Christian romance isn’t just one of the fastest-growing genres in publishing, it’s also changing lives in unexpected ways
In a kitchen somewhere in the Southeast, a woman kicks her work shoes into the corner behind the door, turns the oven to preheat for the garlic bread, sets the spaghetti water to boil and leans against the counter to read another chapter in a Christian romance while she waits. The story is unlike her own, its heroine a pioneer-era woman who hauls spring water in a bucket, battles grass fires and town gossip, and still finds joy in homemaking and being faithful to God. Yet as the spaghetti goes a touch beyond al dente and the reader escapes further into the fictional world, she finds fresh hope and perspective for her contemporary struggles.
Meanwhile a single woman in Chicago struggles to hold out for a husband who loves the Lord like she does. She’s tired from swimming upstream in a sex-obsessed culture, yet after reading about the consequences of wrong decisions in the pages of a Christian romance, she recommits to waiting for God’s choice.
More than 2,000 miles away in the Northwest, a married couple laments the loss from yet another miscarriage. But as they sit on a loveseat with a novel between them, the story they read—a Christian romance laced with restored hope in God’s healing love—somehow reaches into the crevices of their hearts where few conversations could assuage the pain.
It’s real-life stories like these that prove the still-relevant power of fiction books in a culture mesmerized by reality TV, social media and instant everything. Such accounts have also prompted Christian romance to emerge as a significant—and yes, profitable—part of the publishing industry.
While other segments struggled, the romance category of Christian fiction has grown more than any other in recent years. Publishers such as Thomas Nelson took note by more than doubling their percentage of romance titles in the past four years.
“Not coincidentally,” adds Allen Arnold, Nelson’s senior vice president and publisher, “we’ve experienced strong year-over-year growth during those same four years.” Citing various stats and trending, he notes that, when factoring in Christian romance’s most popular categories (historical, contemporary and Amish), “More than half the readers buying Christian fiction are choosing a romance.”
B&H Publishing Group has seen a similar spike in both interest and sales. “In 2008, romance accounted for about 12.5 percent of [our] total fiction sales,” says Fiction Manager Julie Gwinn. “In 2010, we saw romances take a huge jump to a little over 18 percent of total fiction sales.”
Jan Stob, senior fiction editor at Tyndale House Publishers says, “While only 10 percent to 15 percent of our fiction line could be categorized as romance, the majority of the fiction we publish contains a romantic thread. We seek to broaden the readership by publishing stories that could be more accurately described as love stories.”
Ties of Hope and Love
Therein lies the thread that connects readers, publishers and this ever-expanding genre. For all its formulaic book covers and replicated settings, Christian romance is essentially about telling a love story.
“The romance genre is more popular than ever,” observes Natalie Hanemann, senior fiction editor at Thomas Nelson, “with growing subgenres sprouting up all the time. A good love story never grows old.”
Neither does a story that simultaneously provides an escape from daily life and encouragement for it. Author and Abingdon Press editor Ramona Richards says the attraction to Christian romance boils down to every reader’s deepest desires—“the needs for love, belonging, growth, and the reassurance that our work and our faith are foundational. Unlike some secular romances, which are written to stimulate us, Christian romance is more likely to affirm us.”
That’s especially true in uncertain times. Research shows that in a down economy, sales of romance novels increase as readers look to “block the bad news of a lost job, layoff or late mortgage payment with something that makes them feel good. Chocolate sales also usually climb during this same time for the same reason,” Gwinn says.
Romance offers “a happily-ever-after story in the midst of an uncertain world,” Stob adds. But it’s not just warm, fuzzy feelings that most believing readers are after; it’s something more substantial and life-changing. “Christian romance offers readers hope and points us to the ultimate romance: Christ and His love for us.”
Best-selling author Tracie Peterson knows about this firsthand. Throughout the 70-plus novels she has written, Peterson weaves a story of divine romance into her flawed, human yet inspiring characters.
“All of the Bible is a romance to us from God—a story about a wonderful prince who rescues his bride,” she says. “The power of story is incredible to cause readers to remember how much God loves them.”
Indeed, Christian romance novels “tackle a question we’ve been dealing with since Adam and Eve,” says David Long of Bethany House Publishers.
“What does God’s love for us look like when it’s mirrored in the lives of flawed people? It’s not perfect anymore. It’s broken and weighed down by selfishness or fear or pain. But these characters learn to love—or be loved—with God’s love.”
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