CHRISTIAN PUBLISHING AND “CHRISTIAN” PUBLISHING
By: Sue Dent
Upon leaving a comment on a review of a book here at OBS I was contacted by the reviewer and asked to elaborate on my intriguing comment, as the reviewer wasn’t aware of books being published that had a specific religious lean to them. Hearing this was not a surprise to me. Many readers don’t understand or know about these publishers and so I’ll try to enlighten.
To explain, one has to understand the difference between Christian publishing and “Christian” publishing.
Early on different denominations felt the need to have their own presses to provide targeted fiction for their own bookstores. This of course is completely understandable. What could make more sense? The Catholics have the CBA (Catholic Biblical Association of America), the Mormons have LDS presses and the list goes on and on. In my mind the works provided by these publishers would be considered Christian publishing as the fiction produced is written so as not to offend Christians. The work will be targeted to a specific belief system but it’s clear going into it which ones are which.
And that brings us to “Christian” publishing.
In 1950 conservative evangelicals decided there was a need for them to provide targeted fiction to Baptist Bookstore visitors. So a group of these bookstores got together and started CBA, the Christian Booksellers Association. I know. You would’ve thought they could’ve been more creative seeing that Catholic publishers were already using this acronym.
Note: any further use of the acronym CBA in this article will be referencing the Christian Booksellers Association. Also note that using the broader label of Christian to denote a specific target market is misleading and confusing at best.
CBA member publishers have to pay a fee to join. They have to write within very strict evangelical guidelines. The writing itself must be very different than general market work. For instance a staple of good writing is “show, don’t tell.” CBA member publishers are told to have their writers do just the opposite in most instances because doing otherwise gives the author too much leeway and their work might distance conservative core market readers who CBA serves.
For the fee member publishers’ pay, they are automatically allowed into all larger Christian bookstores or rather CBA affiliated bookstores. CBA has their own book awards with the Christy Awards being one of them. They have their own trade shows such as the recently formed International Christian Retail Show put together by Father Deacon Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson, one of CBA’s largest publishers. Just think Bible. As a side note, I always add the Father Deacon title now because I just learned Mr. Hyatt is an orthodox deacon as well as being heavily evangelical and well, I just like to keep my facts straight. CBA also has targeted writers groups such as the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers association.) All of these entities (and so many more) discriminate based on affiliation, which is based on writing for a very specific market of Christian readers and not all Christian readers. CBA also, at one time, had their own distributor Spring Arbor until they sold it to Ingram.
Unlike other religious fractions that provide targeted fiction to their core market readers, CBA member publishers claim to provide fiction that appeals to the entire Christian reading market. In fact, in many instances CBA claims to be “the” Christian Publishing Industry. It’s certainly not a claim easily disputed since they’ve said it so much everyone seems to believe it. Yet CBA isn’t “the” Christian Publishing Industry. If they were, they couldn’t get away with discriminating against other Christian authors who have been approved for distribution to the real Christian market, could they?
Well it seems they can get away with this and do. The larger affiliated Christian Bookstores (formally Baptist Bookstores) rarely if ever shelf anything other than work produced by member publishers. Keep in mind, that’s one of the perks for paying a fee. CBA doesn’t allow non-affiliated Christian authors to participate in awards that supposedly represent the best in Christian fiction. Most of your Christian Writers Conferences (99% of them) only have affiliated publishers and editors available to possibly look at an aspiring authors MS. More than a few aspiring Christian authors have lost hard earned money at these conferences because they didn’t research or know that CBA was a closed market and only member publishers and editors would show up.
Almost sounds like CBA took a page out of eHarmony’s book. The Christian dating service, founded by heavily evangelical Dr. Neil Clark Warren, fell under scrutiny when claims were made that eHarmony wouldn’t allow for same-sex-dating though they never stated otherwise or at least that’s how I understand it. The choice given to E-harmony, according to what I’ve read, was to either allow same-sex-dating or state up front that they don’t.
Comparison to eHarmony: Using the label Christian to define your market is one thing but using such a broad label and discriminating against those who actually write for the true Christian market is another.
The author whose book I commented on writes for a CBA affiliated member publisher. Several member authors, a handful I can assure you, are allowed to write more “secularly” as CBA calls it. CBA often defines the market as “secular” and Christian with Christians who aren’t affiliated falling into the “secular” market. I’d tell you the name of the author and the book I commented on but I’ve no plans on bringing any publicity to that fraction of publishing if I can help it.
I hope that clears things up a little. I do so like to educate readers when I get the chance. Thanks so much OBS for giving me a platform. My books are written in a way that has drawn many readers from the “Christian” market. Just know that I don’t write for an affiliated publisher nor am I one. I don’t support discrimination in any form.