ABA v. CBA . . . Secular v. Christian?

This post has been deleted here and reposted at Associated Content. We thought that the article deserved greater exposure and would receive that at AC.

If you'd like to read it please click on the link. Comments can be made there or here.


Caprice Hokstad said...

Excellent and informative. Just one question: Is the "Christian Book Awards" the same thing as "The Christy" like the Academy Awards are "The Oscars"? Or is the "Christy" a different award entirely?

XDPaul said...

Wow, friends. I can't tell you how illuminating and interesting this post is. Although I don't think I've fallen into prescriptive "I can't make it in the CBA so I'll go secular" sort of thinking, mostly it is because I couldn't figure out what the acronyms meant at all.

I believe this knowledge will help me better navigate my options when I get to shopping my spec fic book.

In other words, I'll probably be able to take advantage of this post in 2053 AD or so! [When it comes to output, I have slothlike reflexes.]

Sue Dent said...

Well, xdpaul, the most important thing about shopping a MS around is not to spin your wheels giving it to people who don't want it. If it's Spec. Fic. you certainly don't want to go CBA nor ECPA with it unless you want to compromise your writing. But what writer wants to do that. The only thing I find disheartening about CBA and ECPA and the way the handle things is that they're now saying they want Spec. Fic. yet they won't bend on their guidelines. Yes, I have prove. And when the MS is denied they send you off to look for a secular house as though no other Christian one exist. This information in this blog can't be printed enough!!!! Thanks Cyn for the added stuff. I'll let you answer Caprice's question. :)

TWCP Authors said...

The Christy Awards are different from the Christian Book Awards. I just added a sentence to the blog stating that unlike the CBAwards, the Christy Awards are not solely limited to membership in a particular organization.

Austin said...

At a certain ning site, this has been the issue of much discussion...

Having worked at a CBA bookstore for years, and having seen firsthand what passes for "quality" in CBA circles compared to ABA ones, I determined that the CBA is not only unnecessary, but actually quite detrimental to the quality of "religious" writing.

The ABA has no cultural-religious axe to grind. There are no blue-laws or exclusive creedos governing its actions. It accepts good books and books that will sell, period. I'm all for that, and if CBA writers are afraid they can't cut it in the real market, maybe they should visit another site that I'm oh-so-fond of...

cathikin said...

Great article, ladies. After reading the comment from Austin, I decided to go to that ning site he referred to and joined it. One forum post in particulare caught my attention. One that Frank might agree with as a man.

Frank Creed said...

Reminds me of the new NCIS commercial . . . more initials than any other TV show.


Headless Unicorn Guy said...

* industry folks (whether authors, publicists, or publishers) immediately discount the quality of a novel if it is not a "CBA book"

* major blog tours such as the CFBA (Christian Fiction Blog Alliance) will not tour non-"CBA books" because of "inferior quality"

Now THAT's a hoot! In my experience, CBA *IS* half-assed crap quality. "Just like (current hit), except CHRISTIAN!" "Just like Left Behind, except (fill-in-the-blank)!"

As Dr Morden says in his essay "Sex and Death and Christian Fiction":

"We could send them the Chronicles of Narnia, and have it rejected on the grounds of smoking, drinking, violence and a nasty outbreak of Universalism in The Last Battle. We could send them Lord of the Rings and have it rejected on the grounds of – again, smoking, drinking and violence, the fact that God doesn’t get a mention and no one gets saved in the third act."

While Left Behind would not only be accepted, but become a 22-volume, 60-million-copy bestseller with more spinoffs & merchandising than Star Trek. And fanboys who think it's the 67th-88th books of the Bible.

TWCP Authors said...


Yes, I definitely had Dr. Morden's comments in mind as I wrote this. I was actually going to reference his article but figured the post had already encroached the "too long for attention spans" rule!

Do read Dr. Morden's essay, everyone!

Andrea Graham said...

Sometimes I feel I don't fit in anywhere . . . Too edgy for the CBA, but too hindered by CBA morals to be edgy enough for this crowd . . .

Steve said...

I can sympathize with Andrea. I'm not actually radical, for the most part; theologically I'm so conservative that people unaware of early church teachings or Christian thought over the last couple millennia consider me radical. It's not the same thing. Some of my work could get past CBA, but I don't see why I should bother. On my blog right now I review a book that I think verges on blasphemy; next month, I'll review a book I think is the best Christian sci-fi in decades--and I'm amazed it got past CBA!

Don't mock the dinosaurs; they're going extinct as best they can.

TWCP Authors said...

"The Christian Book Awards consistently honor the best of the best in religious publishing, says ECPA President Mark Kuyper."

Mmmmmm, so ECPA says they are the best and everyone else is saying not quite?

Well, I guess it depends on the audience. To the general public, the perception is definitely "we are the best." Since, it is difficult for anyone to understand that the ECPA members comprise but one part of the Christian fiction industry (albeit, a large part) and that there is much more out there.

However, to people in the industry, his comment is but a marketing technique that any organization would use.

Problem is with perception amongst potential book buyers . . . this is along the lines of another ECPA publishing house's agent stating that an upcoming almost-vampire novel is a first. Misinformation is key here.

Steve said...

As to "CBA morals": as I told Sue Dent, I started to read a CBA book a year or so back and dropped it both because its premise was linguistically ridiculous AND because it had a scene that left me feeling as though I'd read a dirty book. I don't condemn their morals; I just wish they'd adhere to them.

Sue Dent said...

And neither do I condemn their guidelines. I just wish they'd adhere to them as well. Or if thye're going to change them and accept other things that are different, say so.

And it doesn't count to say so but then not change the guidelines that keep certain MS's from qualifying in the first place.

TWCP Authors said...

The CBA and ECPA have their mission statements and policies established. Is it selfish of us to ask them to change these so our fiction can be included?

Steve . . . this statement included near the end was meant sincerely.

Grace Bridges said...

Wow, thanks for clearing this up! It sheds new light on a lot of the issues facing LGG writers. Hmmm... anyone want to be brave and tell the folks at ACFW about this? :)

Sue Dent said...

I nominate you, Grace! Let me know how it works out! :)

And while you're telling them, you can tell everyone else who hasn't read this and still believes that CBA/ECPA are the ONLY true Christian Publishers out there.

Boy, you've got your work cut out for you.

Jennifer L. Griffith said...

I think you've touched on this misnomer--far too many Christians think that just because a book is not CBA, it will compromise their morals. That is not true.

One case in point, Peace Like a River.

High quality story-telling and writing that was read by many who are "lost"...written by a Christian.

GREAT information here. Thanks for posting this.

Deb said...

Don't hope ACFW will get on the inclusive-list here. They've recently decided that only CBA approved publishers' books can qualify for their book-of-the-year. No small presses need apply, because they've taken the ridiculous RWA standards of 1500 books of one title sold, to qualify. I did take this up with the ACFW leadership and got noplace at all. They see this as "raising the bar" -- nobody ever said the bar had to be raised to exclude quality books by small presses. I asked what they are afraid of--if the quality isn't there, that will speak for itself. I just ask for a level playing field, but I guess that makes me naive.

Tiff (Amber Miller) Stockton said...

Great stuff here, ladies, but I also caution the flip side of thinking where you completely turn your back on the CBA or ECPA because you feel they are too restrictive. Obviously, certain books fit their guidelines and the booksellers who are associated with them. Others, not so much.

I agree with the belief that you go where you feel the story God gave you will be best heard and received. My husband is facing this very thing. His writing is lyrical and descriptive and takes you to another place and time...but it's speculative fiction in the sci-fi realm and the standard Christian publishers won't touch him. However, because he has spent most of his life reading the books sold by booksellers in the ABA or independents like B&N and Borders, his writing emulates that style. It's not for the stereotypical 'Christian' market, but it would fit in what is sold in the ABA realm.

Also, Grace mentioned ACFW and did post to the loop. Kudos to you for that! But again, don't lump ACFW into the CBA or ECPA. We have hundreds of authors there who are published by houses whose books are carried everywhere and not just in CBA-endorsed stores. Love Inspired is a line by Harlequin. Avon Inspire is an imprint of Avon or Bantam/Doubleday, I'm not sure. Their books are carried in CBA and ABA stores as well as independents.

So, ACFW is probably the most diverse group of Christian fiction writers and authors that exist. No restrictions for CBA, ABA or ECPA, etc. exist. And that's what I love about it!

Andrea Graham said...

BTW, when I say I have "CBA morals" I mean I'm an ultra-conservative fundamentalist escapee from pentecostal holiness. I just don't usually advertise that in this crowd because I know I'll get judged by the company we no longer keep. I know better than anyone here the problems plaguing the holiness movement; that's why we're no longer affiliated with it.

kc said...

Here here.
I only wish the article had named some of the small, unaffiliated publishers where people who don't fit into publishing houses that are members of the restrictive Christian association can go to get a good book published. (Run on sentence!)
Toot your horn, Cynthia, Jeff, and whoever else!

Carol Ann Erhardt said...

Wow, what a great blog and sooo many interesting comments! Being a fairly new author, I've found myself confused by the strict guidelines which make it nearly impossible for me to write a book that fits into the standard CBA publisher's mold. I refuse to get caught up in forcing my prose into a cardboard box. God gives me the words to write. I thank Him daily. My newest contracted ms was written with Steeple Hill LI Suspense in mind. They said the plot was too twisted. My writing tends to be "on the edge" I guess. But it is being contracted by The Wild Rose Press. They have it listed under their suspense line. Now the question is...will people looking for a "spicy" suspense book be disappointed to read it? I look on it as a way to reach readers who might not purchase it under a "Christian line."

Thanks for the great discussion!

Carol Ann Erhardt

TWCP Authors said...

Reposted for Sooz

Critics both within and without the industry complain about the poor quality of Christian fiction (in comparison to secular standards) . . . .("The Production of Christian Fiction" Jonathan Cordero, Journal of Religion, 2004)

"The Christian Book Awards consistently honor the best of the best in religious publishing,” says ECPA President Mark Kuyper."

Mmmmmm, so ECPA says they are the best and everyone else is saying not quite?

Regardless, there should not be any shame in stepping outside the borders of CBA/ECPA. In fact, I think it's a pretty good move if we want exposure and to avoid the stigma of poor quality. But then, I've always marched to a different beat.

Personally, if God gave me the story, gave me the insight and the words, who in the world are they (CBA/ECPA) to judge if its Christian enough? I mean, hello, there is a real world out there with real people in real situations who really need what we're offering (whether its for positive entertainment, illustrating Biblical principles, or encouragement). Don't get me started. It's as frustrating as the Christians who want to hide behind their pews and wring their hands about the state of the world instead of getting out there and doing something about it. Oh, wait, I wasn't going to get started.

*hi-five to headless unicorn guy,* doing a Beavis and Butthead laugh, he said half-assed.

TWCP Authors said...

Okay, some points to make about Tiff's post.

Point 1: She refers to ABA and CBA only.

ABA is a group comprised of only SOME Independent BOOKSELLERS both Christian and “secular”.

CBA is a RESTRICTIVE group of SOME Christian Booksellers.

There are more booksellers, for example, the biggies: B&N, Amazon, Borders and on and on.

To suggest the American BookSellers Association is not Christian is faulty logic. As stated in the post, the ABA is a group of independent booksellers that has been around since the turn of the 20th century. Is it strictly Christian like the Christian Booksellers Assoc.? No, but it is comprised of all sorts of stores from Christian, to New Age, to university bookstores, to comic bookstores, to children’s bookstores to the local buddy down the road . . . you get my drift.

Many Christian publishers (including ECPA members) find the market provided by the ABA and the big chains is larger than that of the CBA.

—anyone can do their own market mini-research on a local level. Check out the people perusing Christian speculative fiction or just plain “fiction” at the Parable store (CBA member) on a Saturday. Then do a survey of the folks in the Christian fiction aisles of Barnes & Noble (and in the so-called secular aisles because authors like T.L. Hines have their books shelved amongst the rest of them). Yes, it is nice to make one’s books available in Parables for those who won’t shop at B&N, but face it, the CBA stores have become more giftshops than book stores. In fact, the CBA calls itself the Christian Retail Association—no “book” in the descriptor any longer.

There's nothing wrong with securing a Christian publisher outside the ECPA, and they do exist—whether it is an independent publisher (i.e. not affliated with a large conglomerate or association) or a so-called secular publisher, though I am loathe to use this term as it suggests that I know these publishers are not Christians and that they will definitely not publish anything Christian. There are many Christian authors, several in fact members of the Lost Genre Guild, who write from a Christian worldview and whose novels are not overtly Christian (their ministry includes Christians and others). Their work is published by the so-called “secular” publishers and by non-CBA affliated publishers.

Point 2: No one person mentioned turning their backs on the ACFW for any reason (though a few of us may have already done so for a variety of reasons).

No one mentioned turning their backs on the CBA or ECPA though a few of us now realize it's pointless to submit because of their restrictions—especially because they do not welcome the speculative fiction written by many in this group. Why waste our time when there are many OTHER Christian Publishers out there not affiliated with CBA/ECPA who want us?

The ACFW has its own issues, true, but this is not a point we’ve addressed in this post.

We do apologize for not being clearer on some of the points—read our book about the Christian publishing industry. Where is it, you ask? Oh wait! It’s not finished yet!

Terri said...

This is excellent. I think when it comes time for me to submit a book length manuscript of any sort, I'm not thinking about CBA, EPCA, ABA or whatever. I'm going to be thinking in terms of the individual publishing house. Has it published similar things before? What are it's requirements? That sort of thing.

And honestly, I'm not going to be too concerned whether it is a "Christian" house or not as long as they publish the sort of material I'm writing.


Sue Dent said...

Oooooo *jumpint around excitedly* ask me what the name of it's gonna be. Come on, ask me!!! :)

Awwwww, Cyn won't let me tell anyway. Gag order or something like that.

Sue Dent said...

"I did take this up with the ACFW leadership and got noplace at all."

Awwww, Deb, just know that the battle you speak of has been battled before with the same unbelievable response. The only way the leadership budged in the case I know of, is they become more restrictive. I was actually allowed to submit last year for their BOTY and was told my fantasy would go into fantasy should they have enough books for their fantasy category, which rarely happens (they said this themselves.) All fantasy books are then thrown into general fiction if I'm not mistaken. I'd have to go back and look.

What's so very intriguing about this is that they created a fantasy category but then won't accept anything but CBA/ECPA published books.

Why is that intriguing you ask? Because CBA/ECPA restrictions being what they are, not many if any fantasy/sci-fi MS's get by CBA. They allow a few of their solid writers to slide by on the guidelines every now and then, I suppose so they can say they actually do publish fantasy/sci-fi, but even at that, it's not enough to form a category.

It's a shame too. Because there are so many talented published Christian writers at the ACFW who will NEVER get to participate in their awards.


karen_m said...

Excellent and informative, from the mistresses of healthy snark. ::grin::

qatharms said...

I placed third in a contest sponsored by Christian Writers Guild (Read CBA operation). The Tyndale editors who read my book were effusive in their praise. But when I submitted it to CBA publisher after CBA publisher, they all said the same thing: well written, we can't sell it. My experience perfectly demonstrates what you describe. I will soon be published by a Christian publisher who is not CBA. I don't know why CBA wants only milk toast. I like flavor in what I read.

Sue Dent said...

Why do I feel like we need to form a support group.

"Hi, I'm a Christian Author and I too fell under the misconception that CBA/ECPA was for ALL Christian authors and ALL genres."

*group to new memeber in unison*

Welcome new member!!! :)

Terri said...

>>>I don't know why CBA wants only milk toast. I like flavor in what I read.<<<

I can tell you why. They are afraid of being offensive, and unfortunately, the Christian market is the one most easily offended. Let me give you an example. Back in the mid 1970's one of the three major networks announced they were producing the mini-series Jesus of Nazareth for an Easter release.

In the release, they said something like, the emphasis in this movie is going to be on the humanity of Jesus. Well, some media evangelists latched onto that claiming that the film would deny the divinity of Christ (which it did not). However, they created a letter writing campaign to the programs sponsors so heavy that all but a few pulled out.

Well, the mini-series went on anyway and today it is celebrated as a sacred classic.

Only a small segment of the Christian population actually took part in the boycott and most watched and enjoyed the movie, but the radical activist core almost derailed it's production.

Now, the networks didn't have to depend only on the Evangelical Christian market. They also had Christians other than evangelicals, non-Christians, history buffs, and people who are "religious" without being too committed as well. However, CBA/EPCA has primarily that Evangelical Christian market and even offending a portion of it can reduce sales not only of that particular book, but of other books published by that publisher or sold in that bookstore.

I know someone who would not go into our local Berean store because they sold playing cards with the apostles on them. I felt they were a bit tacky, but not enough to keep me out of the store. But you get the idea. Quite unlike the secular world where a controversy over a book can boost its sales, in the Evangelical publishing world it can hurt the book, the publishing company and the bookstore.

Sue Dent said...

And even that's fine that they are this way as everyone has their opinion. The problem comes when they stop saying they're this way when the signs are everywhere that thinks they'r not!

If you're not afraid of being restrictive or worried that your restrictions are such that it might prevent you from making a little more money on a book your restrictions guard against, then say so. It's really not that hard.

Sue Dent said...

Okay that last post made little to no sense. LOL The first paragraph should have read:

And even that's fine that they are this way (restrictivly guarded) as everyone has their opinion. The problem comes when they stop saying they're this way and start inferring things have changed when they haven't.

Deb said...

To Sue D's point: I've been told for years that "readers will return your books & complain to the bookseller" if we put anything "offensive" in them (the point being debated at the time was a divorced main character). When I asked how many "objection" returns booksellers receive in the average year, I got no statistic whatever. It was answered that, "We don't want to raise that possibility."

So I did my own unscientific survey on how many ACFW authors this had happened to. I got one author to respond, who said she was told it had happened once, with one of her books, but was unable to cite any proof it had happened.

I call that a non-event. There are no numbers to support all these horrified Christian readers slamming our books back to the places they bought them. I suspect, like most unprovable stories, it's not happening.

Anyone with contrary firm statistics (name of book, publisher, and bookseller), please feel free to rebut this.

Sue Dent said...

Now Deb, just make sure what kind of Christian authors you solicit before you solidfy your research. See, you said ACFW authors you asked, but to avoid hearing, "hey, all ACFW authors aren't CBA/ECPA published," then you'll need to reword. Perhaps you can say, I asked ACFW authors but only heard from one CBA/ECPA published one who said this happened to them.

You couldn't have heard from any other kind of Christian published author because their books generally don't make it onto the CBA/ECPA supported bookstore shelves, oddly enough, for the very reasons you stated. I actually heard from a CBA published author that one of Dekker's books was pulled from a Christian(CBA affiliated) bookstore shelf. When I told someone else this they replied with, "hmmmm, it's on my Christian bookstore shelf." See how confusing it can be if you don't pay attention. In fact, I'm not even sure what I just said. :)

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

Sometimes I feel I don't fit in anywhere . . . Too edgy for the CBA, but too hindered by CBA morals to be edgy enough for this crowd . . . -- Andrea Graham

Tell me about it. Any in-between combination like that, you get very familiar very fast with the concepts of "Leper" and "Friendly Fire".

Me? I do "furry" fiction, where a lot of the characters are non- or semi-human who resemble uplifted animals. This not-quite-genre also has its two One True Ways -- little kiddie stuff or underground porn. When you're writing what are basically funny-animal stories for grownups (not repeat not "Adult (TM)"), you also get used to being two-by-foured from both sides.

Sue Dent said...

Wouldn't that make Narnia "furry" fiction? No two-by-fours here mate. :)

*looks around* Hey, I'm not australian. Where did that come from?

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

Don't hope ACFW will get on the inclusive-list here. They've recently decided that only CBA approved publishers' books can qualify for their book-of-the-year. No small presses need apply, because they've taken the ridiculous RWA standards of 1500 books of one title sold, to qualify. -- Deb

Somebody better tell them that Left Behind has finally ended after 22 volumes. Because all those qualifications are going to produce is the next Left Behind et al as book-of-the-year.

Wouldn't that make Narnia "furry" fiction? No two-by-fours here mate. :) -- Sue Dent

By definition. Remember, this is the C.S.Lewis who's first fantasy world as a kid was "Animal-Land", later "Boxen". And who later gave us Aslan and Reepicheep. Somebody try to tell me Lewis wasn't Furry!

Furries -- Upright Talking Animals -- have a long track record, from Aesop to space opera; the problem with FURRY (TM) came when it coalesced into a separate fandom with extreme tunnel vision and without a reality check drifted into something resembling a cult.

David said...

When I talk of the CBA I'm not referring "Christian Book Awards", but "Christian Booksellers Association". In my humble opinion the CBA has a Pharisaical approach to spreading the Gospel through Christian fiction. I try to take the approach Jesus took...get right down where the people are. I loved your article Frank. It was right on the money, although the statement, "Finally someone got it right," caught me (pleasantly) off guard.

Sue Dent said...

Thank-you for likeing my statement, that "Finally, somebody got it right!"

I felt it appropriate and telling and darn near time someone said it. :)

Cynthia and I put the article together. Frank gets tons of hits on his Associated Content page and so we posted there.

Frank rocks! (even if he does have cooties--that he didn't get from me!)