Writing for the Christian-fiction market has its benefits. One generally doesn’t need an agent to get one’s manuscript considered. Though the quality of Christian fiction has improved greatly in the past decade or so, publishers are still willing to take a chance on a newcomer. And most Christian publishing houses are small, making the publishing process a warmer, more personal experience. But be forewarned. Christian, or evangelical, fiction isn’t just about characters who “pray, preach and sing gospel songs,” says Penelope J. Stokes. It’s about “living, breathing spiritual beings who grapple with the hard questions of life and find … hope in the reality of God’s presence in the world.” Stokes has edited (and written) Christian fiction for 15 years; her Complete Guide to Writing & Selling the Christian Novel is a fantastic resource for the writer of Christian fiction.
In addition to providing advice from which any fiction writer would benefit, Stokes does a fine job of defining Christian fiction. It is, she says, first and foremost fiction. It is not sermonizing. It is not about saving lost souls (“Rarely,” she says, “does a religious novel find an audience among the unconverted”). It best not be full of religious jargon or Bible-quoting zealots. Still, it must have “a distinctly religious viewpoint, usually marked by the personal conversion of one or more characters.” And just because, as a believer, you see your writing as a gift and a calling, don’t think for a minute that your work is beyond revision. “Creation is not the end of the process,” says Stokes. “It’s the beginning. In the image of our Creator, we continue the work of ongoing re-creation. We revise, refine, reorganize and rewrite. And at the end of the day we, too, can rest and say, ‘It is good.'” —Jane Steinberg