self-help, children's books and psychological studies are all
sold at the Alba House, a Christian bookstore in New York City
June 20, 2005. (reuters)
Christian girls just want to have fun too, and the
U.S. publishing industry is working overtime to cater to a growing demand
for good , clean fun.
Sales of religious books are booming, and the category has much more to
offer than just bibles and prayer books.
From Christian chick lit to
frank discussions of sexuality and how to avoid temptation, the shelves of
both Christian bookstores and secular
chains offer a variety of wholesome reading that would have
been unthinkable a few years ago.
According to the Book Industry Study Group, which uses data from all
sectors of the industry, total U.S. book sales rose 2.8 percent in 2004 to
$28.6 billion, while religious books saw 11 percent growth to nearly $2
Calculating exact sales is difficult, however, and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association
says sales of its members' books is an annual $2.38 billion.
Much of the growth is from books like Rick Warren's "The Purpose-Driven
Life," the top-selling non-fiction book in the United States in 2004,
selling over 7 million copies.
The book surged back up bestseller lists in March after a woman taken
hostage in Atlanta convinced her kidnapper to release her unharmed by
reading him passages from the book.
Christian fiction too, long belittled as either low-quality dross
or frivolous and a waste of time， is enjoying a boom that has been linked
by some to George W. Bush's presidency.
Joan Marlow Golan, executive editor of Steeple Hill, an imprint of
romance publisher Harlequin dedicated to "faith-based" fiction, said the
Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were "very important in terms of the growth of
Last year, Steeple Hill launched an imprint of "hip, fun and smart
fiction for modern and savvy women of faith."
"My first thought was Christian girls just want to have fun too, so why
not do a variant of chick lit," Golan said.
Guidelines for authors are strict: "The stories may not include alcohol
consumption by Christian characters, dancing, card playing, gambling or
games of chance (including raffles), explicit scatological terms, hero and
heroine remaining overnight together alone, Halloween celebrations or
magic or the mention of intimate body parts."
Another publisher offering Christian chick lit is privately held Random
House whose Broadway imprint will release "Emily Ever After" in July, the
story of a country girl coming to New York. Doubleday-Broadway recently
announced plans to more than double the sales of its religion unit.
Lauren Winner, author of "Real Sex: the naked truth about chastity,"
said Christian bookstores which account for a major chunk of sales in the
sector were still cautious about content but non-fiction books like hers
were pushing the boundaries.
The book discusses her own sexual experiences before she converted to
Christianity and is explicit about the difficulties faced by women trying
to stay chaste -- a far cry from past generations when Christian
publications would assume women were not troubled by desires of the flesh.
"There's definitely a blurring of lines between religious books
and self help books," said Winner, 28, who is studying for a doctorate in
American religious history.
Winner said that religious imprints are raising their literary
standards, pointing to the major Christian publisher Thomas Nelson's
fiction imprint Westbow, launched in 2003.
"It's wholly devoted to doing subtler, less hit-you-over-the-head
Christian fiction," she said.
Golan said Steeple Hill was also trying to shed the preachy tone of
some Christian fiction. "It's rather tedious if characters talk like
pastors giving a sermon."