Market intervention

by Yule Heibel on March 4, 2005


As part of his research into the links between the New Age and the same-old-age, The CBO has a useful installment on a phenom within a phenom: the Left Behind series and Christian Fiction. As it happens, I recently read a chapter on Christian novels as a specific genre, as well as an interview with Jerry B. Jenkins of the LaHaye-Jenkins team, in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing. Pulp fiction is pretty big business, with individual genres that grow a fan base and carve out market share. The chapter on the Christian market is by Penelope Stokes (pp.303-309), and explains to would-be writers what that market wants. (It’s probably not a bad idea to remember, at this point, that pandering to a market needn’t be influenced by what you actually believe, either….) According to Stokes, the following are the golden rules for success in the Christian book market:

A clearly articulated Christian worldview. A Christian worldview is based on the assumption that God is in control of the universe, and that true meaning and fulfillment in life are based on a relationship with the Almighty. (…)

A familiar but intriguing setting and/or time frame. [self-explanatory] (…)

Universal themes and subject matter. Novels usually work best in the CBA [Christian Booksellers Association] market when they connect with some issue of current interest or universal appeal: love, suffering, injustice, moral challenges, or family relationships. [In other words, could we say that if the contemporary political climate punches up a general tendency toward paranoia and panic, those themes will find their way into Christian literature, and assure the popularity of those books?] (…)

Action orientation. [focus on action, suspense, etc. Paranoia, anyone?] (…) This general principle does not eliminate the value of character-oriented books, but it’s a good idea to steer clear of psychological novels comprised mostly of self-awareness, internal insights, or relationships. [emphasis added]

Viable Christian characters. (…) …have a clearly identifiable evangelical faith, along with some kind of memorable “conversion” in their history. Most Christian readers are looking for a conflict of good versus evil… [Action! Forget introspection.] (…)

Series plans or potential. [self-explanatory: franchisable characters, the cash registers are happy.] (…)

Strong evangelical perspectives. (…) Most CBA publishers expect their authors to refrain from writing scenes that include gratuitous sex or overt sensuality, obscenity and profanity, humanistic philosophy, or excessive violence (particularly toward women [sic!]). [emphasis added] [So, systemic-implied violence in the form of authoritarian relationships wherein the man is the master and the woman is subservient are ok, because they’re not excessive? Hmmm…] From The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, pp. 305-07.]

As for the Jenkins-LaHaye team, it’s clear that LaHaye is the more ideological, while Jenkins appears to be the crank-it-out-on-demand writer. Here’s what he answers to interviewer Chantelle Bentley’s question, What kind of research do you do for the books that make up the Left Behind series?

The idea for fictionalizing [emph. added] an account of the Rapture and the Tribulation was Dr. LaHaye’s, and he has been studying prophecy and theology since before I was born. I have become, in essence, his protégé and now own everything he has written or read on these subjects. He provides a chronology of biblical events, and I get the fun part of making up the stories and writing the novels. [From The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, pp. 410-11.]

I read Jenkins’s answer to Bentley’s question as “None whatsoever.” How quaint. (And how utterly cheesy.)

And just in case you sinners had any doubt as to what it all comes down to (at least for hacks), it’s this: when asked if Christian writers are at a disadvantage in publishing, Jenkins replies,

The general market seems to be thrilled with anything that entertains and sells [emph. added], so where there might have seemed to be a prejudice against Christian themes, that has been dispelled by several best-sellers (not just our own).


You have to love how rational all this insanity really is: it’s beauty, eh, as they say up here. As long as something makes sense in the market place, it gets survivor cred, and no one messes with a survivor-winner, or succeeds in tearing down his (or her) junk. If it’s popular, fills a niche, and survives economically, it works.


[*]: I thought I posted this when I wrote it on March 2, but in a continuing string of software mysteries, the entry got — ahem — left behind and never actually hit the page. Chalk it up to divine intervention, perhaps?


RageBoy March 5, 2005 at 12:25 am

Depressing, yes. I saw one the other day at Barnes & Noble on How to Write the New Age Novel, or something close. I should have bought it. Maybe I will. Your quotes and observations here are very useful. I grabbed the page. if I ever write the damned book, expect at least a footnote. small thanks. but thanks.

Yule Heibel March 5, 2005 at 9:20 pm

Can I be a headnote instead? A startnote, vs. endnote? 😉

How to Write a How to Book would probably be a pretty good seller, too…

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