What Are the Limits and Standards of Christian Fiction? by Penelope J. Stokes, Ph.D.

Writers who hope to succeed as novelists in the Christian market need to understand how the Christian Booksellers Association market works, and to take into account a number of primary considerations before attempting to sell a proposal.

Like any other marketplace, the Christian publishing market has its benefits and its limitations. For the Christian who wants to write high-quality moral fiction, CBA publishers offer the opportunity to publish in an environment open to spiritual truth, and to reach an audience hungry for that truth. In most cases a writer does not need to have an agent to get a reading from a CBA editor, although many Christian writers these days are opting to ally themselves with literary agents who specialize in marketing to CBA publishers. Many Christian publishers are smaller than the New York megahouses; thus, a writer may find that the atmosphere in a Christian publishing company is warmer and more intimate, and that Christian companies tend to give more attention to their writers. In general, Christian publishers are a bit more open to untested writers and more willing to take a chance on a new writer if the author’s work shows promise.

The limitations of publishing with a CBA house relate primarily to theological and financial issues. Theologically, the more conservative publishers expect fiction to have a strong evangelical content and an overt moral lesson or spiritual “take-away value.” Other less conservative companies emphasize quality of writing and development of plot and character, but still demand a certain level of theological rectitude: characters who are identifiably Christian (or who come to Christian faith during the course of the story), a biblically based representation of God and a world-view that reflects the justice and mercy of God, where the good get rewarded and the evil get punished.

In financial terms, many of the smaller evangelical publishers do not have sufficient working capital to invest enormous amounts of money in marketing and advertising. Advances, particularly for new writers, are generally minimal, and first print runs tend to be small. But the larger, more profitable “big-name” companies in the CBA are beginning to match some of the New York houses, offering substantial advances, good royalty schedules and excellent marketing.

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