I feel like I have to preface every tweet, conversation, and thought by saying “before the pandemic” or “during COVID” or “whenever the pandemic is over.” Don’t you? My final term as a graduate student in Book Publishing at Portland State University was held remotely, as well as the oral presentation of my graduate thesis. Though I wanted to publish the information I found in my research sooner, it was hard to focus on this topic during a global pandemic. Now, I’m ready to talk about it.
My thesis was about the representation of people of color on Christian fiction book covers in 2018-2019, as well as the state of the industry in six big Christian publishers and imprints. While we are now in 2021, I believe my thesis findings are an important start to a conversation we don’t talk about enough in Christian publishing—the need for diverse fiction and representation in books and on their covers.
My passion for this project started, not surprisingly, in a bookstore. I could spend hours staring at the bookshelves at my local Christian bookstore Mardel’s. As a child, sometimes you don’t notice these things, but as I got older and experienced the trials of life, I longed to read or hear something that related to my life experiences, all the while showing how God gets us through these difficulties. Surely, there were other Christian girls or children who had similar experiences with immigration, deportation, and trauma. This left me thirsty to hear diverse stories.
Summary of Findings
- The data results confirmed general observations made before the study. The faces of Christian book covers are overwhelmingly and almost entirely white.
- There were 144 instances of humans on covers out of 196 total covers. However, there were two covers that depicted individuals of two different races (one title had two Black females, Overcomer by Chris Fabry; and the other title had a Middle Eastern male, High Treason by DiAnn Mills). Both of these also featured white people. It should be noted that Overcomer is a book adaptation of the Christian film of the same name. This title was the sole instance of Black individuals on a cover.
- To put it more simply, out of 144 covers with humans depictions, only six featured people of color, including one Unclear Non-White. No covers featured Asian or Native American individuals.
- The “unclear” label was used for instances in which one race could not be determined based on features alone or when the individuals were only partially visible or silhouettes. However, in this study “unclear” was primarily used for the latter. This limited the ability to accurately identify race.
In general, traditional publishing can be slow to change and is more likely to be forced to change rather than be on the innovative side. This is even more evident in Christian publishing. However, these industries can no longer ignore change. This research matters because, as we have seen with COVID-19, the world will continue to be presented with mountains that we must overcome. If we do not learn from our mistakes or make adjustments as needed, then we are doomed to fail.
This research is only the beginning of acknowledging the problem. There is an entire unexploited market that is to be had, not to mention the potential of translations of Christian fiction from other countries. Because Christian publishing operates from an implied morality and known theology, it is fair to assume that if the Christian God welcomes all people as they are, then the Christian publishing industry should be representative of the diversity of God’s people.
From the time I finished my research until now, I’ve had a lot of time to think and I’ve decided that I want to do something about it. My goal is to create a strong online community of BIPOC Christian fiction authors and publishing professionals. I will start this project soon and include more information about it later.
Before concluding this post, I want to ask a few questions. What has been your experience with finding or reading Christian fiction books with diverse characters or authors? What changes do you want to see in Christian publishing?