Thursday, January 31, 2013

Debunking some CBA/ABA Myths

I hear writers ask this familiar question quite often lately. "Should I write for the general market,or the Christian market? WHERE DO I FIT IN!!!???"

Usually, their manuscripts fit into one or two categories.

1.) Clean fiction with little spiritual theme.


2.) Edgy fiction dealing with gritty topics (and perchance has not-usually-Christian-accepted language) yet has a strong spiritual element.

The answer to this question isn't a pat one. If you write in the above two areas, it indeed makes it a little difficult since it doesn't fit "nicely" into the preexisting mold.

I think, though, that it'd help to debunk a few myths I've seen bantered around.
A friend of mine, Patrick Carr,
wrote this fabulous "epic fantasy" (2/1/13).
The main character is the town drunk.
It is published by Bethany House, a CBA publisher.
He debunks 3 of the 4 myths I mentioned!

Myth #1: Christian fiction has to be filled with tame conflict that doesn't affect the potential readers sensibilities. i.e.... No sex. No violence. Almost perfect characters.

Krista's Thoughts: That is as far from the truth as could be these days. Christian fiction has morphed into covering pretty much every topic out there. There are books that touch on homosexuality, sex, alcoholism, prostitution, and a range of different levels of violence portrayed.

Now. Some say that Christian fiction has loosened its boundaries TOO much, and others feel there is a long way still to go, but that's a topic for another day.

And it is still important that we don't "condone" sin in our books either. Although there have been a few that I've read that are borderline... but again, separate topic!

Truth: No topic is off limits in Christian fiction (although select publishing houses may still have more stringent guidelines.)

Myth #2: For a book to be "Christian" you need to either a.) beat someone over the head with the Bible or b.) have a fantastic conversion scene.

Krista's Thoughts: Bologna. In fact, I've heard many publishers/professionals say that overt preaching and unrealistic conversion scenes are the death of a manuscripts these days.

Jesus used stories (parables) to tell his message and as writers, He's called us to do the same. It isn't our job to stand on a fictional pulpit and preach, but to pen the words God impresses on our heart and tell the story He's given us, and let the story be the message.

Tacked on religion will only turn people away. Realistic, authentic Christ-loving is much better.

Truth: As a novelist, tell a story. Don't preach.

Myth #3: If you write for the general market, you obviously aren't a Christian.

Krista's thoughts: Go read Matthew 7. That is all.

Truth: They shall know you by your fruits, not your literary association.

Myth #4: If you write for the Christian market, you won't be able to do the great commission and "reach" people for Christ.

Krista's thoughts: I have so many points I could make here. First, yes. Writing for the CBA market gives you an audience of mostly Christians. And I, for one, have a heart for encouraging people in their current walk with Jesus, to challenge them to take that next step in being sold out for Jesus, to not buy into the idea that once you know God, you're good and need nothing else.

I also think there is value in making people smile. Even Christians.

We as Jesus-followers need watered too. Christian fiction has helped ME in numerous way, and I hope that my novels will do the same for others.

Second... I've had a LOT of people who do not profess to know Jesus read my books and either 1.) hate them or 2.) really like them and compliment me on not preaching to them. Our books, CBA or ABA, are seeds. Someone, maybe even just one person, will pick up your book and be like, "UGH! Another Jesus book." But my prayer has always been that God will use that little seed of the words that they read, regardless of how few or how many, to plant a seed of desire or curiosity in their hearts. Or maybe to water a seed that was already planted there before.

Truth: Don't underestimate what God can do, regardless of what association you chose.

So there you have it. No divine answers to that perplexing question. But I pray that as you mull around the answer, that you go into it prayerful and armed with TRUTH, not over-generalizations.

Discussion: Are you targeting the CBA or ABA with your writing? Or are you on the fence? What influenced your decision?


Kathy Bosman said...

Thanks for the post. I'm a Christian fiction writer who decided to go the clean fiction route. It wasn't an easy decision but I don't regret it. I believe that God can use my books. Although my characters aren't necessarily Christian, they sometimes pray and they don't sleep around. I pray that God will guide me as I write and that my books will touch people somehow.

Julie Jarnagin said...

I've written both. My first three published books were Christian romances. When I started a new book, I planned for it to be for the CBA, but it turned out to fit better in the ABA as a sweet romance. I'm trusting God to lead me on this writing journey and right now I'm excited about this new path.

Marney McNall said...

I've gone back and forth on this. I guess what I'm hoping for would be to get an agent who is a Christian that sells to both CBA/ABA. Their opinion on which way to go would be very helpful.

Great post, Krista. Thank you.

Sally Bradley said...

Now more than ever myth four is not true.

My library's adult librarian told me recently why they refer to Christian fiction as inspirational fiction. Many readers have had it with the language and graphic sex in books. They want a great story without all of that, and Christian fiction is a great option.

But if they refer to it as Christian fiction, some of those readers do have the preconceived notion that the books are nothing more than Sunday School lessons or sermons. But when they refer to it as inspirational fiction, those who read it tend to love it.

As a writer, I think that's pretty exciting.

Susan R said...

As an aspiring writer wobbling on the genre fence, this is a very helpful post.

For myth #1, I'd have to say that you can't show the consequences of wrong choices without having a character make wrong choices. Eating a second slice of cheesecake is not compelling conflict... unless you poison the cheesecake. But these scenes do not need to be gratuitous to be effective.

Most stories have 'conversion' scenes, where the character(s) experiences a paradigm shift. For whatever reason, 'come to Jesus' scenes are often a bit contrived. I think the problem is not showing the reader enough about the character's struggles to make the conversion realistic.

I've heard Myths #3 and #4 ad nauseum. Why is this idea only applied to writers, and not construction workers or hair stylists? Sheesh.

Jeanne T said...

Great post, Krista. I loved your thoughts on the four myths. I am writing with a focus toward CBA. I hope my stories can encourage Christians toward a closer walk with the Lord and those in their lives. But, there are non-Christian characters in these stories as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Iola said...

I like the way myths #3 and #4 cover all Christian writers - no matter whether you write for the Christian or the general market, someone will judge you negatively for it. (Incidentally, Mike Duran discusses this in his post today).

And I like Sally's comment about why a lot of Christian fiction is described as inspirational: I've always seen the 'inspirational' tag as a bit wishy-washy, but I could learn to like that definition.

Krista Phillips said...

Kathleen... you hit the key right there. Praying that God will guide you is KEY!!! All the advice in the world doesn't trump that!!

Krista Phillips said...

Julie, I'll be praying for your new journey as well! God totally knows the path for you AND your writing!

Krista Phillips said...

Marney... I know a LOT of agents do both, with at times a higher amount in one than another. That would be a great benefit, I think!

Krista Phillips said...

Susan, agreed! And honestly, there will always be those who pick up a book on accident too when it has a great title/cover... or is free on amazon. Yes, it could result in some not-so-fab reviews about the "christian" content, but I'd gladly take some 1 and 2 star reviews for the cause of Jesus, personally. :-)

Krista Phillips said...

Jeanne, I'm writing with a CBA focus as well, and foresee always doing so. It's where my heart is, and what I love to read. It fits me and fits the calling I feel led to.

Krista Phillips said...

Lola, exactly! Can't win for losing sometimes:-) I think the key is not to judge each other or look down on each other, which I see happening WAY too often. Both on this issue as well as the whole self-publishing thing and a variety of other issues. It's sad to see, and I wish we could just lift each other up instead of tear each other down.

Pepper said...

This is fantastic.

Now, I'm not quite sure about my answer to your question. My books are weird - with some pretty intense topics. I think I want to be wherever God places me.