Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Casting the Net

Latayne's post on Monday generated some good comments and good reading selections that I added to my summer reading list. Blue Hole Back Home by Joy Jordan Lake was mentioned, which happens to be one of my very favorite novels. Thank you all for your contributions.
A paragraph in the comment by Anonymous was something I could really relate to. In speaking about a recently read novel, Anonymous said: "I understand that this is only one sample by one author. I have read many excellent CBA novels. But if I were new to Christian literature and this were the first I'd read, I would perhaps share some of the stereotypes and misunderstandings that cling to the genre." I'm going to go out on a limb here and give my own honest opinion about what Anonymous said.
I believe some years back, CBA cast a relatively wide net in an effort to appeal to a relatively broad audience. I realize I twice qualified my statement. But "relatively speaking" is the best I can do. With their relatively wide net, they caught an audience to which a few genres appealed in a big way, and because publishing is a business like any other, they focused on that audience to the exclusion of any others to any real degree. That left those of us who don't write in those genres without contracts; and what's so much worse in my opinion, they disenfranchised a much larger audience not inclined to read the pet genres that CBA decided to major in.
There. I said it. Gulp. And what's more, I believe it.
There are a number of authors who previously published with CBA that have in recent years begun to publish with ABA. Most of them are who I considered to be the top authors of Christian fiction. I even know of one who has stopped writing altogether because she couldn't begin to make a living with her writing. And she was well-published and extremely well-known. It's a travesty, in my opinion, that someone of her caliber would throw in the towel because she either could no longer get past the gatekeepers, or couldn't get a reasonable share of the marketing budget of her publishers. Others, as Patti touched on last week, are taking the indie route. I happen to be one of them, and will have a new release to launch in the next couple of weeks, which I look forward to sharing with you.
So I'd like to have an open forum today and an honest discussion about CBA and where you fit as a reader. Do you agree with the comment by Anonymous and/or my assessment? If so, in part or in whole? If not, why not? We've skirted around this issue in the past. Now I'd like to throw wide the doors and really talk about it. Please. Let us hear from you.


Nicole said...

Where I fit as a reader of CBA? In the thriller, suspense, mystery, and what little literary and contemporary (outside of the aforementioned genres) novels there are which aren't written in tidy little packages. Please get me outside the boxes.

Left out of the majority of CBA offerings. Don't read historicals, any bonnet books, fantasy. And although I'd really enjoy reading some good romance novels since I write love stories - which, btw, are not "acceptable" for CBA romance even though the gospel is present in each one.

Must recommend My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade if you want a well-written honest romance. She's been up against it with the "clean and chaste" crowd/demographic. Published by Bethany House - surprise, surprise!

You know I'm a rebel, a pirate. ;) But for a just cause. We need - and I do mean NEED - real in CBA fiction.

Okay enough of my ranting. (Although you could check out today's post over on my blog.) ;)

Patti Hill said...

My, my we are quiet this morning. It's scary to talk about the gatekeepers. I don't fit in the CBA because I don't write genre fiction, and when I did write a historical, they didn't like the creative structure. Ironically, the people who have found my published novels, love them and review them enthusiastically. Not universally, of course. Who wants to appeal to everyone? I just want the chance to appeal to someone. Fortunately, in the digital age, we can open the gate ourselves. I'm not saying this is a perfect solution for all, but it gives me the chance to keep writing, which gladdens my heart.

Patti Hill said...

Nicole, I meant to encourage you to share a link to your blog. It's a good day for a rant.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Ahem. Well. Sharon, I believe it, too.

Now, I realize that the publishing business is driven by what sells, yada yada. I get that. I think that is an important part of the equation. However, It also needs to be, must MUST be about what the reader wants. And there are a whole lot of readers who want authentic novels within the CBA. They don't want fluff or goodie two shoes stories. They want something to challenge them, to make them think. They want something to which they can relate.

The CBA needs to recognize that these readers have given up hope on the fiction section at the Bible Book Store because all they see are books that are not "for them". They are moving on to ABA books. And I don't blame them. The CBA needs to listen to these voices. There are many more of them than they realize.

I'm so grateful to be with an "out-of-the-box" publisher. I've always appreciated the Indie feel of those around the edges of the "norm". I feel that's where my writing belongs.

I know that I left a few rants out of this comment...I could go on (and may have in conversations with friends). But, Sharon, I am cheering you on. I appreciate your honesty! And I'm so looking forward to hearing about your Indie project! So exciting.

Nicole said...

It's even quieter over on my blog given the subject matter. Click on my name, and it'll take you there. (

I think it's high time to give the digital age its due. So what if some "inferior" novels are produced. Quite frankly, I've read a bunch of CBA novels which qualify for inferior. That's not to degrade those that aren't. Inferior is everywhere: ABA, CBA, ebooks. Everywhere. At least with ebooks, it's a less expensive way to self-publish.

I do encourage all those who choose that route, PLEASE get rid of the typos, etc. Don't give those folks looking for a reason to cast aspersions on your work extra ammo.

(And Blue Hole Back Home was indeed a very well-written, bittersweet, honest read.)

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I do need to add to my comment...

There ARE some very well written books in the CBA. GREAT books. I, for one, have appreciated the novels from the Novel Matters ladies as well as others. But the "other" kind of novels make up the majority.

Kathleen Popa said...

I too feel that I have been fortunate to have worked with my publisher, and I'm proud of the books David C. Cook has chosen to put out there. But it bothers me to learn that so many authors I admire - among them, authors on this blog - are struggling, and to know that the reason is that they write the kind of books I like to read. Honestly, I'm not that strange - and neither are you, dear readers. I'm glad that there are other options now. I don't know where things will lead, but I do know that if you squeeze a toothpaste tube with the cap on, something minty will pop out somewhere. (Is that a good analogy? Is there a tube of chocolate somewhere? Because that would be much nicer.)

Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying the comments here today. Thank you for being open and transparent. You mean so much to us here. We'll chat more later.

Deanne Barth said...

I have given up walking into a Christian book store for fiction. Ten years ago, everything I read was so cookie-cutter I could predict everything from plot to ending, almost from the opening paragraph!
When I finally began to explore all the wonderful "Indie" (I love that term!) books out there, stories that are clean, REAL, and something I can still hand my unsaved co-workers that might help point them to Jesus, I never looked back.
I do believe Christian fiction has that responsibility though, to point people to Jesus. No need to beat them over the head, but nothing frustrates me more than finishing a story and feeling that a Christian author has chosen not to (or vaguely) share their faith.
What I don’t get is why publishers are so far behind the times? I don’t know a single person who wants to read about Amish people (sorry, but I don’t!) It reminds me of the Christian music industry. I feel that it’s FINALLY starting to catch up, but for years everything was a decade behind secular music. And because of that, so many people simply chose not to listen. And talented musicians chose the secular arena instead of the Christian one. It’s the same thing here and it’s frustrating.
I’m so happy that you women are writing what you are. You are beyond talented and so important to those of us who crave stories that matter.
Eventually the rest of the world will catch up.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Katy, I do appreciate the fiction choices that David C. Cook makes. You're right about that!

Anonymous said...

Sharon, I believe you are absolutely right. I'm the same Anonymous who wrote the other day. I need to remain so because there are so many dear, talented, well-meaning people barking up the tree they were told to bark at. I can support that assertion with a bit of backstory.

My first manuscript made it to pub board with a well-known CBA publisher on the first try. I will be forever grateful to the acquisitions editor who encouraged me to send it and championed me even without an agent. Same editor called the following year to ask if I would meet with her at a conference. She wanted to know if I'd sold the manuscript yet and whether she could resubmit it. Again, it made it to the top three at pub board, but again no contract.

I absolutely have no hard feelings about that outcome because God used it to show me a better way--at least for me. I do think it's important to relate something the editor said in a conversation following the second rejection. She said not to write about anything "too complex" because at the end of the day Christian women really just want a sweet, uncomplicated read--something they can go to sleep with.

I was a good girl and did not quip that all too many CBA books DO put me to sleep. ;) As others have said, I am weary of formulaic romances and shallow theology. Give me meat! Make me think and wrestle with my faith! Asking writers to avoid any message that might be "too complex" is like asking preachers to please limit themselves to ear tickling.

In the end, I self-published. It was easy. I have an attractive, professional-looking cover and interior. The book has done well as an ebook and has recently released in paperback. It's been ranked on the Top 100 list in its genre. I am pleased with my earnings. More importantly, I'm delighted with the reviews and responses. Readers say the story made them think. One said she was sharing it with her daughter. Another said it had helped her in her Christian growth.

And THAT, ladies, is why I write. :)

Nicole said...

Very cool, Anon. Very cool indeed. Wish you could share the title.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Nicole. Wish I could, too, but I really, really, really don't want to hurt the feelings of anybody who might recognize themselves in what I wrote. And I don't want to use my comments as an excuse to toot my own horn. Just the message:

Say what God's given you to say. No one can say it like you will. And if no publisher will stand behind you, stand alone. It's a brave new world!

Megan Sayer said...

Just read your latest comment Anon - "say what God's given you to say". YES and AMEN! Oh that's big.

Ironically, after some 20 years of following Jesus and some 30 years of reading fiction, it took Novel Matters to break down the massive prejudice I had against CBA fiction. I'm glad for that, because it's a nicer life to live without hatred, and because of Novel Matters I've read some amazing and absolutely life-altering books.
So it's funny that through Novel Matters I've also felt the permission and encouragement to write the books of my heart; like Anon just said, to say what God's given me to say.

And that's scary.
Right now I'm writing a book that doesn't have a single reference to God in it, and the evangelical in me occasionally gets a bit worried. And it's got sex and swearing. Well, some swearing. Heaps of sex. But, at it's most basic core, the whole book is about learning to give and receive love, and what that feels like. Not romance, but love. And every day when I get up to write I'm reminded of the simple words: God Is Love, and that whole section in 1 John 4.

Did I mention it's scary, the feeling of one day having to prove my faith to Christians who will possibly not understand at all what I'm doing? Good thing I do scary well.

I'm so incredibly grateful once again for the community here. Without Novel Matters my writing - and my dreams - would be so much poorer.

Anonymous said...

Deanne, it's great to hear from you. You always have such valuable and honest input.

Anonymous. You are a writer after my own heart. After the heart of all 6 of us here. I could weep with what the editor said to you about a "sweet uncomplicated read." Bunk and hogwash! Your analogy to pastors and ear tickling is right on. I can't tell you how many times I hear from readers who thank me for the honesty in my novels. For characters who struggle and fail and shake an occasional fist at God. And as Deanne said, novels that share an honest gospel witness. Your story is our story, and the story of many other writers we know and respect. And it's sad that CBA chooses to take such a narrow approach in what it publishes. I'm thrilled for your success, and hope that others of us who go that route can say the same thing. This much I know, whatever books I sell by publishing my own work will be that many more books than I've sold through a CBA contract in the past 3 years.

Megan, we are as encouraged by you as you are by us. Write what God gives you to write and don't look back.

S. F. Foxfire said...

Ahhhh. THIS is a can of worms I've been LONGING to open with someone. :D

My mom and I agree: WE HATE FLUFF. And not the good stuff that comes out of the jar (mmmmm), but all that blah blah blah nicety crap that a lot of Christians try not to "offend" other Christians with. Bah! Cookie cutter baloney! JHFGLKJLDKSJGLKJGD <-- pronounced as "ARGH!"

I LOVE controversial stuff, and if I step on toes with the current project I'm on, so be it (actually, that would make my day). I love being controversial, and one thing I've discovered about myself is that I LOOOOOOOVE looking at the truth, no matter how ugly it is. Especially when it's about myself. How else can I grow in Christ? Tear away the veil that covers up the truth. Let's make the ugly pretty, ladies. Let's shine Jesus' light into the Christian closet and look for those nasty little skeletons that are so DESPERATELY crying out for breath and muscle and a heartbeat.

Let's dig up some worms.

Rick Souza said...

Sharon, I'm proud of you for putting the moose on the table. I hope you start a revolution. Christian novels should contain the truth, for it is the truth that will set you free. People who write Christian fiction should be like Malachi 3:2 : "For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap."

Rick Souza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

S.F. Foxfire, amen.

Anonymous said...

Rick, the verse you quote from Malachi is one of my favorites. Can I borrow your soapbox for a minute to share with you something God showed me in that verse?

The fuller's/launderer's soap is used to wash sheep's wool. The sheep get dirty because they rub up against things in their environment, so the fuller gently cleans away the "environmental influence," if you will.

The refiner's fire, though, separates impurities from gold. These impurities are not environmental. They're part of the rock. It's not a gentle process. The stone must first be crushed, then heated until the dross burns away, BUT the refiner does not just throw the ore into the fire. He places it in a crucible and heats it just enough and no more.

Good books can be a gentle, cleansing influence to wash away the influence of our world. Or they may break and crush us, carrying us in Jesus' mercy, until His truth burns away the sin that is part of each of us.

I've always loved that verse for the rich word picture it contains. :)

Kathleen Popa said...

Anon, I get why you must be mysterious, so don't feel pressured. But you just put your finger on a bit of truth that speaks to all of us, especially now. So please write your name on a coffee cup and set your invisible self down on the bench with us. You belong here. I hope you'll comment often.

Rick Souza said...

Anonymous, thank you for the beautiful description of Malachi 3:2. I use that Scripture often, also. I hope you don't mind, but I would love to borrow your words and will use them the next time I share from that passage of Scripture.

Heather Marsten said...

Oh Boy - thorny question but really important. Sorry for the length of this answer. Perhaps CBA needs a book rating system like in the movies. Here's my take on it.

I grew up in a home filled with abuse and at the age of eight, I gave up on God. I ended up in the occult, still hurting, needing God and not realizing that I needed Him. Prior to finally meeting a pastor who helped me sort out God issues and realize that I did need Father God and a Savior, had I picked up a book that was pure Christian, I probably would have put it aside or drop kicked it across the room depending on how much it grated on my "nerves." What I would have come away with from a strong Christian book is it is nice for them, but they don't have any idea of what I've been through - too saccharin sweet. And at that time if someone would have told me God loved me I would have laughed and said, "Yeah, sure, the great abandoner did nothing to stop my abuse, if that is love, who needs it?"

On the other side, I now realize that there are things you cannot "un-see" as a popular cable TV show states. There are some who have had the fortune to have their "eye gate" very guarded. They have had wonderful Christian upbringings, watch very carefully what they read, and don't want to be exposed to something that is offending to them or anti-Christian.

Sadly, the memoir I'm writing: Tell me what He did, will not fit in CBA category. My goal is to reach other hurting abuse victims with a real message that there is a God that heals. To do that, I want them to know that I know what they have experienced so I detail the abuse (not pornography, but enough to show the horror of it) and I detail my searches through the occult, until I finally come to Him. The title is relevant because after my father's sexual attacks my mom would say, "I heard him in your room last night, tell me what he did." I had to tell her and she kept notebooks - filling up two, but doing nothing to stop him. And then He (Jesus) brought about healing.

My pastor's wife has read my rough draft and told me write the details because there are those who do not know what this is like and my book is helpful for it shows people who haven't experienced abuse the horror of it and those who know nothing about the occult get a picture (not complete for I'm not doing a how-to book on occult) of the deception of the occult.

My goal is to help people come to God, so in that it is a Christian book, but the details may be offensive to some Christians. The best I can do is suggest a rating system.

Dina Sleiman said...

As of about 20 years ago, I gave up on CBA. Every time I tried a new book, I was disappointed. So I started reading more literary ABA fiction with an occasional romance, generally arranged marriage scenarios to ease my conscience.

However, after I started writing, in about 2007, a friend encouraged me to take another look at Christian fiction. And I loved it! After so many years trying to glean positive spiritual messages from books that were more often than not dark, here was a whole genre that specialized in positive messages. Yes, some were trite and predictable (especially in certain genres), but others were really awesome, and I found a lot of authors I admired.

So me as a reader, I want a book with a positive spiritual message, but not preachy or goody goody. I can find some in ABA, but I still find more in CBA.

Nicole said...

Heather, thank you for doing it the way it must be done to tell your story. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for enduring. Your words and horror will not be wasted on this sin-tainted earth which is only a temporary home.

Heather Marsten said...

Nicole, thank you. I do want to help others. I spent forty years in the wilderness, rejecting God. Not realizing I was rejecting the only One who could help me heal.

Have a blessed day.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Heather, I agree with Nicole. You must tell your story honestly in order to reach those who have suffered/are suffering sexual abuse, or abuse of any kind. I grieve for what you went through. I'm so glad you've come to know the love of the true Father.

Anonymous said...

@ Rick - Yes, of course!

@ Heather - Yours is the sort of story that must be told for the benefit of people who would likely never look for it on Christian fiction shelves. Before CBA, writers such as C.S. Lewis wrote general market fiction that had a redemptive message. Those books became classics. I predict that yours will also find a market to embrace the message.

Megan Sayer said...

Am LOVING reading everyone's comments here.
It just occurred to me, what if CBA publishers started applying the same rules to the Bible that they applied to fiction - or, even better, they started applying the same standards to their fiction that were in the Bible. Can you imagine a Christian book store with stories of war, rape, lust, dismembered prostitutes, beheaded sons, adultery, betrayal, fear, violence and bloodshed? Come on, the bible is full of REAL STORIES, and heaps of them don't have happy endings, and heaps of them don't resolve well, and heaps of them are really, really graphic!

Let's stand up for some real, human stories, just like the Master storyteller felt fit to put in HIS anthology!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Wow! Busy day here. Not sure how I missed this.

Sharon, just wanted to swing by to say that I will be buying your indie book. I can't wait for it!!!

Keep us posted. And man, I wish we could have coffee!

~ Wendy

BK said...

I don't feel like I fit in with CBA because I don't write romance novels. CBA books, regardless of genre, are 99% romance novels (that may be true in ABA for all I know).

This bothers me as a writer trying to find her niche, but I have publishing options outside the box I can pursue. But it bothers me much more as a reader. My preferred genre is historical NON-romance, set in the States. Very few titles meet that requirement. I've had to abandon historicals and move to suspense/thriller category, because that's about the only genre you have any hope of reading a story with minimal or no romance.

There has been much discussion about "realistic" fiction in CBA. Getting the honor of using swear words or saying "boobs". What folks believe constitutes real thoughts or actions. But I have a different perspective.

It isn't realistic to me that a woman's only pursuit is catching a man. It isn't realistic to me that the only thing a woman is passionate about is falling in love. That woman may appeal to the majority of the world populace (as evidenced by the huge sales of romance novels as far back in time as you can look), but it's a woman I can't identify with.

There is a whole lot more going on in this world other than sexual attraction between men and women. There are many other relationships. Many other pressing needs. Many other things to be passionate about.

It is these OTHER relationships and OTHER pressing needs of the world that I wish a few more people would step out and write with as much abandon as the romance novels.

The vast majority of women seem to be genetically programmed to reach for a romance novel. Great. I'm sincerely and deeply glad they have such a wide selection to choose from.

I just wish I had a wide selection to choose from for my own reading tastes.

And I haven't yet even touched on the lack of male lead characters vs. the female dominated fiction.....

Those are the reasons I more often than not read outside CBA.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Megan, oooh, girl, you are so right.

Wendy, would LOVE to have lunch too. Thank you for your support.

BK, I couldn't agree more. I'm not a romance reader, nor a romance writer, either. Much prefer novels with deeper substance. Because you're right: there is so much more to explore; so many other pressing needs.

(Having trouble with my Google sign-in, so that's why only my name appears. Trying to fix it.)

Bonnie Grove said...

As a reader, I simply don't read CBA. I can't find myself among the shelves.

When I do pick up a CBA book, it is either written by a friend, or recommended by a friend.

Here's an insider's point of view about CBA offerings: editors/publishers feel every bit as frustrated as writers and readers. It's a bit like serving a monster. A big money making monster. Editors can't acquire the books they love because the books they love aren't what the market will bear.

All six of us have sat with a group of editors and listened while they talked about how powerless they feel.

I was talking to a CBA publisher on the phone awhile ago and this person said, "Bonnie, we just acquired our first Amish novel. I sat at my desk and cried."

No one begrudges Amish novels. There are some very well written ones, and people like them. Nothing wrong with that. It's the exclusiveness that bothers so many writers and readers. This, however, is part and parcel of niche writing/reading. CBA is a niche--a tiny (but important) corner of the overall book industry. Niche means small. Small means there's only so much pie to go around.

Another insider perspective: ABA is just as difficult. It too has its core acquiring habits (thriller, romance), and it is becoming more and more difficult for agents to sell non-genre fiction. But, it isn't "just" as difficult in the sense that it is a much, much broader field--but that doesn't make it easy. Trust me.

I don't write for CBA anymore. I know I haven't talked about the switch much, I've been purposely quiet for the past two years about what is happening in my writing life. This is because what is happening is both personally and professionally painful, and excruciatingly slow. The blow by blow updates would sap me of strength.

I made my (difficult) decision to leave CBA after spending a great deal of time in CBA bookstores/sections. These are wonderful books, but they are not the stories I tell. I don't fit.

From my point of view, that's not a bad thing. It doesn't mean there is some deficit in CBA, it just means my stories need to fit somewhere else.

I know there are CBA writers who are looking to change the system. I applaud them, and wish them well. But it's not my fight. I'm a simple storyteller.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Bonnie, I want to say what an encouragement you have been to me. I found you through this Novel Matters blog and on facebook. I believe my first memory of you was a post where you self-examined and questioned why your book had not sold more. I promptly checked it out of the library and read with growing amazement.
First of all, in light of the subject matter in this post by Sharon, I was amazed that a CBA publisher had even taken on the work. It was painfully explicit - I mean honest. Painful to me to read because it struck a little close to some of my memories; long, long buried memories, yet feelings not forgotten.
I struggled to continue reading. At the same time, the premise of the book brought hope. Someone had published you!
By the end of the book I found myself suspecting that you were a trained psychotherapist and wishing I could make an appointment to rant about the damage some Christians have unwittingly and intentionally done (I fear that blowing the whistle on this sort of thing still leaves one vulnerable to expulsion by CBA).
I congratulate you on your independent course.
I applaud both you and your husband for your wonderful ministry - I only wish your church was close enough that I could make it my home.
Keep blazing the trail for all of us and keep us posted!

BK said...

I'm sorry I know this isn't exactly on topic but I wonder if any here have read "The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D" by Nichole Bernier. Not something I'd typically pick up, but I find it very stirring.

C.J. Coates said...

One of my favorite CBA authors is Kathleen Popa. Her books are rich with deep, honest feelings, real stories, people with real suffering and experiences. Yet she fills them with a touch of light and hope as well.

Bonnie Grove said...

Thank you, Cherry. Very much!

C.J. I agree!

Latayne C Scott said...

Brave, lovely Sharon. I am proud of you for stirring up such wonderful conversations.

Unknown said...


Deb said...

I don't care for Christian fiction, for all the reasons listed here.

I've been intrigued by the idea of writing a novel that would appeal to those who don't know Christ. I've little interest in writing fiction for those who are already in relationship with Him. I would want the novel to be full of characters as messed up as anyone is living apart from God--but I would plant some seeds within the story line which the Holy Spirit could use to His good purposes.

Overt or barely disguised preaching just doesn't cut it any more. I want my characters to wrestle with the question of whether or not there is anything in this life worthy of placing one's faith in...and then take it from there. No nicely tied up ending, perhaps no one in the novel will make a decision for Christ by novel's end, but there will be--for at least one character--a slight change in spiritual perceptions. A new hunger that wasn't there before, etc.

Can someone tell me what is meant by Indie? I've heard the name before but can't quite place it.