Questions, Questions, Questions

Before we get to my onslaught of questions, let’s start with a little publishing verbiage.

There are two major markets in the world of publishing. The CBA and the ABA. CBA stands for Christian Book Association and is the Christian market. ABA stands for the American Book Association and is the secular market. Almost every major ABA publishing house has a CBA division.

For example. I get my paycheck from Random House. My contract went through Random House. Waterbrook Multnomah is the Christian division of Random House. And since I write for the CBA, I work with the people at Waterbrook Multnomah.

The debate over what makes a book Christian is a hot topic these days. But that’s not what I’m interested in right now. For the sake of establishing a common ground, when I refer to “Christian fiction” I am simply referring to any book published by the CBA.

Today, I have lots of questions. Today, I’d love for you to join in the discussion. Even if you’re a lurker who doesn’t normally comment.

Do you read Christian fiction? If so, why? If not, why not?

What’s your favorite genre within the CBA? Why?

What expectations do you have when you pick up a book published by the CBA?

What do you wish Christian books had more of? What do you wish Christian books had less of?

Every time I browse Amazon and find a CBA book that went free on Kindle, I notice this pattern. They get an onslaught of bad reviews from readers who wouldn’t typically buy a CBA book, but did because it was free. And often, these readers point to their dissatisfaction with the Christian themes.

Do you think it’s Christianity in general that bothers these readers, or the way the Christian themes are handled?

Pick a question. Any question. Or perhaps, pick all of them!

I can’t wait to read what you have to say.removetweetmeme

43 thoughts on “Questions, Questions, Questions

  1. Eric Grimm

    Great dialog! Just for clarity, though, CBA is a trade association and doesn't actually publish or sell books. The association's many members are publishers, along with retailers, music companies, gift companies, and more.

  2. Katrina

    You're right, "preachy" is hard to describe! But I recently read a Kindle Xtian romance that was "preachy." For me, this consisted of a main character who wasn't human. Every time she was confronted with a problem in the book, she quoted scripture in her head and followed the right path–made the right decision. EVERY SINGLE time. It got old. She didn't seem human, or relatable to me. I like a character with a few flaws I guess. πŸ™‚

  3. Katie Ganshert

    I write contemporaries Krista! Just what you're looking for. πŸ™‚

    Also – I really love what you wrote. You're right. I think our idea of preachiness is a very personal thing.

    I also think that there's a difference between wanting to tone something down so it doesn't offend and striving for more subtlety in order to draw more people in. If that makes any sense….

  4. Krista Phillips

    Ohhhhh, questions!!!!

    Do you read Christian fiction?

    YEP! Pretty much exclusively.

    What's your favorite genre within the CBA?

    Romance. Because I crave my happily ever after, as the eternal optimist I am! Plus, I'm just a plain ol' romantic!

    What expectations do you have when you pick up a book published by the CBA?

    That it be swearword free, no detailed sex scenes, and that sin is portrayed as just that, sin. (meaning, it doesn't have to be void of premarital sex… as long as it is clear that it's wrong…)

    What do you wish Christian books had more of?

    At the moment… more contemporary romance. Historicals are the "thing" right now, or so says the book shelf of my local bookstore!

    Do you think it's Christianity in general that bothers these readers, or the way the Christian themes are handled?

    Um… Christianity. Pure and simple. yes, some "preach" more than others, but I really believe this is a reader preference and not a right or wrong. Some love a good sermon in their book, others want it weaved in delicately.

    The thing is, the Bible never tells us to get non-Christians to like us. In fact, I was just reading the other day a part (I'll have to find it later) that talks about how the world will despise us and hate us.

    Somewhere we got the idea that we should "appeal" to the world, and I think that is a little skewed from what the Bible says. We are to be a light in the darkness… but have you ever been in the dark and this bright light shone? You squint and it isn't always a pleasant feeling! You have to get used to it, be curious about it, hate the dark enough to want to welcome in the bright, painful light.

    Anyway, just my ramblings. It's something I'm passionate about though, as I've seen too many good Christians be drawn into the darkness because they dim their light to try to "not offend" the world/darkness.

  5. ali

    Katie, what a lovely and helpful blog you have here!

    I don't really read Christian fiction, but not because I avoid it. One of my CPs writes inspirational fiction and I love her work–I think I would enjoy Christian fiction if I someone recommended a book to me. Otherwise, it's not really on my radar. Does that make sense?

  6. Katie Ganshert

    I'm so intrigued by our idea of preachiness, that I think I'll have to write a blog post about it.

    I sure hope my book doesn't come across as preachy!

  7. Janna Qualman

    For me it's tough when the Christian literature becomes too preachy, or too "you have to do this." But they're not all that way. It's about feeling the root of what's important, finding common ground, redemption, being real, and becoming a better person. Christian fiction, or ABA stuff.

    Wishing you well, Katie!

  8. MaryC

    Katie, I've been pondering this question about what makes something "too preachy". My 2 cents (FWIW) –

    ~ if it takes you out of the story
    ~ if it dominates the story
    ~ if it rings false

    I think there is a place for "preachy books" and there are definitely people who want to read them or times that people want to read them. But I think there is also a growing market that just wants an entertaining story within a Christian worldview.

    Both kinds are good for their respective audiences so as Carol said, it's important to distinguish that in the marketing plan.

  9. Sonia Rumzi

    I love Christian fiction if done well just like any other. I love Perretti, Hernard and CS Lewis. The sappy ones and preachy ones, I stay away from.

  10. Carol J. Garvin

    This is a great post, Katie. In my experience, non-Christian readers don't often read Christian books, and they definitely don't want to be preached at. So who reads most Christian fiction? Christians. And I, for one, don't want to be preached at either. After some early negative experiences, I quit reading Christian fiction for years because of the syrupy sweet, unrealistic characters and plots. Linda Hall's suspense and Jane Kirkpatrick's historicals recaptured me, and I've since found several other authors who write from a Christian worldview or about Christian characters, without using the plots as an excuse to proselytize — i.e., displaying characters' sinfulness, their confrontation with faith, subsequent conversion and miraculous happy-ever-after.

    My goal in both finding books to read and writing them, is for the stories to be about normal Christians coping with believable situations, but I know there is a market for all kinds of stories. Perhaps the need is for more clarity in the packaging… unmistakably identifying the Christian element on the cover.

  11. Katie Ganshert

    Tracy – you have no idea how much I love your transparency here. So much appreciated, woman! πŸ™‚

    And everybody – if you haven't had the chance to check out Jenny's blog post today – it's super applicable to what we've been talking about here. She discusses those conversion scenes in CBA books and how to do them right:

  12. Jennifer K. Hale

    Holy cow– I am LOVING all the comments you've gotten with these questions. Eating this up!!

    I agree with so much of what's been said here. For such a long time the CBA has been slow to delve into the "real" issues that people face (Christians and non-Christians alike). There were many rules, but those rules are slowly being bent, if not broken, to really be able to show God's grace and mercy.

    And nobody wants to be preached at for an entire novel. CBA books should be able to show God's grace and mercy through realistic events, characters, and exciting, inspiring plots. There are some great ones out there already that do this really well!

    Nothing makes me roll my eyes faster than too much "sweetness" in a Christian novel. I'm all about the realism of human nature.

    As I mentioned on my blog today, I stopped reading CBA for years because "everybody got saved a lived happily ever after." Not real life. We all want to grab at a thread of realism…that we can identify with the characters or themes of the books. No one can identify with that.

  13. Jill Kemerer

    I read both ABA and CBA fiction. One thing I love about Christian fiction right now is that it's appealing to mainstream readers more. (And I feel the same about Christian radio–the songs have the sound and lyrics people want to hear.)

    I read mostly contemporary romance in the Christian market, and I'm really impressed that the characters, themes, and settings are relatable. I haven't found them preachy; in fact, some have little reference to religion at all.

    The current Christian romances, and this goes for category lines such as Harlequin's Love Inspired too, reflect the reality of many women in the dating world. Instead of secret babies, wealthy sheiks, and guilt-free promiscuity, we're reading about normal lives, family issues, and real emotions between men and women.

    I love the current state of Christian romances!

  14. tracyellen

    I think the "preachy" feeling really stems from people's insecurities. This is me speaking from personal experience: I was raised Catholic, but as I've gotten older, it has become a less important part of my life. I feel bad about that. It wasn't intentional. So for me, I was worried/uncomfortable to read Christian fiction because I felt out of the loop. Maybe a bit envious of others.

    I'm sure for others it's different, but for me "preachy" means it brings up some of my insecurities and that makes me uncomfortable.


  15. Katie Ganshert

    Very much appreciating the honesty and the discussion here, everybody! Thanks for taking the time to comment! I've loved reading everybody's answers.

    It seems a lot of people bring up the whole idea of "preachy". I'm very interested – what makes something preachy?

    Jessica Nelson mentioned that in CBA books, the characters usually have a spiritual arc. Is this inherently preachy?

    And Tracy – so could I (go on and on about the topic). Also – I think you hit it on the head. I think the bad reviews stem from the reader feeling tricked somehow. They wanted entertainment, but instead, they felt they were getting "preached" at.

    Which makes me even more interested in what makes someone feel a book is preachy.

  16. Heather Sunseri

    I love this subject! I, too, am always amazed (irritated) when I read a bad review simply because a reader failed to read the "back cover" of what they were downloading.

    I read both within and out of CBA. I believe the writing in CBA is getting universally better and reaching further, but I think we have a ways to go. I hope writers continue to stretch themselves to write real, flawed characters with real problems. What amazes me is that many of the books within CBA are criticized for having too flawed of characters. For example, I'm still not over a review I read that slammed the writer for having a Christian gay man. I'm not sure I'll ever get over the harshness of that review.

  17. tracyellen

    In a nutshell, I think Christianity makes a lot of people uncomfortable (including myself). I think that's why there are those negative reviews – like somehow people think they've been duped into reading Christian fiction.

    Personally, I want to read a well written story that pulls me in right away and doesn't let go (even after I finish the book). It doesn't matter to me whether or not there is a Christian theme that runs throughout even if that's not what I typically read.

    I do think there's a stigma out there that all Christian fiction is "preachy." I used to think that…until I read a CBA book earlier this year πŸ™‚

    I could go on and on about this topic…


  18. MaryC

    I read both CBA and ABA and there are books in both markets that I love and ones I don't.

    I truly don't understand the Amazon thing but that's probably because I'm one of those people who says nothing if I don't have something good to say. Just my nature.

    I think these are very interesting times in the CBA market. One of the discussions that intrigues me is that of message. If a writer is writing to entertain – them message is likely irrelevant. If a writer is looking to preach – then I'm not likely to be entertained by the book. I think the strength of CBA books is found in extremely well-written books that inspire with a message rather than bludgeon you with it.

  19. Matthew MacNish

    Personally I read for entertainment, so I'm not interested in message books, regardless of whether they go with or against my own system of beliefs.

    I'm a little surprised that people would be offended though, unless I guess they went in expecting something else.

  20. Jessica Nelson

    I read both CBA and ABA. Totally agree with Laura about Rivers' work.
    When I pick up a CBA I want a spiritual arc and I'd like to see Jesus's name somewhere. ABA romances, for the most part, don't have any spiritual arc. That's what I love about CBA because I would read an ABA romantic suspense and do you know the entire time the heroine's life is threatened, she never thinks about God or what might happen if she dies? That always felt really disingenuous to me.
    That said, there are plenty of CBA big authors who I'm very bored with and can't read. ABA big authors seem to be more exciting to read and I haven't been able to pinpoint why that is, but I don't think it's a gritty/not gritty issue but more of a craft thing. Slow pacing, too much narrative…not sure.
    Great questions!

  21. Keli Gwyn

    I read primarily in the CBA because that's the market I'm writing for and I like to know what the trends are. No. That's not true. I read the stories because they're well written and entertaining. Historicals are my favorite reads, but I'll venture into contemporaries on occasion. You know I'll read yours, Katie. =)

  22. Caroline Starr Rose

    I really don't read CBA, though I read both Jody's and Rosslyn's books and really enjoyed them.

    I think for me the few CBA titles I was exposed to in high school were just…not my thing.

    Here's some honesty for you: I'll stick with my friends' books but probably not venture much beyond that.

  23. Jay

    I've only read one CBA book, it was some sort of sci-fi thriller. It wasn't terrible but it was spectacular either. I don't attribute it to the "Christianness" of the book…maybe it's just the state of the genre in general, Christian or non.

    The only Christian-type ones I have read are older ones, before CBA came into prominence, I think.

  24. Jessica R. Patch

    I read both markets and it's nice to see CBA starting to pull away from simply sweet to more grit and upped romantic tension or edginess.

    I like to read books with flawed characters who say things they shouldn't and make mistakes in every area of life. Because that's real and if we're trying to show redemption, we need those characters to nose dive, act like real people, talk like real people. Otherwise, it falls flat.

    Okay, I'll stop now! lol

    Great questions and comments today, Katie!

  25. Diane

    I appreciate when authors incorporate "Christian" words and themes in a casual way that a non-christian would not feel bombarded by God. Subtle is good for those types. I love Deeanne Gist's writing. She hits some sticky social issues that most Christians would not want to read in a Christian book, but I appreciate that she threw them in there. :O)

  26. Katie Ganshert

    Wow – I love, love, love these comments! I have to scoot out the door right now, but will come back to join in the conversation.

    Mike – you bring up SUCH a valid point. We do live in a bit of an echo chamber.

  27. Terri Tiffany

    I used to read Christian fiction all the time when I owned a bookstore. I had to know my authors. Since selling it, I read a lot more ABA books and try to find good ones and compare to what the Christian market is offering.

  28. Katrina

    I really liked what Sally said. I think a lot of people avoid Xtian fiction because it's too "goody goody" and doesn't include the dirt. But as she said, look at Twilight! No sex! (at least in the first books) And yet people eat it up because of the physical romance that it alludes to.
    That said, I've read very little Xtian fiction. My first foray was with the Janet Oak books. (Love comes softly series, which I LOVED!) I tried a few recently on Kindle for free and some of them had me rolling my eyes, because of their "preachiness" as another of your commentators put it.
    I love Xtian romance, because I'm a Xtian and a romantic. πŸ™‚ But, as others mentioned, I don't enjoy being bludgeoned over the head with it either. Again, what you allude to can be so much stronger!
    For instance, I don't connect with a character who spouts scripture over and over, but I loved the scene in Love Comes Softly, when Marty giggles when she overhears Clark singing a hymn during his private devotions … then realizes she's missing out because she doesn't have faith like that. GREAT stuff.) And I distinctly remember a rather titillating scene in that book when Clark walks in on her bathing in his one room cabin … No sex or anything overtly risque, but GREAT writing because of what they allude to! It's all how you combine it! Sorry this was so long… πŸ™‚

  29. Erica Vetsch

    Do I read Christian Fiction? Yes, but not exclusively.

    Favorite CBA genre – historical romance. πŸ™‚

    Expectations of a CBA story – the same as an ABA story with one caveat. I expect a good story well told, but with a CBA book, there is a level of trust that I expect will be upheld. I expect the story to follow what I know to be true from Scripture. People are sinners in need of redemption, and God exists, redeems, and loves sinners.

    As to 1-star reviews on amazon…I'm constantly amazed that people would carp about something they got for free…something they didn't bother to examine before they downloaded it. Would they be as scathing if they received free porn via kindle? If I received something for free that turned out not to be what I was interested in, I'd just delete it.

  30. Sandra Heska King

    I read a lot of fiction when I was a kid. But then I pretty much stayed with nonfiction. Until a couple years ago when I started to review books. And now I'm writing fiction. Well, trying. Who would have guessed?

    I'm pondering Mike's comment about Christians living in an echo chamber . . .

  31. Stacy S. Jensen

    I don't know that I have read a CBA book. I didn't even know there was a difference until about two years ago. I live in Colorado Springs and I often get the question am I a Christian writer. My answer. I'm a Christian, who writes. I'm guessing there are a set of different rules on how to write Christian based on the comments.

  32. Lacie Nezbeth

    Wow! You're really bringin' the questions this morning, Katie.

    Here's my 2 cents: I used to read only ABA. They were so exciting and romantic and heart-pounding great but I always felt guilty afterwards, you know? So I made up my mind to only read CBA. For the most part that has not been a bad choice but every now and then I read a book that is too Christian – too nice, too perfect, too prayful, too godly, too preachy – it just doesn't feel real.

    Books are for entertainment, for a way to relax and escape into a different world/story. They're not a place for the Romans Road…in my opinion. Although that's not to say that biblical themes can't be touched upon successfully. They can!

    I don't know…now I'm rambling. Did I even answer any of your questions? LOL

  33. Jaime Wright

    Oh btw, I suck at being a Christian too – which is why I feel strongly that I am a hypocrite and will always be so but for the grace of Christ πŸ™‚

  34. Mike Duran

    Hi Katie! My second novel is also scheduled for May 2012 release. But it's a supernatural suspense, so we won't be competing.

    I am fascinated by your question concerning free Kindle releases and one star reviews. I tend to think it is a dislike of Christianity that motivates such reviewers, especially if they feel "tricked" into reading the book. However, one of the members of my writing group is a multi-published ABA author. She said just the other day that general market reviews are WAY tougher than Christian reviews. I totally agree. So I think one reason we Christians are so sensitive to bad reviews is that we don't get them enough in the Christian market. All that to say, I think we Christian writers / readers live in a bit of an echo chamber.

    Hey, congrats again on your book, Katie!

  35. Jaime Wright

    I adore the CBA. I grew up devouring its books. But I agree – I'm glad the tide is shifting some. When I read novels from several years ago, they tiptoed around real issues. I want heroes and heroines, storylines and settings to real to life. Although, a good "fairy tale-like" romance is always nice on a cold Autumn night when you just want to be Cinderella all over again.

    My genre? Historica/Historical Romance

  36. Katie Ganshert

    Sally – you are a GEM! Don't worry- I don't think any of us are that great at being Christians – me most definitely included. I mess up every single day. I hope your first adventure into Christian Fiction is a satisfying one!

  37. Sally Hepworth

    Hi Katie, I haven't read any Christian fiction yet, but I intend to, starting with your book!

    I am a Christian (albeit probably not a very good one) I just haven't wandered into that section of the bookstore yet. I suppose I'm a bit afraid that there won't be enough sex or violence (there, I said it). But, as we've seen with Twilight, sometimes not having sex is even more exciting than having it. As long as it's a page turner, I'm in! πŸ™‚

  38. journeytoepiphany

    Do I read Christian Fiction? Yes…and…no. I have read fiction that was Christian, but I don't read a fiction piece because it is Christian. I love C.S. Lewis' fiction, Madeleine L'Engle's fiction and Jan Karon's fiction.

    Lewis would probably be the only one of the three who truly wrote Christian fiction. I think the only Christian fiction I really enjoy is either an allegory or a book written by a Christian, so you can see certain themes and spiritual significance, but the book itself isn't preachy…

    Both L'Engle and Karon do this in such a lovely manner.

  39. Katie Ganshert

    Wendy – our minds think a lot alike! Of course. I was just saying the same thing. That there is a change happening in CBA and I'm liking it too!

  40. Katie Ganshert

    Laura and Kara – I love your responses! I can tell I am going to be eating up these answers.

    Laura – I so agree with you on Francine Rivers. I haven't read much of her recent work either – but I am obsessed with Mark of the Lion. I reread them every year. So inspiring and wonderfully written.

    Kara – oh goodness, girl, I hear you! One thing that encourages me though, is that I've noticed some CBA publishers are not holding so tightly to the "rules". We are sinners. All of us. We can't hide the dirt and the grit if we want our stories to touch others. Jesus never shied away from the dirt and grit.

  41. Wendy Paine Miller

    The way Christian themes are handled.

    I read any and everything. I'm thankful I'm seeing a refreshing trend in CBA books. I've read a few lately that have me pumped about the options.

    You know I could talk forever and a day on this, so I'll just sit quiet and check back on the conversation. It's a good one to start and continue!

    ~ Wendy

  42. Kara

    Hopped over from Jody's blog:) I think my biggest hangup with CBA is what I conceive to be the limitations or guidelines they impose. I have started reading more CBA and am impressed with what I am reading. But as a writer I feel a little hindered by some of the guidelines. I'm a Christian,but I'm a sinner too. And sometimes I say a bad word, or a little white lie. I also feel that being intimate with your husband doesn't have to disappear behind the closed doors of my chapters. All these things makes us who we are as Christians, part of the faith journey. These are the things that make me hesitate when picking up a CBA book or consider writing one.
    Good questions:)

  43. Laura Pauling

    Tough questions. I bet a lot of people going in have wrong expectations or maybe didn't realize it was Christian fiction. I don't read it b/c I mainly read YA and MG. I have to say my favorite is Francine Rivers and the Mark of the lion series. But she kinda lost me as a fan when her books started getting more issue related. I wish she'd go back to her early days and just write a good book with out trying to get her pov across. I just don't have time in my day to read it too without a personal connection!


Comments are closed.