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Reaching Women With Story-Based Nonfiction Print Email
Written by Ken Walker   
Tuesday, 02 April 2013 04:37 PM America/New_York

No matter the genre, authors appeal to readers interested in learning through relationship

When the digital image of a three-story-high book cover appeared recently in New York City’s famed Times Square, it seemed to represent the emergence of women’s nonfiction in the Christian market—and beyond.

Zondervan-OneLightStillShinesOne Light Still Shines: My Life Beyond the Shadow of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting (Zondervan, Oct. 1) is by Marie Monville, whose husband shot 10 Amish girls at a Pennsylvania school in 2006 before turning the gun on himself. At the onset of the shooting, his wife had just returned from leading a weekly prayer group.

“I think there’s a deeper interest in stories in general in our culture,” said Wes Yoder, whose Ambassador Agency represents Monville. “I think that people want stories that somehow inspire them and connect them to the real world.”

Although many women gravitate to Christian fiction, they also are exerting a stronger presence in nonfiction.

“Today’s nonfiction is much more story-based [than] in the past, which is why it is becoming so popular with today’s readers,” commented Lisa Jackson, associate publisher of nonfiction for Tyndale House Publishers. “This generation learns best by being in relationship and walking alongside someone who’s just a little farther down life’s path.”

CBA reports that women’s nonfiction increased market share 28% from 2011 to 2012, based on data from 700 Christian retail stores to CROSS:SCAN. The upward trend started in the final quarter of 2011 and continued through 2012, and early data from 2013 point toward this year’s women’s nonfiction mirroring 2012 sales.

The top three women’s nonfiction titles in 2012 were: The Resolution for Women by Priscilla Shirer (B&H Books), which was tied to the movie Courageous; Unglued by Lysa TerKeurst (Zondervan); and The Power of a Praying Woman by Stormie Omartian (Harvest House Publishers). The top best-selling authors of women’s books in 2012 were Shirer (39.0%), TerKeurst (17.6%), Omartian (4.3%), Elizabeth George (4.1%) and Nancy Leigh DeMoss (3.5%).

Sheila Clagg, whose A Heart for God (Worthy Publishing, March) chronicles caring for an infirm husband, believes the growth of women’s nonfiction stems from spiritual hunger.

“Real spiritual growth begins when we surrender to His plans for our life,” Clagg said. “Once we understand that and let go of what we want, we are freed to open our heart to the Spirit’s guidance.”

Baker Publishing Group’s David Lewis thinks more women are succeeding in nonfiction because of the same kind of interaction with readers that pastor-authors have enjoyed with their churches.

“Women writers have more opportunity than ever to find and grow an audience online and through national women’s conferences,” said Lewis, executive vice president for sales and marketing. “In the past, fewer women had a chance for national and international exposure. Today, the Internet is leveling the field.”

Choose NOW Ministries leader Nicole O’Dell, author of the “Hot Buttons” series—whose fifth and sixth titles release from Kregel Publications in June—noted that more Christian publishers are willing to address sensitive issues like sexuality and body image, citing The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (Zondervan) as an example.

“I strive for a similar honesty in my ‘Hot Buttons’ series as well as in my Young Adult fiction,” said O’Dell, whose latest nonfiction addresses bullying and image.


Monville’s memoir is only one of numerous autobiographical entries coming this spring and fall, including Robin Jones Gunn’s Victim of Grace (Zondervan, April). Gunn takes a deeply personal look at the mystery of God working in her life in ways she couldn’t always discern at the time.

Tyndale House Publishers will release a pair of widely anticipated memoirs in May. One of them, Heaven Hears, is by Lindy Boone Michaelis, daughter of singer Pat Boone. She and her famous father urged millions to pray for her son, Ryan, after he fell three stories in 2001, and she offers an account of what happened in her new book. 

Tyndale-ImNoAngelIn I’m No Angel, former Victoria’s Secret model Kylie Bisutti relates her decision to leave the fashion industry after she recognized she could no longer reconcile her career with her beliefs. The book includes a mini-devotional and a photo insert featuring Bisutti modeling age-appropriate, modest clothing for girls.

Among other experience-based titles are The Artist’s Daughter by Alexandra Kuykendall (Revell/Baker Publishing Group, May); Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman (Crossway, May 31); Downside Up by speaker Tracey Mitchell (Thomas Nelson, June 11); and A Story Unfinished by Matt Mooney (Beacon Hill Press, July). The latter relates how Mooney and his wife, Ginny, decided to give birth despite a genetic defect that limited their son’s lifespan to 99 days.

Crossway-GlimpsesOfGraceTeaching and advocacy are also strong points for women’s nonfiction, such as with best-selling author Joyce Meyer’s newest title. Making Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits (FaithWords, April) discusses 14 behaviors to help readers drop the habits that steal life’s joy.

Out in May from Revell is Known and Loved by Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira, with 52 devotions on the Psalms. Revell follows in June with Kathi Lipp’s Praying God’s Word for Your Life, aimed at providing women with direction and power in their prayer life. 

CharismaHouse-FindingEveIn June, Charisma House will release Rita Springer’s Finding Eve, which encourages women who struggle with insecurity, which the author calls one of Satan’s oldest tricks.

Cookbooks and coupons also contribute to the category. Simply Delicious Amish Cooking (Zondervan, May 7) mixes recipes with author Sherry Gore’s cooking methods, entertainment ideas and family traditions. In Couponing for the Rest of Us (Revell, May), Kasy Knight Trenum reviews how families can use coupons, the Internet and shopping strategies to stretch tight budgets. 

Other summer releases include: 

Follow My Lead by Holly Melton (Regal, July): The national campus director for field ministries for Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) suggests ways of starting conversations about Christ.

Daughters in Danger (Thomas Nelson, July 16): Best Friends program founder Elayne Bennett helps readers understand the threats young girls face in a highly sexualized society.

Hopelifter (Zondervan, Aug. 6): Kathe Wunnenberg promises to inspire women to share God’s love through creative compassion.


Women’s often highly social nature offers Christian retailers built-in marketing opportunities, said Yoder, who suggests creating a community story hour.

“There are people who want to hear stories but don’t want to read them,” he added. “If you create some kind of community experience around this, I think there’s a lot of room for creativity.”

Authors such as Sarah Young—whose Jesus Calling titles captured five of the top 10 spots on the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s February best-sellers list—Holley Gerth, Emily Freeman, Kay Warren and Elizabeth George have developed followings beyond Christian circles, so there is appeal to wider readership.

Whatever the draw, Lewis said “retailers are buying these books because they sell well.”