Sunday, July 04, 2010

The People of the Book

I've had a couple of questions recently about the difference between trade books with Christian elements, and Christian Market books.

Now I am in no way an expert. I don't represent "real" Christian books, and not just because I am a heathen, but also because I wouldn't know where to begin selling them. There is an entirely separate  group of publishers and editors and bookstores and writers (and agents!) who are "CBA", and these books are often not even found in regular trade bookstores... well, at least, not much in San Francisco. ;-)

I do see lots of trade YA submissions about teens struggling with matters of faith, and I find those very relevant and interesting. I'd be happy to see more of this kind of book. However a word of caution: it is very easy to cheat and start stereotyping people for comic or dramatic effect.  After all, it's easy to hate two-dimensional cardboard zealots. 

Most submissions with religious themes that I see show super-religious folks as misguided cuckoo-birds or worse, straight-up Evil. (Sometimes, to mix it up, they'll be Perfectly Good with no shades of gray.)

But that is not my experience of the real world, and it probably isn't yours either. Think about people who are hardcore about their religious beliefs, including most Catholic priests & nuns, Buddhist monks, Christian Fundamentalists, Mormons, Quakers, Orthodox Jews, or whatever... the vast majority are pretty cool and nice. Or, if they are jerks, their religion doesn't make them so; they would be jerks even if they were Atheists. They also generally think about lots of things besides religion, and have other dimensions to their personality, sometimes even conflicting ones. And that is actually where the drama and interest is, to me.*

(A really excellent YA about matters of faith: EVOLUTION, ME & OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE by Robin Brande)

As for the difference in picture books between the two markets, my old pal Editorial Anonymous said it best:
Christian for trade:
Santa being jolly
Jesus being born
Easter Bunnies
The spirit of giving and how you want it in you

Christian for Christians:

Santa being too commercial
Jesus doing anything else
Easter crucifixions
The spirit of God and how you want it in you 

* ETA: Also, despite popular opinion, most priests are NOT child molesters.  Seriously, you think we could give that trope a rest?


  1. I almost hate telling people I'm a Christian because of the immediate reactions I'll get. It's even worse when I'm at Comic Con and trying to score an ARC: vendors assume Christians are also anti-fantasy.

    We're not.

    In all honesty, I'll read anything that's well-written (including Anne Bishop who I adore).

    I write G-rated romances. I don't add elements of Christianity in them because I can't do it without the elements coming off as being stiff or preachy. So, I stick to my clean non-erotic romances (someday I'll query them, but not right now). My critique partner thinks they'd sell well if I'd "insert a little Jesus), but I think I'll pass.

  2. Interesting post. I'd say my favorite trade book that deals with elements of religion is "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." And I am so old, my daughters are reading that now. Still holds up. Another book I'll have them read soon is "Daffodils in the Snow."

  3. As a former minister and youth pastor for 10 years, I appreciate this post. I don't read Christian fiction on the whole, not that it's all bad, but so much of it is second rate. Very sad.

    My MG book is about revenge and mercy. The MC doesn't even attend church. It's actually a humorous book aimed at boys--but the truths in it could be considered biblical or universal. But it's not "messagy," nobody wants to read that.

    I have been thinking seriously about a YA book dealing with a pastor's kid exploring his faith in a very real way. I so totally agree that Christians, especially "professional" ones, should be portrayed as full-blown people.

    Great post.

  4. I completely agree with you. I am a Christian who doesn't read Christian fiction, and doesn't write Christian fiction (I know, I know... going to hell) but love reading books with faith in them. If my faith has taught me anything, it's that life is not always easy, almost NEVER black and white, and and should be enjoyed with a nice cup of coffee, a good book and knowledge that we're loved no matter how much Nicholas Sparks we read. :)

  5. Sara Zarr does such a nice job handling faith in Once Was Lost. There's a large dose of religion in that book, but it's done in a way that's inclusive, and people of a variety of faiths (or none) can relate to that process of figuring out what they really believe. I think that for trade books with religion, you need to be somewhat inclusive.

    OTOH I dislike books that are anti-(fill in a religion), or that view belief as some kind of quirky character trait. (Have seen a number of sad examples in medieval fiction, alas.) I'd rather read books about things an author loves than things an author hates/disbelieves/doesn't really understand and therefore oversimplifies.

  6. What a great post. I'm another Christian who doesn't write/read most Christian fiction. Yet my books are consistent with my beliefs. I've tried to read inspirational romances. I want to like them, but I just find a disconnect with the overall story when they start trying to incorporate religion into the story. I also dislike the assumptions that all Christians automatically believe the same thing. There's a wide variety of beliefs under the Christian umbrella.

    I suppose I'll still give the occasional inspy romance a try. As for MG and YA fiction, I wish there was more that addressed religious dilemmas that kids do truly face.

  7. Thanks for the refreshing post, Jennifer. I appreciate hearing this take on Christianity in books from someone else in the publishing industry. Faith does play a role in the lives of many (perhaps most) people, and so, leaving it out of literature or portraying it only as an evil or weird influence is a bit strange in itself. I've written two teen/MG books with positive Christian elements, and they were published in the regular book market (not CBA). Finding a traditional publisher to publish them was difficult but possible.

  8. Oooh, I'm gonna post a comment in the blog-memory-lane post - in the past I've been one of those people who've had knee-jerk reactions to ANY mention of Christianity in a book, no matter how small/important/valuable/etc. its role was in the book. Thankfully, I've gotten over that, because there really ARE plenty of books that incorporate Christianity into the story and/or characters' worldview without proselytizing at all. THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY, for example, or any number of books edited by Cheryl Klein, including 8TH GRADE SUPERZERO, THE MIRACLE STEALER, and MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD. Great books, one and all, regardless of how they approach matters of faith. Or maybe even BECAUSE of how they do so.


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