writing a fiction book. Who would doubt its underlying message would be from the standpoint of faith?

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          I understand what you’re saying. My point is, would C.S. Lewis’s work be classified as “Christian” today? It isn’t–but that might be simply because the Narnia stories have been recognized as great stories regardless of the underlying message. Which was Lewis’s point. And which should be the purpose of all great fiction. The only thing that’s changed from Lewis’s day to now is marketing. And, yes, that’s what I’m calling into question. I think it is irrational marketing. Let writers write great books, and readers decide whether they want to read them. If they promote good Christian values, then Christian readers will tell their friends, blog about them, and commend them to their churches, youth groups, etc.

          If I may throw in another contrast between Lewis’s day and ours: the term “Christian” carries a lot more baggage now than it did 50-60 years ago. As noted by other commenters, many non-Christians come to Christian literature with certain presuppositions, and often avoid it because of those. But if all Christian literature was written, like Narnia, as great stories built upon a Christian worldview, I’m sure they would find wide readership among those with and without faith. That’s why I take issue with the label.

          • http://www.facebook.com/pages/P-J-Casselman/176559919090167 P. J. Casselman

            Interesting insight, Colin. Thanks!

  • http://www.kathleenbittnerroth.com kbr

    Don’t expect a reader to automatically know that a certain author is a Christian and always writes Christian themes. I don’t care what the persuasion of an author is, my interest is if the book is a good read and in the genre I seek. Like many others, I often purchase based on the back cover blurb and first few paragraphs, so call it a label if you like, but that blurb had better be a clear indication of what I am spending my budgeted dollars on: SF, Historical Romance, Steampunk, Christian, Inspirational, Erotica, etc.,
    Surprise me once I get reading and I just might get grumpy enough to leave a one star review. Do the authors a favor and make the content clear.

  • http://grapevine.com.au/~natalie Natalie

    Like most commentors above, I want to know what the book is about before I hand over the money. This is usually based on the blurb on the back cover and the cover art. I mainly read “fantasy” (elves and dragons etc) and I hate it when a book I’ve purchased turns out to be mainly horror, or paranormal soft porn.

    I think that if a character (or every character) happens to be Christian, that doesn’t have to be flagged on the back. A mention that they go to church or teach their kids to pray at bedtime doesn’t make it “Christian Fiction”. But if the story is about being Christian and revolves around faith, then yes I want to know beforehand.

  • http://thehappylogophile.wordpress.com Jo Eberhardt

    As a non-Christian, I have no issue with reading about Christian characters (many of my family and friends are Christian, and I don’t have a problem associating with them, either). On the other hand, I would prefer not to read a book where the very plot hinges on a character finding God (for example).

    My reluctance to read this type of book is not because I’m anti-Christian, or because I’m threatened by Christianity (I’m quite comfortable in my own Faith, thankyouverymuch), but because there is a vast array of books available that don’t feel like an awkward or uncomfortable fit.

    So, yes, I think it’s worthwhile labelling Christian Fiction as such — but only on the proviso that the term refers solely to fiction where being Christian or understanding Christianity is a vital part of the plot, not simply fiction where one or more characters are Christians or there is an overall Christian world-view (such as C.S. Lewis’s work).

  • http://keepingsane.com/ Kat Ward

    I would think if the work was labeled Christian fiction, authors would actually find their audience—and isn’t that the point? So many of us who’s books don’t fit a particular genre have to work considerably to find our audience as it’s not self-evident. I’d think if you already had a built-in audience, you’d take advantage of it.

  • http://Thesweetescape.net MJones

    Doesnt need a label if the synopsis and blurb are forthcoming about it. It’s when it’s packaged to look like your ordinary romance or adventure novel and a large part of the plot is the character convincing his neighbor to come to church or accept Jesus as his/her savior, replete with deep biblical discussion. This is something that should be mentioned and often isn’t. I feel it is purposely left out so that people buy the book…. Then people are angry and feel duped.

    If you’re going to write from a faith viewpoint, be proud and include that enormous detail in your blurb. Will cut down on angry one star reviews.

    • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

      Well put!

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      What if the plot hinged on the main character losing his/her virginity before marriage, or losing his/her faith? Should those be clearly labeled so people who don’t share that worldview are warned?

      But what if these books are all great stories? Isn’t that what matters more than labels? I’m far more annoyed when a book that seems like it should be great turns out to be terrible–regardless of the author’s worldview.

      • http://thesweetescape.net MJones

        These are things that should be completely obvious from the blurb on the back. If a person is led to a book because of a pretty cover and it looks like historical fiction and they purchase it without so much as a glance at the blurb or a sample of the book, it’s completely their fault and the angry one star reviews are unfounded.

        In this day and age of being able to sample a book, “look inside”, excerpts and a simple 300 word synopsis on Amazon, there is simply no reason to not know what a story is about. If you’re too busy to take a look at what you’re buying, you get what you get.

        When I download what looks, for all intents and purposes, to be a story about a family making it through early 1900’s America and I get 50 pages in and the book turns into “all about Jesus, let’s decipher the Psalms for the next 100 pages” I feel like I’ve been tricked. I don’t want to read a book about spreading the love of Jesus through the Antelope Valley… and I feel like, as a major plot point, that should be made obvious.

        If it’s a good story, it’s a good story and the religious detail won’t matter. Why hide it?

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          On the other hand, if the book about “spreading the love of Jesus throughout the Antelope valley” or the 100-page exposition of the Pslams was very well written (i.e., it was a great story, well-told), how many potential readers might be turned away from enjoying it because it was labeled “Christian” and only marketed to a Christian audience?

          As a Christian, I don’t want to read bad Christian fiction. And I don’t necessarily regard the label “Christian” as a guarantee that the book is going to be either theologically sound, or a good story (both things I care about).

  • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

    Do I think Christian fiction should required to have a label? No, I don’t! The decision of what information to put on the book cover should be entirely up to the author and publisher.

    However, if a book written from a specific Christian viewpoint does not mention that fact in the description nor in the title, the author should expect a lot of angry one-star reviews, and has no valid reason for complaint.

    Now, if the book is clearly titled or described to show it is written from a Christian perspsective and still gets a lot of these sorts of one-star reviews…then it’s the reader’s fault for not reading the title and description.

  • http://http//sidnereviewz.blogspot.com Sidne

    Yes, it should be. The label should not come from the book stores but the author. There are novels on the market that uses Christian wording as a title and the book has profanity and other secular things. This was a big debate back when myspace was popular. Authors stated that the book stores was placing their books on the shelf and they had nothing to do with it. I think its important that all books be labeled, I don’t like to read certain genre and sometimes the summary on the back does not give a clue as to the genre. SO Label please like ISBN numbers.

  • http://www.jessicaakent.com Jessica Kent

    I think it should be labeled, because “Christian fiction” is just another genre.
    But it begs the question: Why aren’t Christian writers writing novels that laymen readers can get in to? Isn’t that the whole point? To write a book with themes of faith, love, and sacrifice that anyone can access and be changed by? You wouldn’t dismiss Tale of Two Cities or Les Miserables as “just another Christian fiction book.” Maybe that’s a whole other blog post…!

  • http://theotherstephenkingonwriting.blogspot.com Stephen H. King

    Agree with pretty much everyone on here that the description of a book should clearly define the book. That said, the 1-star comments aren’t necessarily a “Christian” thing. Many of my friends who are offering their works through the KDP program or running “free for a limited time” promotions are finding that, no matter the genre, offering the book for free tends to increase the number of bad reviews. I suspect, given what I’ve heard, that you could even put in the description something like “This is a Christian-themed book written by a Christian for Christian audiences who desire a Christian message. It’s Christian,” and somebody would still complain that it wasn’t clearly labeled as Christian.

  • http://byrdmouse.com Jonathan

    I had a post composed and my laptop lost it, makes me want to say some un-Christian things, but instead I would re-type. Except for the fact that Jessica said much of what I was going to.

    No one would label This Present Darkness as anything other than Christian, but if you took the Christian overtones out of the The Circle Trilogy (all 4 of them) it was still a compelling, page-turner of a series. That Hideous Strength and Til We Have Faces were fantastic works of Christian fiction, not that you would know it if you didn’t know it.

    If the work is blatantly Christian it should be labeled as such. If that’s the target audience, label it as such. If the intent is latent Christianity then no, it shouldn’t be labeled that way. If the intent was latent but it comes across as blatant, either re-write it or re-label it.

  • Fiona

    Yes, definitely. It’s a major part of the book. It would be like forgetting to mention something is a mystery or a romance. Summaries should contain all major themes.

  • Linda

    As a reader I read to be surprised. I want the unexpected. I don’t want to be able to figure it all out before I even open the book.

    Sometimes I think the Christians need the label more than non Christians because they get too wrapped up in their morality. I am a Christian and we all need to keep in mind it’s a book, whether it be fiction or non fiction, it’s that authors ideas and opinions and you don’t have to accept them.

  • http://www.katieganshert.com/blog Katie Ganshert

    It’s sort of like if I picked up a romance novel and it ended up being erotica, only it gave no mention of it being erotica. That would feel misleading to me.

    Readers want to know what they’re getting into. I think that’s entirely fair.

    My question is this…where do you label it? In my back cover copy on Amazon, God is mentioned and a faith journey is eluded to. So is that enough?

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      IMO, Katie, yes, that’s enough. I would hope people of any and all beliefs (or non-beliefs) would enjoy your books for what they are–books that tell a story. You don’t have to be a Christian to have Christian themes in your work. And Christians don’t always have to write books about Christians. In fact, I would argue that there are many books written by non-Christians that assume very biblical ethics.

  • http://www.laurapauling.com Laura Pauling

    I think this is tricky. I talked to my librarian about this issue. When looking for books for my 10 year old daughter, I had no idea which books had a specific kind of sexual content that I almost died when I read one book after my daughter did. It was in the middle grade section! Many people have put up the fight for a sexuality rating on the spine but in the long run, that’s not a good idea.

    But I do believe that the more specific we can get in our Amazon descriptions, instead of trying to pretend to be something we’re not, only reads to better reviews and more satisfied customers. Sometimes narrowing the field brings better sales in that niche too.

  • http://Glosdrumbeat.blogspot.com Gloria Sigountos

    This is my question, as a christian author what makes something christian and what makes it not. See I don’t read christian fiction because I find it, well not good. and I don’t want to be associated with it as a writer. I also write Fantasy. How do I judge if my writing is ‘christian’ or not? I really don’t want to publish as christian fantasy because I don’t think that is what my stories are but would be lying because my books will all have a christian world view?

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      And Gloria, I think it’s unfair that Christians seem to be the only ones that have to think about this. I’m sure Philip Pullman didn’t toss in his bed wondering if THE GOLDEN COMPASS should be labeled “Anti-Christian” or “Atheist.” And I’m quite confident no-one discussed putting “Anti-Catholic Literature” on any of Dan Brown’s books.

      As a Christian, you have a worldview, just as non-Christians have a worldview. You are a Christian writer, whether you write fantasy, dystopian, horror (Ted Dekker, anyone?), or romance–and regardless of whether those books contain any explicit reference to Jesus at all.

      I think it will be a sad day for literature if we start labeling fiction based on the author’s worldview, because you know many great books will be denied an audience as a result.

      • Adam

        That’s a bit of a red herring, Colin. Most people don’t gripe about veiled Christian references or even some overt ones…most folks love U2’s Joshua Tree album, for example, or Lewis’ Narnia series.

        I generally avoid labeled Christian lit because I have little interest in reading a book that waters down its characters to appeal to folks who are horrified by contextually-realistic sex, violence or profanity (I also avoid authors who trade in those arenas). To me that creates a plastic surreality, a dystopian Disney landscape that all too often makes the plot wooden and untenable.

        But the ultimate reason I avoid Christian book stores and most novels that are specifically labeled “Christian” is that I have no interest in reading a 300+ page Chick tract.

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          And you make my point. If Narnia was labeled “Christian,” you would have made a series of assumptions about the characters and the story, and dismissed it. If Christian writers write bad novels, then they should be castigated on the grounds that they wrote a bad novel, not because they wrote a Christian novel and didn’t tell everyone that’s what it was.

          Ted Dekker writes horror, and deals with some pretty gruesome issues. But he does so as a Christian. And Christians aren’t the only ones who avoid explicit sex and bad language. There are non-Christian writers who find artistic ways to deal with such things.

          • Adam

            I’m not making your point for you Colin. To avoid confusion, let me be explicit: I am stating that I believe you are wrong because you are creating a false dichotomy. No one is suggesting that Lewis be labeled as Christian fiction. Most people understand exactly what they mean when they say Christ-lit: essentially, clean dialogue and chaste relationships wrapped in a 300 page gospel tract.

            There is nothing wrong with labeling these books as such. There is a ready market for these stories and they deserve to be served. Labeling those books is no different than calling a L’Amour novel a “western.” It’s not a denigration, it’s a designation meant to appeal to a particular market so that the author sells books.

            I don’t believe anyone on this thread is advocating that John Grisham slap a statement of faith on the back flap of The Firm.

          • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

            Adam: “clean dialogue and chaste relationships wrapped in a 300 page gospel tract.”–this almost describes THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, except I don’t think Lewis’s book is 300 pages long. :)

            My point is simply this: a good story is a good story. I would hate for you to be turned away from a good story because it was labeled “Christian” and this made you think you were going to get “clean dialogue and chaste relationships wrapped in a 300 page gospel tract.” On the other hand, I would hate for good non-Christian stories to be denied a Christian readership because they were NOT labeled “Christian.”

            I didn’t know there was a maximum number of responses permitted. I think I just used mine up! :)

      • http://www.brokengirl.info London Crockett

        Colin, “Christian Fiction” is a genre. It has specific things that are required (just like fantasy has to include fantastic/magical elements, certain expectations about what the content will be and how it will be presented, etc. Every author who isn’t so well established he or she can write about whatever he wants (aka, every author) has to consider genre. It’s not some horrible burden Christians are unjustly forced to bear while non-Christians or just plain-ole Christians who happen to write about things other than Faith can ignore.

        I’m writing a novel that deeply interweaves the protagonists search to understand and grow in her faith. But it would sell poorly if placed in the Christian Fiction genre because the book doesn’t provide any certainty that her faith is justified or real (depending on your assumptions, you could read the book as a confirmation of faith or denial of it). I’m just as bound by the needs of genre, reader expectations and marketing as somebody who writes a novel that has the protagonist find profound faith or a reaffirmation of their faith, etc. Like all authors who want to succeed today, I have to know where my book fits in the market and market to an audience likely to enjoy and recommend my book.

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          I think that begs the question–what *is* required for a book to be considered “Christian Fiction”? That the characters pray? That it presents a certain worldview? That it was written by a Christian? I think the problem is that, while the publishing industry may consider “Christian” a genre, it really isn’t–or, I would say, it shouldn’t be treated as one. Christianity is a worldview from which a writer presents his or her work. That worldview may come through strongly in the work, or it may not. Fantasy and Romance are not worldviews. While there are certain things you can expect in a Fantasy novel, “Christian” novels come in all shapes and sizes (and genres).

          Again, I would hate for readers to see the label “Christian” on a novel, and dismiss what could be a great book because of some negative presuppositions they may have about “Christian” literature (or Christianity in general).

          • http://www.brokengirl.info London Crockett

            Hi Colin, what the “Christian Fiction” genre is isn’t a mystery, nor is the Christian book market: Rachelle posted on it here:
            http://www.rachellegardner.com/2009/09/the-purpose-of-christian-publishing/

            Christian Fiction doesn’t include all books that are written with a Christian worldview, nor does it include all books that are written by Christians. It contains books (probably) written by Christians that adhere to it’s genre requirements. Nothing sinister, nothing exclusionary.

            “The fact that CBA [Christian Booksellers Association/Christian Fiction] exists as a specialized niche within the larger publishing arena is not a negative in the least. Everything in our culture is specialized. If I want some basic sporting goods like a basketball or a kids’ bike, I might stop by Wal-Mart. But if I want some new skis or a high-quality mountain bike, I’m going to the ski store or the bike shop. I appreciate the fact that there are manufacturers and stores who specialize in exactly what I want.” —Rachelle Gardner, from the post linked to above.

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          Reply to Jan 28, 12:10pm post: I understand that’s how “Christian” literature is marketed. And I’m not disputing that publishers have criteria for determining what is a “Christian” book. And, yes, I see value in being able to go to a Christian bookstore and find books there from a Christian perspective. And that such things as Christian publishers (and the CBA) exist to cater to Christians.

          However, I have been to Christian bookstores and found books that I would not consider to be Christian. By the same token, I have read books by Christians that I think non-Christians would enjoy too. But the label “Christian”–especially these days–tends to be a turn-off to those who are not Christians. A book labeled “Christian” is basically only going to appeal to Christians, regardless of the book’s contents. That’s why I object to the label. That, and the fact that creating a genre out of a worldview doesn’t make sense. We don’t do it for atheism, or agnosticism–why do it for Christianity?

          • http://www.brokengirl.info London Crockett

            What would this “atheist fiction” genre be? You seem to be conflating a genre (Christian Fiction) with a worldview (Christianity). Labeling genre’s exists to help readers and writers match books with expectations and preferences.

            If you want to make the case that a worldview is walled off, don’t look to Christian Fiction: gay fiction would have a much stronger case. Christian characters are protagonists in novels of every genre I can think of, while it is rare for a gay protagonist to appear outside of GLBT fiction, in the GLBT section.

            The key is not the worldview, it’s who will want to read it. Most heterosexuals have not been able to identify with gay characters. If a gay writer wants to appeal to the broader, non-gay market, the writer needs to put less emphasis on the character’s gayness or frame the book differently. Christian Fiction, as a genre, speaks with a voice that appeals to a sub-segment of Christian readers. If you don’t want your book to be limited to the readers of Christian Fiction, write a book that reaches beyond the genre and appeals to a wider or different audience. Regardless of your worldview, an author has to decide who they want their audience to be and meet that audience at least half-way.

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          Reply to Jan 28, 1:45pm: And my point is, what *do* people expect from a “Christian” novel? Publishers may have a set of ideas, but as a book buyer, I don’t. And you can probably find as many opinions on the topic as you can churches. Outside the church, it seems there are a lot of very unhelpful stereotypes that might preclude non-Christians from ever trying “Christian” literature.

          I’m arguing the case from the perspective of “Christian” fiction, but I think the argument applies to all kinds of labels we apply to literature. Labels are helpful if there is general consensus (between publishers and buyers) as to what that label identifies. Sci-fi, Romance, Western–most people would agree what these are. Not so “Christian.”

          As for conflating the genre and the worldview, here’s where I see the problem. To me, “Christian” is as much a genre as “atheist.” So to pin down exactly what you would consider “Christian” is as difficult as it is to pin down exactly what you might consider “atheist”–at least in terms of fiction. While on the one hand these labels may (or may not) help those looking for Christian or atheist literature, you also run the risk of marginalizing such literature. I see this happening with Christian literature. Sure, some Christian lit will have a very narrow appeal within the Christian community. But that’s true with any kind of literature–even within specific genres.

          Genres are far more easily definable than worldviews (again, from a literary perspective), so I don’t think it really helps to treat worldviews as genres.

          • http://www.brokengirl.info London Crockett

            I’m clearly past the point where replying has any value, but I got the email, and, well… nobody ever said my impulse control was built of titanium and diamond.

            “Christian Fiction” is a genre, not a worldview. It is a subset of what might be called Christian literary works. It has specific genre requirements and expectations which do not apply to non-“Christian Fiction”-genre Christian literary works. If enough people looked for books with a specific set of genre expectations that included atheist themes, there would be an “Atheist Fiction” genre. Like Christian Fiction is for Christians, Atheist Fiction would be a subset of books written by atheists or had atheist themes.

            Chick Lit has a definite worldview; all the sub-flavors of Romance have worldviews (and writers must adhere to them very closely). Christian Fiction is no different.

            I think it’s time to let you get the last word in, Colin. I need to go write some fiction!

            Cheers.

      • http://Glosdrumbeat.blogspot.com Gloria Sigountos

        I don’t really mind the label I just want to know what makes something CF and what makes it not? I mean there are so many sub genera of CF, there is christian romance, Christian Literature, Christian Fantasy, Christian Science Fiction. I have enough trouble figuring out what genera I should label my pieces as any way. I mean should this one go under Steam Punk, western fantasy, or Sword and Sorcery, or just generic fantasy. should this one be christian fantasy or should it be urban fantasy or should it be horror. Should this one be SciFi? or Space Opera, or Heroic fantasy? or maybe it is epic fantasy? mostly in trying to figure out what market would each piece fit into best, where will it find it’s readers. and of course which agents should I be talking to. I mean that is what labels are supposed to do but some how they are not very well defined anymore.

  • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TC Avey

    I agree with you. I know I avoid certain types of books and would not like it if I felt I’d been “hood winked” into purchasing- or downloading for free-a book with certain agendas.

    I’m not sure I would then give it a bad review, but I can see how some would.

    I don’t mind being labeled “Christian” in my writing. I am a Christian and proud of it!

  • http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com/ Wendy Paine Miller

    Birthday madness around here. Entirely curious about this. I’ll be coming back and reading all the comments. Still turning this one over in my head.

    ~ Wendy

  • Adam

    Does anyone else see the apparent irony that most non-Christians are offended by blatant soteriology woven into an otherwise relatable storyline? If that’s the case it begs the question….why are Christian authors writing books that hinge on a salvation experience when they will mostly (or only) be consumed and enjoyed by other likeminded believers…

    In my experience the books are also bought by well-intentioned mothers to be given as none-too-subtle birthday gifts to sons with different theological understandings.

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      “why are Christian authors writing books that hinge on a salvation experience when they will mostly (or only) be consumed and enjoyed by other likeminded believers?”

      Probably because, in life, things like that happen. And, especially for a Christian writing from his or her own experience, this is not an uncommon occurrence. People become Christians. People convert to Islam, too. People of one theological persuasion change to a very different one. If the plot of a great story hinges on this, then why not write that?

      Are we saying that Christians can’t have a conversion as a major turning point in their plot because it might offend non-Christians–and if they do, their books must be have a warning so the unsuspecting non-Christians won’t be fooled into buying a great book?

      On the other hand, are we saying that non-Christians can have a Christian conversion as a major plot point because they’re obviously not trying to proselytize?

      Sounds like a double-standard to me.

      • Adam

        “Things happen” in no way answers my question. The rest of your comment goes on about offense and double standards…but I wasn’t talking about that. I was talking about the reality that the vast majority of people who read heavily soteriological fiction are already believers. And, to your last question: Which avowed non-Christian authors have you read that include a Christian conversion as a major plot point? Maybe I’m missing something.

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          Should a non-Christian author be precluded from having a Christian conversion in his or her novel on the basis that it might make the novel Christian? Of course not! In the course of life, people become Christians. And you might find this to be an interesting plot twist in your novel. Great! Why not allow the Christian the same courtesy?

          And if by “heavily soteriological fiction” you mean fiction that has some kind of salvation-redemption theme, well, just about any book that has a bad character turn good because of an act of sacrifice could fall under that umbrella. But if you’re thinking in specifically Christian terms–stories that, like THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, are a re-telling of the Christian gospel, as long as they are good stories, who cares? I think your main complaint is not so much directed toward the message, but the way the message is handled. Bad, clunky fiction with shallow characters and unbelievable plots are the curse of both Christian and non-Christian fiction.

  • http://nathanrudy.com Nathan

    I think that you would definitely note that it is “Christian fiction.” Your audience for this kind of work is people who are interested in evangelical Christianity and tales based on it’s view of the Bible and morality. It’s not geared toward other people, and so why would you want to even let them find it by mistake?

    From a marketing perspective, my make me mad so I MIGHT post a bad review. From a religious evangelical perspective, why turn me off from the faith?

    Though I am a devout Christian, I would not be interested in reading these, largely because I find them preachy and the stories kind of weak. I feel the same way about “Christian music” which puts the Christian ahead of the music and lyrics. If I downloaded one of these books or songs, I would delete it without comment.

    I like a lot of books involving Christianity, morality, spirituality, etc. I love David James Duncan, for instance. But his writing is not predicated on meeting pre-defined religious tenets. Instead the writing is informed by and informs the faith.

  • http://rmabry.com Richard Mabry

    Tough subject, and one I’ve blogged about as well, because I’ve received some of those one-star reviews and been sniped at for writing a “Christian book.” My conclusion centers around the difficulty in defining Christian fiction. There’s a wide variety of work in that category. Some books have conversion scenes, some deal with things Christians don’t like to think about but from a Christian worldview, some contain Bible verses and prayer, some don’t. I’m not sure who would classify the books or how they’d do it.
    So, no, I don’t think labels are necessary. The back cover copy and the first few pages should give a preview of what the book’s about. After that, it’s buyer’s choice.
    In these comments, others have made good points in a view contrary to mine, and I respect their viewpoint. Maybe that makes my comment a Christian one. Should we label it as such?

    • Susan Foy

      I can totally relate to this. In my last novel, one of my readers complained that it wasn’t Christian enough for a Christian audience, because it didn’t talk enough about Jesus, salvation, etc, but it was too Christian for a secular audience. I found myself a bit impatient with the criticism, as if I have to quote a certain number of Bible verses to make my writing “Christian.” And I don’t see that a non-Christian couldn’t enjoy this just because many of the characters are Christian. But I’ll probably run into the criticism again if I ever get this published.

  • http://yvonnehertzberger.com Yvonne Hertzberger

    I strongly object to hidden agendas of any kind. I know of no other faith that uses this guise to try to prostelitize and convert, at least in the western world. I feel violated when I have been, as you say, hoodwinked into reading something other than what it professed to be. It is blatant evangelism and it has the opposite effect to the one intended. If people need to be dishonest to get converts it does not trust the power of the God they profess to follow. So where is THEIR faith?

    That is not to say that I do not occasionally, knowingly, read a book that has Christian content. But I want to know up front what I am picking up.

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      So if a great novel happens to have a Christian perspective, or presents a Christian message, you feel like the author was being deceptive and hoodwinked you into reading it? I guess C.S. Lewis stands guilty as charged!

      There might be Christian writers out there whose sole purpose for writing novels is to present the gospel, and they cloak that gospel message in a story they hope will compel their readers to consider the claims of Christ. Surely that’s okay? (It was okay for Jesus.) You don’t have to accept the message to enjoy the story, do you? I’ve read plenty of novels where I disagreed entirely with the author’s religious perspective as made apparent in the novel, but enjoyed the story nevertheless.

    • http://yvonnehertzberger.com Yvonne Hertzberger

      Read my comment again. You missed the message.

      It is the ‘hidden agenda’ I object to. I would not label C. S. Lewis as Christian fiction. It is not hidden propaganda aimed at conversions. It is simply great literature based on an underlying Christian philosophy. I loved The Chronicles of Narnia and read the entire series to both out children. I also said I will, and do, read Christian works. But I feel violated when a book hides its intent (conversion). I do not want to be preached to unless I ask for that. When I pay good money for a book I think I ought to be able to make an informed decision. When that information is withheld to further a hidden agenda I feel deceived and get angry.

      • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

        Your “hidden agenda” might just be that author’s worldview. I know Christians that accuse Philip Pullman of having a hidden agenda in THE GOLDEN COMPASS (apparently not very well hidden). Must we be so suspicious?

        If I may be a little more pointed: are we so fragile in our own belief systems that we need warning labels if a book we pick up might challenge them? And I speak to both Christians and non-Christians with that.

  • Adam

    As to which side of the debate on which I fall…

    It seems to me that it would be a simple matter for the summary writer to include a handful of understood Christianese buzzwords to indicate the novel’s nature to the reader.

    On the other hand, as an avid reader I occasionally grab a completely unknown author off the shelves at the local library just to “try them out.” I’ve been happy some of the time and returned books unfinished at other times. More often this was a case of “not my cup of tea” writing. I’ve found books labeled as mysteries that were clearly chick-lit and others labeled fantasy or western that were clearly romance.

    But I’m okay with that. I recognize that the author is not writing for me and just move on. In the end, I don’t think one-star reviews should make our decisions for us. When you consider trolls, habitual critics, jealous unpublished authors and the particular brand of myopic, self-important goobers who get their jollies trashing things, it just doesn’t pay to make your decisions based on the one stars…

    In general, the 2 and 3 star reviews tend to be the most helpful in any case.

  • http://www.kristenjoywilks.com/blog Kristen Joy Wilks

    Yep, label it. This is the respectful thing to do. Yes those people may be over reacting, but if I can keep them from a terrible experience with something I wrote I would do it. They may even be intrigued by the plot, despite the Christian label and order the book with a more open mind if it were made clear that it is a Christian book.

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      Actually, more likely they will pass over it because of the “Christian” label, regardless of the plot. I would like to think non-Christian readers are more open-minded (and there may be some out there), but that’s not the general impression I get. And that’s sad.

      As I’ve said before, everyone has a worldview, and if we are as tolerant and open-minded as we all claim to be, we shouldn’t need to label books according to the author’s worldview to help us decide whether we think it’s going to be a great story.

      • http://bookonaut.blogspot.com Sean the Bookonaut

        Colin said: “As I’ve said before, everyone has a worldview, and if we are as tolerant and open-minded as we all claim to be, we shouldn’t need to label books according to the author’s worldview to help us decide whether we think it’s going to be a great story.”

        Thing is Colin. We are not labelling the book as Christian because the writer is Christian we are labelling it as Christian because of the themes and content.

        Example: Connie Willis doesn’t write Christian fiction (she’s a Christian) she may include believers in her tale, may have characters who pray or who end up believing, but she’s not ramming a conclusion down your throat, nor presenting a rigid moral code that it’s heavily implied you should follow.

        Perreti (and he’s a good writer) writes Christian fiction with themes and moral teachings that line up directly with evangelical teachings, so much so that I would probably label it propaganda.

        So the difference is the content and how it’s presented.

        I’d like you to be a bit open minded and consider that perhaps non believers have already decided that “Christian” fiction and the Christian world-view is not for them and they don’t want to waste time on what they find to be moralising tales, ramming a narrow view of Christian faith down their throats.

        They want characters who they can identify with who maybe Christian, may be a stay at home mom, who love and lose.

        I’d argue the majority of authors in the west are various flavours of Christianity. The majority of these writers write tales that have a mix of characters and beliefs and don’t preach to the reader.

        Though undoubtedly they will have other genre restrictions placed upon them. Mind you some people do a very good job sailing the lines between genres – Time Traveller’s Wife for example Romance or SciFi or both?

        I don’t care what worldview the author is but if they breach that fine line and they begin preaching to me I won’t read it. People can cross that line with politics, religion,etc. I am there to be entertained not lectured.

        I read Raymond Koury’s latest thriller, 3/4 of the way through the book he presents Reincarnation with such conviction that I almost put the book down believing I had been duped into reading a lecture on pseudo-science instead of a thriller.

        I also think you’ll also find the Christian fiction label wasn’t imposed by secular society initially. I think it arose in Nth America in the last 30 years as an easy way for Christians of a certain theological bent to readily identify books that they felt were appropriate.

        I’m a Secular humanist and an atheist, I have been a Catholic and flirted with evangelical Christianity, and Buddhism. If a writer preaches to me their beliefs religious or secular, in a work of fiction that is to entertain me I will criticise them for it. It is just poor writing, and an insult to the readers intelligence.

        If you want to preach or lecture you should write non-fiction.

        • http://www.colindsmith.com Colin Smith

          Just a couple of very fundamental points since I’ve said plenty already. First, atheists preach through fiction as well as any evangelical. Are you going to hold the same standard for them? Second, an atheist depends on a Christian worldview to make sense of his world. I could write pages on this subject, but let me just refer you to the works of Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen for further discussion of this.

          And this truly is my last comment on this thread. I might post a series of articles on this topic at some time on my blog, since clearly I have a lot to say. :)

          • http://bookonaut.blogspot.com Sean the Bookonaut

            Colin said: “Just a couple of very fundamental points since I’ve said plenty already. First, atheists preach through fiction as well as any evangelical. Are you going to hold the same standard for them?”

            Read what I said again, perhaps you read the word preach and thought it only pertains to the religious. The last book that annoyed me in such a fashion was by an Atheist so yes I apply the same standards to everyone.

            Mind you I would have to say that the amount of Christian fiction that is, fiction that preaches a narrow Christian message, far outweighs that of atheists/non religious.

            But then again what do you consider atheist fiction? That which deviates from your theological perspective? That fiction that has no explicit mention of Christ, that which uses evolutionary science in its story?

            Colin: “Second, an atheist depends on a Christian worldview to make sense of his world.”

            And here I begin to understand your failure to understand what others have been trying to say. You’re a presuppositionalist. Thank you for stopping at this point, I have no wish to debate apologetics. If I say any more I may offend.

  • http://jomurphey.blogspot.com J.L. Murphey

    Okay, I have read the post and replies and I have a question. At what point does a novel become Christian? Is it when a character says, “I believe in God and the Trinity,” or the character prays? or the character wonders about a higher power, or the character says, “Thank God.”

    Because if that’s the case all my novels are Christian although not overly. While the subject matter of the book may not be Christian oriented overall the faith of the characters comes through. As a reader of non-Christian and Christian books, I feel like it is splitting split hairs.

    I may write suspense/women’s fiction/Chick Lit/espionage/horror/southern fiction/ children’s/whatever, it is hard to categorize a book in every genre especially when trying to conform to the market.

    It’s all the pieces that make up the whole. Characters are going to have faith in something whether it’s God, or Allah, or Buddha, or Mother Nature. Even agnostics have faith in something.

    I’ll get off my ministerial soapbox now.

    • http://yvonnehertzberger.com Yvonne Hertzberger

      You possibly stated this better than I did. It is indeed hard to decide where to label many books, and even with the best of intentions, others may disagree with your label. However, there are many books out there that are intended only to further the conversion message, where almost every page has some reference to religious belief and these are the mainstay of the book. Many of these are found in Christian bookstores. There customers know, up front, what they are buying. I would like the same courtesy when I am in the non-designated bookstore.

  • http://joannempotter.blogspot.com JoAnne Potter

    Is anyone surprised by this? Christian fiction authors do proselytize. They have woven sermonettes into characters and dialog. They should be labeled as such. But then there are those, like Tolkien and Koontz, who don’t need to preach. Their characters simply live their faith without comment or explanation. When are we going to understand that when we preach, we preach only to the choir? No one else wants to hear it. However, when we simply let our characters live according to God’s law…to pray or to forgive or to exhibit sanctified courage in adversity, now we have not only used our talents to the full, we have glorified God in front of someone who might otherwise not have listened.

    • http://yvonnehertzberger.com Yvonne Hertzberger

      Well said, JoAnne

    • http://bookonaut.blogspot.com Sean the Bookonaut

      I would argue that even the choir dislike being preached to considering that the Christian choir is made up of a number of different sects/congregations.

      I dislike being preached to by Atheists in Atheist fiction as much as I dislike being preached to by the religious.

      Generally because they are trying to condense philosophical arguments into an info dump. To my mind if you are preaching or putting forward a philosophical argument you should be writing non-fiction.

  • http://grace303.blogspot.com Heather

    I agree with this post in every respect. It is a shame that some people react with anger when they discover (belatedly) that a book has a Christian message, but the reality is, they do. Being more descriptive about a book is both respectful of the readers and ultimately beneficial for the reviews since it should go a long way toward decreasing the number of angry reviews. And of course Christian readers like myself appreciate being able to find good Christian books to read. The more I think about it, isn’t more description always a good thing? Of course we don’t want any spoilers in the description, but otherwise description helps all readers make good decisions about what they prefer to read and what to avoid. For example, I don’t care for vampire fiction. If I read a description that talked about a “meaningful love story,” I might be annoyed to learn that it was a vampire love story…

  • http://www.sarahanneloudinthomas.wordpress.com Sarah Thomas

    Wow! What a fantastic discussion. I found myself see-sawing back and forth as I read the responses of others. Ultimately, I think books simply need to have a cover blurb that makes the faith/religion/God theme clear. The book doesn’t need a big ole CHRISTIAN sticker on the front, but should clue potential readers in to the content. Just as erotica/mystery/sci-fi and so on would.

  • Else

    Heh. I don’t know if “enraged” is the right word. But your post reminded me of the crushing disappointments I had in the library of my (public) school as a teenager.

    The librarian tended to order these books… did I mention it was a public school? Anyway, I, all unwitting, would check one out, read it eagerly– usually the protagonist was a teenage boy or girl in unfortunate circumstances, and as the book went on his or her circumstances would get more and more unfortunate. Oh, serious danger! I would turn the pages more and more eagerly. How on earth was the poor protagonist going to get out of this mess?

    By finding Jesus. On the last page. Invariably. The problems would remain unaddressed as far as I could tell– the main character would still be beset by racists, drug dealers, abusive parents, Nazis, diphtheria, whatever. But he or she would find Jesus. The end.

    Now, I have *nothing* against finding Jesus, but in terms of fictional structure: what a cop out. If a writer has raised a problem (eg Nazis-are-chasing-me) then he or she has the responsibility of solving that problem (eg I-got-away-from-Nazis or Nazis-caught-me-and-I’m-dead).

    It may be that Christian fiction has improved since those days– with so many writers devoted to writing it, I don’t doubt it has. But I always check the publishers now before I read, as I learned to do in that (public) school library long ago.

    Yes. The stuff should be labeled– not such a radical suggestion, since most genres are labeled. Leaving it unlabeled won’t lead to stealth conversions. I can attest to that.

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      I think what you experienced was not a fault of the genre, but of the author. I think anyone would be disappointed by a story in which the protagonist goes through really difficult times, only to “find love” or “become a Buddhist monk” without addressing any of the difficult issues. Do you think the Christian community is blessed by having bad novels given the label “Christian”? :)

      • Else

        Colin, certainly it was partly the fault of the authors. But there were numerous books, and they all had the same fault, suggesting it was the publishers who were acquiring these books that were at fault. Whether this kind of writing still gets published I don’t know.

        Funny, now that I think about it, the same conversion-hungry librarian also purchased Giovanni Guareschi’s _Don Camillo_ books, which I adored. While the protagonist’s faith is integral to the Don Camillo stories, it doesn’t solve his problems. There’s no cheating. And his problems are real problems– not dilemmas that only a believer would understand.

        I’m afraid I don’t understand your last question. :)

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          I’m sorry–my question was a little tongue-in-cheek: if only books that you describe (the ones that have a protagonist in dire straits who becomes a Christian but doesn’t really deal with the issues) are labeled “Christian,” does that do any good for the Christian community, since it perpetuates the myth that Christians novels are all about one thing, and are badly-written?

          • Else

            Ah, okay. I’m afraid I wasn’t thinking about how it would help you guys ;) but since it sounds from Rachelle’s post like Christian writers are getting one-star reviews from annoyed readers, I guess that labeling would help y’all by improving your reviews.

            I was thinking more of how it would help the readers.

          • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

            Labeling wouldn’t necessarily help the readers, Else, since there are many great “Christian” books that non-Christians may avoid simply because of that label.

    • http://yvonnehertzberger.com Yvonne Hertzberger

      Amen, Else.

  • http://johnhartness.com John G. Hartness

    I think it’s hard to say definitively whether it should or shouldn’t be labelled. I know that I’ve read some books that were classified as Christian thrillers that didn’t seem to have an overly religious sentiment to them – the characters prayed about tough decisions, and tried to do the right thing, but I didn’t feel like I was being proselytized (sp?) to. Then on the other hand I’ve had people tell me that one of my urban fantasy novels was too preachy and pro-Christian, and I don’t self-identify as a Christian and didn’t set out to write a Christian novel! So I think there are times when it’s very blatant that the agenda of the book is to promote a religious viewpoint, and in those times the book should be labelled as “inspirational” or something else. But other times the characters just happen to be people of faith behaving as people of faith behave, and that doesn’t make a whole book Christian.

    Of course, maybe when there’s a visitation from God in the denouement, the religious undertones might be more overtone than I’d originally planned…

  • Sara

    It really depends. Stories with Christian characters and Christian themes aren’t necessarily Christian fiction. Look at Twilight– a book with a Mormon author and heavily Mormon themes, but not Mormon fiction; the resolution of the plot centers hinges on a relationship and a vampire attack, so it’s a paranormal romance.

    If Joseph Smith saved Bella from the vampire, then it would be Mormon fiction. I would expect the book to be labeled correctly. (As it stands, Twilight should have a lot of warning labels on it, but religious fiction isn’t really one of them.)

    My real question is, why wouldn’t you want to appropriately label genre so the intended audience can find it? Many people don’t enjoy Christian fiction. It will lead to poor reviews and doesn’t do anything to build an author’s sales or reputation. I would give a poor rating to an erotic romance labeled as straight science fiction, too. It’s not segregating the book. It’s positioning it correctly in the marketplace, and good business sense.

    • Else

      Precisely.

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      I guess I just don’t see “Christian” as a genre any more than I see “Atheist” or “Buddhist” or “Evolutionist” as a genre. These are worldviews from which an author may or may not write. You don’t have to share that worldview to write about people who hold to that worldview. So, instead of a Christian Romance, why not a Romance that has Christian characters? It may be a truly great novel. It may even be written by a Christian. There might even be a subtle Christian message. So what, if it’s a great story that been written well? Why deny non-Christians the opportunity of enjoying it by labeling it “Christian”?

      • http://smreine.com/ Sara

        We all have genre preferences. Most people don’t stumble around reading books just because they’re good — and in fact, “good” is very subjective in art. There are subjects, themes, and settings we find more appealing than others.

        Someone who doesn’t find Christianity interesting won’t think a work of Christian fiction to be “good” no matter how skillfully written it is.

        On the other hand, if I’m in the mood to read a book about how a man found satisfaction in life by following the teachings of a Christian god, I know to go to the Christian fiction section. This is a good thing. It means I can find the books I want to read, and avoid the ones I don’t.

        Nobody is being denied anything by correctly categorizing books. I promise.

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          Then my question is, why label it “Christian”? What does that label mean? That the novel has a strong Christian theme? Then we get into the whole downward spiral of labeling everything to be sure we market to the most specific niche without people ever having to read a blurb, or a review, and make discerned, informed decisions on what they want to read. Marcus Brotherton’s comment below speaks to this point somewhat.

      • http://www.christianreads.blogspot.com Iola

        In the romance genre, most books are that not published by Christian (ECPA) publishers are either old (Georgette Heyer, Joan Smith) or have sex scenes.
        That, to me, is why Christian fiction should allude to faith in the description.

        IMO, Christian fiction, generally, is already labelled in that there are only a limited number of Christian publishers. If a book comes from Zondervan or Bethany House, you can be sure it is Christian. If it comes from Dreamspinner Press, it is GBLT. If it is from Samhain, it is erotica. There are specific Mormon publishers as well, but I don’t know the names.

        Intelligent readers will follow specific authors and publishers that have a track record of publishing what they want to read.

        But there will always be some people who don’t check a book out before buying it (or downloading it free), and then get offended when the book isn’t to their taste. I’ve been caught myself once, but that was my mistake.

        I check more carefully now, but have still had the experience of getting a book that the publisher had categorised as ‘Christian’ that did not (IMO) meet that standard – it had a graphic rape scene, the heroine was tricked into marrying her rapist not her One True Love, and all the problems were solved in the last chapter when the heroine suddenly came to Jesus, her husband died and she was able to finally marry her One True Love. I gave it a 2-star Amazon review and have been lambasted for my error in saying it was Christian. I didn’t – the publisher did.

  • http://www.bretlsimmons.com Bret Simmons

    I am a Christian. I do read Christian books, but I don’t read Christian fiction. Christian books are a niche, and Christian fiction books are a subcategory of that niche, not IMHO a subcategory of fiction books. I would want to know if a book was Christian fiction so I could make an more informed decision about not reading it.

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      And I would love for them NOT to be categorized as “Christian” on the off-chance you read one and find it to be really good–and pleasantly surprised to find it was written from a Christian worldview. :)

      • http://www.bretlsimmons.com Bret Simmons

        I appreciate what you are saying. I write about leadership, and I do it from a Christian worldview because that’s the only one I have. My audience tunes in to learn about leadership, not Christianity, so if I speak to them in the voice they want to hear, hopefully they end up learning about both.

  • http://www.catherinejwest.com Cathy West

    Wow. This is so interesting. As an author and a Christian, I’ve been watching this topic carefully. My first book released in March of last year. I was surprised that it was not labeled “Christian” but merely “Fiction/Historical”. From what I can tell, the argument is this: If readers are familiar with the Christian market, they can read the endorsements and probably recognize those authors as authors of Christian fiction. You might even know that my publisher publishes Christian fiction, and certainly by visiting their website you would. In my case, I would say the majority of the reviews I receive on Amazon and elsewhere also make mention of the fact that it is a book from a Christian worldview. To date, I have only had one reader respond with the “I wasn’t aware this was a Christian book or I wouldn’t have picked it up.” She ended that email to me saying, “But I’m so glad I did.” I’m not sure why the folks who grab books when they’re offered on free downloads don’t check them out first. I don’t think any of us, authors or publishers, are out to deceive the general public and shove a faith message down their throats. Christianity, like any faith, is a choice. I have no problem with labeling books as “Christian”, and I’m not sure why it isn’t being done, but I believe it should be pretty clear, whether it causes a reader not to buy the book or not. It’s unfortunate that it might be seen as a deterrent for readers who don’t normally read books with a faith message. I always make a point to tell people who I know don’t share my faith, that the message is there. I’ve found most will read the book anyway. Bottom line, if not labeling the books seems deceitful, then label away!

  • http://www.jaimereadingandwritingblogspot.com Jaime

    I started off (with my first comment) thinking one thing – that Christian fiction *should* be labelled – and now I’m of a mostly different opinion (due in large part to many of the points raised by Colin). If we start labeling Christian fiction as such, then the same logic should be applied to any number of different types of books that may offend people’s sensibilities. Where does it end? Let’s label books that have strong political agendas, or books that are very clearly coming from an atheist perspective, or books that have characters of a particular sexual persuasion, and so on and so on. It gets a little out of hand.

    Why do we think this is okay to do with Christian fiction but not with some of these other things I’ve mentioned? Why is there a double standard?

    Most Christian fiction already has a ton of clues that it is in fact Christian – the publishing house, buzzwords like faith, or even just a tone in the cover blurb. Not to mention, like somebody already brought up, we have things like ‘Look Inside’ on Amazon, author websites, reviews and so on to help us read between the lines if the cover blurb isn’t clear enough.

    Like Colin mentioned, labeling a book Christian because it has Christian themes or even a conversion experience might turn away people from a completely good book. Likewise, labeling a book ‘Atheist’ because it contains strong atheist sentiment might turn away, let’s say, a Christian from a really great book.

    That being said, I do think it is important to be clear in the cover blurb what type of book we’re dealing with and let the buyer make decisions from there.

    • Sue

      I’m with you. I was originally in total favor of having labels as a reader and a writer. I prefer to know what kind of content to expect. (I’m more likely to purchase something labeled Christian fiction and less likely to purchase something that has “hot sex scenes” or “graphic violence” in the description.) However, once we start down the path of over-labeling, we can’t turn back. I think there is a place for genre and for explicit content warnings so people can make informed decisions. But I would prefer my book to be judged on the merits of the writing instead of the label slapped on it.

  • Karen

    Whoa! What a myriad of discussion this question has engendered. I don’t know if anyone will even read my response, but I’ll weigh in anyway.

    The bottom line is that publishers and editors want to make MONEY! That is the driving force behind what they each do.
    In saying that, we writers need to insist that our work is labeled correctly. I don’t want to pick up a book—I don’t read Christian fiction all the time—to find that there are whole sections of erotica in it or needless detailed sex scenes. Let’s label a book clearly Christian or clearly YA or clearly whatever else.

    A huge deficit for me is the fact that soooooo many novels that would call themselves “Christian” indeed are not! The main character(s) might “say a prayer” three times in the plotline, but drink alcohol and attend dances. This happens in the hear and now, but did not happen during the WW II, Depression or Civil War time periods. I become thoroughly disgusted with authors who toss in a pinch of Christianity and fling their characters into dancing, drinking, or making out. Ugh! Won’t anyone stand up for what the Bible clearly lays out for the Christian walk?

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      I think you are presupposing what should or should not be in a “Christian” novel, and that’s really what this whole discussion is about. The YA category, for example, runs the gamut of themes, and some can be as strongly sexual as any adult novel.

      For most Christians, their daily walk involves going to work or school, interacting with people, engaging in conversations and activities that are not explicitly gospel-centered. We don’t begin every conversation by asking people “Do you know Jesus?” Sometimes we discuss the weather, sometimes we grieve with non-Christians over the loss of a loved one. We are engaged in life. What makes us different is not what we say, but our worldview–our perspective. This is why, to me, Christian literature can look like non-Christian literature, because we share the same planet and the same issues as everyone else.

      Whether or not you’re a Christian, if you have a Christian in your novel, that Christian is going to think and act according to his or her Christian presuppositions. Writing those things doesn’t make your novel “Christian.” It may be *about* Christians, but it’s not necessarily Christian.

      So what makes a novel “Christian?” Is it the subject matter, or the perspective of the author? If the former, then a Christian could write non-Christian literature. But if the author is a Christian, his or her worldview will always be at the back of the novel (as it is with any writer–you can’t escape the way you view the world).

      That’s the question, I think.

  • http://www.karenleehallam.com karen

    Hm. I certainly agree. It’s been my understanding one shouldn’t preach in any type of writing. And you certainly want to know before hand, if your going to be beaten over the head with someone’s morality.

    Yes–label.

  • http://www.stephanielreed.com Stephanie Reed

    When in doubt, I check the publisher. The list of Christian imprints is really pretty short.

  • http://taristhread.wordpress.com Tari

    I agree that Christian fiction should be labeled. I don’t see the problem here. If the author and the publisher want to find the right market, people who want to read Christian fiction, or give it as a gift, would find the books that they were looking for more easily. It seems like this would increase the appropriate readership, increase the positive reviews and everyone would be happier.

  • http://www.marcusbrotherton.com Marcus Brotherton

    The concept of labeling art works to an extent, such as knowing which category to place a work in a store, but it also has its limitations.

    Should Garth Stein’s THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by labeled as a book that promotes reincarnation?

    Should John Grisham’s THE CONFESSION be labeled as promoting an anti-capital punishment agenda?

    Should John Irving’s THE CIDER HOUSE RULES be labeled as promoting free choice?

    Should Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES be labeled as having a pro-“grace” agenda?

    If art is doing its job, then art should both speak powerfully and subtly at one and the same time.

    Excellently-done art should fully please some on Amazon, as well as fully irk others. When you throw a rock in a pond it splashes all directions.

    An excellent post, Rachelle. One that raises many questions.

    • http://joannempotter.blogspot.com JoAnne Potter

      “If art is doing its job, then art should both speak powerfully and subtly at one and the same time.” Amen. Otherwise, we become parrots, not writers.

  • http://davidatodd.com David Todd

    I wanted to read through all the comments before posting my own, but each time I refresh I’m further behind!

    I think it’s a question of properly describing/labeling your fiction for the audience you want to reach. While probably we all would want to reach the lost with our writings, we know certain types of writing will turn them off (or at least we should know that) rather than draw them in. If it’s that type of writing, we’d better label it. Ultimately that will do more good for the kingdom.

    If our novels are for the purpose of reaching the lost through early contact and exposure to Christian values/Christian worldview, without an explicit call to salvation, we should label them accordingly, so as to reach the right audience.

    Similarly, if our audience is those already saved and in church, we reach them best if we label our books in such a way they will purchase them.

  • http://sylmion.blogspot.com Misha

    I think it’s quite a good idea actually.

    People who don’t want Christian fiction can avoid the books, and those who want to buy Christian fiction can find the books easily.

    Might be something worth considering. :-)

  • http://jilldomschot.com Jill

    A year ago, I might not have agreed with this. But what’s the use of hiding? Christian fiction is a genre. It’s a genre with rules, which sets it apart from books simply written by a Christian writer. Label it–why not–unless the goal is to be tricky? On the other hand, I have to roll my eyes at anyone who complains about free books.

  • http://careann.wordpress.com Carol J. Garvin

    What a great discussion! I like to know what I’m buying, so I favour labelling, but I foresee great difficulty in labels accurately reflecting content.

  • http://www.harlotsharpiesharridans.com/blog Gillian

    I don’t think Christian fiction is so widely published in the UK- I really only ever hear about it on American blogs. Should it become more popular here I would want it to be labelled as such (preferably in its own section in bookshops too).

    That way, it lets those of us who wouldn’t want to read it know not to spend our money and it allows people who find many of the subjects of non-Christian fiction in conflict with their beliefs know that they are safe to buy.

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      I’d be surprised if Christian fiction *isn’t* widely published in the UK (Rachelle may know more about this). Perhaps UK readers are less bothered about whether the book is labeled “Christian”? It might be interesting to see how many “Christian” authors are published in the UK, but are not labeled “Christian.”

      • http://www.harlotsharpiesharridans.com/blog Gillian

        I’d be surprised if it were mainstream here but am not at all surprised that it’s popular in the USA. Attitudes to religion and faith are quite different in the UK.

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          As an ex-pat Brit, I agree attitudes are different, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised if books labeled “Christian” here are not over there. It’s been a while since I was in a large Waterstones, but I don’t recall seeing a “Christian Fiction” section. Am I wrong? Possibly. That’s why I think the figures would be interesting. Maybe they just stock the Christian fiction with all the other fiction according to genre (fantasy, romance, horror, etc.)? If so, then I applaud them. :) My impression is that Brits are a lot less bothered about such things. Again, I could be wrong–I’m just going off of faulty memory and personal impressions.

          • Rachelle Gardner

            There’s not as much of a market for Christian books in the UK, especially fiction, since it’s basically considered a “post Christian” culture.

          • http://www.harlotsharpiesharridans.com/blog Gillian

            My experience definitely supports Rachelle’s assessment. In the UK there is a general feeling that religion is something that is better kept fairly private.

            I’ve never seen a Christian section in Waterstones (and I’m there quite a lot) but I would imagine that most Brits would definitely expect a novel with an overtly Christian message would be immediately identifiable as such.

      • http://www.christianreads.blogspot.com Iola

        While there is a market for Christian fiction in the UK, it is sold almost exclusively online or through Christian stores, and it is mostly American imports.

        I only ever saw a handful of British authors writing Christian fiction when I lived there (Adrian Plass, John Lockley or Jennifer Rees Larcombe).

        • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

          I think we then circle back to the whole question of what exactly IS “Christian fiction”? What makes a story “Christian”? There may be many writers who are Christian, subtly weaving Christian themes into their work, but marketing (and selling) to non-Christian audiences. Someone mentioned John Grisham–apparently he’s a Christian. And his books sell in the UK. So… is this a case of Christian books selling well in the UK, or a Christian managing to sell his non-Christian books in the UK? And if he puts Christian themes into his books (I haven’t read enough Grisham to speak to that), does that make them Christian?

          Very interesting debate, isn’t it? :)

          • http://www.christianreads.blogspot.com Iola

            Colin – I have always taken ‘Christian Fiction’ to mean fiction published by a member of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association or similar, and primarily sold through Christian bookstores.

            But you will probably find as many definitions of Christian fiction as you will find readers. The ECPA don’t exactly specify what ‘Christian’ books should or should not contain, simply that they should be consistent with a Christian world view.

  • http://www.shellygoodmanwright.com Shelly Goodman Wright

    Once again Rachelle, your blog is right where I need you. LOL! I received the final proof of Twisted Roots yesterday and when i looked at the back cover, I noticed the publisher put Fiction, Christian, Romance. I started wondering if the Christian should be included. After all, was the Little House on the Prairie books classified this way. They were not (I have the set) and they do a have strong Christians beliefs. However, after reading some of the comments, I will keep Christian in the list. After all I want readers to enjoy my story and not deceived. :-)

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      I don’t understand why not putting “Christian” on your novel would be deceptive. Why not let your novel be what it is? Let the reader decide. Just make sure your cover blurb tells the reader what the book’s about.

      Saying a book is “Christian” doesn’t necessarily mean anything. How many Christians dispute Mitt Romney’s claim to be a Christian? (Not going there, just making a point.) If you label the book “Christian” and some Christians decide it’s not really, might they feel deceived?

  • Anonymous

    Colin, I counted and you’ve commented 18 times so far. You clearly care about this passionately, but at this point, I don’t think you’re persuading anyone who doesn’t already agree with you, and you’re pushing away those who might listen.

    It might be time to let other voices be heard.

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin

      I appreciate your concern, but I hardly think 18 (now 19) comments out of 121 (122 now) is not “letting others be heard.” There are plenty of people weighing in, and I am just responding to comments where I think I have a different perspective. I’m sorry if it offends, but I like to interact with people’s points of view. I think the Bible calls this “iron sharpens iron.” There is no malice or denigration of any person in anything I have said.

      There are a number of comments posted I disagree with, but I have refrained from saying anything because I’ve commented to that point elsewhere. I’m not trying to dominate the discussion–just interact. Isn’t that the point?

  • Zealousgirl

    I’m laughing as I’ve never read a Christian NOVEL that promotes that ‘if you’re not Christian you’re all doomed’…. Even if that were true… Generally Christian novels are just ‘nice’. But if a label would help people not get angry, so be it. And I’m sure the author doesn’t deserve all those 1 stars either.

  • http://www.charlesspecht.com Charles Specht

    I love the idea of labeling it Christian Fiction. Start the movement, Rachelle. We’re behind you. Go for it! No seriously, do it. Today. We’re with you. hint hint.

  • http://www.danielfcase.com Daniel F. Case

    If a novel is written with an “agenda,” I think the agenda should be clearly spelled out, whether that agenda is exploring morality from a Christian perspective or exploring a particular political perspective or erotic preference. If you’re ashamed to state your agenda, you might not be the one who should promote it.

    But there’s a deeper issue here, a matter of craft. If you write a novel with an obvious agenda, it’s not a very well-written novel. If you craft the story well, your reader won’t see you pushing an agenda–they’ll see your flawed characters struggling, learning, making mistakes and growing. A well-crafted book quietly influences the reader and leaves them thinking long after the book’s been closed–but lets them make up their own mind and respects their right to do so.

    “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects–with their Christianity latent.” –C.S. Lewis

    D.

    • http://ibischild.blogspot.com marion

      Right on, Daniel!
      Love the CSL quote.

  • http://kbhyde.wordpress.com Katherine Bolger Hyde

    Here’s my solution: Write books that don’t preach, don’t shove Christianity down people’s throats. Write authentic stories from a Christian worldview and let people draw their own conclusions. They may not agree with you, but they’re less likely to feel gypped.

  • http://readinnwritin.blogspot.com PatriciaW

    This is an interesting question from so many angles.

    First, I love Christian fiction and read tons of it each year. Labeling of these books as such has helped me to find authors that are new to me in this genre. Readers should know what they’re buying. I don’t want to get erotic romance by mistake.

    But…

    I get it. Some of the fiction published by CBA publishers is pretty blatantly Christian and as such, might turn off someone who didn’t realize what he or she was getting. I’m happy to say that’s not true of all of it. Read The Patrick Bowers series by Steven James. Very little, if any, mention of Christ or Christianity. Yet, the hero clearly struggles in his faith.

    It’s more what I’d call fiction with a Christian worldview, which I think most people could read with no problem, accepting that the character has faith issues rather than feeling as if they’re being given a none-too-veiled sermon. Characters may openly read the Bible, attend church or other such activities, but the prose is such that it stops short of preaching. I’d say less than 20% of the Christian fiction I read is written in this manner, although the degree of preachiness varies. Me thinks it’s not easy to do.

    I’d posit that many classic authors, like Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, et. al., housed a Christian worldview in their stories. They didn’t need to label their fiction because frankly, the nature of the fiction widely available was less diverse as was the reading audience, making it less likely their works would be deemed offensive for being Christian.

    So I guess I see both sides and although I wouldn’t put a sticker on a book nor include it in the book blurb, I prefer when authors find a way to communicate this to readers.

  • Susan

    At first glance, I thought perhaps it’s a valid point to be upset IF there are no indications that a work is Christian. However, as I rolled it over in my head further, I decided I was wrong. This is just another assault because Christianity is clearly an “offense” in the world. Jesus said He came to bring division so why be surprised when people get offended? It’s not like this is a deliberate deception. The preachers of “tolerance” are constantly crying out an intolerant message against Christianity. How well would it be accepted if I purchased a book, was offended by wicca content and posted a rant in the review? Some would agree with me and some would disagree saying my opinion as a Christian is not reputable because I am a Christian. Labeling a book as Christian makes some sense, but why start down a path of categorizing content when the potential goal is not to categorize ALL content…sex, language, other religions, but, rather, to single out Christian content? Categorizing seems like a first step in making it easier to censor the Christian voice in the world. That has always been an issue since Jesus walked the earth. We should be CLEAR about who we are, but I feel cautious towards the idea of labeling our work to please nonchristians. Will the rest of the religious world label there stuff too or are we catering to a voice that is not of our Lord?

  • http://www.ourstoriesgodsglory.blogspot.com Elise Daly Parker

    Funny. My initial response is absolutely. No one likes to be duped. And there are many who feel defensive about evangelism. So if you’re not telling someone the book has a Christian message, it may be a very unwelcome surprise. On the other hand, I’ve co-authored a memoir that has the subjects faith laced throughout the book, yet the book has a much broader message than “Christian.” Would people feel duped by this if it wasn’t made clear there was a faith story somewhere in there? And I am going through message development. I currently have God in my tagline. But I would like to reach people who aren’t necessarily into God. Am I duping them if I include scripture as you go deeper into my site? Great food for thought. Clearly I’m not conclusive yet!

  • Katrina

    This actually has just happened to me, only it wasn’t a free download.

    I wasn’t paying attention to the name of the publisher, or I would have realized, I think, that what I downloaded for $2.99 on sale was a Christian Historical Romance. It was marketed as more of a standard Historical Romance, and in this particular case… the author is pretty good at covering that genre. I like seeing where the research was done well to fit the time period… but then it will shift, usually a few times a chapter, and the protagonist will do or say something that feels much more modern and evangelical. Those are the moments that get to me. It’s making it harder to finish the book, and for me it’s more about dissonance in the reality of the tale than the evangelical message (although I personally find that tiring more often than not).

    The publisher was listed, but it just didn’t ring the appropriate bell. I think it would be nice to have it more explicitly labeled on Amazon as to genre, but honestly? I don’t particularly expect such things. I don’t even see it as anyone being sneaky. They’re doing their job and marketing the books to as wide an audience as possible. I as the buyer must beware, and hopefully learn.

    There are some authors I don’t read any more because I’ve learned enough about their background or their publishers’ backgrounds that I don’t want to support them. That’s my job as a consumer. Would it be nice if my job was easier? Sure! But it’s not like consumers walk around with flashing lights over our heads saying “I am a Gender, Relationship, X-Believer and I wanted to be marketed just so!” … so marketers and publishers have a hard time as well.

  • http://crackyouwhip.blogspot.com Tracie

    I believe that this is an interesting conversation that should be addressed. I do humor and Christian writing and try to make a mix of both, but really try to be clear to my readers on the platform I am using.

  • Douglas Thompson

    This is an excellent question Rachelle, thank you for this post. I guess I have been operating under the assumption that Christian Fiction is a genre, that it is well known and understood, even highly sought after and popular. It is the focus of my writing efforts and how I desire to serve the Lord. In fact, I currently have several written works underway in this genre. I am not quite ready to seek representation as I have yet completed my first novel, but plan to do so shortly. When the time comes I will be clearly and (dare I say?) proudly marketing myself and my work in the Christian Fiction genre.

    I think perhaps the scenario you describe comes from either the author or publishing house desiring (understandably) to market to as large an audience as possible. Political pundits call this approach searching for the “Big Tent.” When this happens, the problems (so very well described in your posting) are possible results. These negative comments not only hurt the sale of the particular novel in question, they hurt the growth and integrity of the entire genre.

    Perhaps more that any other genre we, as Christian fiction writers, need to be very careful how we present ourselves. We are after all trying to represent Christ to a fallen world. If we are honest about whom we serve and do not “overreach” our calling, He will honor our efforts and in the end the glory will be His.

  • http://girlseeksplace.wordpress.com Brianna

    I do think it should be labeled, but if a book sounds good, I’m likely to read it no matter the genre. If I don’t like it or it’s too much religion for me, I’ll stop reading. Pretty simple. Pretty much common sense. Everyone has the right to read whatever they want. It wouldn’t even occur to me to leave a nasty review on the basis that I didn’t know it was Christian fiction.

  • http://deborahserravalle.wordpress.com Deborah Serravalle

    Wow. 146 responses (now 147) You hit a nerve.

    I agree, the Christian theme should be disclosed. Do unto others is correct. Also, you can lie by omission and clearly some of these angry reviewers feel hoodwinked. That’s a shame.

  • http://robertamichael.blogspot.com Robert Michael

    I dunno. Although the whole “transparent” culture of today is prevalent, I am not sure it would or should matter how a book is labeled. My thinking goes: as a Christian, a reader, and a writer, I have different goals.

    As a Christian, I am concerned for my eternal soul and those of my “neighbors.” As a reader, I am seeking a good story told from a world view that is similar to mine (the characters and the action may not always reflect Christian activities or circumstances–but neither does the world). As an author, I seek to tell a story with characters that are “real” and with a protag that is believable, relatable and challenged.

    I think that when we as authors seek to tell a story that exists entirely to convert, market, or laud Christianity, then we have missed both the expectation of our audience and the intent of a story. What I am saying, essentially, is that no labelling should be needed. I can recommend Tim Downs to a non-Christian friend because he doesn’t try to shove Christianity in our faces. I can also recommend THE KITE RUNNER to a non-Christian friend because we can discuss themes of family, regret, guilt and sin, even though there is no mention of Jesus. Labels constrict, labels further pigeonhole a genre, labels provide easy ways for people to decide not to download your book and labels are unnecessary if you are just telling a story in the first place.

  • http://www.melmenzies.co.uk/ Mel Menzies

    I’ve been a published author for over 25 years, but I’m am looking at this question from a different angle and am commenting here as leader of our Church Book Club. We alternate between overtly Christian books and secular novels and I write reviews of all the books we read and put them on my website. And what we find is that ANY book can be viewed from a Christian perspective.

    We’ve read Life of Pi, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Catcher in the Rye, and so on, and though none of them would purport to be anything but secular, we’ve discussed the themes and truths they’ve presented from a Godly viewpoint.

    Surely, therefore, the question is not whether we should write Christian novels and label them as such, but whether, as Christian writers, we should simply be writing mainstream novels that present God’s truths without having to resort to overtly pious language. Because that’s the turn-off for many readers.

    The book of Ruth OT does this admirably, presenting a very human tale of love in which there is barely a mention of God. Yet his all-encompassing love and redemption are conveyed beautifully, in a story that is both engaging and uplifting: a story in which God – though he’s not named – is on every page.

    That’s my aim. And though God does appear in my last book, A Painful Post Mortem, it’s in a natural way as a result of a funeral – via dialogue, a stream of consciousness, and emotional response. The themes of forgivness and the hope of eternal life – God’s themes – are, however, never mentioned overtly, but are alluded to in a subtle manner. My objective is merely to raise questions about life in the minds of my readers.

  • http://blog.abibleaday.com/ Peter DeHaan

    ..so how should a book by “Christian” writer for the secular market be labeled?

  • http://writersharonkirkclifton.blogspot.com/ Sharon Kirk Clifton

    I know of a book listed on Amazon that pretends to be Amish fiction but actually is pornography. Anyone who enjoys Anabaptist novels would be outraged if she purchased the book expecting one genre and was assaulted by that trashy bit of tripe.
    I want to know what I’m allowing into my imagination and on my bookshelf or Kindle. An adamant yes! We should be forthcoming. We have no reason to cower behind an ambiguous blurb.
    By the same token, if the publisher is Thomas Nelson or BH, I certainly wouldn’t expect the LGBT agenda to be promoted. Is it just because I’m a writer that I always look to see who published the book?

    Write on!
    Because of Christ,
    Sharon

  • Amanda Kelley-Goodhew

    I think labelling fiction should not be restricted to religious material. How many books do you see with “supernatural” or “science fiction” labelling? Because in order for someone who likes that type of writing to find the writing they like they have to be labelled. So, not only to avoid #1 stars on amazon, but also to ensure the correct readers for a certain book, labelling makes sense. For all genres.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Too bad there’s not much interest in this subject. :)

    I worked on a blog piece today entitled “Can Angels Be Christian?” Still processing the idea and working on the piece, but your post today addresses the general theme I’m working on.

    I thought you made a strong point for labeling a story Christian. On the one hand, we should be sensitive to others and not purposefully offend when we can take steps to be gracious.

    On the other, in reading people’s responses, some people are saying, “I’m a Christian but if I know a story is Christian, I won’t read it because it’s bad writing.”

    If we’re trying to not make people mad and keep those 1-star ratings out of our reviews, then we’re going to fail no matter how we label a book. “This said Christian. I didn’t read anything I’d call Christian in it.” 1-star review!

    “This is a stinking Christian book. It should have warned me.” 1-star review!

    You’re … well you know, that word Brett Butler used in some old movie … no matter which way you go.

    Even little boys who died and went to heaven get 1-star reviews.

    But you get a lot less 1-stars if you write an exceptional story.

  • http://marcusdehart.com/site Marcus

    Wow, the conversation is flowing. I decided to post my comment as a blog post here: http://marcusdehart.com/site/2012/01/26/its-all-about-being-honest/

    Good discussion.

  • http://mrhmccann.blogspot.com/ McKenzie McCann

    Yes, it should. I think there are so many religion-based books that fall on the preachy side. Even if they aren’t preachy, I know a lot of people who grew up with crazy Christian parents and now feel resentment toward anything resembling Christianity.

    You don’t want to read a book you disagree with, and people are very touchy when it comes to religion.

  • http://weavingataleortwo.blogspot.com/ Donna K. Weaver

    I agree with you that there’s an element in Christian literature that some may find offensive. I don’t read erotic romance or erotica. If I picked up a book and became invested in the characters only to find a very graphic sex scene, I would stop reading–and left wondering what happened to those characters. That would irritate me immensely.

  • http://ibischild.blogspot.com marion

    I agree that out-and-out Christian fiction should be labeled, out of respect for the reader.

    As a preteen, I found Christian fiction helpful. And I have to admit I don’t read it now, so I might not have a true impression.

    What I don’t like about Christian fiction: It puts a box around life and ties everything up neatly with a pretty bow.

    Life in its complexity and with its paradoxes doesn’t fit Christian fiction.

    C.S. Lewis (as has been said) doesn’t fit inside the Christian Fiction box.

    Dostoyevsky doesn’t fit in the box.

    The book of Genesis doesn’t fit in the box.

    The book of Job doesn’t fit in the box.

    My two cents.

  • http://www.rebastanley.com Reba

    I think that all books no matter who writes them or what their genera is should be clearly labeled. I can see where that would anger someone and cause a low rating.
    We should never try to hide our Christian label, that is not good all around.
    Back in the 70’s-80’s there was a cheer at our high School. “Stand up, Be Proud, Say your Name, Out Loud.’
    We christian authors need to do the same, but Sometimes when we do book business with non christian publishers,agents, marketing people, they want to hide that label in fear of not getting the $$ sales they want.
    I’m sure there are also times when the author didn’t know their label was going to be hid.
    Once again, we need to be careful out there.

  • http://www.marilhazlett.com Maril Hazlett

    Kudos to Rachel for posting this blog entry.

    • http://www.marilhazlett.com Maril Hazlett

      Rachelle. Now is when I miss the Blogger “preview” function!

  • http://www.sarahforgrave.com/blog Sarah Forgrave

    Yep, 100% agree. It benefits the reader and the author. Thanks for addressing this issue, Rachelle…I was just browsing Amazon yesterday and saw a ton of those 1-star reviews.

  • http://woxo.blogspot.com/ S. F. Roney

    Many books have faith mentioned in them, especially fantasy. Except, it’s usually fictional faith. Do we really need labels going: WARNING THE FAITH IN THIS BOOK ISN’T SOMETHING FAKE, THIS IS ALL ABOUT CHRIST.

    Nope. If people get all bent out of shape by Christian items, that’s their problem. Do we have to clearly label things that aren’t Christian? If you hate church that much, maybe you should check yourself first.

  • http://www.pamelasmeyers.com Pamela S. Meyers

    I haven’t read all the comments here. There are way too many. My answer to those making comments on Amazon, complaining they didn’t know the book was Christian fiction, has been to familiarize yourself with CBA (Christian Bookseller Association) publishers. That would be a good first clue you are likely to encounter a book with a Christian thread in the storyline.
    I write Christian Fiction and my debut novel just released last November. The Christian POV is in there because my characters are Christian, but I worked very hard to make the store non-preachy. Even so, to some even the mention of God is preachy.
    I know most readers don’t notice the imprint of the book, but I’m just sayin’ that might be a big help if you can’t tell by the back cover blurb.

  • http://merceyvalley.blogspot.com/ Mercey Valley

    Wow, Rachelle! This is a really interesting (and obviously valid) point. It’s a hot one for me because as a Christian, I view my writing as a way to reach the unsaved. Evidently the divide between believers and nons is widening with each page turned.

    I literally recoil when Christian books get preachy, and I’ve been a Christian 24yrs. If books need to be labelled as “Christian” then perhaps “Inspirational Romance” as a description isn’t enough (because it was my understanding we fit into that category). The world labels us at every turn as it is, so what difference will one more label make?

    When Christian authors write Christian books, we’re preaching to the converted. We’re talking to ourselves. We edify ourselves into oblivion with Christianese we understand without even batting an eyelid. Is it any wonder that people who don’t believe as we do feel ripped off or even slighted?

    Jesus said don’t get upset when the world picks on you, but He also said to be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.

    As a Christian author, yes more labels and divides upset me. However as a writer, this is a technicality not worth losing sleep over. Don’t get mad, get savvy. God can handle anything, even Amazon. He knows the hearts of men, and for Him, this is nothing new or major.

    Let’s be honest. How many of “our” novels are soapboxes? How many of them are valid attempts to see the way an unbeliver sees and broach topics as they would? Maybe that’s why authors go for pen names. They can write the best of both worlds.

    Time is short, and I for one won’t get my hackles up.

  • H Scott Hunt

    This book has been rated R (religious) for scenes of excessive praying, extreme worship, and full frontal conversions. Reader discretion is advised.

  • http://ibischild.blogspot.com marion

    Wow! Rachelle, what a useful discussion. Soon I’ll have to come up with summaries for my equivocal book. (I.e. It will offend some Christian readers and some non-Christian ones!)

  • http://duchessofcoloradosprings.blogspot.com/ Melissa

    It all needs to have a clear label; from religion, to same sex encounters, to violence. Books should have ratings just like movies.

  • http://www.pisceanrant.blogspot.com Heavy Hedonist

    There are levels, and levels, of agendas, and writing from a viewpoint is not always the same as writing with an agenda; but when it comes down to it, I think that if you’re proselytizing or preaching, you’re not writing fiction.

    Fiction goes places the reader, and writer, do not expect and cannot completely control; sermons don’t. If it’s purpose is evangelism, just don’t pretend it’s fiction at all.

  • http://www.rfrederickriddle.com R. Frederick Riddle

    I haven’t read the other comments yet as I wanted these to be strictly mine. As an author I am proud to be writing in the Christian Fiction venue. I believe that it is important that potential readers know from what perspective (or worldview) you are writing from.
    I have not always used the term “Christian Fiction.” Sometimes I say “Bible Based” as my stories have been taken from the Bible and a fictional story wrapped around them.
    So I don’t think you have to use the term “Christian Fiction,” but you must let people know the worldview. It’s called being honest.

  • http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/ Bob Mayer

    I just think it’s odd that people are making money off religion. Agents, publishers etc. who define themselves by their religion and package it and sell it. Seems to go against the very ideals they espouse.

  • http://eisleyjacobs.com Eisley Jacobs

    As both a secular and Christian author, I do agree that the book should be labeled. My reasoning stems from the very reasons they have the problem and left the nasty remarks. If I was to purchase a book based on the blurb and find out it was morally offensive to me, I would be upset. Though I wouldn’t leave a scathing review, I would have preferred to KNOW before hand the direction the novel was going to try to lead me.

    Now, being that we are supposed to go out and preach the gospel as Christians, does this mean that it’s okay to disguise your work under the secular heading? That is really up to you and your convictions. For every three scathing reviews you receive on the “misleading” of the book, how many people will you have touched with that message of hope, forgiveness and above all love? Is it worth it?

    Good question, yes?

  • http://annniekoconnor.wordpress.com Annie

    This is an extraordinarily interesting topic for me. I personally am a Christian, but I don’t consider my novel Christian; the characters do grapple at times with ideas of God and religion, as they grapple with friendship and love and sexuality, etc. I get frustrated, though, seeing GLBT books and movies labeled as a separate genre, because I find it marginalizing. We would never call ‘straight’ a genre, so why are books that contain GLBT characters kept in a separate location? I don’t, however, feel this same sense of marginalization about having a separate genre for Christian books. I wouldn’t want my book to be labelled as GLBT or Christian.

    I think that ‘genre’ must mean more ‘intended audience’ instead of ‘content’. Yes the content is tailored to the audience, but using only the content isn’t going to inform readers properly. If the intended audience is Christians looking for inspiration and encouragement, fiction that specifically tries to uphold their values, then the book should be labeled Christian. If a book is written for GLBT individuals in order to encourage and inspire them regarding that area of their life, then it should be that genre. But if the audience is ‘adults’ then it should not be labeled, even if it includes either content. This is why you will not find “Peace Like A River” by Leif Enger under “Christian Fiction.” (I think many books labeled GLBT should be in “fiction/literature” instead of a different location.)

    I did write a children’s book with the intended audience of (initially) my nieces and nephews whose parents are Christian, and the story is about Christmas. It is for that audience, and should be labeled “Christian” because it intentionally encourages Christian faith. When people who are non religious find out I have published a children’s book and they are eager to read it, I feel dread: I’m never really sure what to say.

  • http://www.amandamichellemoon.com Amanda

    I am a Christian. I used to work in the Christian Music Industry.

    I think Rachelle’s point about a Christian picking up a book that weaves a Muslim (or Buddist or Hindu or whatever) theme into the story without advertising that in some way in the book description will definitely upset the reader. In the same way, I understand why a non-believer would be upset if they get half way into a story and all of a sudden start to get preached to.

    The problem with labeling it as “Christian Fiction” because that is the intended audience as one of the commenters said is that people who are already Christian are not the intended audience of many of those books. They are already saved. The publishers/authors are hoping someone will read the book and get saved. It’s like street corner evangelism.

    It’s interesting to me that Rachelle approaches this from the reviews standpoint. I have read books that I thought didn’t fit the description at all on Amazon. If it was a well-written book I didn’t give the book a bad review, although I may have left a review with a more accurate description. Maybe the solution, rather than creating another genre, is for Amazon to create a way to critique/amend/change the description. If the book is overtly preachy, absolutely mention it in the description. If the book is written by a Christian and approaches life with that world view without having the “come to Jesus” preachy moment, then I don’t think a warning is necessary.

  • nuku

    I myself am labelled as having a Jewish/Christian faith. And while the majority of books I read are intended for a purely Christian audience, I still think they should be labelled as such. Not only that, I wish they would tell you if the books are preachy! I gave up on reading a certain book where the characters, who were just starting Christians, seemed to know and quote the Bible, finding specific people in the Bible that had the same ailments as themselves.
    That, I find very annoying. When you become Christian you do not automatically know the Bible by heart!
    Okay, sorry, I’m ranting here.

  • http://myfixedheart.com Brittani Larkin

    I think there should be a page, maybe right before the dedication, with a rating and content advisory. Like MPAA style guidelines. “Rated PG for some violent material and mild swearing.” I think this should be as big a deal as whether a novel is Christian or Buddhist or romance or horror or anything else. We don’t have to stamp a color-coded badge on the cover, but I’d like to have that information easily accessible.

  • http://JacksquatchDetangled Jack Walk

    I agree with the labeling as it also helps those of the intended audience – Christian – to find these books. That said, I find it disturbing that an open society, striving constantly to be open minded, tolerant, and remove labels everywhere would be so offended when encountering a book based upon any faith and then put a stamp on it. I have read many books over the years that did not subscribe to my own set of personal beliefs and was able to enjoy the art of the author. On the other hand, I’ve read many a book where my beliefs were reinforced by a work that was utter garbage.

  • http://joannempotter.blogspot.com JoAnne Potter

    You are absolutely right, Sean. I am constantly baffled, and a bit ashamed, by the thinly disguised sermons that masquerade as Christian fiction. Other genres don’t tolerate infodump and other weaknesses. Why do they? I truly don’t get it.

  • Sandy Stevener

    Wow! What strong opinions we Americans have. If you get a book and it’s not what you expected or wanted you are going to blame the author? or Amazon? Really? How about taking some responsibility. You can look up any author’s bio and learn about them before you read them

    I have read books before that turn into syfy or have a lesbian scene; I don’t throw a hissy fit and blame someone. How hard is it to just put it down and say I guess I won’t get any more books from that author?

    There are a lot of “agenda’s” out there. I have read books where the author was atheist, a naturalist, or even Jewish. But I did not feel cheated because they were not labeled. An author is going to write from their own perspective, and it will come through in the book, it is not necessarily an agenda.

  • http://vonildawrites.wordpress.com Voni Harris

    There is a place for Christians who want to read about Christians facing tough situations in their lives, and how do they cope AS CHRISTIANS. (And in this category, there is a need for writers who can face dark issues without wallowing in them, with redemption in the end.)

    Then there is a place for readers who like characters who may act as their faith informs them, but with no overtly Christian evangelism.

    Blessings,
    Voni

  • Mary

    Actually, as a Christian, I would not be distraught and offended if the book I downloaded was all about Islam and preaching about it. I’m curious about every world view, and am perfectly willing to listen to what other people have to say.

    I’m always amused by the overwrought howls of “OMG-IT’S A CHRISTIAN BOOK-SHOULD COME WITH A WARNING LABEL-OH MY EYES!!!”

    People are so close-minded nowadays. There was a time when all the great literature was from a Christian worldview (although not necessarily “Christian Literature”). Intelligent people could read and enjoy it without conniption fits. I just find it interesting that the dumbing down of our society has correlated with the increasingly close-mindedness of our society

  • http://www.heatherharshman.wordpress.com Heather Harshman

    It’s wrong for people to give 1 star reviews just because the book isn’t the topic they expected. That does not speak to the quality of the writing itself, yet it harms the writer’s reputation.

    Because people respond this way to Christian works not being labeled as such, perhaps it is better to label them.

  • http://ian_j_site2.tripod.com/personal.html Ian Johnson

    In response to your example: I doubt we’d be having this discussion if the novel involved had an Islamic message that, for whatever reason, was not mentioned in its promotional description. Islam is a minority religion and must be fully tolerated. No such rule applies to Christianity. We can demand warning labels notifying us of Christian content–and, presumably, sue if the warning is inadequate?

    I also find a previous comment about C.S. Lewis and Dostoevsky not fitting within the “Christian fiction” genre to be interesting. If we start requiring warning labels, this will necessarily come with rigid requirements that fiction that has any Christian content must fit within the boundaries of the defined “Christian fiction” genre, so that it can be accurately fitted with the appropriate warning labels. I do not see this as a positive development. This “freezing” of the genre boundary will become an even larger problem when inadequate labeling of Christian material becomes a cause for legal liability, as seems likely to happen once law or industry custom begins to require the labels. (I can imagine suits for outrage–intentional infliction of emotional distress–by people “offended” by a mis-labeled Christian book.

    As a matter of full disclosure, the website I have associated with this post is a personal biographical page, not one of my Christian websites.

  • Pingback: Caveat Emptor is the Rule for Book Purchasing « Christian Book Shop Talk()

  • Pingback: Book Buyer Beware? It’s Christian Fiction. – Christian Music | Talk Radio | News & YA Show()

  • Mal Tanite

    Should every novel be labeled with its potentially offensive content. Offensive to whom? Homosexuality offends and is against the religious teachings of most major religions on this planet. Should James Baldwin or E.M.Forester or Tennessee Williams or Truman Capote or Sappho be labelled homosexual writers? How about Graham Greene or C S Lewis or G K Chesterton or Georges Bernanos be labeled Christian/Catholic writers? “Power and the Glory”, “Keys of the Kingdom”, “Quo Vadis” need warnigs? The test of a books readability should be the first few pages.

  • Joshua

    Hi, I know this article is about 8 months old, but I hope you still read the comments.

    I very easily understand the reasons why people feel “hoodwinked” or whatever word you’d use to describe this. But are these also not the same people who feel “hoodwinked” when the main character of the book dies in the end of the story?

    I specifically remember seeing this kind of thing on Amazon one time. A science-fiction book I came across, set in a futuristic world where earth has been destroyed and humanity was rebuilding, sounded like an average Sci-Fi book. But the comments made the book out to be horrible, all with the same complaint: “the main character is a Christian girl.”

    The problems they had were not that the book was a poorly written work of science fiction. Their complaint was that it wasn’t the same kind of science fiction that they were used to reading. The very thing that made this novel unique among sci-fi books was what the readers were complaining about.

    As far as artistic and literary values go, something that surprises the reader is GOOD! If you come across a book that sounds good, and find that it challenged your expectations and preconceived ideas, then you shouldn’t complain about the book… you should be in awe of it.

    It seems that people are just bigots lately. If these same people came across a secular book that had a plot that revolved around karma or finding balance in nature… would they demand that the book be labeled as Hindu or Buddhist Fiction, and be just as angry that somebody had “hoodwinked” them into reading a book concerning Eastern Religions?

  • Moby

    my question is, if a novel is centered around a fantasy faith that is based on Christianity but does NOT preach, should it be labelled a christian fiction. there is no mention of Jesus but the characters do have histories and characteristics of Christian figures.

  • http://www.deborahheal.com Deborah Heal

    Unfortunately readers searching for free downloads don’t take the time to read the full description. I got a snarky review of my book Unclaimed Legacy in which she complained that it should be for teens not adults. It is for young adults and the back blurb gives every indication so. Here’s my article about labeling Christian fiction: http://deborahheal.com/g-pg-pg13-r-christian/

  • http://thepsychohaswritten.tumblr.com Kelley

    I want it labelled Christian fiction because the majority of CF I have read is very tame. As an individual reader, I don’t like tame. A lot of CF has set a boundary for itself, and explores a lot of the same subjects over and over and over. Ted Dekker and Bill Myers are some of the few who actually write some good, exciting CF.

  • http://thereader101.blogspot.com/ Danielle

    There are a tone of comments here now but just to add my P.O.V….I think there should be no labels. I mean let us look at the facts. If a book or anything is labeled “Christian”, then there are attachments to that and those attachments are often negative to people who are not strong of faith. So they avoid “Christian” art or lack-there-of since “Christian” work isn’t always necessarily up to pace with the art of today. Same goes for atheist art. If there is a book written by an atheist, Christians aren’t going to read it. And a fair point is – why would we want to read something that points to an opposite belief in which we believe to be false? Well, speaking from experience here, I attended a liberal arts college though have always felt a bit held back in terms of spirituality teachings because generally Christianity isn’t held in such high regards on campus. I often times wonder whether it would have been more productive if I had gone to a Christian based school instead. And the question ultimately there is no, because God used other tools to direct my path. They may not have been the tools I expected but God is an artist and knows much more than I do about the world and my future. So now we apply this idea to the novel and my point. If God knows more than us like we Christians believe, shouldn’t we put aside our earthly thinking and try to see through heavens eyes? I mean, my favorite band is Mumford & Sons and their music carries more spiritual inspiration to me than a song by Chris Tomlin does. And guess what? Mumford & Sons drop the F-bomb in a few of their tracks. But what does that say? That they are being dangerous? Sure. Well we live under the rule of a dangerous God, don’t we? So why aren’t we dangerous? And I’m not saying do some dangerous thing like hang glide to get closer to God. But seriously, can we say that we are high enough to avoid a text just because it is atheistic? We aren’t open to debate? Because if our faith is in a solid foundation, we should be able to read the text that pushes atheism and then have something to say afterword but still believe that our God is bigger. So no, I don’t believe in labels because labels led me to “Christian” “art” that was far from artistic. It was when I branched out to art that either was Christian but they don’t outwardly state so OR art that blatantly isn’t Christian but carries similar themes. I mean, I learned way more from Harry Potter than from the Left Behind series. No shame.

  • Veronica Bullard

    I think that having to label your fiction as Christian is childish to say the least. People should grow up and realize that their point of view is not the only point of view in the world. Not only that but if your main character just happens to be being raised Christian and that is part of the story then it is just part of the story. What is the big deal? No one is trying to indoctrinate anyone else, it is just a story.

    I have watched Michael Moore movies, which are incredibly biased (my observation), but I think for myself and come to my own conclusions. No one can force me to believe something that I don’t believe. No grown-up is that gullible and if they are they should reconsider their adulthood (hint: grown up is not an age, it’s a state of mind).

  • clst

    You’re not being “tricked” into buying something it it is Free, so do unto others……does not apply since nothing gained,nothing lost.

    • clstpic

      Guess I cannot edit my post, so I have to elaborate on my previous post instead. When I purchase a book, I usually not only read the books description but I read others reviews and a bit about the author himself/herself. But not everyone does this so I can understand someone believing they have been tricked into buying something based soley on the books review. This may be why it is free for a limited time.

  • Aspiring Writer 1723

    I once read a book with very clear atheists themes. It was a well written story aside from the themes, but I was uncomfortable. On one hand, I really wish they had labeled it an atheist book, especially since it had been marketed towards teenagers and many Christian parents might have their kids read it without knowing what it is teaching. On the other hand, we live in a free country that values people’s rights to express their opinions freely, and I would be wary of anyone who wants to silence people with an opinion different from their own. If atheistic philosophies can be written into books that paint a negative view of God and faith without warning, then Christians should be able to write books about what they believe without a disclaimer. It’s fair game. If we tell Christians they need to label their books as Christian or Religious, then we must tell everyone to label their books by whatever philosophical, moral, or religious content that is in it. Until all books are clearly labeled, I don’t think we should single out specific groups to label their content.

  • Barbara G. Tucker

    What in the world is Christian fiction in the first place? My view is that if it’s good fiction, good writing that has Christian characters or a world view that acknowledges Christian truth, that should be enough–no labels needed. Labeling a novel “Christian fiction” neither demeans it or elevates it. I do not say I write Christian fiction, although some would call it that. Those who complain about free giveaways are sort of missing the point. Barbara G. Tucker, partsofspeaking.blogspot.com

  • Debbie

    Problem is, what constitutes Christian fiction? A Jehovah’s Witness would say they are Christian, yet the mainline churches would not. How loosely can it be applied? For instance if everything with a touch of Christian ‘flavour’ is labelled ‘Christian’ then the Christians are then deceived into thinking it actually is Christian and Kosha when it is not. I have had some really glaring examples lately and have written reviews on Amazon stating this is NOT Christian fiction, to prevent misunderstandings for others who are browsing. The problems are insurmountable when a new Ager writes end times stuff, loaded with every God imaginable, and yet it gets placed under ‘Christian Fiction” for example. Or someone has a theology that is just off base enough to be out there, and people aren’t discerning enough not to notice.

line
Site by Author Media © Rachelle Gardner.