Walking the CBA/ABA Tightrope

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I frequently receive questions from writers about whether their novel is a better fit for the Christian market (CBA) or the general market (ABA).  The nature of their story, the language, and some of the content might be objectionable to the Christian market. Yet it’s too “Christian” of a story for the mainstream market.

Welcome to the world of CBA publishing. This is the tightrope that many Christian writers walk, especially writers who want to veer outside the sanitized topics that people feel comfortable discussing in church. Anybody who wants to write about the world as it is is faced with these decisions.

I worked with a client on a terrific suspense novel. The Christian message was strong but the violence was disturbing and there were scenes taking place in the sex trade. The faith aspects were too overt for the general market, but the sex & violence made it difficult for the Christian market.

In this case, I have to ask the author a question: What’s more important to you? Keeping the gritty reality of your story, or keeping the undisguised Christian message? The author wanted to convey his Christian message amidst the messy reality of the world. He didn’t want to hide his Christian worldview. He decided to slightly tone down the messy parts, just enough so that it didn’t completely scare editors away, and pitch it in CBA.

A Light Touch

Since I’m the agent, not an in-house editor, I edited just enough so that the content wouldn’t be an immediate dealbreaker for an acquiring editor. When the book is sold, the publishing house edits to their specifications, which varies from house to house.

And in case you’re wondering, my correspondence with any editor interested in acquiring the book would reveal how much they’re anticipating the book needs to be edited. So the author would be able to make an informed decision as to whether to accept an offer from a publisher.

If you are writing a Christian book that contains difficult elements to sell in CBA, you can choose to tone it down, or you can choose to tone down the Christian elements and pitch it in the general market. Or you can leave your book the way you’ve written it and self publish. The one thing that’s pointless and unhelpful is to spend too much time railing about this injustice. It’s just the way it is, even though many of us in the business have tried to change it.

Stay flexible.

Be aware that some changes may be required for publication, and don’t be married to every single word you’ve written. Understand that the editor’s intent is not to strip your book of it’s uniqueness or its heart, and definitely not to remove your voice. The goal is to make it the best book possible for the specific audience targeted. While edits are often painful, I’ve rarely come across an author who regretted them in the end.

Have you struggled with a book that seems to fall in between ABA and CBA?



Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash