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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What kind of audience are you?

As a reader and/or a writer do you know how to answer that question? It sounds simple enough. Can you describe who you are as an audience of novels?

Let me tell you what kind of audience I am. I've learned to either shut down or restrict my inner editor when reading fiction unless what I consider to be excessive typos, bad writing, poor plotting, or throwaway characters prevail. Making note of those problems might give you the impression I'm a tryant-type reader. The truth is I'm a forgiving reader. And I give a first-time author a longer rope. If they're somehow able to hang themselves with it, depending on which trespass of my reader's code they managed to violate, I will determine if I sample another one of their books.

I've discovered a significant portion of the audience for Christian fiction can be unforgiving in terms of their reading choices. They've established tight boundaries for their adult material which reflects what they think their fellow Christians "should" be reading. Much of this judgment isn't based on the factors I mentioned above but on personal preferences for story and word content.

The CBA contributes to this through the publishers, who feed their distribution of fiction, setting up restrictive requirements according to this demographic of readers. However, where publishers run into problems is when they decide to take a few inconsequential liberties with the restrictions because of the value of a particular story. The instantaneous feedback attacks the integrity of both author and publisher. This audience is neither forgiving nor bashful.

Every author makes choices before they begin a novel. Some pray hard, some pray "lite". Goals vary from aiming for commercial success to achieving literary prowess while hoping for monetary returns. Some churn out novels like a wood-splitter after a windstorm. Others thrash and struggle to get a novel done in a year's time. If an author serves the Lord Jesus Christ, they desire to make every choice right before Him. While those individual decisions might confuse or confound others, it's not their place to condemn them. It's simple not to like or "approve of" a novel. There are innumerable opportunities to express opinions about books. Just don't forget that a Christian author is subject to the Audience of One, not a few or a bunch of disgruntled readers as an audience who's decided the author's work doesn't suit their particular - and perhaps demanding - tastes.

As authors we tend to write what we want to read. As readers we search for those voices and stories that entertain and inspire us. As consumers we visit a Barnes & Noble or the local Christian bookstore and visualize just how many novels there are from which to choose. If we have reliable recommendations, we select and purchase. Sometimes we're ecstatic with our selections and other times we figure we just wasted our money. Sometimes we realize it wasn't a bad book - it just wasn't what we like. And still other times we find a gem or fool's gold.
Each novel produces a reaction. So what kind of audience are you?

Nicole Petrino-Salter writes love stories with a passion. Visit her here.

Merry Christmas! Celebrate the One who gives us real life.


  1. It's been harder for me to read novels since becoming an author in that I notice more fundamental errors, but if the story grips me I'll let the mistakes go and be a forgiving reader like you.

    With regards to the harsh judges you refer to, I think it would be fascinating to find out what TV shows, movies, and music these people watch and listen to.

    I'm guessing many of them indulge in content far more inflammatory than that in the novels they're judging.

    Because I'm a Christian I have to take seriously Jesus' and Paul's words about not judging others. The longer I follow Jesus the more I realize I need to judge less and love more.

  2. I think we all go through the critical reading stages after becoming writers, but many of us learn to set it aside for the story as you noted, Jim, providing that story grabs us and holds onto us.

    We are to judge sin, not the people. The novels I've read which other Christians have judged harshly tend to judge the author for including sin in their stories, for portraying it as it is and not pointing the flaming red finger at it and shrieking that it's sinful behavior rather than letting the audience evaluate it from a reading perspective instead of a judge's perspective.

    I'm with you, Jim: the longer I live the more I see the pain in the people, the lack of understanding in their lifestyles, the greater need for the real Jesus in their lives instead of condemnation. However, that doesn't change the need for sin to be identified, but story doesn't require that it be doctrinally explained.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jim.

    1. Nicole, in response to your first paragraph in your comment above, I can only say that the copy editor in me hasn't let up yet. It's my mama's fault. We'll sit and watch one of those well-executed British series and hear the wrong pronoun used, and we can't keep from correcting the character. (No, it never occurs to either of us to correct the grammar of those not expected to speak well or those whose characterization calls for colloquialisms.) And when I'm reading a paragraph or email to my husband, I just can't bring myself to say it incorrectly--so, there I am, editing again as I read.

      Now, you notice I didn't say that we turn off that program or that I refuse to read something that's full of grammatical glitches. In those cases, story trumps. Just as I won't bother finishing a badly executed story (or a boring one) even if it's perfectly edited.

      When it comes to pointing fingers at other writers: a believer who portrays sin in his writing is a believer who writes reality. We're sinners, every single one of us. And we're each capable of behaving as did David, the man after God's own heart. If we as writers stopped there, only portraying the sin without recognizing its consequences, then I think we'd do ourselves and our readers a disservice. Preaching at them? No. Revealing truths that allow readers to make their own judgement, yes. Not a one of us wants to have fingers pointed our way, and only God can reveal our true brokenness in a manner that brings healing, but good stories, told well, can become a part of that healing process.

      All of which do you well in The Famous One!

  3. You're a gem, N. And a grammar nazi if there ever was one. But an honest reader and great editor. Thanks so much for the plug.

  4. I can usually overlook mistakes--if I'm into the story, I don't notice them.

    A lyrical author voice will attract me to a book; the characters and story line will keep me reading. I do like the characters & plot to reflect realism. I've read too many CBA novels that have fairy-tale like heroes/heroines that I can't identify with, that no person could live up to. Showing Christians facing the consequences of their sin makes for a terrific story.

    As Normandie said, you accomplish that well in The Famous One, Nicole.

  5. A great post as usual Nicole. I know that I struggle with being critical in my reviews, realizing the tremendous work and exposure it takes to write a book. If it doesn't work for me, I try to let people know why it didn't click but confess the subjective nature of it.

    When people give a review saying a book is not good Christian fiction because of a cultural ideal rather than a Biblical one, I get more and more frustrated. We're not going to change entrenched minds, but I hope we can make reasoned appeals to reasonable people.

    1. "We're not going to change entrenched minds, but I hope we can make reasoned appeals to reasonable people." Well put, Jason. Some of us are called to write the harder things and portray them accurately.

      I also state why I don't like a particular novel noting whether or not it's personal taste and always intend to be respectful. After all, we writers learn quickly that we can't please everyone. That's okay, too.

      Ah, Bren. Thanks for the plug too. I seem to always notice the typos, etc., but could care less about structure and formula. I need variety in those. But, yeah, when it's a Vince Flynn novel, who cares about the mistakes?! ;)

  6. As a self-published author who has met with some miraculous success, I strive for a lot of grace to writers. Clearly, such grace has been shown to me. I think reviewers, whether they are just readers or readers/writers, tend to forget how snarky they can sound. Many times, I don't think they mean to sound that way. Which is why writing reviews is an art form all its own!

  7. Good point, Heather. When we really don't care for a book, before we commit to a review we have to figure out how to express our dislike(s) with respect. Not an easy task if we're obligated to do the review and truly don't like a book. I think it's important to mention that other readers will no doubt like it - in spite of our differing tastes.

    Congratulations on your successes. May they continue.

  8. A person in a workshop at the last ACFW conference suggested that a lot of Christians read but don't, for whatever reason, choose to read Christian fiction. I've been thinking about that ever since. Ann Gaylia O'Barr

  9. Many Christians don't read Christian fiction for a variety of reasons. There are some superb writers in the Christian fiction community, but due to some of the reasons discussed here, some Christian fiction is disappointing and not up to par for those readers. Thanks for your comment, Ann.

  10. Having moved to the CBA from the general market, I've noticed that some who read and review Christian fiction have a narrow view of what constitutes a good book. In one of my novels, I created a secondary character who was not likable at the beginning of story but whose character arc showed spiritual growth near the end of the book. Though the book received excellent reviews from professional reviewers, several bloggers commented that they "hated" this character, that they "threw the book across the room", etc. and gave the book a low rating. Not because of poor writing, slow pacing, bad plotting, etc, but simply because I created a character they did not like. They seemed not to understand the truth I was trying to show--that hard hearts can be softened by the acts of others who follow Christ's teachings about how we treat others. It seems that some readers in this market--not all of course--- want only books that are all sweetness and light.

  11. "It seems that some readers in this market--not all of course--- want only books that are all sweetness and light."

    Dorothy, unfortunately this is the major demographic, and those who compose it seem to be the most vocal and demanding that their tastes be in the forefront and be satisfied. I would never demand they forfeit their share of the market. I would simply ask that they come to terms with the desires of other Christian readers - and authors - who don't agree with theirs and allow for us to have the same freedoms of choice.


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