Thanks, but I’ll Pass

Here’s a sampling of some of the rejections my agent’s been getting lately on my proposals from publishers:
 

“I do like Sonja’s style… dialogue driven, good pacing. I’d be most interested in looking at more from her.” 

 
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to review Sonja’s proposal… while I didn’t find this project to be quite right for our list, I’d welcome the opportunity to see another proposal from her somewhere down the road. I can see why you’re excited about her potential.”
 
The good news is my writing craft is good–they’re requesting more. The bad news is I’m not “Christian” enough for the CBA. Both of these comments came from Christian publishing houses. They both said my romantic suspense novels were too “violent” for their markets and didn’t contain enough “spirituality.” But if I take my romantic suspense stories to the ABA, there’s no sex and too much God, so they don’t fit there, either. 
 
Thankfully, I knew this would be a major problem and realized it from the moment I first started writing 14 years ago. So it’s no surprise. My colleague Kat Heckenbach has the same problem: she’s a Christian woman but she doesn’t write “Christian” fiction. We both write fiction that contain elements of faith but have no overt spiritual theme. No come-to-Jesus moments. No prolonged preaching, praying, or redemption moments. Those ideas might be incorporated into scenes, or the theme, or the character inner arc, but they aren’t “big” enough to make the book a good fit for the CBA.
 
I know I’ve ranted on this before, but it all comes down to profit. The CBA publishers will only publish books they think they can make a profit on (or break even), and they think their audience wants an overtly religious book with minimal violence. Do you know how hard it is to write a suspense novel with “minimal violence?” Bad guys do evil, nasty things. If the FBI is hunting down my antagonist, it’s not because he kicked a puppy. But I’m already off track. 
 
Here’s the Catch-22: For the CBA to publish books that aren’t overtly religious, Christian book-buyers must purchase those books. For the book-buyers to purchase those books, they must be published.
 
Kat did an end-run around the problem by going to a small indie press with her books (Splashdown). In fact, several author friends of mine have gone with small indie presses. I’m holding out for a more traditional press–it’s been my dream for so long, I’m not ready to let go of it yet. I may someday decide to go indie or self-pub, but the comments I’m getting from editors is promising. It’s those little bits of praise that help me keep pressing on. I’m entirely too stubborn to ever give up, but hearing encouraging words makes pushing forward a lot easier.
 
-Sonja
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2 thoughts on “Thanks, but I’ll Pass

  1. Sonja: I think you’re limiting your audience by trying to fit into the CBA category. Having read your writing, I think you can appeal to a broader market without lowering your personal standards and principles. Also, why try to change the CBA publishers? Let them do their thing while you siphon off their readers plus gain those who won’t read something if it’s labeled “Christian”. I hope your agent is polling non-CBA publishers as well as CBA publishers.

    • Thanks, Peter! I love your attitude here, especially the “siphon” part. My agent has not gone beyond CBA yet, but may in the future. I know the CBA market is smaller, which appeals to me on one level. The ABA is so massive, it’s kind of intimidating. I’m sure it’ll all work out. Thanks for commenting.

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