Diversity in Christian Fiction: How Can Readers Help?

I know the topics of racial inequality and privilege make a lot of people uncomfortable. Some even have a mindset that says, “That kind of privilege doesn’t exist,” or “It’s just an exaggerated idea that folks spew around these days when they argue about politics.”

I’m not here to spew or to argue. I don’t have to. For me, an African American woman, and for an untold number of other people, real-life experience makes the issue of privilege (or the lack of it) pretty clear. And as a longtime reader and fan of Christian Fiction, I don’t have to look far to see just one everyday example of the issue.

I go to the bookstore, find the Christian Fiction section, and look at the books that are shelved there. I go to the websites of traditional Christian Fiction publishers I’ve been reading books from for decades, check out their bestsellers and new and upcoming releases, and I look at the faces of the models or illustrated characters on the book covers, especially on novels about modern times. I also check out the author bios and photos there.

No, it’s not fun to say it, but time after time, few to none of those faces I see are people of color.

It certainly isn’t that people of color don’t read Christian Fiction, or that there aren’t any writers of color who write Christian Fiction. Yet, as much as I love keeping up with books from ChristFic publishers, it becomes increasingly disheartening when, year after year, authors and fictional heroes and heroines of color are often missing from the new waves of books rolling in.

I realize that, for a lot of fellow ChristFic fans, it may not be something that crosses your minds that much, if at all. Many times, though, that’s a part of privilege: when you don’t realize a disadvantage exists for others, or you hardly think about it, because you’ve only ever experienced the advantage. It may not even seem like an advantage to you if your subconscious assumes, “This is just the way it is,” and it feels so normal.

Well, I trust I’m not the only person who believes this: Christian Fiction is in great need of a new normal in the area of diversity. After all, diverse Christian Fiction is something for (and for the benefit of) all ChristFic readers, not just one color or another.

Now, in no way do I mean to discount traditional Christian Fiction publishers’ awareness of the issue or any steps they’ve taken to address it. Nor do I mean to discount the strides that Christian Fiction has already made in this area, especially through small press and independent publishing.

I mean, hey. I’m an independent author myself. And yes, I write multicultural ChristFic.

Nevertheless, I’m still interested in the releases and relevance of traditional Christian Fiction publishing. In large part, traditional Christian publishers are still seen as the main representatives of Christian books. The world is watching, history is taking note, and traditional publishers have a larger platform and access to certain doors that many independent publishers don’t yet have.

Moreover, I don’t believe readers, authors, and publishers should be okay with any area of Christian Fiction being behind the times where diversity is concerned, no matter the means of publication. Likewise, it wouldn’t be to our benefit to settle for only partial-diversity, in a sense—when more diverse characters may start showing up in books from a Christian publisher, but the publisher’s authors still aren’t that diverse. Or a publisher begins to publish more authors of color, but only when the stories are about white or racially ambiguous main characters.

No, I don’t believe that authors in general can or should only “write their own color.” I myself, as a Black female author, don’t only write about Black people. (Or only about female people, for that matter.) Even so, I wouldn’t want us to go as far as partial-diversity and leave it at that.

Granted, diversity in Christian Fiction is a longstanding, complex issue with layers of challenges to overcome. But I think there are some practical ways that readers can play a part in bringing more diversity to ChristFic.

  1. We can start letting our favorite Christian Fiction publishers know that we’d like to see them publish more diverse authors and diverse books in the ChristFic genres we read.

Many of us follow and talk with our favorite publishers on social media. Or we comment on their blogs, or sign up for their newsletters, or join their blogger/reviewer programs, or participate in their surveys. Publishers are seeking our engagement and feedback, and we can use social media and other opportunities to let them know what kinds of books we’d like to see.

Publishing is a risky, challenging, expensive business. Even Christian publishers who see their work as a ministry need to concern themselves with the market and their profits if they want to stay in business. Publishers need to feel sure that there’s a reading audience willing and ready to hear from diverse Christian voices, to see more faces of color on Christian Fiction book covers.

  1. Be open to trying Christian Fiction by authors of color with main characters of color, even if the books come from small press publishers or independent/self-published authors.

That doesn’t mean you have to buy diverse ChristFic books just because they’re diverse. 😀 Treat them as you’d treat other books while you’re shopping, or finding books to request your local library to purchase. Read the book blurbs. If it’s your habit to check out some reader reviews, do that. If you’re not sure about the authors, read their bios, Google their websites, look them up on social media and see what they’re about. Read samples of their work on their blogs, and check out the available samples of their books at online retailers to get a little feel for the authors’ works before you buy.

Again, publishers need to know there’s an audience for diverse ChristFic books and authors. And in many cases, newer authors need to prove themselves by independent means first (author blogs or newsletters, self-published book sales, etc.) before traditional publishers will take them on.

  1. Be willing to give more than one or two diverse Christian Fiction books a chance.

I think I’d be pretty safe in saying that most or all of us ChristFic lovers haven’t liked every single ChristFic book we’ve ever tried. But that hasn’t stopped us from moving ahead to try more ChristFic books. Just like any other authors out there, Christian authors of color have different interests, genres, writing styles, messages, levels of content, and more. If you branch out and try a diverse ChristFic book, and for whatever reason, it isn’t for you, don’t think that all other diverse ChristFic books will be just like it. Search around some more, find diverse books you enjoy, and spread the word about them.

Oh, I don’t claim to be an expert or to have all the answers on the issue of diversity in Christian Fiction. And I know some of us are already doing the best we can to bring needed change. But if more ChristFic readers of all colors take some practical steps toward that change, I believe we can get there—that we can reach a new, extraordinary normal.

Not sure where or how to start searching for different ChristFic books? Click here to find some ideas.

 

The Colors of My Characters

Yeah. I know it looks a little strange, sometimes.

Looks a little strange to people when a black author (me! Nadine) pulls out a book she’s written and the person or people on the front cover are another color, or other colors, besides black.

People have asked me before about the ethnicities and skin tones of my fictional characters. To that I must say that I, an African American (culturally Black) woman, have come across a good variety of people in the few decades I’ve been around on earth. Because human beings come in a variety of colors, and I aim to write about a variety of human beings, the people I write about will continue to come in a variety of colors.

It’s a part of my acknowledgment of the beauty of humanity.

Just so you know. 🙂

 

Want Different Books? You May Have to Do Something Different

A few conversations among fellow Christian Fiction readers urged me to post this post. 🙂

Whenever someone asks ChristFic readers what we wish to find more of in the genre, or what we think is missing, I hear a good bunch of recurring answers in every conversation.

Many ChristFic readers want books that address more tough, real-life issues. We want flawed, relatable characters and plots with realistic outcomes. Romances that aren’t too fairytale-ish or cookie-cutter. Faith elements that go beyond trite religious platitudes or too-easy fixes. Etc., etc.

I agree with so many readers I hear from—including those who point out that a lot of the different ChristFic books and topics we say we want are, actually, already out there. Written, published, and waiting for us. We just haven’t found them all yet.

And, yes, many of the books we haven’t found or don’t hear as much about are indie: independently published. So they’re not being promoted by mainstream Christian publishers, and most of them aren’t showing up on bookstore shelves along with Christian books from “the big guys.”

On my part, I often say I’d like to see more diversity in Christian Fiction, and it makes me glad when I hear other readers say it as well. At the same time, there are many authors, myself included, who are already writing diverse books, but it can be hard to get our books seen by the right people. Or, in my experience, it seems it can be common for our books to be seen but passed over, even in a forum full of avid ChristFic readers.

I’ve been realizing that “different” books often require something different from us. An author has to step out of the norm and take a chance to write/publish/market something different, and a reader has to step out of the norm and take a chance to find/buy/read something different. If the usual ways we find books haven’t given us the kind of selection we want, we may have to go beyond our usual ways. We may have to tweak our habits.

For me, that means I need to be more watchful as a reader. It’s super easy for me to find mainstream ChristFic books like I’ve always read, especially in Christian bookstores or in the Christian Fiction sections of secular stores. But to find some different ChristFic books, it means I need to visit a different book blog now and then, or a different book group on social media, or take a chance on an author I haven’t previously read or heard of.

When it comes to websites like Facebook and Goodreads, and the blogs and blog topics I follow, it oftentimes means I have to “slow my scroll.” Instead of breezing past that less popular author or otherwise “unknown” book in order to jump to an author or publisher that’s more familiar to me, or to jump to the next big release that everybody’s talking about, I may have to slow down and take a closer look at something that I haven’t seen or heard a lot of buzz about.

And if I read and like a book, I’ve gotta tell somebody! Write a review, let other bookworms know what I’ve found, keep my eyes open for more books by that author, and all that. I do what I can to make “unknown” books more known, so that the authors have a reason to keep writing ’em.

This certainly doesn’t only apply to Christian Fiction. Anyone who wants to find different books may have to do something different, no matter the genre. ChristFic just happens to be a big area of bookish interest for me.

Fiction Finder is a great place to search for Christian Fiction by author or genre, or even by specific issues we face in life. Books from traditional publishers and independent authors alike can be found on the site. (And if you, dear author or publisher, haven’t listed your ChristFic books there, you can register to do so.)

Indie Christian Fiction Search is a good place to check out some indie ChristFic authors. I’d recommend using this site on a desktop computer for the best view/navigation. (Granted, it’s been a while since the site has been updated, but the authors listed there are still writing and publishing. 🙂 )

Diversity Between the Pages is a great place to discover and discuss diverse Christian Fiction.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of helpful sites, but if you want to find some different books, start looking in some different places and taking new chances!

(P.S.—Of course, you’re probably not going to be a fan of every new-to-you author or different book you take a chance on. But don’t make the mistake of prejudging all new-to-you authors or books by the one or two you didn’t like, and thus conclude that “taking a chance” didn’t work. Keep searching, and you’re bound to find gems you’ll enjoy.)

 

Diversity and Christian Publishing

Diversity and Christian Publishing

So! I was in a discussion at what has become one of my favorite blogs, Diversity Between the Pages. The latest chat posed a question, asking why ethnically diverse Christian Fiction is so important. I’ve blogged about this topic before, and I wanted to post my answer from last Saturday’s discussion here, slightly edited to make more sense as a standalone post. 🙂

Among other good reasons for publishing more diverse books, I don’t think Christian publishing would want to fall on the wrong side of history.

By that, I mean like Crusaders who murdered people in the name of Christ in medieval times. Or unscrupulous Church leaders who contributed to the need for the Protestant Reformation. Or preachers in the U.S. who condoned and pushed for American slavery over the pulpit. I know those examples may sound like extreme comparisons to fiction publishing, but I believe the principle is comparable. In super-simplified and understated terms, when we don’t value humanity as we should, the legacy we leave isn’t too pretty.

The Bible speaks of those from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” who were redeemed by Christ (Revelation 5:9, NASB). I think it’s important for Christian Fiction to reflect that kind of diversity—especially now, at a critical time when there’s a struggle and a fight going on for the rights, the dignity, and the very lives of people of color. We wouldn’t want Christian publishing’s legacy to be, “At that critical time, we still shied away from publishing diverse books because it didn’t make sense to us, money wise,” or “We didn’t think it was essential,” or “We discussed it but couldn’t get our ducks in a row to make it happen.”

Now, I’m not saying that Christian publishing is deliberately devaluing humanity. Or that no one in Christian publishing sees the seriousness of the time we’re living in. But I do think it’s important to consider the picture we’re painting that people will look at, years down the road. Will the books we’ve published indeed reflect that we value all humanity? What will the lens of history reveal about what we’ve produced—and what we haven’t?

Even as I’m mentioning “the wrong side of history,” I don’t think Christian publishing has to come at this from a negative angle, producing from a place of what we don’t want to be, or just trying not to paint a bad picture. But literature is a huge part of any crucial point or movement in history. How positive and powerful a message it would send should Christian Fiction become more dynamically diverse now!

And when I talk about Christian publishing, yeah, I’m including myself. There’s so much more writing and publishing I need to do.