There's a big discussion going on over at Rachelle Gardner's blog at the moment (one of the many I currently cyber-stalk but have yet to post comment on), and it's something I have started to think about since re-working my long-term writing plan.
One of the things I have learned about self-publishing from various sources is to make sure I know my audience. It's one of the big reasons I want to re-jig my blog so that I start tailoring posts to my readers. Yeh, I'm still struggling with the concept that it's not all about me, but I'm getting there.
The post poses the question "Should We Label Christian Fiction?" and the comments section has been abuzz with arguments both for and against.
It's come about because (apparently) a few reviewers and readers have posted 1-star ratings and some not-so-nice reviews on christian books because they feel duped. For whatever reason, they didn't get the book they thought they paid for, and/or the fact that it wasn't clear from the blurb that there were christian themes.
I don't like seeing reviews like that, and I think there should be an option to give a review without a star-rating if you read a book that disappoints because of content rather than ability.
Anyway, a few comments on the post took me by surprise. A few commentors are of the opinion that it's almost an attack on their christianity if they should have to label their work as such, and they feel they'd miss out on sales, or that people would miss out on reading those books because of a label.
I tend to disagree. I'll tell you why.
I write lesbian fiction. I also write young adult fiction, some of which has, and will have, lesbian/gay themes, while others will not. I fully intend on labelling my books as lesbian, if that's what they are.
Because I want to reach the right readers. I don't want to get 1-star reviews for my work simply because a reader doesn't like the fact that my main characters are lesbian and it offends their morals or sensibilities, and I neglected to warn them in the first place. Those readers are not part of my audience.
Some writers (and I was one of them until I was shown the light) mistakenly believe that we need to get our work to the masses; to get as many people reading our prose as possible. While this is a noble dream, it's not reality.
Sure, some books will transcend genre, but I think that will only happen if the book has universal themes and only after it finds its true niche in the first place.
I think the most interesting question though is where the line is drawn. When should we consider labelling a book such as christian fiction?
I think the line is quite an easy one. If you're a christian writer, coming from a christian view-point, but the main theme of your book isn't based around faith (ie your main character has a strong faith but the overriding theme of the book is, for example, finding love that is NOT based on finding God), or you have other universal themes that resonate with readers, then it's not christian. In other words, if you stripped away the christian aspect of a character, would it make a huge difference to the way the book works?
I've read books like that, and I haven't felt duped at all. Why? Because the character had other traits that I found fascinating or could relate to.
However, if your main theme is based on faith - having it, losing it, keeping it, finding it - and without that theme your book would be a shadow of itself, then it's christian.
People like me who read books like that sometimes feel like we're being hit over the head with faith, and that annoys me. You shouldn't be worried about that because I'm not your audience. I'm not going to buy more of your books because I know I won't like them.
And there's the rub. Not everyone's going to like your book. That's not necessarily an indictment on your ability as an author, it just means that you need to work out where your book sits on the virtual bookshelf.
Give readers good information about your books, and they'll decide for themselves if they want to buy them or not. They'll thank you for it with great reviews.
Afterall, isn't it better to label your books effectively in order to find the people who will like your work, rather than take a risk on people who won't?