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Labelling and Exposure

In the past, I’ve discussed the topic of race and publishing, specifically when the work of black authors is pigeonholed in the African-American section just because they’re black, whether their material in any way deals with race or even contains black characters.

A similar problem exists for writers in the Christian Fiction section, according to author Robert Liparulo:

“He’s been called a rising star in Christian publishing – odd, considering he says he doesn’t write Christian fiction. Frankly, he’s like to ban the genre altogether: Why label a book and restrict its readership? Why not, he asks, let the writing speak for itself?”

Because his books are from a publisher of Christian publisher, his books sometimes get placed in the “Christian” section instead of the “thriller” section where he says they belong. He also says that Christian fiction still has a stigma:

“Christian fiction hasn’t had the highest standard. The priority was to talk about God, to talk about Jesus, not to do the best we can.”

The two novels he has written so far are Comes a Horseman and Germ. The write-up for Comes a Horseman, from his website, reads as follows:

Reeling from a series of attempts on their lives, FBI agents Brady Moore and Alicia Wagner follow a trail of evidence that leads to a conspiracy a thousand years in the making. Finding clues in the dusty tomes of the Vatican’s Secret Archives and the paintings of William Blake and Hieronymus Bosche, they plunge deep into a pit of evil ambition. “

And here’s how he describes Germ:

Imagine a virus that spreads as a common cold, until it finds a DNA strand that matches the one encoded within it—until it finds the one person it’s looking for. Then it turns brutally lethal. No one is safe. If you breathe, it will find you. To prove it, the germ’s creator targets ten thousand victims: politicians, housewives, children. Only three people can possibly stop it—if they survive long enough.”

Neither sounds like it belongs alongside bibles and inspirational tomes. The main difference between his thrillers and the kind you’ll find in the thriller section, he says, is his PG grounding. His characters don’t swear and they don’t sleep around. In other words, for people more sensitive to the “harsh reality” portrayed in mainstream fiction, Liparulo’s work could be considered “safe.”

But considering the possibility that people looking for thrillers might not even consider the Christian book aisle, his work may be missing the exposure that could drive his sales even higher.

I have read two “Christian” thrillers. First, there was Ted Dekkar’s Three, a tale of psychological suspense about a killer who threatens to murder a college student if he doesn’t “confess his sins.”

The second was a collaboration between Dekkar and Frank Peretti, called House, which was about two couples who find themselves stranded inside a strange house in rural Alabama and held prisoner by a masked man who is threatening to kill them by dawn unless they kill one of their own.

The books didn’t feel like “Christian” fiction as I read them. Frankly, I was only slightly aware that the characters were not “cussing up a storm” as the action went on. Despite having read several Stephen King novels, I am not conditioned to require profanity in dialog. It’s entirely possible, at least in my encounters, to have a conversation with someone during which not a single “dirty word” appears.

In neither novel was there any sex scene, but in neither was such a scene necessary to tell the story. I don’t have to read about two characters rolling around in bed to enjoy a story, either. In short, the novels read, for the most part, like mainstream fiction without what some would consider unnecessarily adult content. It was harder stuff than I would expect from a “Christian” section, honestly, but not noticeably “cleaner” than what I’d expect from mainstream.

So what’s better? Mixing all thrillers together, or separating “family-friendly” novels into the Christian section? If you want a thriller, would you even think to check out the Christian section? Do you agree that shelving a thriller in a “Christian” section could hurt its sales?

2 Comments

  1. A good point, Patrick.
    I imagine there are still other “niches” that may hamper exposure.
    What may have started out as a good marketing ploy may now inhibit sales.

    And thank you for your kind and encouraging words on my blog.

  2. Interesting post here 🙂

    I think this happens with more genres than Christian or Ethnic works. Some female authors find their books swadled in pink and shelved in the chick lit section, even though they might not feel their work fits there.

    Personally I feel books should be classed by content and not by who the author is.

    As a non religious person, I wouldn’t walk through the Christian, Buddhist or Satanist sections so any books I might pick up otherwise will be missed.

    Authors should have a discussion with their publisher and marketing team as to which market should be targeted for the content of the books. No?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.