As we stumble along in Jesus’s footsteps, we want the stories we craft to be a source of light to our broken and chaotic world. But we don’t own a corner on the lane of creativity. We share the space with hundreds of other authors, many of whom have different beliefs yet still sprinkle wisdom into their work. The general market holds many treasures in the children’s book category, inspiring young people to appreciate diversity, treat others with kindness, and develop strong values like truthfulness and responsibility.
Children’s fiction tackles a multitude of life principles, from growing up to building relationships to navigating moral dilemmas. How you address those topics depends on your worldview, which can seep into the text either inconspicuously or flamboyantly. Ultimately, the audience you hope to reach and the message you hope to convey will influence which market you choose to pitch your idea to.
But since each option comes with its own pros and cons, how do you determine where your story belongs? You’ll need to think through and answer two questions.
First Consideration: Who Is Your Target Audience?
When you prepare a book proposal or engage in social media, you need to understand the demographic you’re trying to connect with. That’s the secret to shaping your brand and settling into a niche. If I write middle-grade mystery novels, I’m looking for readers who are between ten and fourteen years old, enjoy a mental challenge, show curiosity, and struggle with all the social and emotional issues that particular age group faces.
If I tack the word “Christian” onto that same genre and list of traits, how will my audience change? Whether subtly or overtly, those readers will expect me to include a faith element, such as a God-figure, prayer, moral lesson, or Scripture verses.
With that in mind, ask yourself: What is your goal? Who do you intend to impact? If you’re not sure which market that person browses more frequently, evaluate the social media presence and followers you already have. Where will fans look for your book? What comparative titles will sit on the shelf beside it?
Second Consideration: Can You Tell Your Story without Compromising Its Theme?
Both markets can boast of books with powerful lessons. In the general market, Sam McBratney’s picture book Guess How Much I Love You? celebrates a dad’s abundant love for his son. In the Christian market, Max Lucado’s Just in Case You Ever Wonder likewise highlights a parent-child relationship but also draws a parallel to our Heavenly Father. Although the difference may not be huge, it’s still perceptible. Lucado’s story stretches into the spiritual realm, and if he’d aimed it at the general market instead, he would have stopped short of mentioning God and significantly altered readers’ takeaway.
What If We Were All the Same? by C. M. Harris and One Big Heart by Lindsey Davis are two more examples. These picture books encourage readers to notice and appreciate not only our disparities but also our similarities. Both point out the many characteristics we have in common with each other, such as families and favorite hobbies. Both explore ethnic groups and physical features like eye, hair, and skin color. And both reassure us that it’s okay to be different while reminding us how much we’re alike too. However, One Big Heart gives God credit for all of the details that make each of us special. Removing that reference to our Creator would impair the story’s integrity.
Still uncertain where your story fits? Draft it with and without the faith element. Then compare the two versions. Which one communicates your message the most clearly and compellingly?
Legend of the Storm Sneezer Author Interview
To get an in-depth overview of how these two considerations affect your project, I spoke to Kristiana Sfirlea, author of Legend of the Storm Sneezer. I purchased the first book in her series and fell head over heels for the imaginative plot, characters, and especially the humor. Monster Ivy, her publisher, is dedicated to edgy, clean fiction with Christian values. Did you catch that? Christian values. Kristiana’s insights help distinguish Christian and secular fiction because she had a religious audience in mind when she wrote her book.
Q: Your book manages to straddle both markets. How did you achieve that?
A: By not letting myself be put into boxes. Legend of the Storm Sneezer is an oddball—too spooky for some Christian circles, too faith-filled for some secular circles. The fact is, I didn’t go into this story wanting to please or accommodate either market. I just wanted to write the book of my heart, and I prayed that it would be able to reach Christian and non-Christian readers alike. By being true to the story God gave me, I now have a book series that reaches a whole new group of people—who don’t fit into boxes either.
Q: What are some distinctions you see between Christian and secular fiction?
A: When talking about middle-grade fiction, which is my primary genre, the one major difference I see has to do with self-perception. The theme in MG is usually about finding yourself and being true to who you are. In secular stories, this path of self-discovery and identity focuses entirely on the main character and her accomplishments. Whereas in Christian fiction, the main character discovers her identity through loving others and transformative faith in someone greater than herself.
Q: Which general market book is comparable to Legend of the Storm Sneezer and why?
A: The closest book I can think of is Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. I read it and the rest of the series as a teenager, and it influenced my writing and the development of my characters more than any other book. Skulduggery Pleasant and Legend of the Storm Sneezer both have lickety-split banter, humor, creeptacular scenes, and unique platonic relationships. However, reading the series as an adult, I’m a lot more aware of the difference in tone. The hopelessness and carelessness in Skulduggery Pleasant is in direct opposition to the way I want both myself and my characters to live and influence others for good.
Q: Do you have a mission for your writing?
A: When I write, I don’t have an agenda. What I do have is a desire to put my questions about life and faith into words, then share the answers I’m learning through the lives of my characters so that we’re all growing alongside each other. My series The Stormwatch Diaries contains the thoughts of my main character Rose, but in essence, the books are also entries from my own life and faith journey.
So… Which Market Should You Write for?
Whether you design your manuscript for the Christian or general market, you can still be a lantern in the darkness. With Christian fiction, you can be more overt with your message and spiritual tie-ins. With general market fiction, you can portray virtues through your characters, just without the religious overtones. As you’re forming a decision, mull over five final questions.
- Do you already own a platform? If so, where and how do your followers interact with you? What are their interests? And if you’re not online yet, who would you like to be in your tribe?
- Could you revise your story to suit the general market? If you did, would you weaken it?
- What other books do you hope to find alongside your story?
- How would a non-Christian reader review your book?
- Where will your book be the most successful?
No matter which market ends up cradling your book baby, your Christian worldview will likely peek through. And that’s how you touch readers one word at a time.
Elementary school teacher Lori Z. Scott usually writes fiction because, like an atom, she makes up everything. Her down time is filled with two quirky habits: chronic doodling and inventing lame jokes. Neither one impresses her principal (or friends/parents/casual strangers), but they do help inspire her writing. Somehow her odd musings led her to accidentally write the 10-book best-selling Meghan Rose series and purposely write more than 150 short stories, articles, essays, poems, and devotions. In addition, Lori contributed to over a dozen books, mostly so she would have an excuse to give people for not folding her laundry. (Hey! Busy writer here!) As a speaker, she’s visited several conferences and elementary schools to share her writing journey. Some of Lori’s favorite things include ice cream, fuzzy socks, Batman, Star Trek, Star Wars, books, and hugs from students. Guess which one is her favorite?