Anthony R. Howard | The Catastrophic Thunderstorm of Christian Fiction
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The Untimely Death of the Christian Fiction Industry…and Its Afterlife

The Untimely Death of the Christian Fiction Industry…and Its Afterlife

The Untimely Death of the Christian Fiction Industry…and Its Afterlife


In the Bible, Prophecy (in this case, prediction of future events) is one of the gifts given to followers of the Lord (1 Cor 14.22). According to specific verses, it’s to be eagerly desired (1 Cor 14.1). I’ve never claimed to have this gift. To some, it may even be considered a burden. You can “see” things that others can not, however you experience it all alone. Sometimes Prophecy would bring strengthening. At times it was to make God’s heart known.

Or, it may induce a vision of something uncomfortable, or undesirable…

About two years ago, I wrote a detailed guest post on Peter Younghusband’s blog titled The Thunderstorm of Christian Fiction. In that original post I detailed the fall of the Christian book industry, then articulated specifically why this was happening, and how it affected my novel Devil’s Dairy: The Coming, a novel about what would happen if the Lord returned today.

 I forecasted the “Christian Fiction” industry as we currently knew it was certainly going to come to an end soon, and it was the industry’s own fault. I reflected on that post recently as what was written about is unfortunately coming to pass.

Though I might be a tad biased, the post is worth checking out:)

I never believed any individual author could stop what I had predicted from happening. As indicated in the post, it would be up to the industry itself to adapt to changing market demands, like any business. A third prediction was what would happen once the collapse occurred, and that has also come to fruition. Not just for myself, but with many authors such as Peter Younghusband’s Crossover Alliance (created before my post) yet for the same reasons predicted.

“There are simply not too many folks with the ready-made platforms (guaranteed book sales) publishers want to see to get the great Christian work out there. This is the convergence of the storm. Convergence onto profits, and onto mass media behavior – serving up readily available fast food dogma, easy consumed, economical, profitable, but not much nutrition.”


In March 2019, Lifeway Christian Resources, the nation’s biggest Christian retail chain announced its plans to permanently close every single store nationwide, literally shutting down all brick-and-morter operations. This comes right after Family Christian Resources (at one time the largest competitor of Lifeway) shut down all 240 stores, even after suppliers forgave $127M of debt for them to remain open. Shortly after the debt forgiveness, FCR announced it was going under after 85 years in business. 3000 people across 36 states lost their jobs in FCR’s post-bankruptcy phase. And let’s not forget Another Christian retailer, Cokesbury book stores closed all 38 retail stores as well. I believe it’s time for a follow up post now that we can clearly see this is no longer a discussion, no longer my beliefs, and prediction, but a current event as books are a top item at Christian retail stores.

LifeWay  to Close All 170 Christian Stores – 2019

This article details the how Lifeway originally planned to close some locations due to declining sales, but ended up having to close every single location across 30 states.

And another article I read last week:

 The Christian Bookstore Chain Is Dead.  – 2019

 This article acknowledges the end of the Christian book store chain as forecasted in The Thunderstorm of Christian Fiction. It teases on what might be next, but very scarce on these details.

Back when I wrote the original Thunderstorm post, two years ago, there wasn’t much discussion on the topic of the death/decline of Christian fiction. I know this because I looked diligently, as I wanted to join the conversation.  Today, because of the news of the last two articles listed above, when I do a search now, there is an abundance of articles and discussions on the subject, many people being shocked. Anyone who was paying close attention to the Thunderstorm was not shocked.

As world war three is trending in social media due to international conflict, it seems as if bombs have been dropped upon the Christian Fiction industry.  A culmination of events referred to in The Thunderstorm of Christian Fiction, have not only come to pass, but just as on the international stage, we need to find a way forward as the major Christian bookstores have closed.

One of the solutions I presented in the original post, is authors going the self publishing route. This however brings up the issues of discoverability. If there are no book stores, how will a reader “discover” a new author. Gone are the days for many of browsing bookstores and selecting something new off the shelf. A new author isn’t usually going to come up on Amazon’ s search algorithm. Not just  because no one knows who they are. It’s that Amazon’s algorithm brings up the most searched, clicked on, bought, and ranked (usually by book sales and reviews – which are difficult to get for new authors). Amazon also makes it increasingly hard for new authors to gain traction as it carries over 8 million titles, and favors the larger publishing houses over the indie authors.

To fill the lack of chain Christian bookstores, we may see a renewed interest in bookstores inside of churches (which some say are currently not successful). I’m also predicting the way content is delivered now will change. I’m not just talking about e-book vs print book, but the actual content. Audiobooks will start to grow, but not just any kind of audiobooks. Media aimed at the immersion of the reader will flourish. When I first noticed the book industry declining, I took a risk to get ahead of things. My first bestseller The Invisible Enemy: Black Fox (action, thriller, espionage, International mystery & Crime), I transformed into an audio theater (sample here). At the time, in 2012, it was one of the first of its kind. Instead of one narrator reading the book for 10 hours (which many of the younger consumers find uninviting), I hired talented actors to play all the major characters. Next, I procured thousands of quality sound effects. Then, leveraging the gifts of a talented music producer, I created cinema music scores for each action scene and chapter, creating a theater-like experience. One audiobook reviewer called it a masterpiece. Another audiobook listener said the music and sound effects were not needed and distracted her from the great story line. Many had comments in between. At the time, it was a risk as audiobook readers back then were typically the more elder generations (hence why some audiobooks are still put out on cassette tapes). In 2012, Audible (who was purchased by Amazon in 2008 and continues to be the dominant market share owner in the audiobook market) was notorious for not agreeing to carry any audiobook unless you were with a major publishing house. They accepted my audiobook, even though at the time Black Fox Imprint was brand new. I asked why they accepted it when I’m technically an indie author. I never got a real response. I just believe it was selected because it was extremely different. I created the audio theater experience to attract the younger millennial and Gen Z audience that typically does not even listen to audio books, and of course, for existing audiobook listeners that wanted something new and exciting. As I check on the market often, I now see others taking the same path, meaning it must be successful, though I can not speak for every author who has tried this. I still read that audiobooks are a risk because they are expensive to produce. For me it worked. I definitely found access to readers who had never heard of Anthony R Howard, and who likely would have never picked up my book (as some readers get the book after they finish listening to the audiobook). Had I not made a different kind of audiobook, bringing a theater experience, creating something different, the audiobook may never have seen the light of day. The Christian market will see similar types of adaptive changes, and new ways to bring the Kingdom to readers who desire it.

The Invisible Enemy: Black Fox audio theater sample

The Invisible Enemy: Vendetta audio theater sample

As spoken in the original Thunderstorm post, the Christian fiction industry will have to bring new and exciting formulas to the reader, not recycle the same formula that’s been around since before the 1800’s.

So where is the silver lining? The critical emergence of the Indie Christian author as a mainstay was also forecasted in the Thunderstorm post. I love indie authors because that’s where the new idea’s come from. Because of the collapse of the Christian Fiction industry, people are not going to stop buying or reading Christian Fiction. They are going to seek out new authors, and this is a great thing. I’ve been both traditionally published and Independently or ‘self’ published. The latter was a much better experience for me, meaning I believe that the Christian Fiction industry in part will follow the way of the mainstream industry: as the giant’s fall (i.e Borders, Crown books, etc) quality indie authors are there to feed the demand. The challenge now is: how does an indie author connect with the right readers? Anyone that claims to have all the answers for this is selling something….probably author services. The fact is, it’s different for every book, and starts with a great marketing plan. I created a cinema movie trailer for Devil’s Diary: The Coming as one attempt to be different.

More than 1,600+ people watched it until the end on social media the first week with no paid advertising. Not sure how that impacted book sales. Platforms such as this one, Goodreads, social media, and target market content distribution may be a foundation. However in a crowded market, it’s just not enough.

Lastly, what’s next for the industry? I believe the Christian Fiction reader will decide this. The Lifeway article had one statement that actually articulated their downfall:

“The chain is run by the denomination, whose doctrinal guidelines set content standards”

The quote above is a big part of the industry’s demise. The Christian Fiction industry giants attempted to tell the reader what they were going to read. They failed. They are gone. The readers simply were not tolerating what was currently on the shelves in the major Christian bookstores. Readers will decide for themselves what qualifies as Christian Fiction, and the market will adapt, as it should. This will dictate the direction of a dying market – not the man-made rules, the makers of those rules, nor the gatekeepers.

The Christian bookstores did not perish because there was no demand. They crumbled because there was no demand for what they had on their shelves, and they refused to adapt.

This Blog post was originally published on Peter Younghusband’s site (Top 50 Christian Blogs). Due to technical difficulties his 2019 archives are no longer available, so posting on my site. I encourage all readers to visit Peter’s site here.

Today, I welcome back, novelist Anthony R. Howard. I hosted Anthony on this blog in 2017, when it was called Reviews by Peter, where he detailed the problems with the Christian publishing industry and his predictions for its future. Anthony has returned with a follow-up post to detail what has happened to the Christian Fiction industry since then. As the first post in 2017, it is a sobering reality for Christian Fiction authors and readers and the publishing industry.

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