Ask BHP: Who Starts Trends?

Back to BHP’s virtual mailbox to answer questions today! Here’s the one I chose for this month: “Do publishers purposely start trends (setting, genre, issue, etc.) or does one book with a unique angle get large sales, so others jump in with similar books?”

And the answer is…drumroll please…both. And sometimes neither. And sort of, but it’s complicated.

Let me unpack that a bit.

Sometimes publishers start trends by what they choose to publish, though not always intentionally. For example, Beverly Lewis grew up in Lancaster County and thought it would be interesting to write a novel that introduced readers to the Amish. The Shunning became a huge success, and since readers couldn’t get enough of the journey to a simpler lifestyle, other authors began writing Amish fiction. Beverly Lewis and Bethany House started the bonnet novel trend…but without meaning to start a trend, much less a whole new sub-genre of Christian fiction. The editors just enjoyed the intriguing story and responded to it.

There are times when publishers see an existing trend early on and want to publish something in it by requesting manuscripts of a certain kind. For example, one of our acquisition editors might tell her contacts in the industry that she’s looking for say, romantic suspense. That lets agents know which queries are the best ones to send that editor’s way.

Other times, writers, agents, and editors will see something that’s taking off in the general market and see if it can translate to the Christian market. That doesn’t always work, of course. Sometimes, certain categories don’t “take off” in the CBA. For example, there are some Christian YA dystopian series, but they didn’t find nearly the success of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and the rest of their ABA counterparts. And some trends just don’t have a chance—you didn’t see any Christian publishing houses dying for novel similar to Fifty Shades of Grey, for obvious reasons.

Sometimes, though, this strategy does well. For example, with more Americans watching British period dramas and TV series like Downton Abbey, British-set books increased in both the ABA and CBA, especially in the Edwardian and Regency time period. Julie Klassen was one of the first Christian authors writing Regency, and Bethany House has added several new authors whose tales are set across the pond, including Roseanna White and Kristi Ann Hunter.

Other trends seem to go through ups and downs—military novels are all the rage, and then you can hardly find a uniform anywhere. Biblical fiction is popular, then sparse, then swings a comeback. Chick lit is everywhere, then nowhere. One year middle grade books about horses see a surge in popularity, the next year…no, let’s face it, elementary-aged girls will probably always buy horse books. But you get the idea.

Maybe an experienced sociologist can parse the evidence and determine just what led to the rise and fall of these trends. (And some have—for example, comedies tend to do better in times or war or economic hardship because people want to be able to forget their worries and laugh.) For the most part, though, many factors contribute to why a theme, setting, or plot rises or falls in popularity.

(Incidentally, this is why it’s not always good for writers to “write to a trend.” They might be getting on a bandwagon just as readers are getting off. It’s better when writers write the stories they feel most passionate about, because they’ll usually be better at writing those anyway…and no matter what’s trending, a compelling, well-written story is always going to appeal to readers.)

Occasionally, trends just happen by sheer coincidence, even when the authors are from the same publishing company. At Bethany House, we tend to notice them and shake our heads: a season where fully half of the leading ladies are redheads, for example, or two new fantasy series releasing within a few months of each other where the heroes names are Wilek (KINSMAN CHRONICLES) and Wilet (THE DARKWATER SAGA). At that point, you just shrug and say, “Great minds think alike!”

What are some trends you’ve seen in Christian fiction lately? Any trend you’d like to see but haven’t yet?

13 thoughts on “Ask BHP: Who Starts Trends?

  1. For the last several years, both my husband and I noticed that, in at least 90 – 95% of the books we’re reading, at least one character has green eyes. A lot of the time, this green is described as jade or emerald, which to us is very unusual considering the depth of that green. At first, one of us would say “here’s more green eyes” as we were reading, now it’s more like “ugh, more green eyes.” I understand that authors want to make their characters memorable, and in many parts of the world only 11% of people have green eyes, but it’s almost getting tedious and ridiculous. I would rather there be no mention of eye color at all than to find more green eyes! Yikes..

    • That’s funny, Jan! I do know some authors who have admitted that in a series of three books, they like to have heroines with different hair/eye colors in each book…mostly to keep them straight in their own minds. 🙂 That would result in a much higher percentage of green-eyed characters than in real life.

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  2. I agree, heroines with green eyes seem to have taken over Christian fiction and as it’s not a common eye colour it does seem jarring to the reader. Most of us have shades of blue, grey, hazel-green, hazel-brown, or shades of brown. Thank you for laying out the three answers to that question about “trends”. I was happy to see more Edwardian and Victorian fiction on the shelves. My favourite sub-genre after historical romance is romantic suspense.

  3. Yes, over many years I too have noticed the trends. As you say, some authors like Mesu Andrews stick to Biblical characters, which they’re good at.
    I became tired of all the Amish books and don’t choose them now.
    Personally I’d love some more truly gripping thrillers – somewhat like John Grisham’s and Joel Rosenberg’s – that are openly Christian but still un-put-down-able. There are a few good novels like that but I think there’s a bigger market out there.
    Libraries are filled with books we love reading, but why on earth don’t they keep Christian fiction? Why do we have to have church libraries for that? Just questions I ask myself.

    • I’m glad there are many genres in Christian fiction, and a place for every reader to find something to enjoy. On libraries, I think it depends. Some have a great range of inspirational fiction, others are sparse. Many libraries allow you to request books–see if you and your friends can get them started by recommending a few of your favorite authors!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

    • Our libraries are wonderful at stocking Christian fiction. That’s probably because for the past twenty years there has been at least one person from my church on staff there to do or influence the ordering. My sister currently works there, so I am always giving her long book order lists.

      Amy, I noticed that the January books from Bethany House that the library ordered are all very nice hardbacks. There’s no dustjacket and the picture is printed right on the cover. Usually they are paperbacks. Is this something new that Bethany House is doing?

  4. Thank you for this interesting blog post. Here are some books that I would love to read in Christian fiction. One would be mystery with detectives and no villain viewpoints. Something like Agatha Christie, but with actual police detectives doing the solving, not amateur sleuths. Dee Henderson’s newest series is more mystery than suspense and I really loved that first book. Julianna Deering’s Drew Farthering books are a good start to this genre. I also would enjoy some light. comedic romance novels (not suspense or women’s fiction) set in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies come to mind. Another neat one is Marlo Thomas playing Ann Marie from That Girl. There are loads more and the research material would be right at one’s fingertips. I’m really enjoying the Regency and Edwardian novels being published right now and would love to see more.

    • Fun suggestions, Sylvia! I think we’ll see more of the 50’s and 60’s as those eras become more nostalgic for people. As for your question on hardbacks–yes, we recently started making available a library edition. If we get enough orders for the special version, we’ll keep it up. Glad your library is enjoying them!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  5. One time, my crit partner and I were writing books at the same time, and then when we submitted it to each other we found out we both decided to inclued an unruly pig. I mean, the chances of us working separately, not talking to each other and we both have pigs? That cracked us up.

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