Christmas fiction is a shining star for publishers eager to end the year with a sales push. PW’s most recent Religion Fiction bestseller list, which measured print unit sales for the month of November, had six out of 10 titles falling into the subgenre.
Barbour Publishing, which had four of the six titles on the PW bestseller list, relies on its Christmas titles for frontlist sales, releasing several new titles each holiday season. Christmas fiction is about 10% of Barbour’s full fiction line. Wanda Brunstetter’s novella The Christmas Secret was originally in a 2011 Christmas collection; the publisher brought it back this year as a standalone with a print run of 45,000. Barbour has averaged two Christmas novella collections per year since 1996. Novellas are a popular choice during the season, said senior fiction editor Rebecca Germany. “Readers have less time to dedicate to a full-length novel, but a 20,000-word novella fits into busy schedules and collections with more than one story feel like a bargain value for the price.”
The average print run for a Christmas novel is 25,000–30,000 at Barbour, slightly higher than the publisher’s regular fiction books. “We often consider Christmas fiction to be an impulse buy,” Germany said.
HarperCollins Christian Publishing, with its Thomas Nelson and Zondervan fiction lines, relies largely on its backlist of more than 20 Christmas titles including The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado (2013) which has sold more than 250,000 in print and e-books combined, according to the publisher, and An Amish Christmas: December in Lancaster County (2011), a collection of four novellas, which has sales of over 135,000 in print and e-books combined..
“The promotions Christmas titles can slot into can provide an opportunity to reach new and different readers,” said Amanda Bostic, associate publisher for Thomas Nelson. Targeted e-blasts and promotional pricing on e-books are part of the publisher’s strategy, as is placement in retailer holiday catalogs.
HCCP typically publishes one or two new Christmas titles per year; 2016 saw release of A Royal Christmas Wedding by Rachel Hauck, author of 2012’s The Wedding Dress. “In recent years we’ve strategically built Christmas titles into the publishing plans for current authors such as Colleen Coble, Denise Hunter, and Hauck,” said Bostic.
Another big seller this year is Karen Kingsbury’s A Baxter Family Christmas (Howard Books, Oct., print run 400,000), which topped PW’s Religion Fiction bestseller list and is part of Kingsbury’s bestselling Baxter Family Chronicles line. “Having such a beloved author return to her best-known characters in a story set at Christmastime has been a winning formula,” said Beth Adams, senior editor at Howard Books.
Marketing and publicity for A Baxter Family Christmas kicked off in late October and included a 14-city book tour, a national media campaign (Fox News, USA Today, 700 Club), and print and online advertising. “Because Christmas fiction is so specific in its content, there is a clear picture of the time frame for promotion and opportunities that exist particularly during that time,” said Adams. “So sales tend to come in very strong.”
Christmas fiction has the added bonus of reaching beyond the traditional Christian market due to placement in general market stores and the message of the books. “Everyone loves a sweet, feel-good story at this time of year, so I don’t think Christmas books are limited to Christian readers,” said Adams. “However, it’s only natural that Christian readers are drawn to stories where faith is highlighted at this time of year.”
Bostic of HCCP agreed: “Christmas-themed stories are inherently hopeful and uplifting, and many people are more open to faith-based content during this season.”