Though the pandemic brought uncertainty to many aspects of the publishing business, increased sales of adult fiction has been a bright spot and the genre continues to outperform other categories, and not just in the general trade market. Religion publishers say fiction sales are on the rise due to reader demand and a wider range of subgenres in the category today.
“You don’t have to look any farther than the BookScan reports to know it’s a great time to be in fiction,” says Amanda Bostic, publisher of fiction at HarperCollins Christian Publishing. “One of the silver linings of the pandemic was that people had more time to read, and they remembered how much they love stories. It’s a joy to help readers find the stories that truly resonate for them and to watch the fiction category continue to grow.”
HCCP, which publishes Christian fiction under both its Thomas Nelson and Zondervan imprints, is coming out with Hopefully Ever After (Apr.) by bestselling Amish romance author Beth Wiseman, whose books have sold more than two million copies. Other new entries include Double Indemnity (June), a legal novel by Robert Whitlow, and Sarah E. Ladd’s regency romance In the Shelter of Hollythorne House (July).
In addition to HCCP, HC’s Harlequin division has a significant presence in the Christian fiction market. Harlequin has been publishing original mass market paperback Christian fiction, which it calls “inspirational,” under its Love Inspired brand for 25 years. The publisher began releasing Love Inspired titles in the trade paperback format in 2021, and today there are three publishing lines under the Love Inspired brand.
The Love Inspired trade paperback line features what the publisher describes as entertaining stories with characters whose faith enables them to overcome challenges. These include genres of romantic suspense, historical fiction, historical romance, Amish fiction, and contemporary women’s fiction. The Love Inspired line, published in mass market, features stories of faith, forgiveness, and hope within the contemporary Christian romance genre. The Love Inspired Suspense line features stories of faith and love in the face of danger. Output is currently around six trade paperback titles and 144 original mass market paperback titles per year, but Harlequin says it’s focusing on expanding the lines.
Sales are “quite strong” for Kregel as well, according to publisher Catherine DeVries. “In addition to a broad range of genres, we also have a variety of solidly established novelists like Kimberley Woodhouse [26 Below, Apr.] and Erica Vetsch [Children of the Shadows, Oct.], as well as newer authors who are winning awards and garnering bestseller status, like Crystal Caudill [Counterfeit Faith, May].”
Echoing the other Christian fiction publishers, Karen Watson, publisher at Tyndale Fiction, says, “Sales have returned to more pre-Covid norms.” Noting that audio sales are starting to outpace e-books, she adds, “We are still seeing a consistent performance in our well-established categories and authors.”
Tyndale, which houses bestselling novelist Francine Rivers (Redeeming Love), has a number of new fiction entries, including The Year of Jubilee by debut author Cindy Morgan (Apr.)—a Southern coming-of-age novel that Watson describes as “timely and tender,” as well as The Libyan Diversion (May), a political thriller from bestselling author Joel C. Rosenberg, whose books have sold more than five million copies.
Fiction continues to be a strong area for Baker Publishing’s Revell and Bethany House imprints. Forthcoming books include new releases from established hitmakers Tracie Peterson, whose books have sold nearly six million copies; Melody Carlson, whose sales exceed 7.5 million units; and Beverly Lewis, who has more than 17 million books in print, according to the publisher.
A crowd for the category
In addition to the major Christian fiction publishers—HC, Tyndale, Bethany, and Revell—other publishers are active in the market. Amy Parker, sales manager at Covenant Books, which publishes 36 fiction titles per year, says the category and its subgenres are consistent sellers, noting that “there is a need and a growing demand for Christian fiction that tackles current events.” Coming from Covenant in December, Tutored in Love by debut author Barbara Adamson explores themes of grief and mental health through a friendship between math whiz Noah Jennings and Grace Ebert, an aspiring therapist who needs his help.
Also tapping into contemporary themes, The Gardins of Edin (WaterBrook, Jan. 2024) by debut author Rosey Lee follows four women in the Gardin family who live in Edin, Ga. Distrust and misunderstanding threatens to rip the family apart, and with it, their multimillion-dollar peanut business as well as the legacy of their formerly enslaved ancestors. WaterBrook is also publishing An American Immigrant by Johanna Rojas Vann (Aug.), featuring 25-year-old Colombian American journalist Melanie Carvajal as she tries to save her career by taking an unexpected assignment in Colombia. Along the way, she rediscovers the stories of her family in what the publisher describes as a portrait of the immigrant experience.
Barbour is publishing nearly 20 new fiction releases between now and December, including cozy mysteries, historicals, and a number of Amish fiction authors. Wanda Brunstetter, whose Amish romances have sold over 10 million copies, has two forthcoming titles with Barbour: Letters of Comfort (Aug.) and Sisters by the Sea (Oct.).
Skyhorse is also publishing into the popular subgenre of Amish fiction with The Weaving of Life, the first book in Linda Byler’s New Directions series, slated for publication on April 25. The next book, Tapestry of Love, will release in August, and the third book (not yet titled) is expected in spring 2024.
“I love how Linda juxtaposes a strong, independent female lead character with the traditions, expectations, and constraints of Amish life,” says Abigail Gehring, associate publisher and editorial director at Skyhorse. “She doesn’t shy away from difficult topics like depression and abuse, while also giving readers plenty of what they want from the genre—descriptions of luscious Amish food, innocent romantic intrigue, and the promise that somehow everything is going to be okay.”
Chalice Press entered the Christian fiction market last year with the launch of Chalice Stories. The first release, Catherine’s Mercy by Nicole Evelina, is slated for publication on June 13 and tells the story of Catherine McCauley, one of the founders of the Catholic religious order Sisters of Mercy. The imprint plans to release 10 books in 2024 and grow output from there. “Sometimes good fiction tells the truth more honestly than good nonfiction,” says Brad Lyons, president and publisher of Chalice. “And we all know the truth can be gritty and a bit unnerving, but it doesn’t have to be.”
Paraclete’s Raven Fiction imprint has two entries in the category: a contemporary suspense by Greg Garrett in Bastille Day (Apr.), as well as a work of literary fiction, Renaissance by Susan Fish (Sept.).
Outside of evangelical or Catholic publishers, Inner Traditions is publishing The Madonna Secret by Sophie Strand (Aug.), a work of literary spiritual fiction that explores Jesus’s teachings as well as the life of Mary Magdalene. John Hays, Inner Traditions director of sales and marketing, says the press will continue to look for new acquisitions in fiction “because of the important role storytelling plays in the spiritual process.” He adds, “Although most of the occult, esoteric, and metaphysical books published are nonfiction, the writers and readers of Inner traditions books recognize the importance of the story in the spiritual journey.”
And while it doesn’t yet have any titles on its frontlist, IVP is looking for fiction that focuses on themes of spiritual formation and personal transformation. The press plans to publish three to five novels per year starting in 2024. “Story works on our hearts and minds, including the subconscious, in ways that nonfiction cannot,” says Cindy Bunch, IVP editorial divisional v-p. “Fiction stirs our imagination, and when combined with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, fiction can reveal spiritual truth to us in surprising ways.”
Read more from our Religion & Spirituality feature:
Finding Home: PW Talks to Rhonda McKnight
Romance author Rhonda McKnight discusses the difficulties of divorce, humiliation, returning to one’s true self, and other themes in her new book, ‘The Thing About Home’ (Thomas Nelson, May 9).
Redefining Christian Fiction
Religion publishers discuss an evolution in Christian novels, determining that clean is still king, but faith-based content can vary.
Colleen Hoover’s Effect on Christian Romance
Religion publishers discuss the star author’s impact on the category of contemporary Christian romance.